A Brief History of Letraset & Action Transfers


This is the main article discussing Letraset's history, but it is just one of three which, combined, should give you a detailed panorama of Letraset's Action Transfers & Instant Pictures — & related topics besides.

"Printing: Dates & Serial Numbers" discusses Letraset's serial numbering systems, using the same tables that appear throughout this article, but grouped together to give a clearer overview.

"Printing: the Presses" discusses the details of how the transfers were actually printed, & includes a tour of the Ashford factory. You'll even get to see a favourite Super Action Transfers set being printed & processed!

But the main body of material is here.


Quick links to the years on this page:

1956

1959

               

1961

1963

1964

1965

1966

1967

1968

1969

   

1970

1971

1972

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

       

2001

2003

2011

             

Key to Tables:

YEAR Retail Product
(K, GK, or L Serial Numbers)
Promotional Item
(PR or LP Serial Numbers)
Product with an Unknown Serial NumberThomas Salter
(090 Serial Numbers)
& Acorn
Svecia
Silkscreen, Spot Colours
Gravure
Before the move to Ashford

N.B.: All quotations by John Chudley appearing below are from:

Letraset, a Lesson in Growth
By John A Chudley
Published by Business Books Limited, London. 1974.


1956

John Charles Clifford "Dai" Davies has the idea for using transfers to replace letterpress, which, if it works, could practically turn the print industry upside-down. Fred Mackenzie provides the technical expertise to aid him in the execution.

It isn't originally a dry transfer at all, but an ingenious variation on the traditional waterslide transfers which had been around since the 1860s at least.

In this form, it meets with approval but is still too laborious for universal adoption.

Davies & Mackenzie are working for James Shand at the time of its development, & you can really only obtain 'Letraset' if you happen to know the right people.


1959

Letraset is formed as a company in May with £3,000 of borrowed capital, seven employees & a single room 15m x 6m on two floors. Bob Chudley (John Chudley's father) is the third partner, along with Davies & Mackenzie.


From "How Dry Rub-Down Transfers Work": Letraset's Original Patent

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Patent Specification 906,934 Inventor: Frederick Wilson Mackenzie Date of filing Complete Specification: Jan. 21, 1959. Application Date: Jan. 21, 1958. No. 1999/58. Complete Specification Published: Sept. 26, 1962.


From "The Letraset Type Lettering System":

Letraset revolutionised the World of typography with their Instant Lettering, which (like Instant Pictures & Action Transfers afterwards) were dry rub-down transfers. But Instant Lettering wasn't perfected until 1961.

For the first two years their main product was this wet stuff.

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1961

Instant Lettering perfected; first sales; the company moves to Holborn, & then (in 1962) to 195 Waterloo Road, London SE1; printing is by spot-colour silkscreen on custom presses designed & built in situ.


From "Instant Lettering":

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This sheet of Instant Lettering is from ten years after 1961, but the general principles are the same — although 'Spacematic' came later.


1963

Fred Mackenzie leaves, selling his holding when Letraset goes public; Kippax Pneuminor Silkscreen Press purchased; "K" (for "Kippax") series serial numbers begin, mostly for small sheets such as "Titles for Electronic Equipment".


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1963 K10 K17 K19: Electronics ©1963

1964

Space at Waterloo Road doubled; Dai Davies consults with Patrick Tilley Associates; the first six Busy Bees; the golden age of Instant Pictures begins.


From "Busy Bees":

Patrick Tilley was directly & personally responsible for the whole concept of Instant Pictures, without which Action Transfers would never have existed.

As well as the later five original Panoramas, Patrick Tilley Associates were responsible for the first twelve Busy Bee Instant Picture Packs, which came out in 1964-1965; most of the artwork was provided by Patrick Tilley himself, with some transfer sheets drawn by Frank Wheeler, lettering by Bill Harmer, & three sets commissioned from a mysterious freelancer now known only by the initials "PB".

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Busy Bee Instant Picture Packs

Before his hugely successful career as a screenwriter & science fiction author, Patrick Tilley was probably best known as a designer of posters for the Sunday Times, & for this popular & widespread example for the Milk Marketing Board:

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The marketing material for Busy Bees featured his children, Bruno & Sophie; here he is with them, in a contact proof from the photo session. The photographer was the late Adrian Flowers.

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N.B.: not their actual parents; agency models.


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Ad for Instant Lettering in the Times, 11th September 1964. Their offices in Valentine Place were just around the corner from the premises in Waterloo Road.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1964 K25-K30: [6] Busy Bee Instant Picture PacksK35: Electronic Symbol Drafting Set

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1965

Six more Busy Bees; the five Monochrome Panoramas; Aubrey Rix commissioned for Art Sheets (dated next year); Patrick Tilley Associates disband.


From "Panoramas":

The five earliest Panoramas were designed by Patrick Tilley Associates, & had a fold-out three-foot wide full colour background, with two silkscreen transfer sheets each in one spot colour — either two sheets of black transfers, or one of white & one of black.

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Instant Picture Panoramas

Patrick Tilley says: "The small boy pictured holding up the early Panoramas was my second son Bruno Tilley who grew up to be the design head of record sleeves for Island Records."

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A typewritten note enclosed in a 1965 edition Lunar Base Panorama reads:

FOUR MORE EXCITING PANORAMAS!
PIRATE ISLAND
WILD WEST
JUNGLE
OCEAN DEEP
YOU CAN OBTAIN THEM AT 6/11 EACH FROM
BOOTS BIG STORES. W.H.SMITH & SON SHOPS. LEWIS'S LTD. Leading Stationers, Toy Shops and Department Stores.
AND INSTANT PICTURE PACKS 12 popular titles ONLY 2/11 each

John Chudley:

"Naively perhaps, we thought the toy trade would also be excited by the idea but our efforts to sell even a minimum production quantity through the wholesalers fell on stony ground, and it appeared that we either had to back the product with heavy advertising and our own sales force direct to the retailer or sell through a company already well established in the toy industry whose products would be accepted almost without question by the wholesalers.

"Finally, after abortive discussions with Lines Brothers, we came to an arrangement with John Waddington Limited, under which they marketed our toys. This worked quite well for a few years, but showed me an interesting facet of the British toy industry that I hadn't been aware of. That is that the distribution side of the industry is still operated very much on "jobbing" lines: the wholesalers buy a fixed quantity of each product and concentrate their sales efforts on pushing the relatively unsuccessful ones and not on reordering and selling more of those that have sold out until the new ordering season when the whole process starts again.

"At the time it caused a fair amount of argument between ourselves and John Waddington (at least one of our toy products was in the "success-sold out" category) and some regret over the decision we had made not to do the marketing ourselves, although subsequent events showed that the mistake we had made was the very basic one of not properly identifying our market. We had called our product a toy and looked to the toy industry when, in fact, its later success came in the child's novelty market alongside chewing gum and comic papers."


From "Art Sheets":

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Letraset invented Clip Art.

The artist was Aubrey Rix, who had a very distinguished career in commercial illustration. His Daily Telegraph obituary (18th June 2002) noted that "in later life he sustained a considerable setback when he designed hundreds of stock drawings for a lettering company, which were then used copyright free".

The original concept for Art Sheets, & many others of these products, came from Patrick Tilley, who told me:

"While working closely with Dai, I came up with the concept for sheets of rub-down illustrative elements which could be combined for DIY ads.

"We commissioned Aubrey Rix — represented by Artist Partners — to do the drawings.

"I also worked on their promo material for Texture Sheets and… finally — suggested that Letraset should branch out into a wider range of artist materials. Which they did quite successfully."


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1965 K44 K45: Busy BeesK46-K50: [5] Panoramas (Mono)K52: Lettering for Scale Models ©1965 SveciaK54 K66 K69 K70: Busy BeesK76 K77 K81 K82 K83 K84: Blick

(N.B.: "Blick" above refers to transfers for model kits, trains & racing cars.)

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1966

Letraset dealt with Waddingtons & with Patterson Blick. The Waddingtons arrangement continued until 1971. Patterson Blick stopped commissioning from Letraset in 1974; they (as a division of Royal Sovereign) were to be the distributors for Action Transfers & other later Letraset titles.

The 2nd, Svecia, Press was required for colour work, & was purchased from Registerprint in 1966 for printing in four spot colours.


From "Waddington's Games 1966":

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As of 1st January 1966, Waddington's took over the existing Letraset lines & added the three Waddington's Instant Picture sets.

BUSY BEE Price 2/11 (including Purchase Tax).
PANORAMA
LETRASET
THREE NEW SETS ARE NOW AVAILABLE
1 THUNDERBIRDS
2 DONALD DUCK
3 WINNIE THE POOH
ALL PRICE 1/11 EACH (including Purchase Tax)


From "Panoramas":

On the road to full colour, Letraset evidently decided to go for four spot colours — black, white, red & blue, but still silkscreen and not gravure. According to Peter Archer, who designed the two Patterson Blick Panoramas, colour was his idea — when he mentioned it as both desirable & technically achievable, at one of Letraset's expensive business lunches.

(Patrick Tilley's earlier, unfinished, experiment with colour can be seen on the Busy Bees page.)

The Patterson Blick Batman Instant Pictures (K91) marks the transition to 4-spot colour, as can be seen by the splash on the cover: "Now in Colour!", & also by the fact that one of the two transfer sheets is still plain black.

The Batman TV show was first broadcast in the UK on the 21st of May, 1966.

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Batman Instant Pictures
plus Nabisco Shredded Wheat Free Gift transfers

The Shredded Wheat transfers, which are in fact taken from the colour Batman transfer sheet which had been designed with this in mind, are Letraset's first Free Gift transfers.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1966 K86 K87 K88: Waddington's Instant Pictures ©1966K91: Batman Panorama ©1966 SveciaK93-K98: Busy Bees 13-18

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1967

Hugh Murray takes over "Toys, Premiums & Industrial Business". He is with Letraset for just 18 months. (N.B.: "premiums" at this time meant "labels for promotional items".)


From "Waddington's Magazine & Top Twenty":

There is nothing about Letraset in the Waddington's annual promotional insert for December 1966; however, we have better luck by next year. In "Waddington's Magazine" from "Look and Learn" No.307, 2nd December 1967, we find this:

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From "Panoramas":

As a consequence of John Waddington Ltd. taking over their distribution, the first range of five Letraset Panoramas had been rebranded "WADDINGTON/Letraset".

Now seven more titles were added by Waddington's, bringing the total up to the twelve mentioned above.

We don't yet know who was responsible for these seven new Panoramas; they were not designed by Patrick Tilley Associates, who had by now disbanded.

Furthermore, Waddington's re-issues of the five earliest Panoramas had their originally monochrome transfer sheets re-worked into 4-spot colour, although the backgrounds were unchanged. You can quite easily see when examining them that in many cases the red & blue has just been added to the existing black & white artwork. The later seven were, however, designed for 4-spot from the start.

The conversion of Frank Wheeler's monochrome transfers into 4-spot colour was not undertaken by Patrick Tilley Associates, who despite establishing the format were no longer involved with Panoramas after Waddington's took over their distribution.


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Patterson Blick Tarzan Instant Picture Panorama
plus Nabisco Shredded Wheat Free Gifts

"Tarzan" is Peter Archer's second Panorama for Patterson Blick/Letraset.

As noted elsewhere, the 4-spot silkscreen printing employed here uses a more sophisticated colour palette than on earlier transfers.

The Shredded Wheat promotional transfers which are dealt with on the same page are also by Peter archer, but clearly they used more technically-advanced rotary gravure printing rather than 4-spot silkscreen, & indeed he confirms that they would have been produced much later.

His next step was to design the first series of Action Transfers.


From "Yellow Submarine Special Sheet":

Production of the Beatles film "Yellow Submarine" was carried out by TVC in a variety of animation offices in London from November 1967 to July 1968, for Subafilms / King Features. The film première took place at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus, on 16th July 1968.

The Letraset Special Sheet S10064 was commissioned to speed up work on the many scenes in which the Submarine would swim about onscreen at a fairly small size.

The images of the Submarine were taken from photographs of a reference model.

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Steve Acworth says:

"1967. For the Beatles' film Yellow Submarine cell frame unit transfer system. Part of my work at Letraset Ltd. There was a set of images for every different view as the thing rotated and swam about. I did 'em all. That was a buzz…"

A short, abridged excerpt from the book "String" by Steven R. M. Acworth © 2006:

"I was… a layout and retouching lettering artist at Letraset Ltd., Waterloo (as it was then). My… claim to fame was to have been the guy who cut the colour separation master artwork photo-positives used for the animation cells to make the Beatles' cartoon film "Yellow Submarine". This was all done with Letraset "instant transfers" to make the task of animation easier and quicker. Purely a mechanical and non-creative reprographic job."


Although many of the Patterson Blick Instant Picture Books are copyrighted 1967, this probably indicates that Dennis Knight had them ready for publication before the end of the year. They weren't actually published until the rotary gravure press was up & running in the Ashford factory in 1968.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1967 K99-K105: [7] Waddington's Panoramas (Mk.II 4-spot) SveciaAlso: [5] Waddington's Panoramas (4-spot Revamps) SveciaBatman Vita-Brits Free Gifts 3-spot SveciaPatterson Blick Tarzan Panorama 4-spot SveciaYellow Submarine Special Sheets 5-spot Svecia

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1968

Letraset move to Ashford & a new rotary gravure press. The last monochrome Instant Pictures, the "Joe 90 Magic Instant Picture Books", are "Century 21". But the "Captain Scarlet Panorama" is "Waddingtons".

Serial numbers are now in the ranges GK ("G" for "Gravure") & PR ("PRomotional"); the silver age of Action Transfers begins.


From "Tintin":

An advert for Parein Cha-Cha-Rama Tintin appeared in the 16th April 1968 issue of Tintin magazine (Belgian edition).

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These are the earliest full-colour dry rub-down transfers ever seen. The Batman Shredded Wheat transfers were the first colour transfers, but since they were silkscreen printed, they were not FULL colour; these Tintin transfers are gravure printed, & were first off the press at Letraset's brand-new factory.

This factory, at Ashford in Kent, was built around a new Rotary Gravure press, which enabled full process colour for the first time & allowed artwork to be mechanically separated rather than made to have colour laboriously simulated on separate sheets of spot colour.

John Chudley, then Managing Director of Letraset:

"The work on the new factory proceeded well, and by the autumn of 1968 we had installed most of our production with very little disruption…

"We received from Italy the largest order for our toys (to be used as premiums with a specially prepared cheese for children) that we had ever taken and it proved to be so successful that it was reordered several times before it was eventually dropped. …Our large premium order had both required and virtually paid for the gravure printing press we needed…"

Ignoring for the moment John Chudley's faulty memory of the food & nationality associated with this product, it does show that the press was up & running by April. Building had started in 1967, but the official opening of the factory wasn't until 22nd May 1969.


From "Panoramas":

In November 1968 John Waddington Ltd. commissioned new WADDINGTON/Letraset Panoramas in a reduced size format, the same height but now only 555mm wide.

All previous Panoramas had been three-foot wide (apologies for mixing measurements — conversion doesn't work very well for these particular sizes!).

They were not silkscreen-printed transfers; these Panoramas were gravure-printed, & in full colour (CMYKW — Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK & White).

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Doctor Dolittle Panorama [PR21]


The Patterson Blick Instant Picture Books had a long run, & sold in huge numbers. Designed by Dennis Knight, often with his own illustrations, they started with "Monsters to Caveman" which according to its creator was always the most popular title. Many were translated into numerous other languages.

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Competition advert from 'Look and Learn', 27th July 1968 — featuring the first eight Patterson Blick Instant Picture Books. Therefore they must have been available by that date, whereas Nos.9 to 12 were not… Nos.1 to 6 have a copyright date of 1967, whereas 7 to 12 are dated 1968.

The first title, "Monsters to Caveman", has the appearance of being prepared in 4-spot colour as if it was to be silkscreen printed, but in fact in the end it was gravure. Dennis Knight, however, tells us that he has no recollection of treating that transfer sheet differently from any of the others in any way, so this is a bit of a puzzle.


Despite the upheaval of moving from London to Kent, Letraset appear to have been fantastically busy this year. Other transfers which were produced at this time were Wayfinders Animal Tracks & Wall's Zoo Animals, the Shredded Wheat Tarzan Free Gifts (mentioned previously), & the Combat Bubble Gum Free Gifts.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1968 K108 K110 K111 K112 K116 K117: PBIPBs 1-6 ©1967 GravureK118-K123: PBIPBs 7-12 ©1968 GravurePR21: Dr Dolittle Panorama 555mm ©1967 GravureWaddingtons Panoramas 555mm GravureParein Cha-Cha-Rama Tintin. Ad: 16th April 1968 GravureNabisco Shredded Wheat Tarzan GravureSomportex Combat Bubble GumWall's/Bata Zoo Animals

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1969

The Ashford factory is officially opened on 22nd May 1969: 50,000 square feet, plus offices of 20,000 square feet.

"On the production side there is a variety of plant ranging from hand silkscreen printing to sophisticated electronically-controlled gravure machines."


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From "Tintin":

The Sunlight Soap transfers are exactly the same as the equivalent Cha-Cha-Rama transfers, apart from the text which appears on each. This means, of course, that Letraset will have had to set up & produce new gravure rolls — a very expensive thing to do, & best avoided if not entirely necessary.

The Cha-Cha-Rama transfers are copyright Publiart, the advertising agency formed as part of the Lombard publishing house in order to deal with the marketing of their characters (& others). However, the later Sunlight Soap transfers are simply marked "Editions Lombard".


From "Action Transfers Promotional Pack":

THE TIMES MONDAY SEPTEMBER 29 1969
Management edited by Robert Jones
Case Book

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Photograph by John Manning

In search of competition: John Chudley (left), managing director of Letraset, and Dennis Bloor, sales manager for their new range of products

How Letraset, unhappy with its one-product image, spread into industrial fields — and toys

…Not much more than a decade old and forecasting pre-tax profits of £650,000 for the year ending next April (against £416,000 last year, depressed by bad results in the American offshoot), Letraset is famous for the sheets of transferable letters it sells to designers.

Such sheets and associated products still provide around 65 per cent of Letraset turnover…

Besides the graphic arts and industrial divisions, Letraset's main raid out of "one product" precariousness has been into toys — now contributing about 25 per cent of turnover. The company has been in these for about four years, first in conjunction with Waddington's, then with Royal Sovereign Group. The "toys" are dry transfer packs which Letraset believes could be "as versatile as the jigsaw".

Broadening out of single-product dependence carries two great problems: diversifications rarely match up to the profitability of the original product and organization can fall apart under the strain of becoming a generalized business in place of the craft enthusiasm which started everything off.


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Advert (artwork by Frank Bellamy) from 'Look and Learn', 27th September 1967

John Chudley: "By February of 1969, three months from the year end…" (April 5th, in the UK) "…it became obvious that…" (the projected figure of £700,000 was not) "…going to be met. In desperation I took all the industrial marketing away from Hugh (Murray) to get him to concentrate on the quick-selling toys and premiums. In addition both Dai (Davies) and I involved ourselves in a last minute effort on a major new toy launch, which just saved our figures for 1968-9".

Although this makes it sound as if Davies & Chudley were solely responsible for Action Transfers, in fact they were Peter Archer's idea, & they were created by him alongside fellow-artist John Marsh.

Despite the "Red" Action Transfers being produced in 1969, they are all dated "1968" — which is a prime example of pre-dating. However, it does strongly suggest that concept & artwork must have been available well before January's "last minute effort"…


From "Action Transfers Promotional Pack":

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This free sample pack was distributed to retailers in late Summer, 1969. Exclusive distribution was via W.H.Smith; later they were distributed by the Royal Sovereign Group (of whom Patterson Blick were a part).

Appropriately, the set featured on the display box is Peter Archer's "Pirate Island". Peter is particularly fond of pirates! Also note that Super Action Transfers are "available".

Action Transfers
Made by Letraset and distributed exclusively throughout England and Wales by W.H.Smith & Son.

Big Big Television Advertising and Full Pages in the Top 20 Comics Starts Sept.
More than 110 full page Ad's [sic] 30 second spots all stations T.V…

Packed in displays containing 6 each of 12 designs
Recommended Retail Price 2/-
WHOLESALE PRICE 74/- per pack plus P.T. 27/- per pack
SUPER Action Transfers available at 5/11
WHOLESALE PRICE 38/- per dozen plus P.T. 13/11 per dozen (2 each of 6 designs)

Ads in comics first appeared 13th September, two weeks before the interview with the Times which does not mention them; although it does point out that 25% of turnover that year was from toys.

You could justifiably say that Action Transfers saved Letraset.


Also of note: Wayfinders Moonshot / La Vache Qui Rit "A La Conquete de l'Espace".


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1969 K124-K135: [12] Action Transfers (ATs) Red ©1968 Gravure
GK1, GK4 ©1969; GK2, GK3 ©1968: PBIPBsGK5-GK10: [6] Super Action Transfers (SATs) Red ©1969
PR29 PR30: ©1968 MakoCalcoSunlight Soap TintinLa Vache Qui Rit "A La Conquete de l'Espace". Ad: 24th July 1969Victory V Jelly Babies. Ad: 20th September 1969

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1970

Dai Davies parts ways with Letraset on account of stress due to prolonged overwork; both the originators of Letraset have now left.

1970-1971 is Letraset's 'missing year'. Not actually missing, of course; just poor record-keeping: the practice of printing serial numbers on the individual transfer sheets apparently took a break. Consequently, chronological ordering is more difficult, but not impossible.


From "Comics Adverts for Action Transfers":

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This was the second Action Transfers ad (taken here from "Look and Learn" No.460, 7th November 1970). You'll notice it does include a redrawn version of the Frank Bellamy artwork.

Both ads mention not only the twelve "Red" Action Transfer sets, but also the six Red Super Action Transfers. The price of the latter is 5/11 in 1969, but a whole penny more at 6/- in 1970. That's inflation for you.

"There's over 35 in the series": twelve red & twelve yellow Action Transfers sets, plus six each of Super Action Transfers. Making 36. Which is, indeed, over 35.


The big hit of the year is not Action Transfers, surprisingly, but Mini-Toons. John Hunt:

"Mini-Toons featured one year in the Letraset Annual report."

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Joe 90 Magic Instant Picture Book: PR61A Test Flight / PR61B Attack of the Tiger — these are dated 1968, but the serial number indicates 1970. They are very late for monochrome silkscreen transfers; the last new products from the Kippax press. Shaqui Le Vesconte says:

"Well known comic artist and illustrator, the late Brian Lewis (he died in 1978), did the colour spread for the transfers. The other credited artist is N. Faure, who I believe did the b/w strip adaptation. It is possible Faure did the colour cover illustration — it doesn't look like Brian Lewis' distinctive style."

The author, E.C.Tubb, was a well-known science fiction author.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1970 GK11-GK22: [12] ATs Yellow — Sheets ©1969, Cards ©1970GK23, GK25, GK27 ©1969; GK24, GK26 ©1970: PBIPBsGK29-GK33: [4] SATs Yellow ©1969GK34-GK45: [12] Mini-Toons ©1970GK46 GK47 GK48: PBIPBs ©1970GK49-GK60: [12] Mini-Toons ©1970
PR48: Brooke BondPR57: MakoCalco ©1969PR61: Joe 90 ©1968Ski-Doo for 1971 Mini Transfers ©1970Buster Brown Rub-a-Doodles Time MachineSmarties & Blue Riband

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1971

A long line of Action Replays was begun this year with the release of the first range of Soccer Action Replays.

John Hunt tells us:

"I remember the series as it was one I produced… The launch was supported by a 7 sec TV ad. The product was produced after the success of Mini-Toons of which there were several series."

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From "Panoramas":

In 1971 the Waddington's cover artwork was substantially reduced by being covered over with large areas of flat colour. A bit senseless, really, but presumably an attempt to reinvigorate their entire line of Letraset transfer products.

Since Waddington's did their own printing for the backgrounds, this would not have troubled Letraset.

The Busy Bee Instant Picture packs were repackaged in the same livery & rebranded "Junior Panoramas".

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As well as the twelve three-foot Panoramas listed, Waddington's also produced two new Panoramas: "Aristocats" & "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", both of whose films were released at the end of the year. Two of the previously-existing 555mm gravure Panoramas were also included in this 1971 line: "Disney" & "The Jungle Book".

So in fact, in 1971 Waddington's had sixteen Panoramas on the market, rather than twelve as stated.

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You can see that the orange (or blue) livery made it very hard to see which title you were buying, or indeed if there were any different titles at all. This is a marketing strategy known in the trade as "shooting yourself in the foot".

This was Waddington's last fling with Letraset. They may or may not have re-ordered any existing lines, but they didn't commission any new ones after this.

It's most likely that having ordered & printed a reasonable quantity of stock, they simply followed their standard procedure of selling until they ran out; this would also explain the Waddington's Mini Action Transfers (transfer sheets sold without backgrounds).


One of letraset's most prestigious ranges was the Veteran Car Collection, which typically for Letraset had several associated spin-off promotions. The original range was produced in 1971 as a single sheet of fifty (not forty!) transfers, PR82, with artwork featuring cars from the Montagu Motor Museum at Beaulieu (now the National Motor Museum).

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John Hunt, then the Brand Manager of Letraset Consumer Products, describes them:

"The Veteran Car series was the first retail product launched by Letraset Consumer Products and as you say used the cars from the Montagu Motor Museum premium gravure sheet."

He also explained that the Texaco Gallery promotion featured an eight-page leaflet because for revenue purposes this was considered a book & not a toy, & was therefore exempt from purchase tax.

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Also big this year was the A&BC Footballer chewing gum transfers, which appeared over two years.

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The Décotransfert range from Dargaud was very successful across Europe, & featured Astérix, Lucky Luke, et al. There was an English edition, but this sold in much smaller numbers.

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Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1971 GK61-GK72: [12] Groovy Doodles ©1971GK73 GK74 GK75 GK76: PBIPBsMini-Toons 25-48 (GK77-GK104?)GK105: Soccer Action Replay ©1971
PR66: Kellogg's Sooty ©1970PR68: Ceylon the Tea Island ©1969PR71: Burmah OilPR82: Veteran Cars ©1971. Announced 11th FebruaryPR101: BEA Trident 2Kellogg's Sugar Smacks Star Trek. Ad: 13th February 1971A&BC Footballer Series 2 & 3 Football Season 1970-1971Décotransfert. Ad: 23rd December 1971

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1972

From "Letraset International Ltd — A Guide to the Manufacturing Facilities" (1972):

"The financial history of the Company has followed a pattern similar to that of many fast growth companies — initial success followed by growing pains giving way to a period of consolidation and steady upward growth.

"Sales for the period ending in 1971 were to a value of £5,354,000, an increase of 23 per cent over the previous year. This is reflected in an increase of profits before tax of 57 per cent.

"While in size, Letraset is not one of the giants of industry, its growth at 20 per cent in earnings per share places it among the top twenty companies in the United Kingdom."


John Hunt on Fun Doodles:

"I was involved in all these products and many were my ideas starting with Magic Roundabout, Tom & Jerry, Camberwick Green etc. In those early days we paid £100 for a character licence."

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And on Scotts Porage Oats:

"The reason we went for a book in the case of Scotts Porage was that they were not subject to purchase tax whereas transfers on their own were classed as a toy. It was one of those gems of knowledge you bring from another industry — publishing. They were 8pp and stapled but that in the eyes of Customs and Excise constituted a book! I remember it well as it was the first large sale that I made."

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Of interest to aviation & military enthusiasts were Action Profiles, which featured four fighter-planes of World War II.

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Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1972 GK106-GK109: [4] Doodles ©1972GK110: PBIPBsGK111: Olympic Games (Ad: 1st July 1972)GK112 GK113 GK114 GK115: PBIPBs ©1972GK116: Action Profiles ©1972GK117: DoodlesGK118: World in Action Transfers ©1972GK120: Soccer Action Replay ©1972GK121: Hockey Action Replay 1972
PR124: Mini-ToonsPR128: BEA ©1972PR130: MichelinoNutella Goofy Olympiade RubbelbilderBrown & Polson Rupert Iron-Ons. Ad: 10th June 1972Republic of South Africa Stamps [Date on One Stamp: 1971]Scotts Porage OatsSamos 99 — OlympicsDandy Gum — with Action Transfers

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1973

John Chudley leaves, & writes "Letraset: A Lesson in Growth" (Business Books Limited, London; published the next year). This book caused some consternation at Letraset. It also concentrates almost entirely on accountancy, which made it very quickly obsolete — the times, the law, & accountancy practices in the UK changed very quickly during this period. I've read it so that you don't have to! Still, everyone is entitled to a memoir…

New staff join, including Chas Issett (later director of Acorn), & Martin Gibbs (later Director of Letraset).

John Hunt, as Brand Manager, brings in the David Clark Design Group (of Bournemouth) with whom he had previously worked. So not only was there a big turnover of staff at Letraset itself, but also the existing freelance artists (such as Peter Archer) were out.

"The design group in Bournemouth was the David Clark Design Group and they were first used by me as I had worked with them when I was in children's publishing. Prior to that there had been a variety of designers. I was a personal friend of Dave and introduced him to the company soon after I joined so I know something about everything he did. Dave died quite young and the company was run by his wife Jennie and their son…"


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1973 GK122: Soccer Action Replay ©1973GK123-GK128: [6] SATs Blue ©1972GK130: LabelsGK131-GK134: [4] Look 3D Peep Shows ©1973GK135: DoodlesGK136: World in Action TransfersGK138: ATs BlueGK141-GK143 GK145-GK148 GK153-GK160 GK163-GK165: [18] Super Doodles ©1973
PR146: Bobby Orr ©1972PR154: Elastoplast 1973PR171: Ringos CrispsPR172: Australian LifePR175: PBIPBs ©1973PR178: Elefantpojken 1973

1974

Last known Patterson Blick transfer products.


Mini Action Transfers — "does what it says on the tin".

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Replacing Letraset's own Super Action Transfer sets with licensed characters, there were three ranges of Super Action Heroes over three years…

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Duckhams Super Action Transfers

John Hunt:

"What about the Duckhams transfer promotion on the 1 gallon oilcans. That really was a coup from which I got a lot of kudos and an interview in the Financial Times."

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It is almost certain that all the "L" serials up to L45 were Decor-Craft sheets (four to eight transfers per sheet, each transfer with its own 'Design Reference Number'). Those produced before 1976 would have been litho printed at BKT in Tonbridge rather than in Italy.

The litho-printed transfers use a heavier, matte plastic backing sheet than the gravure or silkscreen transfers. Being simply a backing sheet, the quality of the plastic doesn't affect the appearance of the finished transfer. Relatively few transfers from before the purchase of the Sodecor factory in Italy are printed on this thicker plastic; almost exclusively Decor-Craft sheets, in fact. Two sheets appear in the table below, just as examples.

Three years later, Letraset actually provided a pair of Decor-Craft "Demonstration Samples" to let their clients choose between BKT & Sodecor printing:

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If this was to encourage people to decide in favour of Italy, I wouldn't regard it as a particularly compelling argument!


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1974 GK167: Mini Action Transfers 1974GK169: SATs Orange ©1974GK171: DoodlesGK173: Super Action Heroes ©1974
PR182: British Airways Trident 3 ©1974PR183: Skippy Hop-E-Tition ©1973PR186: Milky BarPR189: Kellogg's Doodles ©1974PR190: Dandy TattoozePR191: RSPCA PBIPBs ©1974PR193: Duckhams SATsPR194: Bimbo IberiaPR195: Topps/Scanlens Magic Rub-Offs ©1974PR206: PBIPBs 1974PR207: Proctor & GamblePR208: Skippy AustralianaPR209: Futbol En Accion ©1974PR211: Camberwick Green ©1972
L6: Decor-CraftL30: Decor-Craft

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1975

Some Kalkitos products have this date on them, despite Italian printing only starting next year. This would be due to character licenses being copyrighted in that year, & doesn't indicate the actual date of publication.


Popstar Watchits — for your watch or fingernails.

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Birds of Britain

John Hunt again:

"The artwork was produced by a lady called Peggy Chapman and as you have probably noticed were very detailed illustrations."

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On their first release & in association with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, these were titled "Birds of Britain", but later success led to them appearing simply as "Birds" (or the appropriate translation). They were joined by the World Wildlife Fund approved "Wildlife in Danger" (also printed as "World Wildlife Survival"), & finally the Nature Panoramas.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1975 GK174: Magic Rub-Downs ©1975GK175: TattoozeGK176: Magicrama ©1972 ©1974 ©1976*GK177: SuperCalcoMagicGK183: Super DoodlesGK185: ATs Orange ©1974GK186: Doodles ©1974GK187: Topps Speed WheelsGK188: Wombles Doodles ©1974GK203-GK209: [7] Wombles Super DoodlesGK212: Kung FuGK213 GK214: Super Doodles ©1975GK215: Popstar Watchits ©1975GK216: Birds of Britain
PR219: Milky BarLessive Bonux (Dargaud)

*: Two of the Magicramas, Astérix & Lucky Luke (GK176, above) exist with identical transfer sheets apart from the copyright date. The serial numbers are unchanged. The original production date would have been 1975, so the logical deduction is that Dargaud insisted on updating the copyright from 1974 to 1976 when the sets were re-ordered the next year — this small change would have incurred considerable expense.

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1976

Gillette/APC deal; Sodecor Linea; Litho printing; Kalkitos/PrestoMagiX; the bronze age of Letraset Consumer Products begins.


From "Panoramas":

By 1976, with Waddington's no longer interested, Letraset reclaimed the Panorama title & format.

These were the last gravure-printed Panorama transfers; reprints of the 1971 555mm line. The silkscreen Panoramas were not reprinted, because Letraset Consumer Products no longer had any interest in silkscreen printing.

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Patterson Blick having lost interest in publishing Dennis Knight's Instant Picture Books, he bought back the rights & struck out on his own. There were quite a few of these "Dennis Knight Activity Books", starting with "Monsters to Cavemen". Note that the title had changed slightly; when first published by Patterson Blick, it had been "Monsters to Caveman"! Only the first four titles were gravure printed; after that, they're litho.


From "Art Sheets":

Patrick Tilley:

"Over one of our lunches… Dai told me about his early struggles to get Rub-Down lettering accepted. He approached Winsor & Newton as a potential saviour but the Board of directors turned him down saying that they thought it 'would impact on their sales of Indian Ink'.

"That's when I suggested he went into the art materials business adding 'if it works as I'm sure it will, you'll be able to buy them out'."

On August 5th 1976, the Times announced that Letraset had acquired a 20.6% holding of Winsor & Newton and was planning to make a full bid for the remaining shares. However, it seems Letraset didn't succeed in buying Winsor & Newton, because Reckitt & Colman did so that year. But it doesn't end there; in 1990, Reckitt & Colman sold Winsor & Newton to AB Wilhelm Becker for their artist's materials division, ColArt. The final twist: in June 2012, ColArt purchased Letraset.


The Italian purchase (Sodecor).

"The… big area was the production for Gillette and the Kalkitos brand name where there (were) hundreds of thousands produced and sold throughout the World, especially strong in South America."

"It was a huge operation and produced millions of (items of) product. Gillette thought it would continue to sell like razor blades but eventually they got indigestion."

"Gillette were Letrasets biggest customer by far and it was as a result of Gillette wanting to get into the market that Letraset bought Sodecor. Gillette thought that they could sell transfers on the same basis that they sold razor blades and whilst they did for a few years it eventually ran out of steam and they abandoned transfers. Sodecor were working double shifts for months to keep up with demand from around the World. Gillette did not have the expertise for this type of production which is why they wanted Letraset to do it for them. Letraset were also providing expertise in the selection of licensed characters."

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Chas Issett, formerly of Letraset, & of Acorn when writing, said:

"In 1976 Letraset purchased an Italian printer, who my company now represent on an exclusive basis, who became the manufacturing base for all Letraset litho rub down transfers. The gravure machine was sold and production of four colour transfers in the UK and Ashford ceased. The move to Italy was based on a Letraset contract to supply multi-colour rub down transfers to Gillette (the Razor and Pen company), worldwide, under the Kalkitos brand name. This contract continued on until the late 70s when due to diminishing sales, it was cancelled.

"The demise of the Gillette contract coincided with declining sales of Letraset's own products — possibly as a result of the early advent of computers, as children found other ways of spending their time and money. Certainly we also met a lot of opposition from the retail trade who maintained that such pocket money products were no longer worth stocking. The retail business was sold to Thomas Salter and then on the demise of Salters taken up by Peter Pan Playthings, who also went into liquidation".

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The brand name "Kalkitos" was used around the World, but in the United States & Canada Gillette preferred the brand name "PrestoMagiX". Gillette owned Papermate & the American Publishing Corporation, which is why you often see "APC" on PrestoMagiX transfer sheets. You can see from the above advertising flyer aimed at small businesses in the US for 1978, that there was a gap of about a year before PrestoMagiX were unleashed. Note that it claims "over 80,000,000 sold in Europe" — meaning Kalkitos, of course. This is a colossal number…

PrestoMagiX didn't slavishly follow the Kalkitos titles, although for the most part the ranges were indistinguishable. There was also a certain amount of overlap with Thomas Salter products, once Thomas Salter had taken responsibility for Letraset's ranges, after 1978.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1976 GK217: Super Action Heroes ©1975 ©1976GK220-GK223: [4] Dennis Knight ©1976GK230: Wildlife in DangerGK232: Disney PanoramasGK234: Super Friends ©1976GK236: 1976 Remus Play-Kits ©1975 ©1976GK238: Paddington ©1976

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1977

Letraset uses the serial numbers L & LP ("P" for promotional) for their own product printed in Italy.


Letraset come to an accord with Hasbro & produce two ranges of Rub-Ons, each with four titles.

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The Star Wars ranges were an unexpected hit. They came out exactly as Letraset were transitioning from gravure to litho printing, so there is a considerable mixture.

John Hunt:

"The Star Wars sets were probably the most successful transfer set ever made and the art for these was done by David Clark."

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Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1977 GK240: Hanna-Barbera Rub-Ons ©1977GK241: Super Heroes Rub-Ons ©1977GK242: Remus PhotoramaGK245: Super Action Heroes ©1977GK247: Star Wars ©1977
PR246: Popstar Nail TransfersPR248: Kellogg's Cricket 1977PR250: Cubs Safari 1976?PR252: Chocolat LanvinPR257: Kellogg'sPR258: Ready Brek Rescuers ©1977PR261: Shreddies Star Wars ©1977 Ad: 10th June 1978Super Heroes Tattooze ©1977
L46 L48: Star WarsL55: Paddington

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1978

THE TIMES FRIDAY FEBRUARY 3 1978:

"Joint Venture by Letraset and Gillette

"Letraset International's efforts to diversify its art products' business into toys and consumer products is to receive a boost from a link-up with Gillette, the razors and "Papermate" pens group. Following the success of a pilot scheme in Italy, the two are launching a world-wide marketing scheme for Letraset's transfer games products.

"At the same time Letraset is taking over a small Italian company which markets colour transfers through Gillette. The joint venture is expected to double Letraset's toys and consumer business, which accounts at present for about 5 per cent of sales. Last year those were £28.7m."

This news is nearly two years late, which is justified by describing Kalkitos produced in the last two years, & sold in colossal numbers around the World, as "a pilot scheme".

Kalkitos were first promoted in the UK by a Free Gift given away in the 30th September 1978 issue of Look-In magazine to introduce the series; PrestoMagix in the US also first appeared late in the year. Kalkitos presumably were only produced between 1976 & 1981 at the latest, which seems a very short time for tens of millions of sets (& this figure is no exaggeration).

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24th May 1978: Letraset buys J & L Randall (including Merit Toys) for £12.5m.


THE TIMES SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 2 1978:

"Letraset buys T Salter for £1m

"Letraset International, the art products group, has acquired the Thomas Salter group for £1m.

"Payment is being made in two installments and the first, £693,000, has already been paid. The remainder is due in September 1979 and will vary according to a pre-determined formula related to the current year's performance.

"Thomas Salter, a private company, which has net assets of about £1m, manufactures and sells children's chemistry sets, microscopes and electronics kits and has recently launched a new model building kit. The group is based in Glenrothes, Scotland.

"Earlier this year Letraset acquired J. & L. Randall, the toy group, for £12.5m to link it with its own toy interests and use the investments to finance further expansion. Letraset made record pre-tax profits of £7.4m for the year ending April 30, 1978."

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The "new model building kit" was Linka, which was a triumphant success at Earl’s Court toyfair in January 1979. A TV campaign resulted in the sale of millions of pounds worth of Linka, until everyone who bought it realised that the instructions virtually guaranteed failure. I understand it is still available — with improved instructions.

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Thomas Salter had a large factory & offices at Glenrothes in Scotland, & these remained in use even for those Letraset transfers which they took over.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1978 L61: Panoramas & Mini-ToonsLP63a: Jubilaeums
Wall's Sausages Star Wars Look-In 11 Mar 1978Duplo Asterix Rubbel-Bild GravureWimpy Star WarsLa Vache Qui Rit GoldorakMcDonald's McDonaldland

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1979

090 serial numbers appear on Thomas Salter transfer sheets; Letraset's toys now begin to be marked "Thomas Salter", with the Glenrothes address — but the changeover isn't immediately apparent or consistent.

In September, Letraset finish paying for Thomas Salter.


Letraset buys the World-famous stamp company Stanley Gibbons for £19 million; this proves to be a complete disaster from which Letraset never recover.

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From the Thomas Salter trade catalogue 1981. Letraset marketed Stanley Gibbons products under "Thomas Salter Hobbies".


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1979 L64: DC Heroes ©1978L68: Birds of BritainL69: Marvel HeroesL71: 3-D Double DoodlesL72: Sarah Kay, Star BaseL73: Nature PanoramaL74: Doodles & ThelwellL77: Star Wars ©1977L80: Action Heroes ©1978L81: Thelwell/Double Doodles ©1978L83: Battlestar Galactica ©1979
L86: Playscenes & PaddingtonL90: Thelwell & Sarah KayL91: 3-D Double DoodlesL96: Panoramas, BSGL97: BirdsL100: Spider-Man ©1978L105: Dr Who WeeklyL107: Black HoleL110: Mini MarvelsL111: Thelwell
LP62: Kellogg's BirdsLP63: JubilaeumsLP75: Shreddies Battlestar Galactica ©1978LP92: Ready Brek Star ForceLP95: McDonald'sLP102: Kellogg'sLP104: TV ComicLP112: Findus Black HolePanriCo Junglorama TarzanBattle of the PlanetsAlbator offert par Braisor

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1980


Ideal Toys commission Universal Task Force. Like many ranges from this period, it was first published as Letraset, but later (after Salters regain independence) as Thomas Salter.

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Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1980 L116: White SquadronL117: ColourpatchL128: Sarah KayL140: Kevin Keegan Poster
LP123: Kraft Empire Strikes BackL135: Kevin Keegan Action ReplayLP143: Shreddies Superman 2Universal Task-ForceTexaco 1981 Calendar SP-1 to SP-14Space Monsters (Packets)British Airways — Space Shuttle
090/024 Spider-Man090/032 Disney Panoramas090/076 Mini Marvels090/079 Thelwell Pony Tales090/102 Colourpatch090/108 White Squadron090/122 090/125 090/126 Universal Task Force090/134 Action Man Panorama090/140 Kevin Keegan = L135 Competition closing date: 30/4/81

1981

From "Panoramas":

The Thomas Salter 1981 trade catalogue lists these six "Letraset Giant Panoramas", which revert to a very similar format to the originals — right down to the logo & the gatefold.

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In the Times of 17th January 1981, Letraset publicly admitted that purchasing Stanley Gibbons had been a mistake, & they planned to sell their 'leisure products division' (presumably meaning Letraset Consumer Products) for £2.5m-£3m.

However, also early in 1981, Gillette suddenly ended their contract with Letraset to produce Kalkitos/PrestoMagiX. This massive withdrawal of business was, naturally, a second financial disaster for Letraset.

Letraset Consumer Products broke up. With both Esselte and Mills & Allen fighting to buy the company, Letraset had intended to raise capital by selling off all the toys (etc.) together, but doubtless the pressure from shareholders & the reluctance of buyers forced them to break the various pieces apart for a quick sale.

The Italian factory, Linea Sodecor, was sold back to its manager, Enrico de Fillipis.

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And after a couple of years under Letraset, Thomas Salter regained independence. But in the meantime they had gained "Action Transfer Products", a company headed by John Hunt which dealt with the transfer business which had been Letraset's until now. Consequently, for the next couple of years the Action Transfers line of transfers were produced under the names of either Thomas Salter or Action Transfer Products.

Then in November, after fierce competition between Esselte and Mills & Allen International to win the company, Letraset was taken over by Esselte. Letraset's losses had left them too weak to resist. Later that year Esselte sold Stanley Gibbons as it was useless to them.

(The 1981 Thomas Salter trade catalogue still includes Stanley Gibbons, since its publication preceded both the break-up & the take-over.)

THE TIMES FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 25 1981:

"Swedish group lifts its bid for Letraset

"By Peter Wilson-Smith

"Esselte AB, the Swedish office equipment group, has raised its bid for Letraset to £62m and won agreement for the new terms from the Letraset board. Esselte has also bought out the 14.95 per cent stake in Letraset held by previous bidder Mills & Allen International and its advisor Hambros.

"This brings Esselte's stake in Letraset to 29.99 per cent. Esselte's revised terms for Letraset are 145p cash compared with the initial offer of 140p cash. However, shareholders will now be able to keep the final dividend declared by Letraset in respect of the year to April 30 so the latest bid is worth an extra 11p a share.

"There is also a share alternative of one Esselte Free B share plus £7.52 in cash for every 16 Letraset shares which was worth 146p on the basis of Esselte's closing price on September 23. Esselte is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

"Mills & Allen, the original bidder for Letraset, has taken a £1.82m profit net of costs on its stake while Hambros has made £932,000.

"Letraset has forecast profits of £11.5m before tax in the year to next April and its directors and adviser Kleinwort, Benson are recommending the latest offer.

"In a joint statement Esselte and Letraset said there should be considerable benefits from merging the two companies."


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1981 LP147: TV Comic Popeye TattoozeLP151: Smurfs, McDonaldsLP163: Shredded Wheat Super KidsLP168: Dennis LilleeLP201: Post Galactic
090/145 Keegan Poster = L140090/159 Dukes of Hazzard090/171 Little Miss090/174 Worzel Gummidge ©1979

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1982

Nothing to see here; please move along.


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1982 LP206: Kellogg's CalendarLP212: Shredded Wheat E.T.Action Man PacketsSpace Attack Packets1000BC The Savage Age PacketsDoctor Who's Little Book of Villains in Suchard Tardis Easter Egg
090/186 The Fall Guy090/192 E.T.

1983

After considerable difficulties, Thomas Salter went into receivership in 1983, but carried on trading in a reduced manner until 1985.

From "Acorn":

Chas Issett & John Hunt joined Letraset in the early seventies; leaving Action Transfer Products, they formed their own company, Acorn Printed Products. Action Transfer Products carried on without them under "a new guy" (as John Hunt put it), but they were winding down. Acorn had bought the rights to the trademark "Action Transfers".

The rather odd consequence is that whenever they wanted to produce transfers, Thomas Salter were in effect Acorn's client.

Unfortunately, since Acorn (as John told me himself) never used a logo, or even any kind of branding or consistent serial numbers on their transfer sheets, it's quite difficult to tell which transfers from this period were produced by Acorn.

Chas Issett:

"The retail business was sold to Thomas Salter and then on the demise of Salters, taken up by Peter Pan Playthings, who also went into liquidation.

"My company Acorn and the Italian factory have continued on from 1980, by concentrating on special tailor made productions and promotions. Sadly the proportion of rub down transfer jobs has fallen to practically nothing, although the gap has been filled by Temporary Tattoos — skin transfers."

John Hunt very kindly tracked down & sent me two sets which he still had left over from their early days, so here they are (with his hand-written compliments slip):

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Acorn: Bertha


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1983 LP219: Ready BrekLP221: AnimeBarratt Super Heroes Activity Album. Competition closing date: 30th June 1984
090/201 090/202 090/203 090/204 090/205 090/206 090/207 Return of the Jedi090/224 090/225 090/234 Masters of the Universe090/237 090/254 090/300 090/301 090/302 A-Team090/335 Knight Rider

1984

The arrival of the Apple Mac means that Instant Lettering is quickly replaced by computer typography, & becomes a thing of the past. Letraset respond by converting many of their typefaces into digital formats. They still supply fonts under the Fontek brand.

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Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1984 Transformers Weekly: No.1 20th September 1984Transformers Weekly: No.2 4th October 1984Transformers Weekly: No.3 18th October 1984 (Iron-On)Spider-Man Comic: No.607, 27th October 1984
090/350 Thomas the Tank Engine

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1985

Having gone into receivership in 1983, Thomas Salter's remaining assets were finally sold to Peter Pan Playthings of Peterborough in 1985 via the Official Receiver.

Peter Pan Playthings only lasted a few months before going bust themselves. They never produced any transfers, & indeed the rights to do so independently would not have been among the assets they inherited from Salters, since Acorn now owned those.


From "Rainbow Toys":

John Hunt says:

"Acorn produced the transfer sets for Rainbow Toys. The person responsible at Rainbow was Richard Highfield who had been the buyer at W.H. Smiths and who we knew quite well."

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Rainbow Toys

Rainbow Toys of Wimbledon only commissioned six transfer products, all with 1984 copyright dates; however, these refer to the character licenses, not the date of publication.


Acorn continued printing & licensing transfers after the collapse of Thomas Salter, right up to the present day; but the distinguished line of Action Transfers had effectively ended (until we took it up again in 2010).


Products & Serial Numbers from this year:

1985 LP225: Discover Butlins in '85LP226 LP227 LP228 LP229 LP230 LP231: RubbitsLP232 LP233: Spider-ManSecret Wars No.1, 27th April 1985Return of the Jedi Ewoks 207 R1 No.97, 27th April 1985Return of the Jedi Ewoks 207 R2 No.98, 4th May 1985Return of the Jedi Ewoks 207 R3 No.99, 11th May 1985McDonald's Space Transfer Set
Rainbow Toys: Airwolf ©1984Rainbow Toys: Street Hawk ©1984Rainbow Toys: Dempsey & Makepeace ©1984

2001

By July, Letraset's directors had bought Letraset back from Esselte — after 20 years.

From Letraset's website:

"Acquired by the Swedish Office Supplies Group Esselte A.B. in 1981 Letraset was subsequently divested to the company’s management team in June 2001."

By now, although Letraset do still provide a small amount of Instant Lettering printed by Acorn at Sodecor in Italy, this is a tiny fraction of their main business which is mainly graphic & office supplies such as marker pens.


2003-2010

After noticing that a regular group of people were expressing a persistent interest in Action Transfers on eBay, I contacted them — & SPLAT (the Society for the Preservation of Letraset Action Transfers) was formed.

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After several years on the "7 Wonders" website, in 2010 SPLAT's online material moved to its new home at action-transfers.com.


2011-2013

John Hunt:

"Sadly Sodecor have now closed due to far east production and Sodecor not having any retails marketing skills and no new products."

Linea Sodecor went into receivership very recently, so Acorn no longer get their transfers printed on Letraset's former presses. And having regained independence from Esselte in 2001, Letraset were purchased by ColArt in June 2013.

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Letraset didn't succeed in buying Winsor & Newton in 1976, because Reckitt & Colman did so that year. But it doesn't end there; in 1990, Reckitt & Colman sold Winsor & Newton to AB Wilhelm Becker for their artist's materials division, ColArt. The final twist: when ColArt purchased them, Letraset finally became fellow brands alongside Winsor & Newton.

As reported on 3rd March 2013, ColArt were to close the Ashford factory by the end of the year. Production of the Letraset brand, now mostly papers & markers, was moved to factories in Le Mans & Tianjin.

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• See also: "Printing: Dates & Serial Numbers" →
• See also: "Printing — the Presses" →

I am obliged to state that this document, the information contained within it, & its arrangement are all © Tom Vinelott 2007-2016.

Picture Credit: The SPLAT Scan Archives, &
— Tony Pooley (Yellow Submarine) — Motoring Picture Library (Veteran Cars) — Apple (Mac OS Background).