The Complex History of Panoramas

It's probably best to read through the whole page first & then come back to investigate the individual Panorama links. Many of the links will take you to the same destinations, because all the variants for each title are grouped together on single pages.


Patrick Tilley's second product for Letraset was aimed at an older age-group than the Busy Bee Instant Picture Packs.

Letraset tried distributing Panoramas on their own, but realised it would be better to rely on someone more experienced in this field. First they tried Lines Brothers, but when that didn't work out, they struck a deal with Waddington's, who were famous particularly for their playing cards & boardgames.

Relations with Waddington's were a bit strained, & Patterson Blick (owned by Royal Sovereign) were approached, with two extracurricular Panoramas resulting.

Despite that 'glitch', Panoramas were marketed by Waddington's for many years, until they eventually lost interest; then in 1976, Letraset reclaimed the title & format.

The last Panoramas were produced after 1978, & were different from the original range in almost every way.

If you break all this down into a chronological list of 'Chapters', it looks like this:

  1. 1Letraset Panoramas 1965: the five original B&W sets
  2.  — WADDINGTON/Letraset Panoramas 1966: the same five, rebranded
  3. 2Patterson Blick Batman Instant Pictures 1966
  4.  — Shredded Wheat Batman Free Gifts (from the above)
  5.  — Vita-Brits Batman Free Gifts (derived from the above)
  6. 3WADDINGTON/Letraset Panoramas: seven new colour titles
  7. 4aWADDINGTON/Letraset Panoramas: the five B&W titles now in colour
  8. 5Patterson Blick Tarzan Panorama
  9.  — Shredded Wheat Tarzan Free Gifts (not from the above)
  10. 6WADDINGTON/Letraset Panoramas 1968: four sets, smaller format
  11. 7WADDINGTON/Letraset Panoramas 1971: new & re-issued titles, new livery
  12. 4b(WADDINGTON Mini Action Transfers: transfers re-packaged)
  13. 8Letraset Panoramas: 1976 (the 1971 titles rebranded)
  14. 9All-new litho titles for 1978: Disney & Nature
  15. 10Thomas Salter Panoramas: 1978 Disney reprints
  16. 11Letraset Giant Panoramas: 1981 titles

1965

CHAPTER 1:

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. Only the 'Lunar Base' & 'Ocean Deep' Panoramas had white transfer sheets; the other three monochrome sets each had two sheets of black.

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Wild West — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.1'
(Two black sheets, both K46)
[Later Waddington's version shown here]
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Pirate Island — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.5'
(Two black sheets, both K47)
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Lunar Base — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.4'
(K48 black sheet & K48W white sheet)
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Jungle — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.3'
(Two black sheets, both K49)
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Ocean Deep — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.2'
(K50 black sheet & K50W white sheet)

You can identify the original Panoramas by the strapline: "Make your own GIANT action-packed [ Wild West / Pirate Island / Lunar Base / Jungle / Ocean Deep ] Panorama with rub-down Instant Pictures". There is no mention of Letraset on the front cover.

The later Batman 'Panorama' by Patterson Blick has a similar strapline: "Make your own GIANT action-packed Batman Instant Pictures now in colour".

The Patterson Blick Tarzan Panorama has: "Make your own GIANT action-packed Tarzan Panorama with magic Instant Pictures in colour".

So if it says "Make your own GIANT action-packed", then it isn't from Waddington's!

Not all Waddington's Panoramas say "WADDINGTON" on the front cover, however. They usually have the "WADDINGTON/Letraset" logo on the front, but some versions only mention "Printed by John Waddington Ltd." on the back.

When I asked the US Seller of a batch of four Panoramas about the numbers on the backs, he claimed that 'Ocean Deep' was "Instant Picture Panorama No.3". I replied to say I thought he had misread it, since my copy said "Instant Picture Panorama No.2". But he insisted he was right.

Now that it is here, I can confirm he was not mistaken. So here are two copies, one saying "No.2" & the other "No.3". We also have a copy of 'Jungle' marked as "No.3". My 'Ocean Deep' is pre-Waddington's; the new one says "Printed in England by John Waddington Ltd." (but it doesn't mention Waddington's on the front, which the 4-spot re-issues always do). There are many other significant alterations to the packing artwork.

It could be a simple misprint, or it could be that after Waddington's took over the Panoramas they re-numbered some of them. Since there seem to have been other errors associated with Panorama artwork, I would favour the misprint hypothesis.


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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These panels appear on the back of each Panorama, to display the background scene enclosed. It was such a strong design concept that it continued right up to the end — & not just on Panoramas.


A typewritten (typewritten!) note enclosed in a 1965 edition (pre-Waddington's) Lunar Base Panorama reads:

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FOUR MORE EXCITING PANORAMAS!

PIRATE ISLAND
—————————
Pirates.Sailors. Natives.Frigates. Animals.Sea Monsters!

WILD WEST
———————
Indians.Cowboys. Cavalry.Wagons. Stagecoach.Outlaws.

JUNGLE
—————
Explorers.Hunters. Savages.Crocodiles. Wild Animals!

OCEAN DEEP
————————
Divers.Frogmen. Submarines.Ships. Fish.Sea Monsters!

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


(Note that this confirms that although the first dozen Busy Bees were all available by the time of the original Panoramas in 1965, the six later titles had yet to appear.)

The interesting thing about this note is how it relates to Waddington's taking over distribution in January 1966. Since John Chudley states that Letraset couldn't do much of a job of distributing their own products, there seem to be two possibilities; either this note was written (in hope!) when negotiations were underway, or had just concluded, with Waddington's, & was looking to the future — or Letraset had salesmen tramping the streets of London hawking their products to 'local' businesses in 1965. My personal recollection, which of course is far from reliable, is that my mother was repeatedly buying Panoramas from Peter Jones in Sloane Square in 1965. This might imply that my early exposure to Letraset was a fluke due to my happening to live in London.

"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."

Letraset, a Lesson in Growth. pp26-27
By John A Chudley
Published by Business Books Limited, London. 1974.

All I can say is — thank goodness they made this "very basic" mistake, or the World would have missed out on their best efforts.

Of all the transfers ever produced by Letraset, the original monochrome Panoramas are the finest designs. The backgrounds are reminiscent of Max Ernst in their use of frottage, & their figures are truly icons, being more like hieroglyphs or printer's ornaments than purely representational images. These are the sets that lodge in my subconscious & appeal to me most. With later Panorama titles & with other ranges, Letraset used larger figures which were really more like pictures & which could only sensibly fit in one or two locations on a background; the Panorama figures, on the other hand, could each be placed anywhere. The talent that went into producing them was quite extraordinary, & we all should all be very grateful to Patrick Tilley Associates (most specifically to Patrick Tilley himself, Frank Wheeler & Bill Harmer) that their concept of design was on a much higher level than either Letraset or the toy trade generally would consider necessary or practical.

So if you were to ask me now when Letraset 'jumped the shark', I would answer: almost immediately — as soon as Patrick Tilley switched careers to become a screenwriter & novellist, in 1966.

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1966

CHAPTER 2:

Once Letraset had deals with Waddington's & Patterson Blick, they evidently decided to go for four spot colours — black, white, red & blue, but still silkscreen and not gravure — in 1966, & finally full-colour gravure printing in 1968. 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.

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 (K91), with the 4-spot sheet, divided into 6 Free Gift sized panels, unnumbered.

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.

The Batman TV show was first broadcast in the UK on the 21st of May, 1966; so it is probable that this Panorama was produced after Batmania had struck (although no doubt Batmania was well anticipated; it had already struck the US in January).

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Batman Instant Pictures
(transfer sheets: monochrome & 4-spot — K91)
plus Nabisco Shredded Wheat & Vita-Brits

There was one other Panorama produced by Patterson Blick, dealt with below: the Patterson Blick Tarzan Panorama.

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1966-1968

As a consequence of John Waddington Ltd. taking over their distribution, the first range of five Letraset Panoramas were rebranded "WADDINGTON/Letraset". Please use the links above to see the rebranded versions; only the outer covers are affected.

(For details of the Waddington's deal, see the article on "Waddington's Games 1966".)

CHAPTER 3:

Seven more titles were added by Waddington's later, bringing the total up to twelve:

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Gulliver's Travels in Lilliput
'Instant Picture Panorama No.6'
K99A & K99B
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Storming a Fortress
'Instant Picture Panorama No.10'
K100A & K100B
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Sea Battle
'Instant Picture Panorama No.8'
K101A & K101B
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Modern Airport
'Instant Picture Panorama No.7'
K102A & K102B
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Grand Prix Race Track
'Instant Picture Panorama No.9'
K103A & K103B
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Haunted House
'Instant Picture Panorama No.12'
K104A & K104B
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Fairytale Landscape
'Instant Picture Panorama No.11'
K105A & K105B

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

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CHAPTER 4:

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.

N.B.: 'Fairytale Landscape' & 'Haunted House' transfers had black & white together on each sheet, but they appeared when 4-spot colour was already available. So although they appear to be monochrome, they are in fact 2-spot colour.

But now we must add these five newly-coloured Panorama varieties to the list.

(Please note that these five following links take you to the same pages as do the links above; if you have already visited those pages, there's no need to do so again.)

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Wild West — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.1'
(K46A & K46B)
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Pirate Island — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.5'
(K47A & K47B)
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Lunar Base — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.4'
(K48A & K48B)
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Jungle — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.3'
(K49A & K49B)
[Earlier B&W version shown]
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Ocean Deep — 'Instant Picture Panorama No.2'
(K50A & K50B)
[Earlier B&W version shown]

Another interesting anomaly: StellarX' Jungle Panorama shows monochrome transfers on the outside, but the transfer sheets themselves are 4-spot. Other, similar, errors have been noted… it seems there was something of a slapdash attitude to dealing with the covers. Since Waddington's did their own litho printing of the backgrounds (they were primarily a packaging company, although best remembered for their games), this is likely to have been their fault rather than Letraset's.

I had assumed (because it was simplest) that when Letraset brought out the new range of 4-spot Panoramas, they had re-coloured the original monochrome ones at the same time. However, it now seems to me more likely that this was done later, & furthermore that monochrome sets continued to be sold for some time after the 4-spots became available.

If the monochrome Panoramas were replaced immediately, then since Letraset did not have much experience with toy distribution & marketing, one would expect with only one year in which to to produce & a limited market (possibly just a few shops in the London area) to produce for, there would not be many monochrome Panoramas to be found. In other words, they would be hen's teeth. But "the reality is the opposite of the truth"!

I have so far been able to discover twice as many monochrome Panoramas, as I have 'monochrome-revamped-as-4-spot' Panoramas.

This all goes to suggest that there was a nice big pool of monochrome transfers to sell for some time after 1966. Perhaps Letraset simply printed more than they could distribute themselves. Furthermore (as John Chudley complained at the time), Waddington's only took on one batch of each product for each year, & concentrated on selling the ones that didn't do well (as opposed to the more sensible policy of re-ordering popular items).

Regarding the revamping of the monochrome transfers as 4-spot colour, the reason this timing is odd, is that the later the more inconvenient. 4-spot silkscreen transfers were just a brief passing phase on the road to full (gravure) colour. Other 4-spot transfers (such as the Tarzan Panorama) have a more sophisticated colour palette than the first ones (the Batman & the second seven Panoramas), so why emulate an unsatisfactory earlier technique if you already had the skills & experience to do better?

Even though Letraset were not averse to plugging away with previously-used product, perhaps the best way to make sense of this is to assume that there were huge numbers of monochrome sheets printed, but that their revamped 4-spot replacements were printed quite early anyway.

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The scan above shows that while the technique of the 4-spot originals & of the 'monochrome-revamped-as-4-spot' transfers is identical, the format is completely different, with the 4-spot originals being printed on long strips (after the fashion of the monochrome Panoramas) while the mono revamps were printed on square sheets; you can see that the difference would be significant to a printer. This suggests that they were not printed at the same time.

So it looks as if there must have been a gap between Chapters 3 & 4; but not a long one.

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WADDINGTON Mini Action Transfers: re-packaged transfers sheets from the five 4-spot re-issues [K46 - K50]

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'Mini Action Transfers' packs (not to be confused with "Letraset Mini Action Transfers" sets from 1974, GK167, which had backgrounds & entirely different transfers) are these same 4-spot colour re-workings of the five monochrome Panorama transfer sheets, in unrelated pairs without backgrounds & re-packaged when (presumably) Waddington's ran out of Panorama backing sheets but still had a stock of transfers remaining.

Or, to put it more simply: they're left-overs.

It would have made sense for Waddington's to initially over-order the transfers, as this would be more cost-effective than re-ordering.

These cheap polythene packs of 'Mini Action Transfers' came with a shoddy header card that cheekily suggests "Draw a background picture for the small Letraset pictures to appear in"!

I've included these John Waddington Mini Action Transfers here because the contents date from this period, but of course they would not have been available until Waddington's had ceased distribution of Panoramas, meaning 1971 at the very earliest, & probably not before 1974.

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CHAPTER 5:

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

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.

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1968-1971

CHAPTER 6:

It was probably in November 1968 that John Waddington Ltd. commissioned four 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 figures!).

These were no longer silkscreen-printed transfers; largely to solve the full-colour printing problem, Letraset had built a new factory at Ashford in Kent around a rotary gravure press which could handle full-colour separations. So these Panoramas were gravure-printed, & in full colour (CMYKW — Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK & White).

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Doctor Dolittle PR21
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Captain Scarlet
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Walt Disney Panorama
[1971 edition shown]
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The Jungle Book
[1971 edition shown]

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1971

CHAPTER 7:

In 1971 the 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 Waddington's entire line of Letraset transfer products.

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

The numbers of the Panoramas appear (along the bottom edge of the backs) on the earlier printings, but not on the ones copyrighted 1971.

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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, it's thought that Waddington's also produced two new gravure 555mm Panoramas: "Aristocats" & "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", both of whose films were released at the end of the year (see below for links to these). Two of the previously-existing 555mm gravure Panoramas were also included in the 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".

Here's the original Pirate Island Panorama to demonstrate what was being lost in comparison with the 1971 version above:

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(All these are shown without links, of course, because that would be arbitrary, & links to all these sets appear above.)

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… which may well have taken a few years. This would also explain the Mini Action Transfers (see above).

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1976

CHAPTER 8:

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. For obvious reasons the silkscreen Panoramas were not reprinted. (Not obvious? — Okay, because by then Letraset Consumer Products had no interest in silkscreen printing!)

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The Aristocats
GK232/1
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Walt Disney Panorama
GK232/2
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The Jungle Book
GK232/3
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Bedknobs & Broomsticks
GK232/4

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1978

CHAPTER 9:

By 1978, Letraset were no longer printing gravure transfers, but using the offset litho press at their Sodecor factory in Italy.

Consequently, these are all-new titles:

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Letraset Walt Disney Panoramas [L61]

There were eight of these Walt Disney Panoramas; the other four appear immediately below in their Thomas Salter livery.

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Letraset Nature Panoramas [L73]

The Nature Panoramas feature excellent artwork, although distinctly odd in execution. The backgrounds stack up, with "Deep" at the bottom, "Earth" in the middle & "Air" on top. Any child who saw the whole project through to completion would surely be proud to have this super-panorama on their wall.

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CHAPTER 10:

Thomas Salter were purchased by Letraset (for £1m!) in 1978, & reprints of the 1978 lines were branded Thomas Salter rather than Letraset. The serial numbers were changed on reprinting as well, since with litho, it is cheap & easy to use altered artwork (which of course could include text) whenever going to press — which was not the case with gravure printing, where expensive cylinders had to be specially produced.

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Thomas Salter Walt Disney Panoramas

The other four titles in this range of Walt Disney Panoramas appear immediately above, in Chapter 9.

Whereas Letraset's previous Panoramas had two side-folds (which had meant no unsightly fold right down the centre of the background), these Thomas Salter versions were plain sheets simply folded in half — although pretty well identical in all other respects.

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CHAPTER 11:

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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Postscript

As a footnote, here's a quick illustration of how much things had changed from the first monochrome silkscreen transfers to the last full-colour litho sheets:

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Can you tell which ones I prefer?

While the lurid attaction of the larger, more colourful litho transfers is obvious, let's face it — you could get a heck of a lot more FUN out of the earlier ones. Bring back tiny constant-scale monochrome transfers!

Another point which is certainly worth mentioning, because you can't tell just by looking at the pictures: the earliest Letraset transfers still work perfectly today. But the litho transfers from 1976 on do NOT. In fact, I doubt they ever did work very well. I've let my sons rub down quite a few, & more often than not they just don't rub down at all! Which is why we will be reverting to a more reliable adhesive formulation for our forthcoming reproductions.

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For Patrick Tilley Associates' earlier Instant Pictures product, see this article:

• Busy Bee Instant Picture Packs →

For details of the Waddington's deal & other groovy stuff, see these articles:

• Waddington's Games 1966 →
• Waddington's Magazine & Top Twenty →

Picture Credit: The SPLAT Scan Archives