Once upon a time there was one transfer given away free with each pack of Wall's Sausages, & you could then mail away to receive a full strip of all twelve transfers, along with instructions for entering a Colouring Competition. Later, the transfers were also given away in random pairs in "Look In" No.11 (of volume 8), week ending 11th March 1978.
The fact that this promotion was "on the cusp" of Letraset moving production to Italy has an unexpected side-effect.
Paul Hart claims that the 'Look-In' Star Wars transfers were on heavier paper than the Wall's Sausages ones, which would imply that they were later Italian reprints.
This is the only Italian-printed transfer sheet we know of to say 'Printed in England'. All the others say 'Printed in Italy' (in English)! It's also the first job Letraset had printed in Italy (other than for Gillette, i.e., Kalkitos), & according to John Hunt — the Brand Manager for Letraset Consumer Products at the time — Star Wars caught everyone by surprise with its popularity. It was Letraset's most popular range, in fact. Presumably they found they had under-printed, ordered a rush job reprint at Sodecor, & in their hurry didn't correct the text.
The Ashford transfers are distinguishable from the Italian ones in several respects; they are printed by rotary gravure rather than offset litho (although admittedly you would have to be an expert to spot the difference), & the plastic backing is thin, brittle, & glossy, whereas Sodecor plastic is thick & has a near-matte finish.
The second photo demonstrates the weight & opacity of the Sodecor plastic, & it also shows that the strips of twelve transfers didn't always begin or end with the same transfers.
Here are the colouring competition instructions in close-up so you can read them. Thanks to Karl Neve for providing his own scans:
In order to find out if there was a split between the transfers printed for Wall's & those for Look-In, I started asking Sellers on eBay to describe the type of plastic & — this is the fatal bit — asked them if they said "Printed in England" on them. Now, the thing is that they ALL say "Printed in England". As mentioned above, Letraset didn't change the artwork for the reprints, although I didn't know that then.
Although most Sellers are very nice & helpful, a few Sellers starting reporting back all kinds of ludicrous rubbish. Furthermore, this generation of spurious info has had an unexpected feedback effect, & now you see Sellers perpetuating myths for which I was inadvertently responsible, making it harder to separate fact from fiction. Some Sellers jumped to the conclusion that there were cheap fake repros printed in Italy, & try to reassure their bidders that these are the genuine English variety with "Printed in England" on them! Others… well, you can imagine. Basically, I've created a monster. Before I started asking daft questions, everyone happily assumed that all these transfers were the same. Now no-one knows anything, but the bonkers theories are winning.
As in quantum physics, it's hard to observe without interfering; but I try to be more careful nowadays.
UPDATE: Years later I now have, here in my hand, a set of these transfers marked "Printed in Italy". These are a lot less common than the ones marked "Printed in England", so it seems likely that the first Italian batch contained the error, but that this was caught & corrected later. Mark Howard got in touch to say he had some, & having read this article was concerned that they might be reproductions. He had several sets, & very generously sent me some to inspect for myself. (They are genuine, of course!)
There's yet another twist to the tale, though. Although Letraset only owned a litho press once they had bought Sodecor in Italy, for a year or so previously they had been printing litho transfers at BKT in Tunbridge Wells, under the supervision of John Kingsland. So no doubt SOME of the litho transfers marked "Printed in England" really were printed in England!
Now, I can hear you all shouting "well, then: how do you know they weren't ALL printed in England!"
The answer to that one is that John Hunt assures me that BKT would not have been able to supply anywhere near sufficient numbers. So the current state of play is:
I really hope that's sorted out once & for all…!
According to the text, there were plenty of Letraset Stationery products available at the time, but whereas the three large Star Wars sets are mentioned, the range of ten smaller sets is not.
So the first mystery associated with this range is which transfers were gravure & which litho, but there is also a second entertaining conundrum. How did the transfers stay in the comic? We have gravity in this country. Those people who remember buying the comic don't remember the details, but there must have been some method, or hordes of kids would have been complaining they'd fallen out & got lost. We conjectured some kind of paper envelope, but if that was it then you would expect one to have turned up by now… maybe sellotape? Any brown tape marks anywhere?
Dave Bennett kindly allowed us to use his scan, above, showing a tiny staple in his sheet of two transfers, & added:
"I'm sure they couldn't have just been loose inside otherwise school kids would have been helping themselves to extra transfers while in the newsagents. They weren't attached to the front cover as the wording reads "INSIDE YOUR GREAT FREE GIFT"
"The staples do appear to be solely to keep the backing sheet attached to transfers. It isn't attached to the magazine and there are no holes on the cover to suggest it ever was. I have looked through the magazine and can not see any holes anywhere. The instructions are on page 19 and there are no holes here either."
But then, finally, someone remembers:
"A tiny piece of tape originally affixed them to the comic. Best wishes — palitoyswads"
(Sometimes a double sheet would be included in the comic, as here; at other times, two individual sheets were stapled together.)
Letraset produced stationery, & their Star Wars stationery was particularly successful (you can still find loads of it on eBay). We cover that in detail on the Letraset Stationery page, but for now, here is a highly relevant item: the 'Star Wars Space Writing Set' contained fifteen envelopes, a writing pad, a notebook & this sheet of six transfers. Very likely other combinations of transfers were possible; clearly all these promotions just snip off the required number of transfers from the sheet.
For other items in the Star Wars Stationery range, see the Letraset Stationery page.
Above: with backing papers. Below: without backing papers.
Star Wars fans can apparently get quite upset that there's no "Han Solo" transfer.
Actually, the missing Han Solo illustrates a dating issue. We know Look-In re-used these transfers for their issue dated "week ending 11 March 1978", but we don't know when Wall's launched their promotion; I am guessing considerably earlier than that.
Film companies would approach merchandising companies in November so that merchandise would be available BEFORE the release of the film (I saw it in London at Christmas 1977, which confuses people who think the official UK release date was the next year). Marketers do not wait until the release to put all their products out there; they put them out FIRST, to generate interest. They would supply the manufacturers with detailed spec sheets or artwork, & this could often get seriously misinterpreted. This is almost certainly why there is no Han Solo transfer; Letraset would not have seen the film to see why this would be a mistake, & monsters would have seemed a better bet for a limited number of images than an apparently superfluous chap.
So my guess is that these transfers were produced during December; it could have been earlier, but the turnaround might have had to have been too fast to be practical, & at the other extreme it probably would have been before the UK release date, which according to the IMDB was 27th December 1977. January is, of course, perfectly possible — but if Star Wars hadn't been a big hit, Letraset would have been left with tons of transfers no-one wanted to buy. Much better marketing to put them out BEFORE the film turns out to be a flop.
eBay Seller "garth1565" listed a set of these with a compliment slip from Letraset (still at auction as I write this; search for his name on eBay if you are interested!). Intrigued, I asked him for the story behind this; he very kindly replied:
"I wrote to Letraset at the end of the promotions, sending a reply paid envelope — saying that I was unable to collect the rub down transfers and was it possible that they could help provide any since the promotion was over. They sent back to me this fill strip that had obviously been pinned to someone's board at the works. There is no note on the Compliments Slip"
So here it is, straight from Letraset's pin-board via garth1565:
Many thanks to members of SPLAT Craig Spivey & Jess Harper, & to Dave Bennett & Karl Neve, for providing those images which we didn't already have in the SPLAT Scan Archives. Thanks also to Martin Lacy (eBay ID: starwars--collector) for his regular helpfulness in coming forward with information (on other topics as well as this). And to Mark Howard for generously donating some Italian samples!
Picture Credit: The SPLAT Scan Archives — Jess Harper — Craig Spivey — Dave Bennett — Karl Neve — garth1565 — Mark Howard
© Tom Vinelott 2023