Helix was thriving in 1977, buying up smaller companies like Dunn & Taylor (who made cash boxes) and Colonel Rubber Ltd (who made rubbers - erasers, for American readers) and consolidating their brand. Starting in March 1978 they produced a wide range of Star Wars branded stationery, including vinyl and wooden pencil cases, rulers, pencils (and toppers), geometry and maths sets, pencil sets and die-cut rubbers. They also made the fantastic Death Star pencil sharpener, which was later made famous by its prominent inclusion in Stephen J. Sansweet’s Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible book.
Craig Spivey, a noted Star Wars collector, said, “These products were appealing to kids because they were bright and incorporated their favourite characters. There was even a chance to win a Star Wars school set by collecting tokens from tins of Heinz Beans and sausages.”
I had some pencils, the small ruler and a couple of pencil toppers but they are all long since gone. Since school stationery was bought to be used, the items either ran out (pencils and rubbers), got thrown away or put in the loft (moving into the eighties and comprehensive school with a Han Solo pencil case perhaps wouldn’t have worked). As a result, as Craig Spivey says, “the products have become incredibly sought after.”
|Pencil toppers (top) and die-cut rubbers (bottom) - I love that Darth has dials on his suit!|
see my post here), I often had a look at ebay to see what was about and was very surprised at the price some of the items were going for. Even the Stormtrooper ruler (which I would love) is fetching prices of upwards of £35!
|Ad from Star Wars Weekly, issue dated 26th July 1978|
Letraset was founded in London in 1959, introducing ‘innovative media’ for commercial artists and designers. It later moved to Ashford, Kent and is now based in Le Mans, France. Their original product was the Letraset Type Lettering System but, in 1961, they created a revolutionary dry rub-down method they called Instant Lettering and it became their core product. In 1964, the company applied the dry rub-down technique to a children’s line called Action Transfers. Following the birth of home computing (when loads of fonts were suddenly at consumers fingertips), sales declined but since Letraset held the rights to their fonts they entered the digital market and also began to manufacture art marker pens. They also, fantastically, still make transfer sheets for when designers want to avoid a samey-digital look. The company was purchased by the ColArt group in 2012.
|Escape From The Death Star - pic courtesy of action-transfers.com, from the Craig Spivey collection|
which I wrote about here) in the w/e 11th March issue and Star Wars Weekly No.9, dated 5th April. In addition, Wall’s ran a promotion with its sausages and there were blocks of six sheets available in the Star Wars Space Writing Set.
Letraset released three sets (known as L46) - Battle At Mos Eisley, Escape From The Death Star and Rebel Air Attack - which all featured panoramic backdrops with excellent and detailed painted backgrounds. As with the Topps cards, they were an ideal way to re-live the film, capturing a moment (though one as interpreted by Letraset’s artists) that would then become iconic to us and there’s a lovely sense of nostalgia seeing these images now. These sets went into a second printing as Letraset were taken by surprise at their popularity and John Hunt, the brand manager at the time, later said “the Star Wars sets were probably the most successful transfer set ever made.”
|L46 Escape From The Death Star cover, courtesy of action-transfers.com - click the picture to see it bigger|
|L46 Escape From The Death Star backdrop, courtesy of action-transers.com - click the picture to see it bigger|
|L46 Escape From The Death Star transfer sheet, courtesy of action-transfers.com|
|The Millennium Falcon (set 5), pic courtesy of action-transfers.com - click the picture to see it bigger|
|scan of my copy|
|scan of my copy (filled in by 9-year-old me). Does anyone else think Uncle Owen looks a bit like Oddbod from "Carry On Screaming"? Click the picture to see it bigger|
|pic courtesy of action-transfers.com - click the picture to see it bigger|
In the late 70s, Letraset Consumer Products branched out into character-licensed stationery with four main ranges - Star Wars, Super Heroes (DC again), Thelwell (whose wonderful artwork and cartoons now, sadly, seem to have faded from view) and posters (that the kid got to colour in themself).
|photo courtesy of action-transfers.com, from the collection of Craig Spivey|
|C-3PO and his Intergalactic Translations...|
As a "special edition", Maped Helix have released a whole range of "40th Anniversary" stationery items - repro versions of the pencil cases, maths set, rulers and pencil sharpeners, just in case you missed them the first time around.
Action Transfers (with special thanks to Tom Vinelott)
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London). I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.
To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.
May The Force Be With You!
Find all the entries in the thread here
Find all the entries in the thread here