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‘Italian space figures are some of the most imaginative of the 1950s … most desirable and highly sought after for collectors’ – S. Mark Young, OTS

Sci-fi movies and comics (and sporadically TV series) were very intriguing arguments in Italy to us children, relieved by the Marshall Plan, seduced by the American myth of the 1950s and fed by the illusion of the national boom of the 1960s. The future was like plasticine in our hands, and scifi toy figures were new heroes to aspire to. In February 1958, the publisher Torelli of Milan started a series of sci-fi comics drawn by Tacconi and Coppola, La Pattuglia del Cielo (The Sky’s Patrol). Suddenly, we children had our figures to play with, in many materials. Italian sci-fi figures produced in the 1950s and 1960s have in my opinion the charm of toys, and together represent the Italian makers’ efforts to stray from traditional toy figure sculpture that was still linked to naviete.

Italy, Isas rubber astronaut with radar-like machine(Alphadrome)

ISAS (Ennio Marchi) of Bagni di Lucca had astronauts in hollow rubber, circa 1950, produced by a hollowcast process similar to Wm Britains’, made by pouring rubber, latex and powder of Florence – or scagliola – in a clay mould, removing the excess after three or four hours drying. They were some 10–12 cm high, nicely painted and animated, with transparent plastic helmets and strange weapons and fittings.

Even if they were not my preferred figures – partly because, like every child fed with Catholic-Manichean principles, I was disappointed by the absence of ‘enemies’ –, I still remember their pleasant smell, the rubber’s softness under my fingers (which became dangerously glue-like in summer) and their excellent painting. I used to buy them in a dusty old shop close to the Pantheon, which is now a squalid tourist restaurant. The material used in their manufacture did not allow them, alas, to remain well preserved, which makes figures in good condition very rare today.

Around the 1970s came the first Italian experiment of 9cm tall swoppet figures, with pumpkin-like heads, separate weapons and capes. Weird aliens indeed, perhaps by ISAS or Nardi. Several brands at this time tried their hand at swoppets. These were also offered as a premium by Il Corriere dei Piccoli magazine, while others clearly copied from Cherilea were sold with a stunning spaceship by Tibidabo.

Italy, ISAS or Nardi swoppet aliens (Soldatini Spaziali)
Italy, Tibidabo Spaceship ca’60s-’70s with recast Cherilea astronauts (courtesy Orazio di Mauro)
Italy, Rovello Martians, very rare (courtesy Orazio di Mauro)

Rovello-Porro, which co-produced pickles and preserves, together with toy soldiers (yes, you read that right – call it Italian creativity!), made circa 1953 three 65mm composition Martians, possibly inspired by George Pal’s movie The War of the Worlds, with ‘very vibrant’ painting and ‘superb … quality of sculpting’ (S. Mark Young). We note here – as in many other figures worldwide inspired by the movies – the peculiar hook-shaped, crab-like hands. That shape was perhaps aiming to allow Martians also to grasp some of the brand’s juicy cherries or slices of pineapple directly from the can, according to the principles of marketing-mix!

Torgano was a very prolific brand of plastic figures, which included some from the Flash Gordon saga, with 8cm figures in Bakelite in different painting variations and removable helmets. This included an athletic robot, resembling the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, as well as unusual flat spacemen, robots and Martians in coloured plastic. An early hard plastic series in the 1950s consisted of three Martians and three Earthlings in various colours (height 7cm), followed in the 1960s by a production in more perishable plastic, in gold and silver grey, (height 6.7cm), and finally in the 1970s by figures in hard plastic, in various colours and height (again 6.7cm tall). A series of eight two-dimensional hard plastic figures produced in the 1950s in various colours is now universally attributed to Torgano, even if some figures bear the mark ‘Plastix’, in relief above the base or engraved under it. Consistently with other brands, in the early 1950s a parallel 3.5cm series was also produced, consisting of three hard plastic figures in several colours.

Made from Bakelite again were the Alpia aliens, funny creatures with large protruding eyes and either various terrible weapons or antenna on their head. A large propeller on their back actually rotated. They were in metallized colours – bronze, silver, emerald, etc. Alpia produced a set of eight spacemen, a bazooka man and four aliens. Around the 1950s, the brand adopted two sizes – 4.5cm and 7.5cm – labelled ‘Alpia Made in Italy’. The figures were made of hard plastic, presumably Bakelite again. This makes them very difficult to find intact today, which is further complicated by the fact that their helmet was specially shaped and therefore cannot be replaced by others. We know of a series of twelve figures in 7.5cm, accompanied by a 9cm-long space cannon, which resembles a wartime anti-tank gun, with stars on the armour to indicate its ‘astral’ destination.

In the 1960s, some other brands preferred polystyrene. Co-Ma of Milan (an acronym of the surnames of the inventors Cortesi and Mauri) was one of the most prolific Italian companies that converted to making toys in 1951, thanks to their patenting of a new thermoplastic product based on synthetic resins called Poliglas. They operated until circa 1980. The brand sold circa 70mm figures in coloured plastic, such as the human patrolmen, with separate helmets. These were fantastic figures indeed, with nice poses and spacesuits resembling those in old comics, and came in two scales, circa 70mm and 45mm. The heroes were the Pattuglia Marziana (Martian Patrol); among the foe, called the Pattuglia Selenita (Selenite Patrol), odd goggleeyed aliens peep out. The latter had large caricature-like heads, and one is more likely to feel tenderness than fear for them. Both series were in attractive transparent or fluorescent polystyrene in both sizes, sometimes matt, and there is also a rare early production of spacemen in metallic green. The boxed figures were usually arranged in six different poses, and there could be a mixing of heroes and enemies in one box. Not infrequently, the same title was given to different packages, sometimes irrespective of their content.

In parallel, a very suggestive transparent series was also produced; a yellow one today attracts high prices if in mint condition in the box and with all transparent helmets, even if the rarest of all would seem to be the one in metallic green, not transparent. Sometimes these rocketmen were menaced by a disquieting ray-pop-gun included in some boxed sets.

Italy, Torgano, Flash Gordon spaceman (WorthPoint)
Italy, Alpia Aliens (Alphadrome)

Few brands were as heavily copied, apart from perhaps the American ones. Some detergents offered these figures as a premium, thus we children insisted, to the point of obsession, that our mothers buy ‘that’ detergent and not another. One of Co-Ma’s most beautiful sets was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (by EG, circa 1966) from the homonymous movie, inspired by the Jules Verne novel. I must confess that today I am still thrilled just by its sight, with small-scale spacemen with separate helmets, recycled as Captain Nemo’s divers, and a smaller Nautilus submarine ship. My own Proust’s syndrome immediately puts me back in my childhood bedroom with these figures, shining in their transparency, displayed on my table (fat children use a table to play with toy figures, slim ones do it on the floor/carpet!), ready to fight horrible creatures from the sea, such as plastic crocodiles or dinosaurs! The figures came in six different colours, both transparent and non-transparent.

Where once stood the glorious warehouses that churned out the wonderful Spacemen and Selenites for the joy of us children, today stands an inglorious residential area.

CoMa spacemen, Italy ca 1960 (Courtesy Mauro Di Mauro)
CoMa Selenites (Alphadrome)
Italy, Texas (APS Politoys) catapult missile-thrower goodies

Baravelli sold 54mm painted and unpainted soft plastic Apollo Project-like astronauts, but without a transparent visor on their helmet. This brand often copied other brands. In the space figures field, its favoured source was likely Marx from the USA. Both its 1970s series, The Spacemen and The Intrepid Astronauts (their English titles), were copies in white plastic of Marx’s Moon Base Astronauts and Space Capsule Astronauts of 1962.

Texas, whose name was consonant with the Western themes then in vogue and also successfully produced by the brand, was a subsidiary of the Milanbased APS Politoys (1955), later Polistil. In accordance with popular science fiction films of the time, its bizarre Martians had lobster hands and insect eyes, dog and frog snouts, and looked very similar to cartoon characters; perhaps ‘just the result of individuals or creative teams who were simply having fun’ (Alphadrome). The source of inspiration for these figures was comic books and films. According to M. Young and D. Lepers, their features were linked to the 1953 cover of Ron Turner’s pulp magazine Tremor and to films such as Invaders from Mars. Note how we Italians too suffered from a phobia about the Red Planet, and, by extension, about the ‘Reds’, an infection obtained directly from American mass-media, and extended in those times to politics too. In propaganda, every little bit helps!

Human spacemen were also very animated, usually armed to the teeth and in boots, with a helmet echoing Romans (and Archer figures too). The bases were detachable and embossed with stars and planets, and a small plastic tip that snapped into a circular base made the figures looks like they were suspended in space or ready to fly. ‘The figures were sold individually and in header bags and were also included as giveaways in Italian products such as Campo dei Fiori butter’ (M. Young and D. Lepers, OTS). There were twelve figures in soft plastic per group. This brand also offered nine different spaceships and about five atomic weapons, some with identical designs to US firm Lido’s Captain Video series. Some others were originals, such as the Solar Fighter on working wheels or the Galaxy Commander launching rockets through a spring.

Chromoplasto produced a set of six plastic aliens, plus a larger hooded central figure, all brightly painted in a combination of blue, red and yellow, equipped with an incredible armoury of space weapons and arranged in a cylindrical perspex box.


Harbert of Milan, was a toy company active between the 1960s and early 1990s, responsible for the distribution in Italy of famous US toy brands, such as those produced by Kenner and Mego, and many soft plastic astronauts ‘with familiar Hong Kong poses’ (Alphadrome), often packed in a transparent plastic bag with an illustrated top card that left something to be desired, I am afraid. In the 1960s, this brand also released (or distributed?) a ‘Ring Hand’ series (the name given by the hole in the subjects’ hands), consisting of four plastic figures circa 7cm high with the same basic uniform, coloured orange, purple, blue and bright green, to differentiate their vocation. The figures thus became interchangeable, and could become policemen (blue), firemen (red) and other corps, simply by modifying the accessories, which were always separate from the figures. The space figures were multi-accessorised: backpack with helmet (looking like a bell!) and belt, radio antenna and radio, rifle and atomic pistol. Helmet, backpack and belt were in one block; a kind of swoppet, if you will. Underneath the base is the title ‘MPC’.

Italy , Dulcop (Philux)

Around the 1970s, the still-in-business Dulcop (founded 1957) produced a single set of six very detailed astronauts in plastic, either painted or unpainted. It has been noted that apparently these figures were inspired by Russian cosmonauts because of their space helmets. Like those by some other brands, some of these astro/ cosmonauts were more adventurous than others, brandishing a disquieting ray-gun – or is it a camera? Dulcop first sold their figures painted, but when the figures were reissued in the 1980s, they were unpainted, and a number of figures were not reissued (Stadt’s Stuff).

According to the website Atlantic Mania, Atlantic Giocattoli Milano started producing mostly boats and speedboats. In the autumn of 1971, the first H0 scale toy soldiers appeared on the market in the first four packs of the Soldiers of Italy 10000 series, and such was its success that the brand soon established itself in Europe and North America, so much so that it produced series dedicated to the international market until circa 1988.

Between 4 April 1978 and 1980, Atlantic made some plastic figures in 2.5cm from Japanese science fiction ‘manga’ cartoons: Captain Harlock (according to the English translated version, Endless Odyssey); and a Grendizer series of the same size, plus some large action figures (circa 18cm) of the same character, also known in Italy as the popular UFO Atlas Goldrake robot, whose cartoons were broadcast in Italy by the national television network Rete 2 TV. The Captain Harlock series consists of four packages, including the captain’s heroes and their Base, and Albator and his followers and their Base. Sets included sixteen figures, about 2.5cm high, unpainted: both Space Bases are today practically unobtainable. Additionally, a nice Captain Harlock’s spaceship, Alkadia, was available. The front of the packs bore the Atlantic logo, the quantity of the contents, the name and image of the subject. Both Actarus and his friends appear, as well as enemies from Vega. There are twenty-two figures per box, always in HO 00 scale. The series also appeared in a diorama box, with terrain, HO 00 figures and both Goldrake and his enemy Golgoth in a larger scale.

The Space series, probably produced towards the end of 1980, consists of four packages: Legionari Spaziali (earthlings), Mostri Spaziali, (Space Monsters), a Space Hopper and a game, Battaglia Spaziale (Space Battle), including both opponents, a battlefield and rules. The astronauts were in 40mm scale, and from the ‘soviet’ shape of their helmets one could legitimately call them cosmonauts rather than astronauts. Although they wear suits like their contemporaries, they wield futuristic weapons. The box consisted of eight figures. Atlantic also offered chubby, and vaguely caricatured, aliens.

The larger Galaxy series (from 1978 to the early 1980s) contains a space man (Sky Man), a space woman with baby, some aliens, robots and vehicles, made in a soft plastic (as in the swoppet figures from Britains or Timpo). Most boxes included comic booklets describing the setting and characters of the toy line. There were at least seven characters, each character consisting of several plastic parts in a random colour, from ten basic shades, in four different packagings. The blue basic one had the characters in different colour combination; the snap-together version was in a kit, to be assembled and painted. ‘The “Galaxy Story” edition was the most expensive: the action figures were larger, and the kit came with two one-colour characters. The cover also opened like a book and contained a short comic book story. Finally, a “shooting” edition was produced, in which an accessory, not available in the other versions, was supplied. This was a weapon capable of firing bullets. Only for this edition, two additional characters were sold: Hypnos and Sloggy’ (Davide Longoni, La Zona Morta.)

Atlantic was appreciated for its military and historical series, but this new series apparently didn’t appeal to model enthusiasts or collectors, who found it a bit ridiculous, nor, it seems, to children, as it wasn’t even inspired by any TV series or films. Nevertheless, it managed to carve out a small space for itself in the history of toys of the late seventies, and we have always been fascinated by its alien appeal.

The Suci-Muggio company, a manufacturer of toys et alia (nice little plastic tea services), was pleased to flirt with Co-Ma of Milan, reproducing its figures as hollow plastic containers of not indifferent dimensions. So the child tired of a long trip with his family on the motorway around 1966 – in a blazing Fiat 128, a solid Fiat 500 or an old but still efficient Topolino – would have as a reward, at the first stop in an autogrill, a nice Martian, 21cm high, in semi-transparent plastic, full of tasty sweets. These were copied by Co-Ma, or under its licence, who knows, which would have been rather unlikely in those times. Other versions of these hollow giants are also reported as containers for both shampoo and puffed rice, often produced for export.

Since we are more or less entering the field of Italian space oddities, let’s continue with this singular space exploration, if you like, such as Aerogiocattoli Giolitto’s (Alessandro Quercetti and Roberto Giolitto) amusing space parachutes, and their flying saucers, which, incidentally, whistled when launched in the air. This brand is still going strong and exports all over the world. The well-informed Facebook post by Honda CB certainly describes it better than I could: ‘From Quercetti, we remember the legendary “TOR”, a toy missile that used an elastic sling to be launched up to a hundred metres high: a delayed opening mechanism allowed, at the end of the ascending flight, the release of a parachute for re-entry into the ground. Today the Tor is still in production and it is said to be the most sold Quercetti toy in the world with about 14 million pieces…’. From Giolitto we remember instead, among many others, the mythical “Eolo” parachutist and the “Medusa” spaceship, perhaps the first example of missile with parachute for the re-entry of the capsule placed at the tip.’

In the second half of the last century, Italian children (and apparently they were not the only ones) showed a marked odd predilection for divers. Perhaps this was because of their close resemblance to astronauts, perhaps because of an obscure association between the depths of the sea and those of space, and between oceanic monsters and those of the cosmos, aliens included. Consequently, they played with them (as did I!) as heroes of one or the other, and also with submarines and the like. We have already given the example of the Nautilus game, with the astronauts recycled as Captain Nemo’s divers, from Co-Ma of Milan.

The most popular submarine prototype circulating in my country at that time – and often also used as spaceship by us children – was made of hollow hard plastic by the British brand Tresco (circa 1955), with counterweights inside that made it sink, and a small tube into which you had to blow to make it resurface. Since divers, in about 7.6, 7.5 and 7.4cm, were often included as premiums with Tide and Vel detergents, children became what in marketing are called ‘persuaders to buy’, pestering their mothers to buy only those products – which at the time were real gold mines of figurines of all shapes and sizes. In general, what remains on these figures is the patent number printed on them, not the brand name.

Atlantic, Goldrake-Actarus and his friends (ebay)
Italy, Suci Muggio containers of perhaps shampoo and puffed rice (Alphadrome)
Italy, space oddities, Zax – detonating rockets (Soldatini Spaziali)

From 1940 onwards, the Zac company produced deadly 14cm-high detonating rockets, with brass nosepiece, wooden body, cardboard fins and detonating capsules inside. They were launched into the air and made a deafening noise on impact with the ground. My father vowed to give me a good thrashing if he ever found one in the house: after spending four years in the war in Yugoslavia exposed to much more deadly explosions, I think his peremptory order was more than justified.

We have seen how premium figurines were (and still are) very much in vogue. The children’s magazine Il Corriere dei Piccoli, for example, has a long tradition of them, including well-sculpted, swoppet, plastic space figures of unknown manufacture, 12cm high, which in 1970 were offered with the purchase of the magazine. The examples, reported by the inestimable, are four figures with three basic colours – yellow, red and dark metal. As we have seen, the tradition of premium cards, which were inevitably intended to condition the purchase, covered many categories, from waxes to detergents and chocolate.

I would now like to introduce some figures that are certainly extravagant, and a bit out of the subject matter here. I am referring to a small series of glass space figurines produced in the 1960s by the Soffieria De Carlini glassworks in Mantova, northern Italy, founded in 1947 and still in production. These figurines, complete with helmet and equipment, and including an Astronaut Father Christmas, were used to decorate the Christmas tree, and among comet stars and coloured balls that might have resembled planets. They certainly gave a futuristic touch to Christmas. Why, you may say, should we put them among toy figurines? Well, apart from their intrinsic playfulness, they were certainly – and I say this without fear of being contradicted by my peers – an object of play. We children in those post-war years played with a bit of everything. Quite the opposite to today’s plethora of offerings – which not only in my opinion disintegrates the child’s imagination, losing it in an ocean of obsessive reproduction – the children of those years enjoyed an infinite space of imagination.

Everything could be played with, including Christmas tree figurines.

May I give another example? My grandfather, a carpenter, received a present for me from the famous actress Anna Magnani, for whom he was working. This was a wax Christmas tree figurine representing a small snowman. At Christmas, its whiteness shone on the tree; afterwards, I played with it continuously, inventing fairy tales and stories with other characters of all scales and shapes. Today, this figurine is still with me: it is now an old man, it can no longer climb the Christmas tree and I have retired it from my games, but it still stands proudly, like an Italian version of a Chelsea Hospital Pensioner, in a corner of my showcases.

Plasten, Italy (Alphadrome)
De Carlini Blown glass Italian Santa-spaceman, ca 1960 (WorthPoint)
Plasten, Italy (Alphadrome)

Two further brands, far from being extravagant, were undoubtedly futuristic, modern and, dare I say it, prescient. Regarding the first, Plasten of Milan was ‘a courageous little company, now forgotten, (which) still lingers in the memories of some, such as myself, as a faint legend’ (Giampiero Freguglia). The game box for its Lunar Battle contained, according to Soldatini Spaziali, the following: a game scene – 50x57cm, three Earthlings, an Earth rocket, Selenite leader, car with radar, car fighter, car with lunar motion and lunar car. All game components were in resin; the Earthlings measured 7cm, the cars 9cm.

The second brand, which was out of the ordinary at the time (and perhaps I dare say still is), was undoubtedly Edison Giocattoli, with its ‘Project TH3’. Perhaps it was precisely this extraordinariness that led to its demise. In addition to the company’s action figures – a rather rare commodity in 1970s Italy –, they offered electrically operated components, such as a mechanical arm that shoots bullets, laser weapons, etc. Moreover, echoing the distant space costumes in vogue among American children in the previous three decades, the experiment was made of providing the child with equipment that would lead him to identify with the heroes of the Project. Unfortunately, however, as noted elsewhere, no reference was made to any popular science fiction hero or saga of the time, but instead to a narrative plot that was exhausted within the series itself. The series, produced by Edison Giocattoli towards the end of the 1970s, consisted of five characters (Thur, Thanos, Thitan, Duke Thyron and Black Genius) and some plastic components, which, when assembled, made up electric space war machines, powered by stylus batteries. In addition to the five characters there were four pistols, a gun, a rifle, a set of armour and 3 helmets with child-sized masks.

In the second half of the last century, as everywhere else, other products were also distributed nationwide in the Italian peninsula, including mainly items ‘made in Hong Kong’. We thus saw thousands of blisters of plastic unpainted spacemen, mainly copied from American brands. Just as an example, consider the Men in Space blister distribute by 3G of Florence. This contained two plastic Marx figures and one hard plastic spaceship. This was marketed in the 1970s. Another example was the Space Set by the prolific LP (echoing the homonymous French brand).

Despite paper figurines having always been a national Italian passion, I have not been able to find any traces of them, other than in today’s sporadic 3D productions, alongside pop-up books, which have been around since the 1960s. Perhaps the passion for space coincided with the years of the advent of plastic figurines, and therefore no paper ones were produced in the field of space. And perhaps today, as the nterest in paper figures wanes – in Italian children at least – and the galaxy of offers of space figures in other materials increases, such interest seems close to zero, apart from the ubiquitous pop-ups. I will thank collectors more expert than myself if they can contradict me and will be happy to meet Italian paper space figures that I do not know.

To bid a final fond farewell to those days, let me show you a humble toy, which Italian children on scorching summer beaches used to build, as an alternative to sandcastles, sand spaceships!

Interested readers will find many more examples of this kind of thing in my book ‘The History of Science Fiction and its Figurines’, by Pen & Sword.

Edison Giocattoli’s ‘Project TH3’ (Lady-Toys FLIP) I
Italy, unknown, sand form moulds (Internet)
Italy, unknown, sand form moulds (Internet)
The History of Toy Soldiers

Luigi Toiati, semiotician, also owned the brand Garibaldi & Co. Toy Soldiers together with his wife Monica. He now enjoys retirement, still producing toy soldiers for himself and some little or less little fans. He has recently completed his second book for the Publisher Pen & Sword, following up on the earlier ‘The History of Toy Soldiers.’ He lives in Rome with Monica and a lovely crazy kitten, Milù.

Abastoriani, Studi, Galaxy serie Atlantic (1 October 2014).

Di Mauro, M. and O. Italian Toy Soldiers, Cribs Figures (self-published, date unknown).

Fisher, Rich, Atlantic Space Figures, Stad’s Stuff (23 July 2019).

Freguglia, Giampiero, Plasten, Piccolo viaggio della memoria in un microcosmo delle meraviglie (2007).

Giasi, Raffaele, I giocattoli che hanno segnato la nostra infanzia, Tom’s Hardware (8 August 2018).

Giocattoli, Edison, Rare Tracce,, TH3 Project, (22 February 2018).

Longoni, Davide, La Zona Morta, , Atlantic Galaxy series. Young, Mark, Outer Space Adventures Old Toy Soldier Magazine, Vol. 27, No. 1.

Young, Mark, Outer Space Adventures. New Discoveries and Connections to Archer Plastics, Inc. Old Toy Soldier Magazine, Vol. 31, No. 4.

Young, Mark, Space Adventures. Chasing, etc. Old Toy Soldier Magazine, Vol. 37, No. 3).

Young, Mark, with D. Lepers, Space Adventures. Invaders from Mars, etc. Old Toy Soldier Magazine, Vol. 39, No. 4.

Young, Mark, et al., Blast Off!, Dark Horse Books (2012).

Internet /websites:
Alphadrome Internet Site (sci-fi)
Honda CB

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