The Aurora History and Price Guide For Classic Model Kit Fans
The Legacy of Aurora Model Kits Lives On
Call this the book review that is 22 years past due. I bought my original copy of The Aurora History and Price Guide in the late 1990s and have read its pages many times since. The book might not be the most thorough look at the company, but readers gain great insights into the history of the legendary Aurora Plastics Company. The tale of how it rose to prominence and then declined appears in the pages and reasonable depth.
Written by Bill Bruegman, The Aurora History and Price Guide delivers a fun and interesting tome covering the story behind the model kits that had an indelible effect on pop culture.
I first discovered Aurora in the 1970s when I saw the classic ones my brother had built. The aged kits rested in the basement for over a decade and aged well. Over the years, I would see Aurora dealers selling the rare original kits at sci-fi and horror conventions. Eventually, in the late 1990s, I could buy reissues of the old models.
Whenever I built one of those models, I went back to the fantastic book by Bill Bruegman. Reading details about the story behind a particular model added a little enthusiasm to the hobby project.
Behind the Scenes at Aurora
What stands out with the book is the tome captures a lost time in American history. The toys of the 1960s do reveal a lot about the culture of those who were still very young while America experienced upheaval.
The tale of Aurora's early history also proves inspiring. The company started when a few entrepreneurs from diverse business backgrounds came together in Long Island and Brooklyn, NY to (accidentally) become involved with toys and models. Aurora began as a plastic molding company and moved into toys and models a little later.
Model kit success built slowly. For a few years, the company was around producing model kits featuring Boys and Girls from Around the World, American Presidents, and Historical Figures such as Knights in Shining Armor and Roman Gladiators. Aurora did okay in the market. The impressive net sales in the late 1950s were $2 million a year. By 1964, the monster model kits were generating $50+ million in net sales, thanks to the decision to produce monster model kits. The Shock Theater horror TV syndication package helped the sells, well, monstrously.
These and other interesting facts are present in the pages of the book. Readers gains further insight into Aurora Model kits that were planned by were never actually made. The "almost was" section provides some intriguing reading.
There is a greater overall picture present in the tale of Aurora Models.
Most inspiring, Aurora Plastics was a small business started by two men who had a dream to run a small Long Island business and achieve success. And succeed, they did. Founders Abe Shikes and Joe Giammarino showed what someone can do with the right work ethic and the right business instincts.
Yet, by 1971, the steps towards the end of Aurora began.
The book goes great into the awful sale of the company to Nabisco. Aurora could have survived because many other model kit companies could still thrive in a changing landscape. However, Nabisco had no clue what to do with Aurora and promptly ran the legendary model kit brand into the ground.
Amazingly, 35 years after the end of the original Aurora run, the legacy of Aurora model kits still lives.
Aurora Monsters: The Defining Kits
While Aurora released all manner of different model kits, the legendary monster model kits made the company a huge success. One of the more interesting facts in the book is we learn that the idea came from a young fan who wrote in a suggestion about what type of models to come up with next. A young boy suggested monster model kits, and the idea, ironically, was first dismissed. When wiser heads prevailed and the debut Frankenstein model kit was issued, Aurora Plastics was on its way to massive success.
One other interesting bit of trivia in the book is the revelation fears did exist on the part of Aurora execs that parents would find the monster kits too garish. Then, a psychiatrist made a public statement about the kits' empowering children. In short, since they could hold the model kits in their hands, any fear surrounding the monsters could be diminished. Good enough. The models now had an authority figure offering a parental stamp of approval.
Like GI Joe dolls, Aurora Models hit the market at the right time with the right product. The classic Universal horror films were a huge hit in syndication from the late 1950s to roughly the late 1960s. Aurora's first line of monster models had the horror fad going for it. The rise of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine aided in giving the kits a tremendous amount of help connecting with young and very enthused monster fans. And those great James Bama painted boxes were very eye-catching.
The cycle did run its course and, after the release of 1969s Forgotten Prisoner of Castlemare, the original horror line was no more. After the company's disastrous sale to Nabisco, horror model kits would ironically spell doom for the name brand.
Monster Scenes model kits debuted in 1971, and they reflected how horror had changed and was becoming more shocking and exploitative. The model kits were deemed sadistic by parents, and the strange models in the line were pulled from shelves.
Nabisco had no idea what to do to keep Aurora sales afloat in an era where the Saturday Morning heyday of the 1970s heralded in many new and amazing toys such as superheroes from Mego, Hotwheels cars, and Evel Knievel as himself.
The Monsters of the Movies line was released in 1975, and the sales were, sadly, poor. The models were not bad ones, but the craftsmanship in them was minimal and nowhere near as innovative as the horror model kits of the 1960s. Monsters of the Movies' failure saw the end of Aurora until the reissue of the kits by Polar Lights in 1998. Moebius is releasing Aurora reissues along with inspired by Aurora kits. Anyone wanting to relive the glory days of Aurora can do so today as the reissues are outstanding.
A Labor of Love
The Aurora History and Price Guide truly is a labor of love. Bill Bruegman has written the quintessential book on the subject. Those interested in buying a copy can get a collectible one from Amazon or another seller. It is well worth the investment.
And buy one of those reissued kits while you are at it.