Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wow - Brian Cowdery - Master Toymaker

Tuesday, January 21, 2013

Wow- Brian Cowdery
Master Toymaker and "artiste" extraordinaire


    Yesterday or the day before,  I came across a brand-new antique-looking toy. I surely thought it was old, yet it was described as "old new stock". So as you, that got my interest, and I had to read the description.  Sure enough the toy is modern, but I couldn't stop there. The final bidder had paid a handsome price for this item, and I had to find out who Mr. Brian Cowdery is!

    It turned out that I eventually found Brian, the master toymaker, although there are several people with the name of Brian Cowdery on the Net!  I wrote to Brian for his permissions, and he wrote back. He even presented me with a bio, which is appreciated, since he's very busy making great toys (I think he's actually an elf from the 1920's for Santa Claus caught in a futuristic time warp!).

  So without further fanfare and imaginative writing, I 'd like to introduce you to
Mr. Brian Cowdery - Master Toymaker and "artiste" extraordinaire.
(Please press on the above address to be redirected to Brian's amazing site)

Hello Stacey -

By all means, feel free to do whatever you think is appropriate on your blog.  I have no problem with you working with my photos since many of them were made hastily with low resolution and a less than desirable background.

For the sake of accuracy, let me give you a brief synopsis of how I came to do what I do.  I've been interested in art since I was a kid and back then I did things like teaching myself the hard way how to silkscreen so I could make up a batch of special T Shirts just to be an aggravation to my high school principal.  I designed our school ring when I was a junior, and after my junior and senior high school years I attended summer sessions at the University of Minnesota where I was exposed to many other facets of art.  I was about to be drafted, so I enlisted in the Marine Corps, where I began doing some custom paint work on cars.  After I was discharged in 1971 I began doing a lot of custom paint work on cars and motorcycles in addition to my day job.  Finally in 1974 I quit my job and began working for myself full time.  During the early '70s I bought some old pressed steel toys at a rummage sale because I found them really interesting and sculptural.  Eventually I discovered there were other toy collectors and toy shows, and from then on I was hooked.  I really liked the pressed steel toys from the 1920s and because of my automotive experience I began to restore the ones I'd find in poor condition.  I began collecting early pressed steel in earnest.

By about 1980 I had accumulated most of the seven body styles in the Buddy L Flivver line.  As I looked at them I wondered what else Buddy L might have produced, had the depression not begun to take its toll on the company.  I thought some kind of sedan might have been next, so I took a ratty roadster pickup and removed the top and the bed.  I sawed the lower body in two and moved the rear portion to the back end of the frame, filling the part in between the front and rear halves with 20 gauge sheet steel, which I welded in place with a torch.  I designed the overlay for the doors and windows in a similar way to how the Flivver coupe windows and doors are made and spot welded onto the roadster body.  I made a top and a closed car style windshield, put it all together and painted it.  I had made a Centerdoor Sedan.  I took that first toy to a man with a lot of experience in manufacturing small items.  He gave me lots of encouragement and his guesstimate of the amount of money needed to tool up for an original Flivver toy was about 1/6 of the actual cost of doing it.  By the time I realized how wrong he was, I was in way too deep to quit.  I persevered and borrowed all the money I could, and finally in 1982 I had finally acquired all the tooling and parts needed to build 250 Centerdoor Sedans.  I began assembling the toys and printed up a flyer to be inserted in Antique Toy World magazine.  One of their regular contributing writers took an interest in the project and did a short cover story which landed on the pages of the September 1982 issue.  Overnight, all the serious toy collectors in the country became aware of my project and orders began coming in.  It took me from 1982 to 1985 to complete the 250 Centerdoor sedans.  They all sold, and I managed to recover the money I had invested in the project.  I was fortunate to break even on the cost, donating the labor necessary to build, paint, pack, and ship the 250 pieces.

Since then I have made hundreds of other toys, many of them Flivvers.  The largest piece I ever built was a four foot long articulated aerial ladder fire truck that looks for all the world like it was made by Kelmet.  I designed and built Spirit of St. Louis airplanes in a cross between the styles of American National and Steelcraft.  I have done things like a Twin Coach Helms Bakery truck.  Many of the pieces I do today are one of a kind.  Some have been built in multiples, but never more than a couple dozen or so, and mostly a lot less than that.  Lately I've been fascinated by the thought of doing some buildings in pressed steel.  One of the fun things about what I do is never really knowing what might be next.

 If I can answer any questions for you I'd be happy to do so.

Best regards,

     Of course, I had to include this toy. Armand Bombardier, invented the  Ski-Doo up here in Quebec. I believed he had a type of winterized truck as you see above, but his real fame was the Ski-Doo. His children and grandchildren eventually purchased Canadair in the early 1970's, and changed the name to Bombardier Aerospace, when the Prime Minister of the time had decided to sell off several of the government's "Crown Corporations". There were Petro Canada,  Cn Railway, and Canadair. Canadair made many WWII airplanes at their plant in Ville Saint Laurent, where I grew up.  The Bombardiers sold off Ski-Doo, but I believe they still have a "share" in it.

     This toy reminds me of some of the more famous toys such as the Bluebird that was driven by Sir Malcolm Campbell way back when.

I especially like the accent details such as the mini-barrels, 
and the chains that hold down the barrels.

For sure, I'm going to add another post on Brian's work.  He has a set of detailed photos of the above truck, and I've never seen one of these toys before. That led me to think if there has ever been an AirStream toy made. Of course, I found some, but not any real treasures. I'll still be looking though!

 Brian did mention that if I had any questions, I could ask him. One question that I'll ask is how long does a toy take to make. Another question that I have is the texture on some of the toy roofs.
I'm interested in knowing if truck roofs were made different in the 1920's and later?

I like to present a post as soon as I have the approval of the person that I contacted. For today's post, I haven't had enough time to write some of the interesting details about Brian's toys, and his rematch to design and create them to accurate productions as they were made way back then.
Brian mention "Flivvers", which I assume is a brand name that I will have to research. 

I've seen a  Lifesaver toy before. I'll have to check out who made it. The original is quite rare, in the sense that you don't see too many of them in the marketplace. 

I've seen a very old cousin of this great-looking toy version of this toy before. I even wrote a post whereby I matched up a 1920's Butler Brothers catalogue page with the original toy ( I think.) again, because I was in a rush, I will have to add some more details later.

I'd like to thank Brian Cowdery for helping me write this post today.
Have a look at his site, because I've only presented a small portion of his fine toys that he has on his site. And I even managed to find some for sale or that were sold that weren't even on his site!

Thanks as usual for dropping by to visit,and have a great day wherever you may be.

It was "only" -20 degrees C or -4 degrees F this morning.
It's going to get even colder in the next few days!

Have a great day, and if you live in a warm climate, and have toys, I am always willing to travel!

Have pen and Camera will travel!
(Please excuse me Richard Boone and Have Gun Will Travel Producers).


No comments: