Although I am not yet that old (born in 1969), I was raised in a different world, full of westerns and related toys, books, comic books. At that time (70’s) children did not live locked at home, thus my friends and me would watch our favorite westerns and, later, would reach the streets, to play with our “far west” toys (soldiers, Indians, cowboys, horses, guns), usually reenacting the stories that we had just seen on television. If the day was rainy, no problem, the living rooms of our homes would become Texas, Arizona, Montana, for many hours of “adventures”. It was not unusual that in a single afternoon more Indians would “die” while attacking our forts than real Indians died during the last four decades of the 19th century in the American west.
That was the world as I was introduced to it. In the innocence of my childhood I could not imagine that the world could change so dramatically. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise in the beginning of the 1980’s when I noted that everything was changing. Westerns were disappearing from TV, far west toys were getting harder to find. Until they simply vanished.
I am no sociologist, but I have tried to understand what happened to the western, as a cultural gender. I have not made any detailed research, but I believe that the western was the leading theme during the 20th century, both in movies, music, comic books, books, toys. And then it disappeared. What happened to the millions of people who liked westerns? They simply woke up one morning and decided that they did not like it anymore? I have no explanation for this phenomenon.
Anyway, westerns and related toys bring back the best memories of my life, memories of my childhood.
In the 1990’s and beginning of 21st century I noted, as many of you also did, that the memory of the western related toys was fast vanishing. Then I decided to do my share to preserve such memory. I first thought of a book, but nobody in Brazil was interested in being the editor of such book. Then I thought about a website, but I wanted other collectors to be my “partners” in such project. Although low, there were costs with development and maintenance of a website, and I could not find candidates for this partnership. Finally I concluded that if I wanted to make it happen I would have to do it alone. Therefore, the site www.brinquedos.faroeste.nom.br was finally put on the air on August 2005.
Since then me and other collectors have written texts about old far west toys, mostly with information kept in our memories and images from our collections. Updates are done bimonthly. I have also travelled throughout Brazil and abroad to introduce other collectors, to introduce dealers, to show toy soldiers fairs, curiosities, etc.
Presently (2011) the site has about 20.000 thousand hits per month, which I consider a success, since it is exclusively about toys and published only in Portuguese (so far), a language spoken by few people when compared to English, Spanish, Mandarin.
Now, to celebrate the site’s 6th anniversary, I decided to create this section in English, to tell international readers a little about the history of the far west toys made in Brazil. Hope you enjoy it. And, please, forgive me for the errors in the text, English is not my native language.
In this first text I intend to tell briefly the history of a Brazilian factory named Casablanca, which produced far west toys between 1964 and 1969, and its toys. The history will be told through Casablanca’s products.
To understand the history of far west toys in Brazil we have to start in Spain. People from Spain loved toy soldiers in general, and specifically figures related to the American west. There were plenty of factories making toy soldiers in Spain in the 1950’s, first of rubber and, later, of plastic. Interestingly, most of such factories were located in the Barcelona region (it is just a coincidence that Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world…).
Names such as Jecsan, Comansi, Reamsa, Pecchi, and many others will live forever in the memory of those who love toy soldiers. I could say (and let me know if I am wrong) that Spain produced along the years much more toys related to the old west than the USA, where the actual history happened.
As the readers know, between the 1930’s and 1970’s, Spain was a dictatorship, governed by General Franco. During that period many people had problems with the government, and had to leave the country. Among them was a man named Mariano Lavin, and his family.
Mr. Lavin left Spain in the end of the 1950’s, and decided to migrate with his family to São Paulo, Brazilian biggest city. At that time São Paulo was full of opportunities for those who wanted to work. Some say that Brazil is still a great opportunity, although I am personally not so sure about the future of my country…
The family was composed by Mr. Lavin and his wife Isabel, two sons and two daughters. The oldest son was Luis Lavin.
Upon arriving in São Paulo, in a very poor financial condition, Mr. Lavin and his family went to live in a neighborhood named Mooca. Mooca was originally populated by Italians, but by the 1960’s there were also plenty of Spanish living there. The Lavin family lived at the corner of Visconde do Inhomerin and Oratório streets, in the building shown in the following picture (picture from 2010):
The entire family lived in the same apartment.
Mr. Lavin opened a snack bar, located in the same building, on the ground floor, in one of the doors shown in this picture.
Soon his snack bar became a meeting point for the Spanish who lived in Mooca. When he came to Brazil Mr. Lavin brought with him many toy soldiers made in Spain (cowboy, Indians and cavalry figures). To his friends Mr. Lavin frequently told about his dream – to produce such toys in Brazil. However, he did not have the necessary capital to start the production.
It is important to remark that it was the beginning of the 1960’s and the entire country (children and adults) stopped everything they were doing to watch TV shows such as Rin Tin Tin, Bonanza, Bat Masterson and many others. Therefore, there was a huge market for toys related to such shows and the old west in general. I really do not understand how no one had perceived this opportunity yet.
From the Spanish immigrants who met at Mr. Lavin’s snack bar, the one with the best financial condition was named Ortega. Mr. Ortega worked with fabric, but was not happy with his business, he was losing money. Thus, hearing from Mr. Lavin about his dream, Mr. Ortega decided to finance the project.
With Mr. Ortega’s financial support, it was created the Indústria de Brinquedos Casablanca ltda., with three shareholders: Mr. Lavin, his son Luis Lavin, and Mr. Ortega. It was the end of 1963.
First product was released in the beginning of 1964. The Company started its operations in a very small house, that nobody seems to remember exactly it was located. However, due to the very fast success of Casablanca, they soon moved the company to the building shown in the picture below. In this building, located at the corner of Madre de Deus and Visconde do Inhomerin streets, they would stay until the closing of the company in 1969.
Mr. Lavin’s dream was to produce toys in Brazil. My dream is to buy this building and make a toy soldier museum there. However, this is an impossible dream With the explosion of prices of real estate properties and Brazil, it is a miracle that this old building is still standing. It will probably be replaced by a skyscraper very soon.
Well, Brazilian figures would be copies of the original ones that Mr. Lavin had brought from Spain. Later in the 1960’s Casablanca would copy more Spanish figures and also some German figures from Elastolin.
The first product, to be released in the beginning of 1964, was the Fort Apache. It was actually written Fort (in English), instead of “Forte” (in Portuguese). Only in 1975 the word “Forte” would replace the “Fort”. This first product was created to surf in the wave of success of the hottest TV show of the moment – Rin Tin Tin.
If the figures were copies of the Spanish ones, the fort was a legitimate Brazilian creation, probably designed by Luis Lavin and the first employee of Casablanca (who was a joiner). The fort was made of wood, painted in red. Red would be the color of the forts made in Brazil until 1977. It came with four palisades, headquarters, observation tower, four stairs and a flag pole, all made of wood.
The first fort made in Brazil by Casablanca is shown in this picture:
Obs. Figures shown in the picture above are not the originals from the set.
Part of the success of a toy is related to the decoration of its box. The design for the first box (shown below) was created by Luis Lavin:
Among the figures brought by Mr. Lavin from Spain there were (I believe) very few cavalry. Thus, this first fort had only four cavalry figures: a figure representing lieutenant Rip Masters, a figure representing corporal Rusty and two soldiers on horse. If we consider Rin Tin Tin as a member of the cavalry, we can say that there were five cavalry figures in this first fort…
The rest of the figures that came with the fort (around 35) were Indians, cowboys and horses. If the reader looks at the picture of the box (above), it is possible to see that there is no cavalry at the palisades, only cowboys (and one Indian, maybe a scout…).
Two mistakes were done at that time – horse soldiers were painted in red, instead of blue, and cavalry was named as “confederates”. The first mistake was soon fixed. Second one remains until present day.
However, until the end of Casablanca, in 1969, cavalry soldiers would be painted with light blue coats and dark blue pants, when actual cavalry uniforms had dark blue coats and light blue pants.
The production method was also copied from Spain: plastic figures were made at the factory, and then they were handed to families who lived nearby to be painted. Families worked together painting figures (father, mother, children), usually at night or over the weekends. The families were paid based on production. The company defined no standard of colors for the figures, thus we find the 1060’s figures painted in many different colors, depending on the creativity of each family.
A production method like this would be forbidden in the present day, due to labor law. However, at that time it was a party, and people who worked painting figures remember it as being a good time of their lives.
In 2005 I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing one of the families that painted figures for Casablanca, the Sillas family, shown below:
Edson Sillas, at left, was a child at the time they painted figures.
The success of Fort Apache was immediate and stupendous. Casablanca was nothing in the beginning of 1964 and at the end of the year it was one of the major toy makers in Brazil. I heard, but I could never confirm, that the Casablanca history was studied as a case in Harvard.
At the same speed the partners went from poverty to wealth, and soon moved to better houses.
I also interviewed the son of the first employee of Casablanca and he told me that the sales department of the company did not need to work – everything they produced was already sold even before the production was finished. He also told me that it was usual that his father would work the entire night, without sleeping, producing forts.
With the huge success in 1965/66 the line grew with three more items: the Caravan (wagon train), the Apache Camp and the Fort Apache in plastic.
The boxes of the two new items are shown below, together with the box of Fort Apache (already shown above):
Apache Camp is shown below:
The picture above is of the item as it is in my collection. However, the original one came with only five tepees, the five shown at the center of the picture - four blue and one brown, this one smaller, known as the tepee of the chief.
With the set came a round base, done of paper. The set contained 34 figures.
The caravan (there was a TV show at the time named The Caravan) was composed of five wagons, three of them covered and two of them uncovered. Wagons were done of wood. The set had 61 figures. This first version of the caravan came with “skinny” horses.
In 1967 the “skinny” horses were substituted for “fat” ones, copies of original ones from Elastolin (picture below):
The set came with bags (of fabric) and boxes (of plastic) for supplies (rifles, dynamite, etc.).
The third and last release of 1965/1966 was a Fort Apache in plastic. I have dedicated many years of my life to collecting far west toys, but I never saw this fort. I also never met someone who had it. I do not know how its box looked. And the only image I have of it (shown below) is from a Casablanca flier that came with the toys:
This fort came with 41 figures. Figures were the same that came with the wooden fort.
In 1967 Bonanza was a major hit in Brazil. Casablanca decided to surf in the success of this TV show and released two new products: the Ponderosa Ranch and the Virginia City.
Image below is from the Ponderosa Ranch (box and set). The design for this box was the first work of designer Nelson Reis for far west toys. From 1970 through 1990 Nelson would be the major illustrator of boxes for far west toys in Brazil.
The set was composed of a base, two houses (made of wood), wind vane (wood and metal), fences (plastic), gate (plastic), animals (plastic) and cowboys.
When the Cartwright family needed more confusion than they usually had at the Ponderosa, where did they go? Precisely - to Virginia City. Thus, the second release of Casablanca in 1967. Image of the box is shown below:
In my opinion, Virginia City was the most beautiful set ever produced by Casablanca. A little expensive at its time, it is very difficult to find nowadays. In all my years as a toy collector I have seen only two sets of Virginia City and, unfortunately, any of them were mine.
Virginia City was composed of 6 buildings, all done in plastic, over a base, as shown in the two pictures below:
With a city came the need for a stagecoach. No problem, Casablanca produced a stage, which was a copy from the original made by Elastolin in Germany.
The stagecoach can be seen in the picture below. This picture is from a 1968 Brazilian magazine, and it also shows The Ponderosa and the wagon train (under attack).
In 1967 the old wooden fort suffered some changes:
Stairs from wood to plastic;
Flag pole from wood to plastic.
New box illustration is shown below:
And here is the fort:
Finally, the last release of 1967 – the Big Fort Apache, a wooden fort, bigger than the regular one. Box and fort below:
As far as I know, Casablanca produced only two items that were not related to the old west. First item was a Viking ship and Viking figures (shown below). Second item was a crèche (all done in plastic).
All Casablanca figures came with numbers. Each figure had a name and, with the number the kids could check, in a list, the related names.
Each Casablanca figure also had the name “Casablanca” written in its base.
By 1969 the relationship among the three partners of Casablanca was not as good as it had been in the beginning of the company. Then, during a weekend, there was a fire at the company, which caused some destruction (although not total loss). The partners then decided that it was a good time to terminate the partnership and close the company. At the top of its success.
Mr. Lavin decided to stop working and just enjoy all the money he had accumulated. He would die in 1973.
Luis Lavin opened another company (Gulliver), which kept producing far west toys, and will be subject of future texts.
Mr. Ortega went to work for other toy makers.
Thus, with this decision of the three founders, one of the most beautiful histories in the Brazilian toy industry came to an end. Far west toys would keep being produced by other factories but, in my opinion, they would never be as good as the ones made by Casablanca.
Mystery fort: in the Brazilian history of Fort Apache that I wrote in Portuguese I placed the fort shown below as the second fort released by Casablanca. However, I am becoming convinced (not fully convinced yet) that it was actually the last model released by Casablanca or the first fort released by Gulliver, a few years later. Gulliver forts will be the subject of a future text. In this model the American flag was replaced by a strange yellow 7th cavalry flag.
See you in two months from now.
Obs. Some of the pictures shown in this text are from friends.