Come up and see my etchings
That was a mildly suggestive proposal from the comedies of the 1960s, but just exactly what are etchings? In railway modelling terms, I - and many who read this - have lived through the launch, rise and decline of the etched kit. They were wonderful things - a flatpacked locomotive, coach or wagon, that required a level of soldering skill to assemble it, but which gave you a model of something that simply wasn’t available by any other means. No other kits have ever looked quite so shiny and exciting when you opened the box. I got into actually producing some etched parts, things such as GWR station canopy valancing and the lovely decorative ridge tiles for Much Wenlock station, through my association with Mopok. That was the kits-and-bits business set up by John Senior and Tony Dyer, fellow members of Egham & Staines Model Railway Society. I sold cast whitemetal parts through Mopok, too, but I was a hopeless pattern-maker and Adrian Swain (ABS Models) made most of the patterns for my products. I could draw quite well, however, and etchings begin as drawings. I should add that the only model etchings available at the time were a small number of GWR locomotive name and numberplates from a couple of manufacturers. John and Tony had made contact with one of these nameplate makers, Geoff Kilner, who traded as LFC Nameplates. Geoff had inherited the family’s Yorkshire fireworks company, Lion Fireworks (hence LFC), but the cost of insuring the magazines of explosives had led him to look for an alternative line of work. He had plate-making and printing machines for producing the firework casings, and the process of making printing plates is to etch the surface of the plate with acid. Geoff modified his plate-making machine so that he could etch small sheets of thin brass or nickel-silver, and the nameplate business was born. We soon latched on to that process and, for me, the only restriction was the size of sheet which Geoff could etch. It meant I could only do small parts and when I drew the sides for a Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Brake Observation car in ‘OO9’, it was too big for Geoff’s little machine. Then I had to go to a professional etching company, Microponent Development, in Birmingham. In time, health and safety regulation and pollution controls made it too expensive for a small private etching operation to survive and Geoff retired. The last items he produced for me were ‘Golden Arrow’ nameplate sets like those which, years later, we would sell through Model Rail in its early days.