Ever been suddenly reminded of something that was once an everyday part of your life, but somewhere along the way, it wasn’t anymore, and you think, ‘I haven’t thought of that in YEARS!’?
For me, it was last Tuesday, when this stamp crossed my radar. First reaction: “STICKLE BRICKS!” These joyfully-colored, spiky, plastic building blocks were a regular feature of the bedroom floor in my childhood home. But indeed, I hadn’t thought of them in years.
Second reaction: “I didn’t know they were called Stickle Bricks. How about that.”
And then came the question. What the fuck are Stickle Bricks doing on a postage stamp? I had to know more.
It turns out this was one of ten stamps released by the UK’s Royal Mail in August 2017 to lionize that nation’s Classic Toys. The featured toys vary in vintage but skew old – even the ones I fondly recall were hand-me-downs from an earlier generation. I suspect they didn’t all travel abroad (you mean nothing to me, ‘Merrythought Bear’. You’re cuddleable though, in a lamearse teddy bear Halloween costume kind of way).
The sumptuous photography and in-period designs instantly transport you to a relatively recent bygone age . According to a glimpse behind the scenes in Design Week, designers Interabang sourced original versions of the toys, and in many cases used the contemporaneous packaging as inspiration for the stamp design. It shows.
A blast in the past
Stickle Bricks, it turned out, weren’t the only delight awaiting me. Spirograph was another early influence in my life. (A little too early, to be honest. As any fellow kiddie Spirograph user would understand, it took me a few years to master the skill of keeping the pens in the tiny holes and keeping the cog wheels tracking around each other. My beautiful geometric designs were regularly scarred with lightning bolts of rainbow-colored failure, as my young mouth searched for swear words I had yet to learn.)
There’s a subtle touch that I love on this stamp: the tiny flecks of white on the blue background. Perhaps from a photo of the original box, perhaps added later, but in either case, how beautifully they evoke the cardboard boxiness of the era, the colours slowly wearing as they scrape against the Twister and Connect 4 boxes in the cupboard.
Fuzzy-felt is in there too, stoking vague memories of 1980s kindergarten. And that Sindy doll looks suspiciously familiar, though we were never acquainted by name.
But the best was yet to come. Ahem:
A GROWN-UP ACTUAL COUNTRY PUT A FUCKING SPACEHOPPER ON A STAMP!
Regular readers would have seen me delight in the Royal Mail’s willingness to embrace pop culture in the past. This specific stamp tops the lot.
Nuts and bolts
Did you know the face on a Spacehopper is meant to be that of a kangaroo? Even as an Australian, I never realised that. It makes perfect sense, of course – in Australia, we make children practice on Spacehoopers before they are given a licence to ride a full-size kangaroo.
I learned a few other things from exploring this issue. I didn’t know Frank ‘my Dad’s old model railway’ Hornby was the same guy who invented Meccano almosty twenty years prior. And Meccano has retained the spacing between its perforations and the 5/32 thread on its nuts and bolts throughout its history, so modern sets can be used in conjunction with kits released over a hundred years ago. This is a remarkable commitment to the product, and one that would be more widely appreciated if kids hadn’t all switched to Lego by the 1970s.
So it’s a massive Respect from me for this issue. Congrats to Interabang for the design, John Ross for the beautiful photography, and children from around the world without whom these toys would never have become the classics they are. Well done, me.