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History

Hopla-patented mechanical toys

Prior to these happenings, it is necessary to explain how the young Alessandro had diligently carried out research on the subject of toys, both via contacts with available shops (Perino Toys) who were more than happy to provide examples of toys with gears, and also by means of precocious but far-sighted visits to Nurnberg, which had always been a florid setting for the artisanship of toys. For a long time he would bear remember the place as a “ghost town”, cleansed from the debris of the war yet still essentially empty, where shops were improvised with wooden huts arranged in lines facing each other. It was here that he struck a deal for a supply of wood parts, as possible accessories for luxury dolls, which he later sold entirely to the lady of Lenci dolls, Elena Konig Scavini, who he had recently met for the first time, and who he continued to frequent regularly, thanks to the connection via the representative of the Turin company, Mercury.

Hopla, which bore the first Gallop Horse with black fur, basically had two associates, one of which was Alessandro, who would take care of designing and producing the toys, and the other was Briccarello, also called Bricca for short, a fellow student at the course for pilots at the Ghedi airport, who would take care of the sales.

The assortment of the Hopla company, based at the address of Via Cernaia 16, between 1950 and 1951 included the first Gallop Horse, the Inco Giochi products, and the model cars of the famous and aspired Turin company Mercury which built objects in die casting for the car industry.

Thanks to his friendship with the representative of the company, Alessandro had in fact been able to obtain the exclusive distribution in Sardinia, being the only area of Italy which was still uncovered. Even with a limited assortment, the success was so great that it allowed the small Hopla company (which was basically managed by a single person) to become an organized activity with at least three employees. Due to this development, in 1951 the company moved to the address of 49, Corso Casale, and subscribed to the Chamber of Commerce and to the Artisans’ Society for Turin and the Province, under the name of Hopla, Patented Mechanical Toys, which also enveloped Inco Games, which had just been purchased from the judge of the bankruptcy trial.

The products produced and developed here, almost completely in an independent way, starting from 1952, were the following: Hopla Sulky with the Cavallo Galoppa, the Corsa Sulky, the Hopla Derby, the 4 horse race, the Galoppa Gigante, both in a mechanical and electrical version, the electric version of the 685/A Train Set as requested by Rivarossi, Chicco and Piretta dolls with cart, the Veliero sailboat, the Oarboat with rower, also requested by Rivarossi, and lastly the preliminary project of the Tor Missile, however this was already towards the end of the decade, and we must first mention Coloredo pegs.

Success: the origins of Pegs

The history of this extremely fortunate composition toy started between Italy and France between the Fourties and the Fifties within the climate of industrial recovery that characterised the period, fertile with opportunity and full of innovations.

It started at the Paris Fair of 1946 where among the 96 contenders, Coloredo won the medal for the best invention, a multicolor relief mosaic for children from 3 to 15 years of age.

The first version was made up of a tablet of grey drilled paperboard with 640 holes, with a format of 120 X 185 mm, 6 mm thick, which was in turn made up of 4 thinner layers glued to each other and with the edges decorated with gold and silver paper. It included a sheet, which also had holes pierced in it, made of transparent celluloid to be used together with the ‘guide sheets’, a plastic frame made via injection molding, and numerous ‘matchsticks’ with the body in wood and the ‘head’ in sealing wax in one of four colours, to be slotted into the tablet itself. It also included a selection of ‘guide images’ printed out in just two colours (red and blue, whereas yellow and green were respectively represented by a red hyphen or a blue one) upon a very thin type of paper, so that it could easily be pierced by the matchsticks. Lastly, it included two 4-colour catalogues showing either 50 quite complex models to be copied, or 100 simpler models, easy to complete.

It must be noted that the cardboard tablet, due to manufacturing and production cost reasons, gradually became thinner as the years went by, until it ended up being made by just two layers and was only 3,5 millimeters thick. The French firm which owned the patent was operative in the field of graphics ad it is likely that it drew its inspiration from the colour printing process known as four-colour processing in order to come up with this extremely lucky ‘classic’ toy: we can safely say that this toy anticipated by several decades a form of art that today we call “Pixel Art”.

Below we have reported the text which appeared for many years on the back of the Coloredo boxes, because it helps to grasp the atmosphere of that time in history, with its mood of simplicity, sensitivity and a pinch of innocence.
Coloredo is a new educational game; original, artistic and entertaining. It is popular due to its beauty, its magnificent colours, and the variety of images that can be acquired in relief

1953: The Quercetti Pegs

It was 1953 when Alessandro Quercetti made this idea his own. Alessandro immediately understood the great potential of this game and when he came to know about it, having been made aware, by his best trade agent, Borghesio, that the Italian firm importing Coloredo had failed, he wasted no time in demanding exclusive distribution throughout Italy. Thus Alessandro payed for the expenses needed to patent the peg game in Italy, and in order to have the logo of the Quercetti factory designed, preferred to the Hopla logo from that moment on. The author of the fortunate brand, still in use today, was an equal in age, Aldo Novarese (Pontestura 1920 - Turin 1995), one of the greatest Italian type designers, but also a photographer, painter, and illustrator, who at the time was working as a collaborator with Alessandro Butti at the Fonderia Caratteri Nebiolo di Torino, and who was to become renowned for a long series of fonts which made the history of Italian typography, such as the Stop font. It is also believed that he may have been the illustrator of some of the box versions for the Cavallo Galoppa and Sulky. It should be noted, however, that the final version of the logo, which has the words framed by a rectangle with rounded corners, was not registered at the Patent and Trademark Office until 19th June 1962.

During the initial period he simply sold the French line of products in Italy with boxing and instructions in Italian and the Quercetti logo. He then started applying a series of improvements to the production and usage of materials. In the second half of the decade, the first element produced in plastic is the peg, which has its particular mushroom-shaped appearance, with a semi-spherical head and a square-section base.

The next step was to mass-produce the pierced board at competitive costs. The time span between the series became smaller, and the Italian editions, made by Quercetti, introduced a peg of improved quality and slightly larger size (10mm-diameter head as opposed to 9mm) and starting in 1961, there started to be a greater distance with the French products, not only due to the logo, but also thanks to the more modern graphics and two other important innovations.

The first concerned the pierced board, which became available in a new large format, 163x221 mm and 900 holes, which for the first time had a small bump inside the holes, to generate friction and stop the pegs from being thrown out involuntarily.

The second innovation regarded the broadening of the range of products on offer, achieved by introducing various sizes for peg-head diameters (5, 10, 15, 20 mm) abandoning the square-section body, in favour of a more functional cylindrical stem. Also, the head of the peg was now formed by a dome which was hollow on the inside, and therefore lighter and cheaper to produce.

These modifications changed the approach to the composition of images, as they implied a greater or lesser amount of detail and ease of resolution, on the basis of the peg diameters used, and not just due to the amount of materials used, as it had been thus far. Success came as a wave, on the markets worldwide. The shape of the pegs was continuously refined until it stabilized in the unmistakable profile it still has now, ergonomically researched to make it easier for children to get a grip on. The available colours, shapes, and the formats of the boards, pegs increased more and more, and the use of a new type of packaging with a frame-box leaving the product open and completely visible, all contributed towards making Quercetti a leading company worldwide.

In 1984 the owners of the brand “Coloredo” unexpectedly decided to sell it to a French company in the market sector, Jeu Nathan, without notifying the Turin firm beforehand. Strangely enough, for some time they released actual re-editions of the old Coloredo with the boxes with the same vintage illustrations and the same matchsticks made in wood and sealing wax. This was in actual fact a nostalgic operation which did not end up having much success and fizzled out in a short time. Quercetti decided to change the name of the famous pegs, which from then on would be known as Fantacolor. Thus, the story which had begun 30 years earlier went on to last another 30 and give life to new ideas, images, colours, fantasies, making Quercetti the main name behind the peg-based toy. Today, the line of QUercetti Fantacolor Pegs gives children a world of colour made of pegs to stimulate one’s imagination. The infinite possibilities of combinations favour creativity by favouring the expressive needs of the child and encouraging independent thought.