Thomas & Friends merchandise

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Baseball cap for a baby or toddler with an image of Thomas the Tank Engine
Socks for a baby or toddler with images of Thomas the Tank Engine and similar characters.
Jumper or sweater for a baby or toddler with images of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Thomas & Friends merchandise has been produced to capitalize on the success of the television series Thomas & Friends (formerly Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends). Whilst merchandise was produced alongside due to the popularity of the first of The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry since 1945, and the original broadcast of the television series in 1984 in the United Kingdom, large numbers of manufacturers have sought to produce Thomas-branded items after the television series was broadcast in America and Japan.

The most popular and wide-ranging items of merchandise are the models of the characters, which have been produced in many different ranges, some including accompanying railway systems. The Rev. W. Awdry created the original toy model of Thomas the Tank Engine, which inspired the character, soon after the first book of stories was complete. In 1927, while still at school, he built Annie, and in 1948, he built Clarabel. Other popular products include videos, books and magazines, and computer games. 'Thomas' merchandise has also included such diverse items as: audiobooks, annuals, colouring and activity books, jigsaws, board games, stationery, clothing, cutlery, household items such as curtains, duvet covers and lampshades, and soft drinks and spaghetti shapes.

Thomas & Friends ranked number one in the preschool toys category in the U.S. and made the top 10 for the entire U.S. toy industry in 2010. In January 2011, Thomas & Friends ranked as the number-one preschool toy property in the U.K. for the 11th year in a row. Thomas is also a top-selling toy property in Australia, Germany, Japan and Korea.[1] While the total traditional toy industry in the United States increased 1.9 per cent in 2010, overall Thomas & Friends toy sales increased over 47.1 per cent.[2]

Companies[edit]

Pre-Cut Model Engine Book[edit]

The first commercial models released alongside The Railway Series, in 1957, were 'Pre-cut Model Engine Books'. These were full-colour printed cardboard kits whose pieces could be pressed out, folded and glued together to make fairly realistic models. They were produced right through the 1960s. Four titles were published:

  • "Thomas, with Annie the Coach"
  • "Percy, with Clarabel the Coach"
  • "Gordon the Big Engine and his Tender"
  • "James the Red Engine and his Tender"

The advertisements [3] on the back of the Railway Series books promised, "Other models are being prepared", although, even if ever prepared, they were never published.

A 12-page "Thomas the Tank Engine Press-out Model Book" (ISBN 0434927589) by the Rev. W. Awdry and Ken Stott, was released in September 1987.[4]

In 1994, a new range of press-out models was released, this time drawn by Ken Stott instead of C. Reginald Dalby. Each book came with accessories, track and a station. The range comprised the following characters: Thomas, Percy, James, Toby, Annie, Clarabel, Bertie the Bus, Harold the Helicopter.

Meccano[edit]

In 1967, Meccano Ltd released a train set featuring a clockwork model of Percy the Small Engine with some trucks — a yellow open wagon and a red closed van — and a circle of blue track. The model of Percy was a fair likeness of the pictures in the books and was about the size of an O gauge engine. The box featured special artwork by Peter Edwards and included the title, "Percy the Small Engine, brought to life by Meccano".

The plastic track was advertised as: "Gauge O track that clicks together and includes Brake Rail for automatic braking. Rails specially designed to make it easy to put train on the track." In practice, although it was advertised as 'Gauge O', this only indicated the size of the model, since the track design was not compatible with anything else (the models were effectively 'flangeless').

Adverts for the set, which showed the model train 'emerging' from the book Percy the Small Engine, appeared in Meccano Magazine and on the back of the dust-covers for several of The Railway Series books in print at the time.

The train set was only produced in 1967, and is now extremely rare. It is notable as the last O Gauge train to be made at Meccano's famous Binns Road factory in Liverpool, where the Hornby tinplate trains were made.

Photographs of the set and the adverts may be found here[5] and a close-up of Percy may be found here.[6]

Ertl Company[edit]

Ertl was the first company to manufacture Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends characters and sets from late 1984 and early 1985 in the UK and from 1989 in the US. Production ceased for the US market in 2001, and for the UK market in 2004 after RC2 Corporation acquired Ertl and discontinued the ranges to avoid conflict with the then existing Thomas license held by Learning Curve Brands, which produced the similar Take Along Thomas and Friends system.

Die-cast range[edit]

The most notable of the Ertl Company's Thomas ranges was a line of die-cast models and playsets. The range was very popular in the UK, and the nature of the subject matter encouraged collecting.

Thomas, Henry, and James were the first models to be released. The original Thomas featured a decal sticker sheet which allowed him to have different expressions until around 1985. Percy, Toby, Annie and Clarabel, and Bertie followed in late 1985, with updated versions of Thomas, Henry, James with red buffer beams to replace the older white ones. Edward and Gordon came out in 1988. In 1990, characters were updated with fixed plastic faces as the "sticker-face" models were prone to losing their faces. New vehicles were produced on a near-yearly basis, such as recently introduced characters to tie-in with their TV series appearance, as well as characters who had only appeared in the The Railway Series books. In later years, special vehicles were created, such as metallic variants of engines, a Gold Thomas to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The Railway Series, and a Millennium Silver Thomas in 2000.

The vehicles first used pin hook couplings to couple up and create trains. Locomotives had a moulded coupling 'eye' at each end, while rolling stock had one 'hook' coupling and one 'eye' coupling on the other end. In 2002, the vehicles were updated to use U-hook couplings, with less 'give', but they were more prone to breakage. The majority of locomotive models and some road vehicles had a diecast metal body with a moulded plastic chassis and plastic wheels. The bodies were fully painted and lined. They were free-wheeling although the chassis was rigid (locomotives were not fitted with separate bogies), and a steam locomotive's tender was part of the same moulding as its body. Models of coaches and trucks were assembled from self-coloured plastic mouldings, with some surface detail (such as coach sides) being applied using self-adhesive labels.

Sets and destinations were produced for the vehicles. The original playsets composed of playmats with illustrations of scenery and rails and moulded destinations. Later sets consisted of a grey connectable track system, with additional add-on destinations and pieces of track included with engines. The track system was updated in 2002 with detailed rail stickers and a green border.

Thomas Mini World[edit]

Miniatures was a Thomas line released in 1991. It featured main characters with sticker faces which were previously used in the die-cast range. Included with the character was a connectable block base in the form of a destination, such as a turntable, windmill, level crossing, or viaduct, made from plastic components to insert into the base, and an indented track section which requires adhesive stickers to be placed. The destinations can be connected to form a playset. Characters were also sold individually, and in multi-packs of three. The range was discontinued in 1992. The engines were later re-released as Keyrings.

In 2004, the line was re-released as Thomas Mini World. The characters were updated with moulded faces, and the bases were updated to a style similar to LEGO where the track pieces and buildings can be placed in different positions.

Gold Rail Series[edit]

Gold Rail Series was a Thomas line released in 1993. The products were from the Thomas Engine Collection Series made in Japan by Bandai. The vehicles have magnetic couplings which can connect to other vehicles using a connected switch. The playsets have a moulded section for track with self-adhesive labels for detail, have ramps on the edges for the engines to exit the destination, and feature detailed trackside accessories.

Large versions[edit]

Large Motorized versions of Thomas and Percy were released in 1985. These used the same designs as the die-cast versions, and can move when pulled back. A Remote Control Thomas and a Personalized Money Box was also released in 1985, similar in design to the Motorized version.

Wind up versions[edit]

A range called Pull Back and Go! featuring pullback versions of Thomas, Percy, Toby, and Bertie were released under Shining Time Station. A large wind-up Sir Topham Hatt was also produced, and later a Wind Up series with Thomas, Percy, James, Henry, Bill, Ben, and Bertie.

Collector Cards[edit]

Sets containing eight collector cards of vehicles were made from 1996 to 1999, similar to the existing cards on the packaging design from those corresponding years which could be cut out.

Merit[edit]

Merit produced several sizes of push-along toys to tie-in with the TV series. One such example was a sit-on Thomas built for toddlers, which had a black handle on the rear which enabled it to be pushed along by the parent. Merit also produced large push along toys of Thomas, Annie & Clarabel, Percy and Troublesome Trucks. Another version of the Thomas toy had shaped holes to allow the child to match up the shape with the right hole. All the engines and rolling stock could be coupled up by means of hooks, much like the Ertl models. The company also produced even smaller toys of Thomas, Annie and Clarabel, which could be coupled up in a similar way, except the couplings were on pivots to make it easier for the coaches to follow Thomas when he is pushed along. Merit also produced some larger scale battery-operated toys.

Hornby Railways[edit]

In 1985, Hornby Railways produced a series of 00 gauge model engines, track, accessories, and sets, based on Thomas and Friends, designed to be compatible with other Hornby trains, thus allowing an easy migration to more prototypical modelling. The range mainly utilised modified versions of existing Hornby engines, rolling stock and lineside accessories. Over the following years, the range expanded to include some of the main characters and rolling stock as well as train sets. During the 1990s, very few new products were made, and some vehicles discontinued. Some characters were gradually reintroduced towards the end of the decade, and more new items including major and minor characters were released from 2000. In 2005, the range revamped due to the 60th Anniversary of The Railway Series and two characters only seen in the book series were introduced, Flying Scotsman and Bear. Several pieces of rolling stock, most seen in Season 8 were also introduced, including a circus series with a total of twelve wagons, as well as three tents and stalls. The sets were redesigned with a Trak-Mat system sets in Hornby's existing lines were using, and a range of resin buildings seen in the television series designed for adult collectors were introduced.

The models are designed for somewhat older children than most Thomas toys, as placing them correctly on the rails requires a certain degree of dexterity, and the plastic-bodied rolling stock may break if dropped. However, the level of detail is more basic than the 'real' models produced by the company, with the result that the trains can be handled safely by inexperienced hands without fear of damaging delicate parts.

In addition to the two-rail electric versions, Thomas and Percy were also released as clockwork 'Playtrains'. Percy used the same moulding as his electric counterpart, but Thomas had an entirely unique body which ran on an inaccurate 0-4-0 chassis.

A battery-powered set featuring Thomas, Annie, Clarabel and Bertie the Bus was released, which allowed children to recreate the popular story in which Thomas and Bertie have a race. Thomas was unpowered, being pushed along by a motor in Annie.

Fisher-Price[edit]

Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway[edit]

The Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway is a wooden railway system created by Learning Curve in Chicago. This is based on the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV series and The Railway Series and is compatible with the de facto BRIO standard for wooden railway systems.

The majority of characters from the TV Series, both major and minor, plus some of the Railway Series characters, have appeared in the range. They have been accompanied by a comprehensive range of track, buildings and accessories. Also, in 2010 Learning Curve released a small range called Early Engineers, featuring some of the main characters. These models are less 'realistic' (compared to the original models) in that all the locomotives have no more than four wheels, and the body is taller and to a standard, short, length.

Learning Curve introduced some new designs for the track surface of wooden toy railways, such as the "Clicketyclack" rails patented in 1995[7] and the newer tracks with a relief to supply better traction grip for battery powered trains patented in 2003.[8] They also introduced a road track that uses the same gauge as the railway tracks.

The original models were constructed mainly from painted wood, with metal used in the coupling magnets and axles, and plastic wheels and faces. These models were relatively primitive having simple wooden stubs for the funnel and dome. Details such as windows, whistles and buffer beams were omitted.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the models were upgraded. The wooden funnel and painted smokebox were replaced with a separate plastic smokebox with a more realistic-looking funnel. The tender engines received an additional upgrade of moulded plastic 'coal'.

These improved designs were manufactured until 2002 when they were replaced with a third generation of design, which included new and more detailed faces.

Learning Curve continues to expand its lineup of locomotives, rolling stock and locations, although older, less popular, items are 'retired' when appropriate. Every year, beginning in 2003, 1-3 retired models are re-released, with upgraded, more realistic shape and paint. These models are only available for one year.

Although a number of manufacturers produce ranges of 'Thomas' characters, the Wooden Railway range is particularly extensive, and includes some models not featured in any other range.

Special model types include "Sights and Sounds" locomotives and buildings, and some battery-powered models. (The majority of locomotives are hand-propelled (push-along).)

Several "Special scene" sets have also been released, modelling significant events in the series, such as "Thomas Comes to Breakfast", with a specially modelled Thomas with a sad face, adorned with a window frame and bush, "James Goes Buzz Buzz", featuring James covered in bees, and one year later "A Better View for Gordon" with flags all over him. These three special edition came each with a thing from the story: The stationmaster's house with Thomas, Knapford with James and the new station came with Gordon. These were brought back in recent months, but they were from newer episodes and are two-car packs. In June 2010, Story Packs will be released, and will contain one or two characters, a destination, a wooden figure, and some track.

The Wooden Railway includes characters from The Railway Series that have not been televised, such as Ada, Jane, and Mabel (coaches from the Skarloey Railway), Mike and Frank, (from Small Railway Engines), Wilbert (from Wilbert the Forest Engine), the Green-and-Blue Henry (to celebrate the 60th anniversary), D199 (Spamcan), Ivo Hugh, Big City Engine (Foreign Engine), Catherine the Mountain Coach and Culdee (from Mountain Engines). The Flying Scotsman was also released, and only his tenders have been seen on the TV show. His model is considered very rare, and often sells for up to $300 in the box. Learning Curve has also made up some of their own models, such as the zoo cars, the Sodor Water Works cars, the chicken cars and a few more.

Battery-Powered engines were released in the early 2000s (decade) and are still available. The line original included Thomas, Percy, James, Lady, and Bertie (Lady and Bertie are discontinued). In 2006, a Salty was released. Charlie and Rosie were introduced in 2011, and in the coming months a Stanley will be released. A set is available that includes Thomas.

In 2008, a range was released called the Talking Railway Series, which features several major and minor characters from the series and when placed on certain destinations they would be addressed by name by Sir Topham Hatt a job to do. Engines, destinations, and sets are available and the line is still growing. Normal engines can be placed on these destinations, but their name would not be said.

Several of the new characters introduced in Season 11 and Season 13 of the TV series were released by the company some months before the programmes had been broadcast anywhere.

On June 13, 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, with RC2, jointly issued a voluntary product recall notice for a number of the models in the Wooden Railway range. Tests had discovered lead present in these models, and hence a risk of lead poisoning was recognised. About 1.5 million units are affected, mainly models with red or yellow paint, sold between January 2005 and June 2007.[9] (See recall notice for details of which models are affected.)

Take-n-Play Thomas & Friends[edit]

Take-n-Play Thomas & Friends (formerly Take Along Thomas & Friends) is a series of die-cast 'Thomas' models made by Learning Curve and designed for preschool children. The models have superseded the Ertl die-cast models range, which has now been discontinued. The two ranges are incompatible as the new models use special 'two-way' magnets instead of the hook-and-loop couplers provided on the Ertl models.

First released at the start of 2005, the models are generally much chunkier, and considerably less accurate, than the Ertl range. Many items in the Ertl range were passable as 'scale' models of the TV Series characters, but the Take Along products are much more obviously toys.

The range includes all the major and minor characters from the TV series and Movies, plus Mike, Culdee, and D199 from The Railway Series. The rolling stock models include many of the 'special' (non-speaking) trucks that have featured in single episodes, and the vehicles include the members of The Pack. As well as the individual characters, a number of play-sets have been produced, either containing two or more characters, or a single engine with play scene and DVD. Some specials have been produced with a metallic finish, and a few models are fitted with sound chips and lights.

In 2006, two playsets called Train Yard Set and Working Hard Set were introduced. These were`much bigger than other playsets, being more than 1x1 metres. Original sets were less than 30x30 centimetres.

In 2010, Take-Along was bought by Mattel and became a Fisher-Price line and renamed Take-n-Play. New characters were released and the old models were re-released with upgraded paints and faces.

In 2013, the production of the Take-n-Play models was relocated to Thailand(whereas all prior models were manufactured in China, as were the Ertl range models). Coinciding with the move, further changes were made to the models, including redesigned wheels, updated faces that more closely resemble those of the CGI series rather than the model series, and other additional changes.

Thomas TrackMaster[edit]

In 2007, HIT Entertainment's subsidiary HIT Toy Company picked up the license to produce the Thomas Motor Road and Rail range. The TrackMaster engines are compatible with Tomy's Motor Rail and Road merchandise. TrackMaster's light brown coloured track is easily connected to existing blue track from TOMY by track adapters, which were included in every set until new releases after 2008. An innovation in this range is the special face-changing engines that are included in some sets. In 2010, the rights were put under the ownership of Fisher Price.

Tomy[edit]

Tomy have made several ranges of 'Thomas' models.

Thomas Motor Road and Rail[edit]

See Thomas Motor Road & Rail below.

Capsule Plarail[edit]

In 1997 Tomy made a range of wind-up models that 'have an action when you wind them up'. The range was small and included only a few of the 'major' characters.

In 2006 another range was introduced. More characters were modelled than previously, and some had moving side rods. Additional models from the range were released in Japan.

Tomix[edit]

From 1998 onwards, a significant range from Tomix has been introduced providing an electric N gauge Thomas system which was still unique in 2007 and which then included 4 locomotives: Thomas, Percy, James and Henry. Some of the rolling stock looked similar to Graham Farish items.

Golden Bear[edit]

My First Thomas & Friends[edit]

My First Thomas & Friends is a range of chunky plastic toys, produced by British toy company: Golden Bear Toys.

The range started in c.1994, and was advertised for young infants who enjoyed the series. The models were safe for younger fans to play with.

The range started with only a dozen or so models, and has now grown to around 40-45, the range was (for a short-lived amount of time) available in America, under the company Tomy. The toys are still available in many good retail toy shops all around the UK, and despite speculation that perhaps the range has discontinued, after the absence of three years without new products; brand new models have started to appear on Amazon.

The range included most of the major and minor characters from the TV Series.

This brand name was used in the Oscar winning short film Logorama.

Talking My First Thomas & Friends

The talking versions of the My First models were first released in the year 2000. The models are more complex than the basic ones, their eyes move, and they speak familiar phrases from the original stock narrations of Ringo Starr and Michael Angelis.

Bandai[edit]

Thomas Engine Collection Series[edit]

A large number of die-cast vehicles released resembled the "Gold Rail" models made by Ertl. However, this series had more characters, although none from The Railway Series. Most characters from Seasons 1-5 were made. The last new model, to date, is Jack the Frontloader. There have been 4 sets made for this range. Other than this Bandai had made small plastic toys (as big an index finger) labelled "Pocket Thomas." There is another series where plastic models (as big as the die-casts) are sold mostly at convenience stores along with candy such as mints and feature more minor characters such as the Mailvan.

Bachmann Industries[edit]

In 2001, Bachmann USA made their own H0-scale electric Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends range for the US and Canada markets.[10] The models are made with new body tools, to resemble the characters in the TV series. So far over two dozen models have been produced, along with character-themed train sets. Unlike Hornby's products, Bachmann's models have moving eyes.

In January 2009, Bachmann announced that, in an agreement with HiT Entertainment, a line of large scale Thomas electric trains will be produced, under the title "Large Scale Thomas & Friends".

Marklin[edit]

Märklin, a German model train maker, released a limited range of Thomas & Friends merchandise in HO scale. Because of copyright reasons (using Hornby's toolings), they were only available in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, but they did leak out to other countries. They are designed for young children as they have metal frames and plastic shells. They are compatible with the rest of the Märklin range, but are extremely basic and have no extra features. They were only released in 2006.

LEGO[edit]

In 2005, LEGO introduced the first sets in their Duplo 'Thomas' series. Four sets were made, featuring: James the Red Engine, Thomas the Tank Engine, a Troublesome Truck, Toby the Tram Engine, and Percy the Small Engine. Subsequently, in line with usual Lego practice, new sets had been released each year, featuring different scenes and characters, until Mega Bloks picked up the license in 2010 and have produced Thomas sets of their own.

Duplo is designed for very young children, so the sets have relatively few pieces (between 7 and 62) to assemble.

Thomas character builder[edit]

In 2006 MV Sports made their own self-assembly Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends engines and buildings. The range consists of the following models:

  • Thomas, Toby and Mavis Three Pack Set
  • Percy Track Set
  • James and Station Set
  • Edward and Engine Shed Set

Mega Bloks[edit]

In 2009 Mega Bloks made build able Thomas & Friends models such as Percy, Thomas and Diesel and sets too.

Software[edit]

A number of different educational software packages and video games, all based on a 'Thomas' theme, have been released for a variety of different computer platforms.

Commodore[edit]

A Commodore 64 game was produced in 1987 whereby Thomas was given a series of seven missions (invariably picking up a coach and taking it to a destination) and a time limit to complete them in. The game featured a fair rendition of the show's distinctive theme tune.

Peakstar[edit]

Two PC-based DOS-scrolling games were developed by Peakstar and published by Alternative in 1992 and 1993:

  • "Thomas the Tank Engine"
  • "Thomas the Tank Engine 2"

Info about these games can be found at Home of the Underdogs.

Super Nintendo[edit]

There was also a game for Super Nintendo which featured a variety of activities such as creating a track for Thomas to get to his destination, races with Percy and Bertie, and three other stories, two of which were based on original stories by the Rev. W. Awdry.

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (THQ)[edit]

"Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends" was an educational one-player video game, developed and published by THQ. Released 1 May 1993, it was available for the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive/Genesis platforms. The SNES version featured the classic Thomas characters in eight adventures, and included "tricky" trivia questions. The Genesis version was a completely different game. It included a sort of career mode-esque Game Mode, where players had to pick up a wagon, coach or any combination of the 2. There was also a Race Mode & a free roam Explore Mode. Players had a choice between 5 engines: Thomas, James, Percy, Toby and Duck. Gordon, Henry and Edward appear in Game Mode to tell the player how he did, as well as Thomas and James. Sir Topham Hatt gives the player their task in Game Mode.

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends Pinball (Spidersoft)[edit]

"Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends Pinball" was is a pinball-based video game developed by Spidersoft Limited and published by Alternative Software Ltd. for the Amiga, Amiga CD32 and DOS operating systems. It was released in 1995.

Hasbro Interactive / Infogrames[edit]

In 1999, Hasbro Interactive made three Thomas & Friends games based on the television series. After Hasbro was purchased by Infogrames a further three games were released under the Infogrames name.

All of these games were designed as educational games for young children.

Games released by Hasbro[edit]

Games released by Infogrames[edit]

PlayStation 2[edit]

A Day at the Races[edit]

The only game featuring Thomas for the PlayStation 2 starring Thomas, Edward, James, Percy, and The Fat Controller.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.licensemag.com/licensemag/Brands/Thomas-Tops-US-Preschool-Toys/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/705288?contextCategoryId=9989&ref=25
  2. ^ http://www.ltwmag.com/ news/thomas_friends_is_number_one.aspx
  3. ^ Clutterbuck, Martin; et al. "'Awdryania'". (includes photos of adverts for card models). The Real Lives of Thomas the Tank Engine. Retrieved 2007-05-09. 
  4. ^ W. Awdry; Ken Stott (September 1987). Thomas the Tank Engine Press-out Model Book. Heinemann Young Books. ISBN 978-0-434-92758-6. Retrieved 2009-04-17. 
  5. ^ "Miscellaneous Awdryania (Merchandising)". Pegnsean.net. 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2009-04-17. 
  6. ^ "Railway Series Characters: Percy the Small Engine". Pegnsean.net. 2008-04-12. Retrieved 2009-04-17. 
  7. ^ "US Patent 5,454,513 from October 3, 1995". Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  8. ^ "US Patent 6,648,237 B2 from November 18, 2003". Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  9. ^ "US Recall of Various Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Toys". Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  10. ^ "Bachmann expands 'Thomas' rights". Playthings. 2009-01-27. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 

External links[edit]