BAYKO Plastics

Thanks to Peter Crook and Jacques Dujardin for help with this information.
BAYKO's production, exactly filling the middle third of the twentieth century as it does, coincides with what was undoubtedly the fastest ever period of development of plastics, from little more than a novelty material, into its role as a cheap but effective resource for the mass market. BAYKO's inventor, C.B. Plimpton, was a true innovator and entrepreneur in the world of plastic manufacture, and, as such, very much part of that process.
BAKELITE which was used for all BAYKO's early production is a thermoset plastic. Such parts are created in the mould, requiring the application of substantial pressure to a measured quantity of ingredients. This process actually generates heat, but the parts are released from the mould and allowed to cool in their own good time...
The initial BAYKO product was almost certainly produced using 2 main recipes : -
Phenol formaldehyde was used for what purported to be red bricks, but which, in reality, lurked somewhere between brown, maroon and chocolate.
The colouring was primarily due to the natural brown colour of the resin, though the initial dark green windows seem to indicate that some degree of colouring was achievable.
A mixture of phenol formaldehyde and urea formaldehyde, with the addition of melamine, was used for the cream bricks.
The melamine, through adding nitrogen to the mix, reduced the darkening effect of the phenol and permitted the familiar, lighter, cream colour, for example.
Unfortunately, the use of melamine and urea formaldehyde in the mix made the resultant plastic relatively expensive and so it wasn't surprising that alternatives were sought.
The first change appeared, or at least was decided upon, in 1936, around October I believe, when Plimpton, through their two suppliers, settled on urea formaldehyde, the price having dropped, as the primary plastic ingredient. Urea Formaldehyde produces an almost clear resin, so, from this point on, true colours were possible, allowing very realistic colours to be reproduced - though I'm not sure what was the excuse for the orange parts!!!
The reason I suggest the date of October, 1936 for this change is that BAKELITE saw fit to advertise, using BAYKO as the advert's theme, that month. The same advert also appeared in November, again in 'Toy Trader', a leading publication for the UK toy industry, and they're unlikely to have done that without a reason...
The two suppliers referred to above were : -
The British BAKELITE Company, whose materials were marketed as 'Scarab' powders. Scarabs being the particular dung beetle which, I believe because of the regenerative impact of the balls of manure they buried, were worshiped by the Egyptians.
British Industrial Plastics, whose materials were marketed under the totally coincidentally named 'Beetle' powders.
The early BAKELITE parts had some, perhaps, rather surprising advantages...
...they were easily sterilised in boiling water - a boon in pre-antibiotic days...
...and were also fire resistant if not actually fireproof.
I can't let this pre-war section close without reference to 'Oak' parts.  These were made by the addition of sawdust to the resin, though the trade called it 'Wood Flour'!  The two materials don't mix easily, leading to a plastic which is visibly made from two different materials, which show as distinct colours.  This mottled effect must have been felt to be redolent of wood grain, I suspect more in terms of knots rather than good timber - whatever the link was, it lead to the 'Oak' label.  It's no mean trick to add a cheaper ingredient to create a premium product!!!
Post-war BAYKO was, similarly, manufactured using variations on the urea formaldehyde formulation, sometimes, particularly in 1946 and 1947, having to use wartime-style initiative to get round the chronic material shortages, and creating some odd results in the process!
After that, a more stable period of urea formaldehyde production continued until the mid 1950s when Plimpton gradually introduced polystyrene into the equation for Bricks, Half Bricks, End Bricks Curved Bricks, Windows, Large Windows and, finally, Doors. The Garage Doors, which were launched, in 1959, were only ever manufactured in polystyrene.
Based on adverts placed in 'British Toys', a [then] relatively new publication serving the UK and European toy trade, the BAYKO parts mentioned above were made from STYRON 475 polystyrene...
Following the takeover, MECCANO continued with the use of polystyrene, indeed they extended its use to the entire range of plastic parts, including Bases.
Unlike BAKELITE, polystyrene is a thermoplastic which is injected, as a hot, premixed fluid, into the moulds and has to be cooled, in order for it to set, before ejection from the moulds.
These polythene parts, from both the Plimpton and MECCANO eras, lack the fire resistance of the earlier BAYKO. They also lack the heat resistant qualities of their earlier counterparts... please be careful when cleaning them...
...they warp - badly... have been warned!!!
The final plastic used by MECCANO, right at the end, for their "flanged bricks", also known as "minimalist bricks", and related parts, was also polystyrene, but a quite noticeably different grade.  This plastic is particularly stable as regards the manufacturing process, and is definitely the manufacturers' friend.  The parts made at this time, sadly right at BAYKO's death, are by far the most accurate and consistent BAYKO parts ever made.
Discussion of the topic of BAYKO plastic would be incomplete without mentioning BAYKO Floors - and I include Binding Strips and the occasional Tie-Bar here as well.
These were made from Paxolin, or something similar, the sort of material used, in more recent times, for computer circuit boards. Paxolin is one brand name, among many, for S.R.B.P. - Synthetic Resin-Bonded Paper - the resin being none other than phenol formaldehyde, which takes us right back to where this page started!
Below here are links to related info : -
Click on any of the links below for related information.
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