In 1952, Abe Shikes was peddling hangers. Plastic hangers, real nice for only 15 cents at your local dime store. What a deal, except for the fact that when you hung your coat on the hanger it fell off due to a bad design. As the story goes, a box vendor happened to see one of Abe’s hangers lying on his desk and asked if he was going into the Bow and Arrow business. That is how great ideas are born. As fast as he could, Abe made an arrow from a dowel and a suction cup, strung a string around his hanger and I’ll be darned if he didn’t have a very serviceable bow and arrow set. The Aurora Plastics Company was in business.
By the 1950’s dozens of companies were trying their hand at manufacturing model kits thanks to the invention of injection molding. With an injection mold system, a factory could turn out 3 or 4 identical kits per minute. Add a little artwork, instruction sheet, tube of glue and you’re in the money. Aurora was one of the first companies to capitalize on this new found technology. They were able to turn out better kits, for a cheaper price. They were also one of the first companies to print the price directly on the box to avoid shop owners markups. They also were the first to shrink wrap their kits. This addition kept the boxes closed on the shelf which meant less returns for missing parts and damaged boxes.
When you think about Aurora, most people think of their famous monster figure kits. But in the mid 1960’s Aurora earned themselves quite a few bucks as the major license holder of Sci-fi TV. They began with the Lost in Space diorama kit in the small and large version. Today, the large kit is one of the most sought after models often selling for well over 1200 dollars. Both kits featured a dangerous looking Cyclops with a rock about to clobber our favorite family from space. The larger version contained an extra base to hold a wonderfully detailed miniature of the LIS chariot. Running a close second in the 800 dollar range is the Land of the Giants Snake model diorama. Another highly detailed scene featuring a huge snake about to devour three of little people. But don’t put away your charge card just yet, still in the over 500 dollar market is Aurora’s Seaview from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the Invaders ship from the show of the same name and the Mr. Spock snake diorama from Star Trek. The Spock model is a bit of a fluke. In 1966, model maker AMT owned the rights to Star Trek but they only manufactured replicas of the ships. Aurora, with it’s good track record in diorama’s designed the Spock model but in the end was only allowed to produce it outside the US.
Aurora went way out in 1967 with their American Astronaut Kit. This unusual kit has a fully geared up astronaut floating in space above his space capsule. This effect was achieved through the use of an amebic shaped back wall that could be painted to resemble wide open space. In 1968, Aurora turned to the movies, with licensed kits from 2001 A Space Odyssey. The Moon Bus kit has a nicely detailed interior but the box art isn’t up to snuff. The Pan AM Space Clipper from the same movie is a very simple kit with an interesting shape but no interior. In 1975, Aurora reissued the kit under the name Space Shuttle Orion. The box is a little more intriguing but neither kit should run more than 100 dollars. On the side of the none to successful, Aurora devised the Voyager from Fantastic Voyage the cartoon. This ship, kind of a triangular version of the Flying Sub was a victim of bad marketing and a none to cool box. Voyager was soon taken off the market making it one of the ‘hard to finds’ in modeldom.
In 1971, Nabisco bought the Aurora Model company. They had no idea what they had gotten themselves into. The ‘family oriented’ cookie company soon found itself at the mercy of protesters, striking out against the violent monster images that made Aurora popular. Not wanting to risk the wrath of the cookie buying public, Nabisco changed the companies line to ‘cute’ models and sales began to decrease. By 1977, Aurora ceased production and it’s molds were sold to up and coming Monogram. Since that time Monogram has rereleased many of it’s space models under new generic names to avoid paying royalties. While technically these kits are identical to the original’s made in the sixties, they lack that special touch that says Aurora. What they lack is creativity and talent. In the sixties, every Aurora box was a work of art. Paintings were commissioned then carefully reproduced on the box lids. The colors were rich, the sketches detailed and their was a soul to every one. It is these stunning graphic representations of the model kits that make Aurora kits fabulous finds.
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Want to build an Aurora model kit? Buy a replica from Moebius so you don’t ruin the value of an original kit.