I may bore some of our Czech and Slovak colleagues with today’s version of Tail End Charlie,

while younger modellers will, perhaps, see it

as an uninteresting remnant of the past. I get

a lot of questions coming my way as to why

there are so many model manufacturers in the

Czech Republic. And it is mainly for them that

I wrote this issue of TEC. But the conclusions

drawn at the end of it may be of use to the locals, manufacturers and customers alike.

I was searching for a gift for a friend, as we

were approaching Christmas. I wanted a model

of an AFV, which he commanded some twenty

years ago while in the army. He really was surprised, since he is not a modeller. I am no expert when it comes to armor kits, and this was

my first time looking for something along these

lines. I quickly realized that what I was looking

for could be very difficult to find in Europe. In

the end, I was able to locate my objective at

an internet store, and I paid for it. Despite the

Christmas rush and the covid influence on just

about everything, I had the item in my hands

within a couple of days. Glue included. I didn’t

even have to leave the house, unless you count

physically taking the package from the courier.

I imagined what it would be like, and how long it

would take, to find this model in the days before the internet. There would be a lot of running

around, and I would work my phone into the

ground, and restricting myself to local numbers

at that. And then, I imagined what it would be

like looking for the same item in the days if the

old communist Czechoslovakia, before 1990.

I was not quite eighteen back then.

There was no actual shortage of specialized

model shops, but the assortment available was

strongly limited, and the biggest shops were

only supplied with imported goods a couple

of times a year. And there was almost always

a long lineup. The majority of items were from

the domestic manufacturers, with the odd item

from East Germany. Foreign stuff appeared sporadically, at shops like the so-called Tuzex and

Pragoimpo outlets, shops specializing in imported goods and having their own retailing protocols that had to be followed. They were outside

of the realm of traditional stores based on their

foreign goods supply.

It was similar with reference materials. What

didn’t correspond to post-1948 Czechoslovak or

Soviet themes was not imported, and little was

produced. However, as the eighties rolled in,

it was possible to push through an article or

even a chapter about our flyers in the RAF in

some magazines and publications. Among such

skeletal pieces was a series published in the

magazine L+K, called ‘Equipment that was Unable to Defeat the Vietnamese People’. It dealt

with the air force of guess who.

Fortunately, there were swap meets where it

was possible to come across beautiful things

from the West. I can’t remember who it was

exactly that brought me to my first such experience, but I’d wager a bet that it was Marian

Kolev, a highschool friend of mine. He also was

responsible for getting me in as a member of

the Prague-Uhříněves Model Club. His beautifully built 1:72nd H8K Emily is something that

is difficult to forget, and by the way, it was the

Frog kit.

The swap meet was held every couple of months in Prague at a couple of alternating venues

including Radiopalác building designed in Czech

Art Deco style. They didn’t differ a whole lot

from what these types of events look like today,

INFO Eduard - March 2021

prior to the pandemic, of course. The square

footage was a much bigger, and it was horribly

crowded. In order to find something there that

was really out there, it was necessary for me to

get in line at about six or seven in the am. Those who know me, know that I am no early bird.

So imagine the motivation that was needed to

get me up and at it that early in the morning.

The interest in Second World War German and

Japanese aircraft was enough. And why these,

in particular? Because it was around these subjects that there was much censorship imposed

by the communist government. So, that naturally piqued my curiosity. And if it was not possible to buy a certain kit or book at a swap meet,

there was often a chance to at least see one,

and to buy a magazine with some drawings and


Gradually, I accumulated enough courage to

convert 72nd scale Avia S-199 s into Messerschmitt Bf 109Fs and Gs. At the time, I was in

my fourth year of practical co-op experience at

the Avia factory, and soon, I was able to get

a drawing of the spinner for the ‘109 to one of

the machinists. I asked him to make a master

for me, over which I could pull a heated piece

of plastic sheet and make the spinners that way.

I proceeded a little differently with the canopies. The end result was a similar type of creation out of clear plastic heated over the heating

element of a stove. We also tried to make glues

by ourselves, and even putties and paints.

It wasn’t all fun and games for me, buying

things at the swap meets. I remember like it

was today the feeling of victory after having secured a Hasegawa 1:72nd scale Ki-84, despite

the massive crowd. It cost me 220 Czechoslovak Crowns, which I put together from pocket

money. Back then, the average monthly wage

was around 3,000 Kcs, and you could get a beer

for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.50 Kcs.

Today, the model costs about the same as back

then, but the wages have risen substantially.

So has the beer!

My talents back then as a beginner couldn’t be

compared to what could be done by more experienced colleagues under domestic conditions.

The Czechs’ ability to improvise when there is

a shortage of one thing or another is very high.

Not only were they able to create various items

from poured resin or vacuformed parts, but

were quite able to sell them abroad, across the

Iron Curtain as well, through trading or selling

with other modellers or companies such as Hannants. Some even categorized model making as

an artistic endeavor, and were able to gain its

legalization. Once the communist regime tripped and fell, it was as though the blanket had

been removed and the cottage industry came

out of a grey zone. When this is combined with

Czech manufacturing traditions, going back to

the Austro-Hungarian Empire days, then you begin to see the answer to the question as to why

there are so many Czech model companies.

The period during which our economy and social structure were derailed lasted a half century,

from the spring of 1939 to November, 1989. It’s

important to remember that we are still trying

to get that train that was derailed for so long

moving properly again. We are still trying to

make up for those lost fifty years. The Czechs

are a nation that loves to complain, criticize

their Czech neighbors and have a tendency to

over-exaggerate praise of whatever comes from

abroad, but fortunately, we are also a competitive nation. I think that over the past thirty

years, our nation has done a lot of work. Some

of the companies have gone far, after emerging

from their garages.

There are a number of manufacturers that in

certain respects keep part of cottage industry mentality, regardless of company size. And

I don’t mean just with respect to their interpretations of copyright. Some seem to interpret

this English expression as the ‘right to copy anything and everything’ out there. We have come

a long way down a hard road, but there is still

a lot of work to be done if we want to get to

a level where the term ‘Czech quality’ is synonymous with all that is positive from not just

a technical viewpoint, but an ethical one as


Jan Bobek