All About Aurora Postage Stamp Trains
Aurora's Postage Stamp Trains marketing was unique to N Scale: they wanted the general public to buy into it, not just model railroad hobbyists. Unfortunately, this tactic didn't work, since adults didn't show much interest, and little kids had a hard time keeping the trains on the rails. Nevertheless, Aurora's advertising included several splashy full-page ads, many in full-color. Incidentally, Aurora's ad agency was Adams Dana Silverstein—more on them later. Click any image for an enlargement.
The one below left may look familiar, since it's very similar to Aurora's 1967 catalog cover; it appeared in the December 1967 issue of Boys' Life. The second one ran in the same magazine exactly one year later. (Is it me, or does that kid look seriously bored?)
Appearing in Model Railroader magazine were the ads below left and center, the first in October 1968, and the second the following month. Notice that they're appropriately more "technical" than the ones appearing in Boys' Life. And the third one appeared in the December 1968 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman—note that it references a number of never-released bus system items.
Below left is an ad that appeared on the back cover of a number of comic books, including Action Comics and Strange Adventures. Curiously, this ad claims "Aurora products are manufactured entirely in the U.S." I'm unclear as to how Aurora got away with that. Anyway, they also ran ads for their bus system, along with a plug for their building kits, in the Sunday comics section of some 1969 newspapers (below right).
The items below were not things the general public was likely to see, since these appeared in trade publications. First, an advertisement in the March 1967 issue of Toys and Novelties announcing the launch of Aurora's Postage Stamp Trains line at an event in New York; then, a press release in the March 1967 issue of Playthings magazine.
In October 1967, UPI circulated a photo of humorous scenario to the press announcing the arrival of Postage Stamp Trains. Click any image for an enlargement.
Aurora Postage Stamp Trains got a mention in a November 1967 Ebony article about Christmas toys.
An article written by Robert Schleicher appeared in the Hobbies section of the December 1967 issue of Popular Science. Incidentally, the author has published quite a few books on model railroading and slot cars.
Another article, written by "the layout doctor" (Bill Schopp, along with Bill Livingston and Al Westerfield), appeared in the April 1969 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, which goes into detail about the Trix track system.
Wayne C. Leckey describes how to build a fold-away train board in the Shop Project section of the January 1970 issue of Popular Mechanics. The second of the two-part article, detailing how he built the layout, appeared the following month.
Postage Stamp Trains also appeared in the Sears Wish Book catalogs; page 523 of the 1968 edition (below left) shares the page with with sets from rival Revell. The 1969 edition (below right) shows two P.S.T. Special Sets.
Aurora also aggressively protected their status as the sole representative of the Minitrix brand in the United States, as per this clipping from Model Railroader magazine:
Mailers & Brochures
Aurora stuffed envelopes with this little color double-sided slick. Click for enlargements.
Meanwhile, Aurora's Canadian distributor created a crude bi-lingual, tri-fold brochure they inserted into some plastic kit boxes (such as their space ship from The Invaders).
Aurora even ran a television spot, narrated by none other than Dick Cavett. While you dig the groovy 60s soundtrack, watch very carefully, because things will get a little trippy around the 0:38 mark: the sharp eye will spot a pair of Arnold Rapido diesels! And at 1:03 you'll see Arnold Rapido passenger cars. Evidently someone didn't get the memo.
Incidentally, the narration was taken almost word for word from the text in the December 1967 Boys' Life ad.
Other television promotions included TV spots aired during sports programs. One was NFL Football on CBS-TV; the other was Aurora's First Annual All-Star vs. Celebrity Softball Game, which was said to have cost well over a half-million—a lot of money back then.
According to the July 1967 dealer newsletter, Aurora had prepared as many as four spots for their softball special, although they didn't elaborate as to what exactly the spots were promoting (one of them may have been the Cavett ad); the "two-page spread" in TV Guide they touted turned out to be a bunch of celebrity photos and a short blurb describing the event, with no mention of either Aurora or Postage Stamp Trains. That said, an ad appearing in the November 1967 issue of Boys' Life (at right) at least mentions both.
Wonder why Don Adams is featured so prominently in Aurora's packaging and advertising? Probably because he's the "Adams" in Adams Dana Silverstein, the award-winning ad agency Aurora used. You can read about A.D.S. in an October 1972 New York Times article, which briefly mentions their relationship with Aurora.
Prototype Train Set
When a company is developing a product, they will almost always create prototypes to see what works and what doesn't. Postage Stamp Trains were no exception, and here's a chance to see what their train set might have looked like!
At least two demo layouts were created to make the rounds at the International Toy Fair in New York in 1967 and 1968, and possibly other shows and years. One of them was a strange train layout that should look vaguely familiar, and the other is a bus set demonstrator.
Aurora published seven catalogs: one in 1967, four in 1968, and two in 1969. But they don't tell the whole story; Aurora sold some products that didn't appear in Minitrix catalogs; Trix sold some North American products that didn't appear in Aurora's catalogs; and Aurora sold some products that didn't appear in their own catalogs. It's quite the challenge trying to sort it all out. Click a cover to view the entire catalog.
Curiously, Aurora referred to the product line almost exclusively as "Micro Gauge" and not "N Gauge"—indeed, the scale was almost never mentioned. One strange exception was their flex track box, which featured both "N" and "1:160." Also, "N" appeared on rebranded Faller products, including building kits and bus sets.
Incidentally, the font Aurora used for Postage Stamp Trains (most of the time, anyway) is called Bookman Swash, which was very popular in the mid-late 1960s.
The chapters that follow are more than just tables of products and catalog numbers; each page is crammed with information, trivia and other ephemera.
Postage Stamp Trains is a Trademark of the Aurora Plastics Corporation.