Search this Topic:
Jan 2 13 1:33 AM
Jan 2 13 3:58 AM
In November 2012 I interviewed New York resident Bill, 72, about his years working for the Topstone Rubber Toy Company
during the 1950s and 1960s.
Bill said Topstone was his very first job after quitting
school at age 16. He thinks his first year with the company was 1956, though he
seemed a little fuzzy on his dates.
Bill lived in or near Bethel, Conn., where Topstone was
located. Bill said he just “showed up at the door” and they gave him a job.
“The smell of ammonia was so strong, when I opened my mouth,
I couldn’t talk,” Bill said. “The smell took my breath away. But I didn’t
care. I just wanted a job.”
Bill said he quickly got used to the ammonia smell.
Topstone put him to work for a dollar an hour, drying masks after they were
pulled from the plaster molds. Bill said he loaded the wet latex pulls into
three ordinary clothes dryers, letting them tumble dry for several minutes
before removing them and sorting them into boxes.
By the time Bill arrived at Topstone, the company had
already moved its paint department to another location in Beaverbrook. The
latex masks were cast in the Bethel building, then transported to Beaverbrook
Bill described the production process:
“We had a huge oven that ran down one side of the building,
about 20-30 feet long, 8 feet high and 8 feet wide. It had doors on each end,
two tracks running through it. They would wheel big carts into the oven and
shut the door. They would run through the oven and come out the other end.
“There were barrels of latex, one for white latex and
another for flesh-colored latex. There were long pipes on the floor, feeding
the latex. If you dumped stuff into one end, it would feed to the other end.
“They would put an empty plaster mold on the conveyor. A
pourer would use a pitcher to dip into the latex and fill the mold. Some molds
took a whole pitcher and some took a half pitcher. The molds would spend a
certain time going down the conveyer, then get dumped into another barrel with
racks in it. Three or four molds would be in the barrel at once. The molds
would be upside down so the latex would drip out into the barrel, so they could
recapture the latex.
“Then they would creep up the conveyor. A guy on the other
end would pick them up, put the molds on six-wheeled trucks and roll them into
the oven. When they came out the other side, there was a guy called a stripper.
The stripper would take the mold off the truck and whack a sock filled with
talcum powder inside the mold. Then he would rip the mask out of the mold and
throw it into a box.
“The guy who did the stripping was named Steve. He could see
out the windows. Every time a girl walked by, that was it. Production stopped.
He would hang out the window and flirt with the girls. We had to wait for him
to come back and start stripping masks out of the molds.
“I would pick up the boxes and throw the masks into the
dryers. After drying them, I would sort them all according to character and put
them in boxes. At the end of the day, they would take the boxes and load them
onto a truck to take to Beaverbrook to be painted.”
The Bethel production crew numbered about 20 people, he
said. Another 20 people worked in the paint shop in Beaverbrook.
Bill said all the latex came from the Naugatuck Chemical
Company in Naugatuck, Conn. Bill said it was his job to drive to Naugatuck
to pick up the latex. “It was an all-day job to drive up there and drive back,”
The rubber used was specially formulated for Topstone, he
said. “If we started getting too many bubbles, Naugatuck would send a salesman
down and they would add a chemical to it, to knock down the bubbles,” he said.
The company staffed little girls whose sole job was to patch
bubble holes in masks, Bill said.
The original molds made by Keith Ward used a stronger type
of surgical rubber, also supplied by Naugatuck, Bill said.
At the Beaverbrook building, masks were painted, haired and
“Every morning, I used to stir the paint up and fill up the
paint tanks,” Bill said. “It was a special paint they ordered. We got it in
five-gallon cans. This stuff was really volatile, flammable. We kept the paint
in a separate shed. I had to bring it in using safety cans. We used black, red,
then fluorescent colors. The fluorescent paints were tough to use because you
had to keep them mixed so they wouldn’t separate.”
The paint department used Paasche airbrushes, little
handheld guns with a trigger on one side. The airbrushes were attached to a
hose that ran down to a tank filled with paint.
Workers used scissors to trim eye holes, nostrils, mouths,
The finished masks were boxed for shipment to retail
customers. Bill said he remembered Kresge was one of the chains that
ordered Topstone masks. He could not remember the others. Topstone shipped
maybe four or five boxes of masks to each chain just before Halloween, he said.
The boxes for each order were tied together. The Bethel building was located
right next to the railroad station, making shipping convenient.
“One day at Beaverbrook, we had some guys show up at the
door, wanting to know if we could make hand grenades – gas grenades – made of
rubber so they could drop them from helicopters and they wouldn’t hurt people
if they fell on them,” Bill said. “We told them no, we couldn’t do that. It
was the wrong kind of rubber.”
Bill said most of the staff were laid off from Nov. 1
through early spring, when production resumed. A few stayed on during the
winter to produce novelties like rubber animals and squeak toys, he said.
The company made a variety of vinyl toys with squeaker
whistles, including Walt Disney’s Seven Dwarfs, Emmit Kelly dolls and large
“We hired a local guy who was blind, to put the whistles in
the dogs,” Bill said. “His name was Louie. Louis the blind guy, was how we
The vinyl toys were made using a huge rotary machine,
“It was a monster,” he said. “It was a big oven. It used
cast bronze or brass molds. You poured vinyl into them and locked the molds
sealed. This oven would spin front to back and side to side at the same time,
like a carnival ride, so it would coat the inside of the molds under high heat.
Then they would let the molds cool off, pop the bottom off, then take an
instrument to pop out the toy. The toy was really stiff.”
Topstone sold novelties like blow-molded jack-o-lantern
candy pails and big-nose disguises. But the company did not manufacture these
items in Connecticut, Bill said. They purchased the plastic pumpkin pails,
either imported or from a domestic supplier. The pails arrived unpainted.
Topstone workers would paint the faces.
“You had to flame-treat them first,” Bill said. “You had
to flame them with a gas flame so the paint would adhere. You had to paint them
within a certain period of time, or else you would have to flame them again.”
Bill said he built a special machine for this flaming
process, a “bent piece of pipe hooked up to gas that would shoot flames.”
The plastic disguise noses and glasses arrived with “Made in
Japan” stickers, he said. Topstone would attach the noses to the glasses,
allowing them to remove the import tags and call the finished disguise a
Topstone product, made in the USA, he said.
Bill said he did not spend a lot of time around
Topstone’s owner, artist Keith Ward, who usually visited the factory only when
introducing a new product design.
“Keith Ward was a character, very tall and thin,” Bill said. “He drove an Austin-Healey like a maniac.”
Bill said Ward was very particular about his molds and
maintaining the quality of his designs. Ward would leave certain sculpts in
production, even though they resulted in a high percentage of rejects due to
undercuts and air bubbles. Bill said Ward sculpted using the green clay
kids used in schools. He would pour casting plaster over the clay, then used
surgical rubber to make a dye from which the factory would make plaster
Bill said he once visited Ward’s house in New Canaan,
“I saw portraits Keith had painted for people. His wife was
also an artist. In his house, they had these huge murals on two big walls, with
painted draperies on the sides, like you were looking out of a window onto a
street scene of Paris. It was like a huge bay window, but it was painted. The
whole wall was a painting.”
Bill said he was not present the day Ward caught his
hand in the vacuum-forming machine, an event that might have predated
Bill's employment at Topstone. But Bill had heard about the incident
and saw how the subsequent surgeries affected the artist’s hand.
“Keith Ward had nerves screwed up in one of his hands. Two
nerves in his fingers were crossed. So if he hit one finger, he would grab the
Bill said Topstone considered its major competitor to be
New York-based Bayshore Industries.
“All the Bayshore masks I saw were very plain,” he said.
“They did not look as good as Topstone. Topstone’s were really detailed.”
I told Bill there seemed to be some overlap or
relationship between the two companies, and that I thought I had seen a Bayshore
mask with Keith Ward’s name on it.
Bill said he had no knowledge of Ward ever sculpting
for Bayshore. Given the competition between Topstone and Bayshore, Bill thought it was unlikely Ward would have done any work for them.
Bill had no knowledge of Topstone registering Bayshore
as a trademark in the 70s. Besides competition, the only connection between the
two companies was a possible takeover attempt by Bayshore, he said.
“I believe Bayshore was trying to buy out Topstone after
Topstone went into receivership,” he said. “That is why Topstone hid all the
molds. They hid the molds from Bayshore.”
I will leave that story for the second part of my interview
with Bill, dealing with his second period of employment for the company
during the 1960s Mel Goldberg era. Stay tuned!
Jan 2 13 4:06 AM
Jan 2 13 4:09 AM
"Back in my younger days, about 1956, I went to work for a
company that made Halloween masks. The company was owned by an artist by the
name of Keith Ward. He was a sculptor and portrait painter. His wife also
painted and I wonder what happened to the murals painted up on the walls of
their home in Silvermine, Connecticut. To me, at the time, they were fantastic.
The first I had ever seen.
"Well, anyway, back in the early fifties there wasn’t a lot
of work for sculptors, so he came up with the idea of making Halloween masks.
He set up business in an old cider mill and began manufacturing masks. They
were a huge success. He made the first over-the-head mask and the detail on
them was fantastic. I remember that he would not remove the wart from a witch’s
nose even though it caused a high percentage of scrap. A witch had to have a
wart on her nose, after all.
(He told me details like the wart, ears that stuck out,
undercuts, all resulted in many unusable masks that had to be thrown out. This
is what he means by “scrap.” But Ward refused to simplify the sculpts.)
"When I first went to work with this company, my job was to
toss all the masks into a dryer. The same type of dryer used for laundry, and
then sort each character into a separate box, to be sent to the painters.
Well, such friends I had: Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Donald
Duck, Legal Eagle, Washable Jones, Daisy May. Local kids would hang around the
window where I worked in hopes that I would toss them a rejected Mickey Mouse
or Little Abner. It wasn’t that many years since I hung around there, waiting
for tiny, rubber cowboy hats.
(He told me that Topstone made miniature rubber cowboy hats
before Keith Ward took over and started making masks. When he was younger, Bill
would wait outside the building to get free cowboy hats.)
"I worked many jobs in that company over the years. I
remember one time, I got the job of removing all of the accumulation stored
above the office. I took to the dump thousands of color brochures for all the
masks and toys we made, including all the Disney and Al Capp and many others. I
took some home for my children to use for scrap paper. Unfortunately, they used
it all up.
"And then there was the day that JFK was assassinated. It was
my job to remove the JFK and Jackie molds from the vacuum-forming department
and throw them away. I didn’t have the heart to throw them out, so I took them
home where they collected dust in my cellar, only to be thrown away when we
sold our house and moved away. Oh well, the things we should have kept.
"Then there was the day that several of us were standing
outside when a Jeep came roaring down the road and whipped into the parking
lot. Sticking out of the back was a life-sized, blow-up girl. She had sprung a
leak and they needed her patched up real quick. Well, she was made of vinyl and
we had only slow-drying latex. There wasn’t any such thing as Krazy Glue at
that time, so we sent them to another company that used vulcanized rubber. So
off they went with a limp girl hanging from the back of the Jeep.
(Bill believes this was a movie crew and the inflatable girl
was used in a James Bond movie.)
"Also working there was a gentleman by the name of Trigvey
Hogstead (not positive about the spelling). He was affectionately known to all
as “Trigger.” Now Trigger was a large man, Scandinavian, over six feet tall,
broad shouldered. He had a round face with a ruddy complexion and talked with a
slight accent. He wore dark glasses because of bad eyesight. At one time, Trigger
was a concert violinist. I know this to be true because the owner of the
company knew him back then. When he was going to art school in California, Mr.
Ward would borrow money from friends to go to the concerts in which Trigger
played. Unfortunately for Trigger, his hearing started to go bad and he had to
give up the violin.
(Trigger was fond of Ballantine Ale and had a cat named
Pasquale. He called Bill “Baxter.” Bill said he got along well with Trigger.)
"Trigger lived about 20 miles from work and when we worked
late, he would miss his train. He would usually get a ride home with the owner,
Keith Ward. That was quite a sight with Trigger being as large as he was and
Mr. Ward being very thin and average height. He (Ward) drove an Austin-Healey
and more than once they had to enlist the help of passersby to extricate
Trigger from the car. At other times, he (Trigger) would offer a dollar to
anyone who would take him home. Now that was a good deal. In the fifties, you
could get three gallons of gas. I could take Trigger home and have some left
over for cruising that night."
Still to come: Part II of my interview with Bill.
Jan 2 13 10:42 AM
Jan 2 13 12:53 PM
Crow T Robot wrote:Amazing! This stuff HAS to be put into a book on this wonderful company.
Jan 3 13 1:32 PM
Jan 3 13 4:48 PM
Jan 4 13 4:29 AM
Jan 5 13 2:17 PM
Jan 18 13 3:46 AM
Jan 23 13 4:06 AM
Jan 23 13 12:28 PM
raycastile wrote:Spoiler II, I cannot help you with the rubber mask in your childhood photo. I have no idea what that is. But I can help you with the Mummy. It is this mask:I don't know the manufacturer's name. I do not think it is a Topstone. It is made of a strange material, almost like vinyl. It doesn't feel like rubber, but it is deteriorating like rubber. I foamed this one, so hopefully it will be around for awhile. But it was splitting all over.I have never seen the costume that the Mummy kid is wearing. Do you know if it came with the mask? The illustration looks like the mask. I collect boxed Halloween costumes, but I never take the costumes out of the box, so I seldom see what the artwork looks like. But I've never even seen a picture of that Mummy costume before.
Feb 10 13 11:46 PM
In November 2012 I interviewed New York resident Bill, 72, about his years working for the Topstone Rubber Toy Company
during the 1950s and 1960s. This is the second installment of that interview.
Bill worked several years during the 1950s under
Topstone’s most famous owner, artist Keith Ward. Bill left the company
before Ward sold it in the early 1960s.
Bill returned to Topstone a few years later to work for
the company’s new owners.
I have not been able to confirm the exact chain of ownership
between Ward and the company’s later owner, Mel Goldberg. Even Ward’s daughter,
who I interviewed last year, could not remember to whom Ward sold the company.
It seems one or two men briefly owned Topstone before Goldberg arrived.
According to Bill, a company called “Bland & Bland”
owned Topstone when he returned to work for the company in the mid-1960s. Bill said Bland & Bland was owned by Sydney Bland and his brother,
whose first name Bill did not remember. Bill said Bland & Bland was
located in New York, in an office building known in the industry as “the toy
building,” as it was full of toy distribution companies.
I was vaguely aware of “the toy building.” A little online
research confirmed that it was the Toy Center, located at 200 Fifth Avenue in
New York. The annual American International Toy Fair takes place in this
I wondered if Bland & Bland could be the same company as
Bland Charnas Co., a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of Halloween costumes during
A few months after my interview with Bill, I purchased a
1993 Topstone Industries company catalog. The back cover lists Topstone’s
national sales office and showroom as “Bland & Glennon, Inc.,” located in
the Toy Center Building.
Bill said the Bland brothers bought the company from
Ward, though Ward had already relinquished hands-on operation. The company was
being managed by a man named Edward, who had previously worked under Ward, Bill said. Edward remained with Topstone for a year or two under Bland &
Bland before the new owners fired him, Bill said. They replaced Edward with
Norman Bland, the son of one of the Bland brothers, he said. Norman stayed for
a year or two, then quit, Bill said. That is when Mel Goldberg took over,
Bill called Norman “a really nice guy,” and “very laid
back, quiet, easy going.” He said Goldberg was related to Norman, possibly a
In an Associated Press interview during the 1980s, Goldberg
said his future father-in-law gave him the top position at Topstone. Was Norman
his father-in-law? Hopefully, I will find additional sources to clear up the
succession of Topstone’s ownership during the post-Ward years.
Body was running the company when Bill returned. Bill had gone to work for Shepards Warehouse in Bethel. The warehouse still
exists at 32 Henry St. in Bethel. One day, Shepards received a call from
Topstone requesting workers to pack up materials. Because of his familiarity
with Topstone, Bill took the assignment.
Topstone was packing away its original dyes and dye molds, Bill said. The company was in receivership. Another company – Bill thinks it was Bayshore – was trying to buy Topstone or its assets. Bayshore
representatives were coming to tour Topstone’s facilities. Topstone’s owners
wanted to make sure they would find nothing valuable, so they moved the molds
to Shepards Warehouse, Bill said.
From Bill's account, I was not sure if this episode came
just before or just after his second period of employment with Topstone. He had
detailed memories, but had trouble arranging them chronologically.
Whether it was before or after Shepards, Bill did return
to work as a Topstone employee. The company hired him to lead its maintenance
department. Topstone wanted to reactivate its vacuum forming operation, so Bill refurbished the machinery.
“The vacuum forming equipment had not been used in years,” Bill said.
The machines used sheets of vinyl with the mask designs
already printed on them, he said. Back in the Keith Ward days, the factory
would do a test run using a blank vinyl sheet, then Ward would paint the mask
faces on the formed sheet. The workers would then heat it up again so it would
return to its original flat shape. They would send that painted sheet to a
printer. The printer would send them back stacks of pre-printed sheets.
Topstone used an old dye cutting machine from a shoe factory
to cut the masks from the sheet, Bill said.
“I designed a table with a horizontal saw,” he said. “They
would put a sheet on it, run it through and it would slice them all off. It
could cut an entire sheet in a few seconds. Within six months, everyone in the
business had a saw like that. We did not patent it.
Bill said he believed Topstone was the first company to
make transparent vacuum-formed plastic masks. The lineup included President
John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy masks. The day after the president was
assassinated, workers were told to take the molds off the assembly line and
throw them away, Bill said.
Bill said he took the molds home, not having the heart
to throw them out. They collected dust in his cellar, he said. He finally did
throw them away years later when he sold his house, he said.
After refurbishing Topstone’s vacuum forming equipment, Bill tackled a new assignment.
“They wanted to get into the makeup business, so I started
that for them,” he said. “They rented a big space in the bottom of a building a
half-mile from their shop. I wired it up and put meters on the building. I got
together stoves and lights, all the equipment and parts, got it all set up and
working to manufacture the makeup.”
The operation used little molds that resembled crayon molds, Bill said. The process poured wax into the molds, then dumped them out and
sealed them in little packages, he said.
Back at the Beaverbrook plant, Topstone was trying to move
away from the old conveyor belt system, Bill said. They had switched to an
overhead conveyer, eliminating all the trucks that went through the oven. They
automated the stripping, filling and dumping of the molds.
Bill was still working for the company when Norman
stepped aside and Goldberg took over.
“Mel and I got along pretty good most of the time,” Bill said. “Everything was quick, quick, quick with Mel. He was fast talking, fast
moving. He was a hustler. He drove one of those cars that were ‘unsafe at any
speed.’ We would rip him for driving that thing around.
“I did not really socialize with Mel, but I took him fishing
a few times. He had never been fishing. We brought a couple six-packs and had a
After leaving Topstone for the second time, Bill started
his own business manufacturing ultra-fine copper wire. Goldberg and a friend
from New York considered investing in his business, Bill said. But Goldberg
and the friend wanted to own too much of the company, so they never finalized a
deal, Bill said.
Still, Goldberg remained peripherally involved with Bill's company during the 1970s, he said.
“Mel Goldberg would buy my invoices sometimes,” Bill said. “So if a customer owed me $500, I would sell the invoice to Mel for $400.
So I would have cash right away. Then when the money came in, it would go to
Bill later purchased a toy distribution company, the
Vermont-based TV Cartoon Toys, which specialized in selling rack toys. Bill operated the company from roughly 1975 through 1980, he said.
“There was a huge warehouse in Boston that had huge bins;
boxes and boxes full of imported toys,” Bill said. “I’d buy them by the
boxful, load them up in my truck and bring them back to Vermont.”
Bill said he dealt in Jaymar toys, plus kites and cap
guns from other companies.
During this period, he traveled to the Toy Center in New
York, seeking opportunities for his distribution business. Bill said he
looked up Bland & Bland in the toy building and went there to say hello.
“Mel was there,” he said. “They had a big display room with
everything they made. I remember it was a lot of masks and stuff that I had
never seen before.”
This final pleasant reunion with Goldberg marked the end of Bill's history with Topstone.
Feb 11 13 12:11 AM
Feb 11 13 12:48 AM
Feb 11 13 11:51 AM
raycastile wrote:I bought a couple other Topstone catalogs recently. This is the most significant one. A four-page 1970 Topstone catalog that supposedly came from the Warren Publishing archives. Great images of the iconic Keith Ward characters.
Feb 12 13 3:18 AM
Feb 12 13 6:23 PM
Feb 13 13 2:40 AM
© 2017 Yuku. All rights reserved.