Updated January 5th 2023 with photos of album number four, & the SOLUTION TO THE MYSTERY.
Michelino must have been a HUGE job for Letraset, stretching to dozens & dozens of transfer sheets.
Michelino's 1969 makeover
"Michelino" is Italian for "Mickey", & the name of a popular comic (apparently not mouse-related) aimed at younger children:
Image courtesy of danubioblu; note Michelino's pre-makeover appearance!
Originally started in 1961, it had a run of over three hundred issues before ending in October 1967. Accompanying the weekly was a monthly title, "Il Mensile di Michelino".
In 1969 (supposedly; see "How did these booklets get published", below) the title was re-launched in a new format as "L'album di Michelino", & this ran for at least forty-seven weekly issues (that is: I've seen No.47, & no-one has reported a later issue).
The albums are more what we would call "activity books". Here are Nos. 33 & 46 from year one (the one & only year), which as you can see both contain "figurine magiche" — no prizes for guessing what those are!
Year 1, No.33.
Year 1, No.46. Images courtesy of carapelle80
Since it appears that the title & layout were designed to include "figurine magiche" in every issue, & followed the Patterson Blick Instant Picture Books format, it seems more than likely that Letraset were involved at the planning stages. With a transfer sheet in each of forty-seven issues, this would have been a hugely lucrative job for Letraset; in fact, I can't help thinking of John Chudley's mysterious Italian cheese for kids, & wondering if this job was at least partly what he was thinking of:
"We received from Italy the largest order for our toys (to be used as premiums with a specially prepared cheese for children) that we had ever taken and it proved to be so successful that it was reordered several times before it was eventually dropped."
Was he conflating La Vache Qui Rit's "Conquête de l'Espace" — French cheese for children — & Cha-Cha-Rama Tintin — biscuits from Belgium, probably the first ever gravure-printed job — with Italian comics for children? Could he possibly have thought "gioco" might be a type of cheese?
It's a shame we can no longer ask him what on Earth he did actually mean.
Four of the albums were then released in the UK, in English-language editions.
The Italian albums are subtitled:
"Realizzato da Federico Santin — Fratelli Fabbri Editori."
The English albums are subtitled:
"By Federico Santin. Fabbri & Partners Limited. 1971. 20p."
The partly-used sheet for No.17 (Italian):
Image courtesy of danubioblu
And the sheets for Nos. 7 & 19 (English… er… see below!):
The twist in the tale is that the insert originally for the Italian album number 7 came with the English album number 1, & the insert for the Italian album number 19 came with the English album number 2. So the English albums were a kind of 'greatest hits' selection from the Italian versions.
By a stroke of luck I was able to obtain a couple of uncut sheets, one of which was PR86 (from 1971), featuring four Michelino inserts: for numbers 5, 6, 7 & 8. (We'd already seen the insert for number 7, above.)
The chronology is very odd, though; if number 1 was published in 1969, why was the sheet for numbers 5 to 8 printed in 1971? There would be a nearly two-year printing gap after the sheet for numbers 1 to 4.
Then the insert for the English number 3 has the serial number PR130 — indicating 1972 — & is marked (in Italian notation) as being for issue 3; in other words, for the Italian issue 3 as well as the English issue 3. The copyright on the albums, English version, is 1969 (for the original Italian) & 1971 (for the English revamps):
Copyright 1969 Fabbri Milan — Copyright 1971 Fabbri & Partners Ltd.
We can tell PR130 must have been printed in 1972 because PR128, for BEA, has a copyright date of 1972 — & no-one would copyright their product for the year following!
And PR82 — for Veteran Cars — is ©1971 (the product was launched in February). So PR86 must also have been 1971, even if early in the year.
A quick reminder: reprinting a sheet with a new date or serial, or with any changes at all, would have been hugely expensive in those days, due to the necessity of producing new gravure rolls — which were very costly indeed!
And these are comics; they're printed once a week, & that's it. No reprints.
Clearly there is some extra factor at work.
If you compare the insert for number seven on the PR86 sheet above (it's the bottom left quadrant of the sheet) with the insert for number seven in the image above it, you will notice there is, in fact, a slight difference in the text.
The PR68 insert (lower image) contains the text:
"L'album di Michelino" allegato al n. 7. pgg. 8-9
("Allegato" means attachment, or enclosure. I'm using the term "insert".)
But the text on the upper image simply states:
n. 7. pgg. 8-9
The simpler text, which appeared in the English version, threw me off at first because it is still in Italian & it refers to the wrong issue number. But it is clear that — this is a reprint sheet.
(This conclusion is corroborated by the blacK (sic) & Cyan registration marks, which are above the number seven insert on sheet PR86, but below it on sheet PR130.)
So the problem of sheet PR130 being printed two years too late is solved, if we suppose that all four English editions of Michelino had their transfers reprinted in 1972 — & damn the (apparently unnecessary) expense.
Perhaps there was some minor change on one of the inserts which absolutely HAD to be made, requiring new rolls. Or perhaps Letraset, for some reason, persuaded Fabbri that new rolls MIGHT be required, & then just went with the flow.
The remaining problem is the traditional one of copyright dates — probably the biggest stumbling block to anyone trying to date any printed material!
It is simplest to conclude that L'album di Michelino, despite being copyrighted in 1969, wasn't actually published until 1971. This would be quite easy, if the project was started well in advance of publication; particularly so, if we mean "late 1969" & "early 1971".
And as so often happens to the unwary, my sources — who have assured me that Michelino was published in 1969 — have been deceived by the absence of a publication date & the presence of a misleadingly-early copyright date.
Centre Pages — see above for corresponding Transfer Sheet
"Michelino regrets that he cannot accept responsibility for returning any drawings sent to him, nor can he reply to all your letters."
You will notice that to increase your chances of having a drawing published, you should live in Milan.
Centre Pages — see above for corresponding Transfer Sheet
Tom McIntosh got in touch in 2016 & kindly sent us his photos of each page of his album.
You will see that the transfer sheet (with the serial number PR130) was stapled to the inside back page, & is marked in Italian notation as intended for rubbing down on pages 8 & 9 — the centre pages — of issue 3.
So co-incidence or not, this third English album is equivalent to the Italian number 3.
pp14-15 (transfer sheet lifted away)
p15 (transfer sheet in place); Back Cover
Transfer Sheet PR130
Tracey, of Tracelementdesign, told me that her unused copies of Michelinos 3 & 4 had been on Etsy for two years before someone snapped them up just before I tracked them down. It's so hard to search for things on Etsy!
But at least you can view her photos of album number four, including the vital transfer sheet insert.
And if you are the lucky winner of these albums… please get in touch!
Original photos by Tracey of Tracelementdesign on Etsy
By the way: the Yellow & Magenta registration marks at the top of the number four insert & the bottom of the number three insert indicate that these two inserts were on the left of sheet PR130, with insert one (marked 7!) at top right & insert two (marked 19!) at bottom right. Now aren't you glad I pointed that out?
Picture Credit: The SPLAT Scan Archives — Tom McIntosh — danubioblu — carapelle80 — Tracey of Tracelementdesign
© Tom Vinelott 2023