Just a bit about English toy maker William Britains
A brief disclaimer... this page isn't intended to be definitive or to show my vast knowledge! Much to the contrary, it started as my notes to myself as a novice learning about these great vintage toys. I am very much a neophyte to hollowcast toy soldiers and welcome comments or additional info to put on this page!
W. Britains Limited was named after the company’s founder William Britain Jr. in 1883. His company pioneered the use of hollow casting figures in lead, allowing him to sell his figures more cheaply than his competitors as he used less lead and could ship them more cheaply. The company quickly surpassed it's German toy making rivals and was imitated by other companies, such as John Hill and Company (JoHill Co). The style and scale of Britain's figures became the standard for toy soldiers. He created figures in 1:32 scale (approx. 54mm or about 2.25 inches tall) to match the 00 scale trains popular in the period. The company has gone through many incarnations since that time and has changed hands, still producing collector figures today. But that ‘heyday’ of 1893-1966, broken only by the interruption of World Wars, is where the interest of most Britains collectors lies.
As with much history, the Britains story is best divided into two era’s; Pre-War (1893-1939) and Post-War (1947-1966). The Pre-War figures are often found with round unmarked bases, later with paper labels and copyright information affixed to the round base. Many of the earliest figures are dated though the dated molds stayed in use after the year it denotes. In 1907, Britains became a Proprietership and the square or rectangular bases began to be marked “Britains, Made in England, Copyright Proprietors”. Sometimes the word “depose” is added meaning the figures were made in Britains short-lived Paris, France office.
One of the best ways to determine a Pre-War figure is the mustache on the face. In 1938, the British military prohibited face-hair and Britains followed suite on its’ soldiers. Another hint is the 1/2 or "jack booted" figure. Until the early 1930's most Britains figures were 1/2 booted and then the molds were modified and full trouser figures were introduced. Also of note, Britains Pre-War cavalry figures had the horses reins painted on whereas Post-War this additional painting step was done away with.
Milestones in Britains history: (thank you Mr. Opie)
1893: the beginning. Soldiers have plain, oval bases and fixed arms.
1896: introduction of moveable arms.
1900: introduction of dated paper labels then dated bases.
1908: introduction of square/rectangle bases.
1914: ceased using dated bases…note that old molds were still used.
1924: dated molds were discarded.
1933: ceased using gaiter/jack boots and began using full trousers.
1938: last year moustaches were used.
1949: introduction of Regiments of All Nations boxes.
1954-1959 Military single figure Picture Packs were offered.
1955: introduction of plastic drums.
1961: introduction of cellophane window boxes.
1966: hollow cast toy production ceased.
About the Boxes… I love the boxes!
Britains very earliest boxes were ornate with script and the regiments "battle honors" inscribed upon it. In the 1920's Fred Whisstock signed boxes were utilized by the company with the name Fred Whisstock most often found on the lower left corner of the box lid. Late Pre-War boxes carried a simpler Armies of the World label with the set number and name of the regiment in a rectangular block on the box lid or on the end label of the box.
Post War boxes from 1947-1960 were labeled Regiments of All Nations on the box lid. A ‘set’ usually included 7 infantry figures as opposed to 8 in the Pre-War sets, and 5 Cavalrymen though this was later often reduced to 4. In 1960, the numbering system was changed to 9000 range numbers and the boxes had a window-pane (cellophane) lid to view the figures without opening the box. There were also "1/2" boxes introduced in the mid-1950's and "Picture Packs" single figure boxes.
Pre-War Armies of the World Box
Pre-war Soldiers of the British Empire
Regiments of All Nations ROAN boxes, 1949-1960
Cellophane window box 1951-1966
With toy sales dropping drastically, Britains lowered the quality of it's painting and began using ornate boxes such as the Duofort series and the colorful box shown below. These 'lesser' sets can be considered rare and desireable as few were produced.
Early oval base with 1904 date
Early Britains base with Depose mark
Typical pre-war Britains base marking
Mustached officer pre-1939, cleanly shaven officer 1939 to 1955.