Without Britains, toy-soldier collectors would have a much heavier load to bear. That’s because company-founder William Britain, Jr. invented the hollow-casting method, which revolutionized the industry by greatly reducing the weight, and cost, of these toys. Sold at various times under the names William Britain, W. Britain, Britains, and Petite, today the company’s most highly-prized products are its first, 19th-century toy soldier sets still string-tied into their original packaging.

William Britain’s father was a London toy-maker who recognized a potential business opportunity in the huge quantity of miniature soldiers imported to the U.K. during the late 19th century. In 1893, Britain developed his ingenious casting technology, and the company quickly outshone the German manufacturers who had previously dominated the market. Britain’s new hollow-cast method utilized molds with an opening that allowed excess lead to escape before fully hardening, creating a hollow figurine. Since lead was the most costly part of toy soldier production, the new technique enabled Britains to drastically lower its prices, altering the entire marketplace. After a successful lawsuit to protect its designs from cheap imitations, Britains copyrighted its individual figures with a paper sticker underneath each base; later models were marked with an embossed stamp.

Britains’ first models included a set of mounted military “Life Guards,” followed by other series based on British troops. Gamages department store in London, famous for its elaborate Christmas displays, quickly became a major distributor of Britains toys, and by 1906, Gamages stopped selling German imports entirely. Besides their affordability, many Britains figures came with movable arms, a unique feature making them very appealing to children. At a full height of 54mm, these soldiers also matched the standard model-train gauge, further ensuring their success as playthings.

After Britains opened an additional facility in Paris, its lines expanded to include French military units. Both manufacturing plants operated at limited capacity during World War I, and World War II halted production entirely. Postwar restrictions on the use of lead in the United Kingdom forced Britains to supplement its slow domestic market by concentrating on sales overseas, as well as adding many more foreign troops to its product line.

In 1954, Britains acquired rival manufacturer Herald and its greatest designer, Roy Selwyn Smith, who would create popular series of historic figures, like the dramatic “Knights of Agincourt” in all their armored splendor. Herald was known for its meticulous plastic figurines, and Britains would continue to use the Herald name through the 1980s.

Britains most popular plastic lines were its “Swoppet” range, made with interchangeable parts and equipment, and the “Eyes Right” range, which depicted soldiers wearing full ceremonial attire, a return to classic toy soldier styles. From 1959 to 1965, the company offered its “Picture Packs” of individual soldiers from existing sets, whose scarcity makes them highly sought-after by collectors.

Though regulations forced Britains to stop production of all lead toys in 1966, the company introduced its “Deetail” series in 1971, which featured plastic figures mounted on met...

Around the same time, Britains recognized a growing nostalgia market among adult collectors, and in 1973 unveiled its “New Metal Model” series. By the late 1980s, these items were no longer included in Britains’ regular toy catalogs, instead given their own magazine geared to collectors. An official “William Britain Collectors Club” launched in 1993.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

(15) Pre-war Britains Set 23, 5 Th. Irish Lancers At Halt, 1903 To 1932Vintage Husky #1202 Batmobile - Made In Great Britain - Mip Moc - 1960sBritains Rasc Wagon (from Set 146) 1st VersionBritains 1:32 Scale Case Ih Afx 8010 Combine Harvester Suit Tractor CollectorBritains Red Massey Ferguson 135Vintage Husky #1204 Monkeemobile - Great Britain - Mip Moc - 1960sBritains Style White Metal Boxed Set Of French Sailors 1914 By Richards SoldiersBritains Vintage Plastic # 7615 Overland Stagecoach Set- 1960sBritains Guards BandVintage & Scarce Salco 40mm Lead Horse Drawn Gypsy Caravan + GypsiesBritains Red Massey Ferguson With ShovelBritains Masey Ferguson 135 In Yellow With HoodBritains Gun & Limber From Set 39 Post WarW Britains Us Navy Whitejackets Marching 1253 - Lead Set - Orig. Box - EnglandBritains Set 62s Infantry In Battledress, Tied In Box.699 Britains "deetail" Motorcycles #9694 1:32 Afrika Korps Dispatch RiderBritains Massey Ferguson 135 In YellowOld Vintage Antique Britains Lead Figures Farm Roller, Cart Horse & Farmer 9fMarvel Legends Captain Britain-giant Man Series-baf Mipw/ Right Leg Of Giant ManLarge Lot Vintage 54mm Lead Farm Models - Britains / John Hill / Timpo EtcW Britains Soviet Army Infantry Guards 2027 - Lead Set - Orig. Box - EnglandLead Toy Soldier Ww1 French Army Vehicle Model T Diecast 54mm Britains MignotBritain’s Raf 1967 Special Collectors Edition Queens Colour Squadron Raf Reg M/bBritains From Set 39 Officer & 5 Others Post WarBritains Set 203, Royal Engineers Pontoon Section! Rather Nice!Britains Vintage Plastic # 4465 Federal Acw Gun & Crew From The 1960sBritain’s 1966 Special Collectors Edition Sherwood Foresters Regimental Band M/bScarce St. George Cross Russian Made Japanese Toy Soldiers Boxer Rebellion 1900Britains Kverneland PlowBritains Vintage Plastic # 4435 Confederate Acw Gun & Crew From The 1960sBritain American Civil War #17779 Union Artillery Set #1- Cannon And Crew FigureLoose Used Ultimate Soldier U.s. & German Tank & Britains Ltd. Figure Lot #1Britains From Set 1290 British Infantry Bandsmen (5)Brio Sweden ( Lego Denmark ) Vintage 1950's Farmall Tractor Ultra Rare ItemBritains Queen's Own Hussars Set No. 8 In Original Box.French Soldiers, Napoleonic Era, Britain Ltd, Deetail 1971 Vintage Ros Massey Ferguson 294c Crawler 1/25 Tractor Traktor Tracteur RareBritains Sp Duocrown Range 25s Hussars And Infantry Of The Line.4 Different Early Britains Soldiers Nice Condition No ReserveBritains Set 74 Royal Welsh Fusiliers Tied In Box.Vintage Set Of 7 Britains Soldiers Lead Toy Soldiers - Canadian Mounties #1554Hasbro Marvel Universe Captain Britain 3.75 LooseVintage Lead Zoo - 27 Mixed Animals Needing Tlc - Britains, Timpo, EtcBritains 3x Territorial Yeomanry (set 159)Britains 2each 11th Hussars And 1st DragoonsBritains Lead Soldiers Napoleonic Hussars Gun Carriage & Crew 54mm As CrescentBritains Set # 182 The 11th Hussars.50’s Ducal Set English Not Britains Royal Navy (officer And 5 Other Ranks) Nr Britains Set 1754 Types Of The British ArmyBritains Mf 595 With ShovelFrench Calvary, Napoleonic Era, Britain Ltd, Deetail 1971Britains Tradition Royal Danish LifeguardsOld Britains Lead Farm Series, England Farm Animals And People Lot Of 75 PiecesBritains Model Farm Fordson 128f Tractor, Driver,in ObLego Denmark Vintage 1950's Wood Harrow For Ferguson Tractor Very Rare VgVintage 54mm Lead Farm / Garden Young Girl + Boy + Dog + Punt- John HillLarge Job Lot Vinatge Cold Painted Farmyard Theme Britain's? Lead Figures3 X*britains*mounted Toy Soldier(household Cavalry/lifeguard?&lances)red TunicBritains #39 Royal Horse Artillery OfficerVtg Britains 15 Lead Toy Soldiers Lifeguards,horseguard Highlanders,horse W Case