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]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Britains C1939 Painted Lead Set No1654 Snow White & The Seven DwarfsBritains Pre-war Painted Lead Farm No12f Timber Carriage With Fur Hoofed HorseW Britain Cereimonial Mounted Band Of The Life GuardsW. Britain - British Camel Corps Officer Mounted & Trooper Mounted Charging14 Old Cannons Vintage Premier 75mm. Field Piece W Britain W. Britain - British Camel Corps: Trooper Mounted & Trooper And Pack CamelW. Britain - British Camel Corps: Officer, Wounded Nco & (4) Kneeling CamelsLot Of Seven Britain's Toy Soldiers Artillery Jeeps Plus Five Other CannonsBritains Farm Models Box Set #7557 - Complete...!!BritainsW. Britain - Mahdist Camelry: Charging (27017 & 27033), & Flag (27031) ExclusiveOrginal Britains Hollowcast Set #2 Horseguards W/ Original Box - Exc RepaintsW. Britain - British Camel Corps Bugler 27042 & Trooper Mounted 27010Britains Ltd Set Of 93 Figures From The American Civil War And Napolionic WarBritains Vintage Lead #1791 Royal Corps Of Signals Dispatch RidersVintage Britains Red Army Cavalry # 2028 Nmib W. Britain - Mahdist Warriors Sudan: 27015 27016 27026 27004 27005BritainsVintage Britains Ltd 18" Heavy Howitzer No9740 Boxed Played With ConditionBritains Farm Boxed Set #54f Lead Figure Farm Animals Orig Box Never Used NrBritains Pre-war Painted Lead 3 Stretcher Bearers In Gas Masks+stretcherBritainsW. Britain - Hadendoa Fuzzy-wuzzy Warriors: 27020 27024 27039 27022 27019 27023BritainsStarlux And Britains Lot Of 62 Pieces Indians Cowboys Teepees 1970's NosVintage Lead Britains Soldiers Regiments Of All Nations Re39Britains Collectibles 1969 Triumph Tr6 Jaguar Blue #7898 1:18 Scale Wbox Jm 54fBritains Farm Boxed Set #125f Lead Figure Animals Cows Orig Box Never Used NrBritains1:32 Scale Britains Cowboy Open Wagon With Figures : From Argentina Old RareBritains1960s Britains Plastic Swoppet Medieval KnightsBritains Farm Boxed Set #133f Lead Figure Farm Animals Orig Box Never Used NrBritains Vintage Lead Farm Or Garden Boy & Girl With Log For Seesaw #618British Soldiers 17th Lancers Duke Of Cambridge's Own Lead Britain Movable ArmBritains8 Vintage Britains Pre War United States Marine Corps Lead Soldiers Nice No ResBritains Painted Lead C1910 Boy Scout Climbing Tree+tent+6 HurdlesBritish Soldiers Pipers Of The Scots Guards #69 Lead Britain 1920-30's Britains Pre-war Painted Lead Zoo No919 Coconut Palm Tree About 6.3/4" HighVintage Lead Britains Soldiers Regiments Of All Nations Re41Vintage Barrett & Sons Lead Petrol Or Air Pump & Britains Castrol Oil CabinetBritains 1971 Deetail 1/32 1st Issue Ww2 Japanese Infantry Soldiers Full Set 6Britains Vintage Lead Farm Prewar #558 Village Boy With StickVtg Britains Deetails.wwii.german Motorcycle Model Toys Soldiers 70's. AW. Britain - Mahdist Ansar Sudan: 27048 27049 27050Log Cabin For John Jenkins King & Country First Legion William Britain ConteBritish Soldiers Royal Warwickshire Regiment The Salute Lead Britain Movable ArmBritains Pre-war Painted Lead Zoo No920 Date Palm Tree About 5.1/8" HighOriginal Britains Roan Infantry Boxes With Inserts And Separate Complaint SlipsMarvel Universe And Dc Action Lot Of 13 Figures,thanos, Hulk, Captain Britain Vintage Lead Britains Soldiers Regiments Of All Nations Re40#?? *britains 1970s Mk11 Daimler Scout Car(& 2 X Figures)desert 8th ArmyBritians Toy Soldier Dispatch Motorcycle RiderRare Early Lead (7) Pieces Britains,timpo, Hill? Lamp Posts,palm Trees,dove CoteBritainsBritains Painted Lead Pre-war Garden Flint Wall With Single Size Gate &post1:32 Britains - Open Wagon - With 2 Timpo Horses, Driver & Cargo And Two LoadersBritains Vintage Lead Farm #548 Field Gate With Hedge Enclosure - 1930/50'sJob Lot Of Vintage Britains Zoo Animals & Keeper With Boxed Timpo Cages