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    

Vintage Britains Toy Lead Soldiers Set No. 2062 The Seaforth HighlandersVintage Britains Toy Lead Soldiers Set No. 90 Coldstream Guards (3) PositionsVintage Britains Toy Lead Soldiers Set 2025 The Queens Own Cameron HighlandersBritains No. 114 Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, 54mmVintage Britains Toy Lead Soldiers Set No. 28 Royal Artillery Mountain Gun MuleAhi Japan Robin Hood Set Mint In BoxVintage W. Britain Toy Soldiers #146 Royal Army Service CorpsWm Britains Indian Mounted Cavalry Regiment Skinner's Horse, 7 FiguresVintage 23-piece Lot Britains Painted Lead Circus $1 NrBritains ? Lead Toy Soldier Figure Zoo Penguins And PondVintage W. Britain Toy Soldiers #1448 Staff Car W/driver & PassengerBritains Knights Of Agincourt Rider With Flag No. 9495 In Box England Rare NiceBritains Wwii British Aircraft Detection Equipment & Operators Toy SoldiersBritains Lead The Life Guards & The 4th Hussars No. 50 Original Double Box &cardBritains Swoppet Plastic Medieval Lot Knights Etc..Britains Swoppet 15th Century Knights On Horseback (6)Rare Britains Ltd Bluebird Land Speed Record Car. Boxed. (made 1930's).Britains Set # 1331 Walking Peaked CapVintage W. Britain Set #1462 Royal Artillery Lorry Limber GunBritains Set # 41096 Grenadier Guards Marching- Mint In Box Vintage Britains Lead Snow White & Seven Dwarfs Hand-painted Set / Figures C1930Lead Toy Soldiers Britains Cavalry OfficerBritains Knights Of Agincourt Rider With Mace No. 9493 In Box England Rare NiceVintage 54mm Lead Farm / Garden - Boy & Girl On See Saw - Britains#40181*britains*(6x Figure Soldier Set"3rd Hyderabad Contingent" & Box(mint/new)Lead Toy Soldier Royal Artillery Set Tradition Dorset Britains?Britains Set # 40115 Scots Guards Officer And Guardsmen- Mint In Box Vintage W. Britain Toy Soldiers #37 Coldstream Guards Band 21 FiguresVintage Britains 8 Lead Figures The King’s African Rifles No. 225 BoxedBritains Knights Of Agincourt Rider With Spear No. 9495 In Box England Rare Nice++++ Hot Wheels Mattel 3 Rrrumblers Riders 1 Britains Dragbike ++++Vintage 54mm Lead Farm / Garden - Boy On Swing - BritainsW Britain 17379 Union 6 Horse Artillery SetCharbens Log Wagon (britains Farm)3-figure Set Vintage W. Britain Toy Soldiers #1630 Royal Canadian DragoonsMinikin Courtenay H4a Norman Knight CopyBritains Set # 40393 Irish Guards Colour Party - Mint In Box Britains Delhi Durbar Range No. 268 & 269, 17th Loyal PurbiahsVintage 7th Calvary Britains Troopers 1971#8911*britains*(premier/biggs)"vickers Anti Aircraft Gun(& 2 X Gunner)" & BoxBritains Civil War Clubs Are Trumps 19th Massachusetts #17301 Ln/boxVintage Lot Of Britain Lead Toy Soldiers And MoreMixed Lot Of 16 Metal Conte Ltd & Britain's War MinaturesBritains 00267 Delhi Durbar Range Baroda Artillery Escort Set 2Hiriart Lead Toy Soldier German BritainsVintage Britains Play Set Large Plastic Trees You Assemble X 2Britains Swoppet 15th Century Knights Parts LotCustom Marvel Legends Infinite Captain Britain First Costume Universe SelectVintage Britains Lead 8 Somerset Light Infantry (prince Albert’s) 17 BoxedBritains 15 C Knights Civil War Swoppet Horses Riders Guards Horses Swoppet Cool14 Vintage Britain's Red Coat & Kilts Riflemen Cast Lead Soldiers 2.25" - EstateVintage Diecast Corgi Toys Britain Bedford Car Transporter Ford Consul TriumphVintage Britains Ltd. Diecast Motorcycle And Rider #9679#00135*britains*(6x Figure Soldier Set"queens Own Corps Guides" & Box(mint/new)Lead Toy Soldier Artillery Set Tradition Dorset Britains?Crescent (britains Scale) 1/32 Vintage Diecast British Scorpion Tank Vintage Britains Johilco Lead Toy Farm Bee Hive Bee Keeper HousesTwo Vatican Swiss Guard W.britain Vintage Soldiers In Great Condition. Look!Britains Farm And Village Series Blacksmith With AnvilVintage Britains Johillco Lead Toy Dog Bull Dog Pug Miniature