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    

Antique W Britain Toy India Cavalry Soldiers Set Of 5 With Orig BoxDinky Toys,rarer David Brown 990 Tractor,above Excellent Condition,no Box.Vintage Britains Soldiers Boxed Regiments Of All Nations Welsh Guards 2108 RoanVintage Britains Toy Soldiers - Royal Artillery # 9420 SetBritains Set 7 Royal Fusiliers Unmarked Oval Base 1897 VersionMarvel Legends Giant Man Series Wave Kitty Pryde X-men Wolverine Warbird BritainW Britans 17379 Union Six Horse Artillery Set Brand New, Awsome SetBritains Lead Soldier Parachute/trooper Infantry Blue Helmet + Ofcr Braun Gunner54mm Gloss Painted Metal Zulu War Lancers 1879 By Britains LtdHuge Amount Of Mainly Good Condition Britains Swoppet Plastic Infantry 1950/60sLot Of 4 Pre War Britains Soldiers In Nice Condition No ReserveThe Great Book Of Britains: 100 Years Of Britains Toy Soldiers3 Vintage Pre War Britains African Lead Soldiers Nice Condition No Reserve Lot 2Fantastic Antique / Vintage Toy Soldiers - Army & Navy - Lead - BritainsDinky Toys,rare David Brown 990 Tractor,excellent,complete,working Con,no Box.Box Cannon & Soldier Steadfast Soldiers Made In Great BritainCivil War Toy Soldiers W Britain Union Artillery Set No. 3 Make Ready 31097 1/32Boxed W. Britain Toy Soldiers 40293 "band Of The Royal Marine Light Infantry" Vintage Britains Toy Cannon/field Gun With Shell Marked "made In England"Britains Set #108 Pre War 5 Pieces 6th Inniskilling Dragoons "waterloo" No BoxBritains Vintage Lead Rare Gun Of The Royal Horse Artillery -1930Lot 6 Indian Army Service Corps Lead Soldiers Mule Handlers Depose/britainsJohillco Lead Greenhouse Ideal For Britains Floral Garden DisplayVintage #9699 Britains Motorcycle W/ Sidecar Bmw Racing CombinationLarge Lot Vintage 54mm Lead Farm Models - Britains / John Hill / Timpo EtcBritains Set #24 Queen's Own 9th Royal Lancers Post War 5 Pieces No Original BoxBritains Ltd Military Land Rover ArmyVintage Britains Painted Lead Zebra -panda -2 Bears-chimp-gorilla+zoo BuildingBritain’s Set #136 Russian Cossacks Imperial Cavalry Soviet Russia Toy SoldiersDinky No.719 Spitfire Mkii Battle Of Britain Boxed - Free Worldwide ShippingVintage Lead Farm / Garden - Fox Chasing Running RabbitBritains Toy Soldiers No 76 The Middlesex Regiment Duke Of Cambridge's Own Britains Ltd Motorcycles Motorbikes SpeedwayBritains Vintage Lead Rare Prewar T4 Queen Elizabeth Ist For Madame TussaudesCivil War Toy Soldiers W Britain Union Artillery Command Set 2 Pieces 1/32 31137Britains Motorcycle 9685 Lambretta Scooter ScarceLead Toy Soldier Ww2 German Motorcycle Hiriart Britains Imperial Heyde Other?Vintage Britains Diecast & Plastic 9520 Massey-fergusson 135 Tractor & ManLot Benbros Budgie Charbens Britains Dcmt Dinky ToysOld Britains Die Cast Lead Military Army Lorry Or Ambulance Soldier Driver34 Britains Union & Confederate Infantry 55mm American Civil War Figures & PieceVintage 1974 Britains Motorcycle German Army 9679 Factory SealedBritains Ltd. Set #432 German Infantry Service Dress Steel Helmets At Slope ArmsBritains Airborne Infantry Red Devils Lead Hollowcast Soldiers #20102 Vintage Pre War Britains & 1 Other African Lead Soldiers Nice Condition No ResWonderful Antique / Vintage Toy Soldiers - Scotch Guards - Aluminium & LeadVintage Lead Mounted Soldiers - Makes Unknown Possibly Reka, One Britains54mm Britains Plastic Deetail Arabs- Set Of 6Vintage Britains #2095 French Foreign Legion In Action 11 Pieces No Original BoxVintage Britains Eyes Right, Plastic, 3 Mounted Life Guard Bandsmen,in VgcBritains Set #78 Royal Navy Bluejackets Blue Jackets Oval Bases Issue B/f 1920 W. Britain American Revolution 17541 18th French Gatinois Regiment Britains Vintage Lead #1264 Naval CannonBritains Mounted Lead Horse Soldier Light Brigade? 1960sBritains Metal King George V1 In Coronation Robe 1937Britains Massey Ferguson 135 Tractor Restoration ProjectBritains Lead Figures: Farm Animals, FarmersLot Of Vintage Britains Lead Circus Clown Ring Master Trapeeze FiguresVintage Britains Swoppet, Modern British Infantry Stretcher Team In Good Cond.1/32 Ertl Britains John Deere Slurry Liquid Spreader Loose No Box