I’ve recently come across two boxed sets of Britains soldiers. The box for one set is marked 9401; the second is marked 9402. I don’t believe the soldiers, carriages and horses have ever been out of the box. I’m a sports memorabilia collector and don’t have expertise in this area. Can you tell me what they would sell for?
Toy soldiers have been around ever since there were soldiers to model. By the late 19th century, German manufacturers dominated the market with their solid lead figures but the market was soon to fall to the Britains Company.
Englishman William Britain trained and worked as a clockmaker. Sometime in the 1880s or early 90s he branched out into toy making as the clockwork mechanics are very similar.
According to the obituary his grandson, Dennis Britain, O.B.E, D.F.C.* his grandfather worked for years to perfect a hollow bodied soldier. In hollow casting, molten lead is poured into a mold to form a skin. The excess lead is then poured out leaving a hollow body behind. By eliminated the most costly component of the figures – the lead – the Britains Company was able to sell high quality, highly detailed figures for less money than German counterparts.
By 1893 William Britain entered into contract with Gamages Department store in London to market the figures. The company continued to expand their designs to foreign militaries, farms, Disney characters and even zoo animal. They were adamant about authenticity and quality and soon were the leading lead soldier maker in the world.
In the 1950s inexpensive plastic soldiers began to flood the market. Britains forestalled some of the competition by buying the plastic manufacturer Herald in 1959. After that date the bulk of Britains products were plastic.
Safety regulation outlawed lead solders in 1966 but by 1973 some companies – including Britains - were producing aluminum alloy soldiers. By the early 1980s, Britains was selling their sets as “collectibles” rather than “toys” and were marketing to adults rather than children.
You have two sets that date from the 1950s. The first set is the 1954 issued Coronation Coach. This set includes the coach, the figures of Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh, eight Windsor greys with four postillion riders. The second set is the State Open Road Landau. This set includes Elizabeth and the Duke, two coachmen and six greys with three postillion riders. Your sets look immaculate with all of the traces, harnesses and even instructions intact!
With British Royal fever at its highest point since the early 80s, I’m confident that your two mint in box set of Britains figures would easily bring $300-500 at auction.
*Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Flying Cross