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On this page we will explore in images and text the history and story of toys and toy manufacturers . Click on the link below to see more images of the museum.

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British Tin Toys

Most of the tin toys that were in the museum are of English manufacture, the reason being that Marguerite Fawdry decided to concentrate on collecting English toys. At the time most serious collectors were only interested in German made tin toys and ignored everything else.

As the prices of German tin toys continued to rise, the products of English manufacturers became more collectable. The products of the bigger firms - Chad Valley, Britains, Mettoy, Wells-Brimtoy - have become sought after by collectors today.


Tin as a material


Since the Bronze age, tin has been an essential metal in the production of bronze. Like the granite rocks where it is found, the ore from which it is smelted is extremely heavy. However, tin is one of the lightest metals, one of the most fusible and easily worked, and to early people perhaps more valuable than gold or silver. The quest for tin for use in bronze making is at the origin of some of the world's earliest trade routes; tin, like salt, was a commodity needed in many places but only found in a few.

For many centuries Cornwall was famous for its tin mines but it was also mined in Wales. The first record of tin mining in Wales is from the 12th century, when a number of mines were established in the south of the country.


When tin is used to make toys, tin cans or containers it is usually applied in a thin layer to a sheet of iron or steel. This process is called tinning and utilises hot dipping or electroplating to acheive the result. If you are tinning a tin in thin tin you have probably run out of the letter N in your alphabet toy.


Printing on tinplate


One of the companies to make use of printing on to tinplate was the biscuit maker Huntley and Palmers.  In 1875 they acquired the licence to print tinplate by the offset litho process. This technique, which used rubber composition rollers, had been recently invented in France and patented in England, where the patent was bought up by the matchmakers Bryant and May. 

Toy manufacturers started using this technique to produce an array of brightly coloured tinplate toys. Some of the factories producing these toys would use child labour in the process, sometimes forcing them to work up to 9 hours a day. You might have been a little disappointed if you had received the same toy for Christmas that you had been toiling to make in the factory. However, in the early days of toy manufacture, most toys would have been destined for wealthy families due to the cost. It was not until more methods of mass production were introduced that costs came down.

The image on the left shows a biscuit tin that is also a clockwork toy. Huntley and Palmer produced a range of these items which are now very sought after by collectors.


The image above shows the notorious Huntly and Palmer 'rude' biscuit tin. It incorporates three extra elements hidden in the overall design.In the late 1970s, Huntley and Palmer commissioned a freelance artist, Mick Hill, to produce a biscuit tin design based on paintings by the Victorian/Art Nouveau illustrator, Kate Greenaway.

Unbeknownst to Huntley and Palmer, Mick incorporated a few risqué extras! When found and reported by an eagle-eyed Grocer, the newspapers went into overdrive and said that the additions had been placed there by a sacked employee who was disgruntled as he received no compensation. This tale proved apocryphal as Mick later revealed in interviews ... he added the extras out of pure devilment!

Huntley and Palmer removed the tins from sale as soon as the extras were discovered and hence they are now highly collectible!


Bassett-Lowke Ltd


Bassett-Lowke was formed in 1899 in Northampton by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke. Much of the company's early offerings were by German manufacturers such as George Carette and Gebruder Bing. As the firm developed, other divisions were formed such as ship building and industrial models. However, the firm is chiefly remembered for its model railway products sold through shops in London, Manchester and Edinburgh. Bassett-Lowke catalogues and the Model Railway Handbook were key items of literature in the growth of the model railway hobby.

In the early 1930's, the firm was closley associated with the rise of HO electric model railways through its collaboration with Trix, which was started in Germany by Franz Bing.

Bassett-Lowke commenced the serious mass-production of tinplate model railways in 1930 and this continued until the late 1950's, after which time the company supplied mainly small run products built for them by outside makers.

The company closed in 1965, with its rights to brand acquired by Corgi Toys. When Corgi was taken over by Hornby in 2008, it secured rights to the Bassett-Lowke brand, which it is still commercialising.


Britains Ltd


1845-present day

Britains as a brand still exists, and is owned by the Japanese company Tomy.

Founded by William B Britain, a young engineer who left Birmingham in 1845. He set up a home based factory at 28 Lambton Road, Hornsey, London, where he made mechanical toys, helped eventually by his large family of boys and girls. Britain had five sons: William junior, the eldest, Alfred, Fred, Edward and Frank.

William junior was the mechanical genius of the family and it was he who was responsible for the invention of the small scale hollow cast model soldiers, animals and the like, for which the firm is principally known.

William Britain junior did the modelling for the toy soldiers, and they were sucessful because he insisted on them being accurate. They were painted by hand for detail. Moveable arms were introduced around 1896, so that the arm holding a rifle or binoculars could swing at the shoulder.

During the 1914-18 war, Britains continued a limited output of toys and toy soldiers, alongside providing munitions for the goverment. Subsequently the period between the wars was one of great prosperity.

At the end of the First World War, anti-war feelings encouraged the introduction of 'peace toys' , such as farm-yard sets, zoos & menageries, circus sets and even garden gnomes and hunting scenes.


Lead as a material


Britains Ltd originally made toys from lead. Their toy soldiers, farm animals and minature garden series were all made from lead and played with by generations of children. Lead is now know to be toxic, so it is hard to believe that they made toys from it. But it was not only the Victorians that used lead, a surprising fact is that toys from the 1970's and 80's also contained lead. Lead was added to plastic to make it more flexible and as a stabiliser.

Lead occurs as a free metal on earth and can also be extracted from the ore Galena. Lead has been mined for thousands of years and was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Lead is soft and malleable, and also has a relatively low melting point. When freshly cut, lead is a shiny gray with a hint of blue. It tarnishes to a dull gray colour when exposed to air. It is a heavy metal that is denser than most common materials.


Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in soft tissues and bones; it damages the nervous system and interferes with the function of biological enzymes, causing neurological disorders ranging from behavioral problems to brain damage, and also affects general health, cardiovascular, and renal systems. It is especially harmful to children.


Chad Valley Co. Ltd



Chad Valley Ltd no longer exists but the brand name is currently used by Argos to sell a range of toys.

The firm was founded by Antony Bunn Johnson as a small bookbinding and printing firm in Lichfield Street, Birmingham. When the business was moved to Harborne, the new factory was sited by a stream called the Chad. The name Chad Valley was adopted as a trade name in around 1919. The Great War and the ban on German goods led to further expansion, and by 1920, their three factories were merged into one firm called Chad Valley Company.


During World War Two their factories switched to goverment work, although they did produce some games for the home market and the troops. After the war full scale toy production resumed, the company aquired a number of other English firms. This allowed them to produce a wide range of toys including Humming tops, Money Boxes, Seaside Pails, Train Sets and a Remote Control Car.

In 1978 the business was aquired by Palitoy, a subsidiary of a large American firm. In 1979 the name was sold to Woolworths who subsequently went insolvent in 2009. The name was then sold to the Home Retail Group, the parent company of Argos, for £5 million.


Corgi Toys



Corgi Toys is the brand name for  a range of diecast vehicles created by Mettoy and currently owned by Hornby.

In 1948, Henry Ullman, son of the founder of Mettoy brought back new methods from the USA for producing toys. They started a new line of mass produced miniature cars made with die-cast zinc alloy.

The first group of 'Corgi' toys were cars with windows, treaded tyres and realistic detail. The brand name Corgi was suggested by the Queen's fondness for the dog breed and the Welsh manufacturing connection.

The range was in direct competition with Dinky toys range of die-cast vehicles, which had dominated the market for many years.

The range was exported worldwide and sold in large numbers. Some of the best known and most popular models were of cars made famous in film and television such as the Batmobile, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 – which remains the best selling toy car ever produced.



Dinky Toys


By 1930 Meccano was world renowned for its Meccano System and Hornby Gauge O model railways.

In 1931, a set of station staff and a lineside accessory, namely a Halls Distemper lineside advertisment was released under the label 'Modelled Miniatures'. This lead to the issue in Christmas 1933 of a series of vehicles known as Meccano Miniatures and a year later these were to be christened Dinky Toys.

This range of small vehicles and accessories was to expand to over 1,000 items before production ceased at the company's Binns Road factory in Liverpool in 1979.

Dinky Toys were the first British toys utilizing advanced die-casting tecniques and just as Hornby Trains were a response to German manufactures, so Dinky was a direct challenge to the American Tootsie Toy range.

After the recievership in 1979, the Dinky Toys copyrights were purchased by Airfix Ltd.

Recently the Dinky name was purchased by the Hong Kong owner of the Lesney range. A small series of vehicles under the Dinky label have been re-issued.



This optical toy consists of a metal tube with two (or somtimes three) strips of glass mounted down its length. With small bits of coloured glass or metal in the base of the tube. When viewed through the eyepiece at one end the glass bits would form symmetrical patterns through their reflections. These constantly change as the end of the tube is rotated altering the arrangement of the bits of glass.

Invented by the Scottish inventor David Brewster, the word kaleidoscope is derived from ancient Greek.

Kalos- beauty, beautiful

Eidos- that which is seen

Skopeo- to look at

Some large and commercially designed kaleidoscopes supplied the inspiration for carpet and textile designs.

A wide variety of objects, small figures, fragments, liquids and materials of different colors and shapes can be used in the tube end (apart from the more usual transparent fragments). For example twisted pieces of iron or brass wire can produce very fine results.

The patterns produced by the kaleidoscope can be shown on a screen by means of a magic lantern or projector allowing more people to see the images.


Lines Bros Ltd


Lines Bros Ltd, at its peak in 1947, was claimed by the company to be the largest toy maker in the world.

G and J Lines, the family business of the two Lines brothers, George and Joseph established the business in the 1870's to produce rocking horses and other wooden toys. The firm had its offices in the Caledonian Road near King's Cross, London.

By the turn of the century, George Lines had retired and Joseph with the help of his sons increased the firm's range. After the war in 1919 they adopted the trademark, a punning three lines triangle and the name Triang Toys.

As a small boy Walter Lines had often begged a lift into London on the front seat of one of his father's horse drawn delivery vans. He would negotiate with Mr Hamley himself a business transaction involving items of doll's house furniture which he had made in his school holidays. In 1931 he aquired a majority holding in Hamley's.

Walter Lines retired in 1961, leaving the company with no personal creative spirit behind  it. The company was held together by a tenuous web of complicated bank loans. A few months of poor trading and the whole edifice collapsed, with the various parts being aquired by Debenhams, Airfix and other rivals.

lines bros trademark_edited.png

Magic Lantern

There is an account of a Magic Lantern display in Pepy's Diary for 1665, but it was not until the middle of the 19th century, with the invention of oxy-hydrogen limelight, that the exhibition of lantern slides to large audiences became possible.

The magic lantern, also known by its Latin name laterna magica, is an early type of image projector that used pictures—paintings, prints, or photographs—on transparent plates (usually made of glass), one or more lenses, and a light source. Because a single lens inverts an image projected through it (as in the phenomenon which inverts the image of a camera obscura), slides were inserted upside down in the magic lantern, rendering the projected image correctly oriented.


The magic lantern can be seen as a further development of camera obscura. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen (for instance a wall) is projected through a small hole in that screen as an inverted image (left to right and upside down) on a surface opposite to the opening. It was known at least since the 5th century BC and experimented with in darkened rooms at least since c. 1000 AD. The use of a lens in the hole has been traced back to c. 1550. The portable camera obscura box with a lens was developed in the 17th century.




Mamod is a British toy manufacturer that specializes in manufacturing live steam models. The company was founded in Birmingham by Geoffrey Malins in 1937. The name is a portmanteau of Malins Models. The first models produced were of stationary steam engines, originally sold under the 'Hobbies' brand name. Malins then introduced the brand name 'Mamod.' The company later began creating models of road rollers, traction engines, steam wagons, and other steam road vehicles. These models were aimed at the toy market, and were designed to be simple to operate and ran at low boiler pressures for safety but were not accurate scale models.

The company went into receivership in 1980, mainly due to  the financial outlay on developing new models.

Since then the company has had a chequered existence with six owners and manufacturing bases. The company nearly went out of existence in 1989. It is currently in the ownership of the Terry family, and is now based near its original home at Smethwick in the West Midlands. The company now produces a wide range of mobile engines, stationary models and machine tools.

This was one of my favorite toys, it would take a while to set up and you had to wait for the water to start turning to steam. But when it started to move literally under it's own steam it was very satisfying to watch.

Mamod Logo in red 01_edited.png

Marx Louis & Co Ltd


An American firm, which ran a subsidiary company in Engalnd from 1932-1967. Louis Marx was born in New York in 1886, and was one of the outstanding toy men of the 20th century. At age 16, when his father lost the family tailoring shop, he was apprenticed to Ferdinand Strauss, who produced cheap mechanical toys. Five years later he fell out with Strauss and set up on his own account in New York. With his brother he founded Louis Marx & Co, and by 1921 they had a small metal toy factory.

They made many types of toys including tin toys, toy soldiers, toy guns, action figures, dolls, toy cars and model trains. Some of their notable toys are Rock'em Sock'em Robots, Big Wheel tricycles, Disney branded dollhouses and playsets based on TV shows like Gunsmoke.

In 1972, Marx sold his company to the Quaker Oats Company for $54 million ($350 million in 2021 dollars) and retired at the age of 76.

In 1976 Quaker sold its struggling Marx division to the British conglomerate Dunbee-Combex-Marx. By 1979, most US operations were ceased, and by 1980, the last Marx plant closed in West Virginia.


The above image shows The Merry Makers mouse band by Marx. It's probably the most popular early 1930's lithographed tinplate, mechanical toy produced by the Louis Marx company. 

It has four mice "dressed to the nine's".  Each wears a black tuxedo, black tie, white shirt, red vest, and spats. The lithography design on the piano and chairs match the same slick style worn by the mice. Wind the attached key, move the lever to start and the animated foursome; dancer, pianist, fiddler, and drummer come to life.


Matchbox Toys


Matchbox is a popular toy brand which was introduced by Lesney Products in 1953, and is now owned by Mattel, Inc, which purchased the brand in 1997. The brand was given its name because the original die-cast "Matchbox" toys were sold in boxes similar to those in which matches were sold. The brand grew to encompass a broad range of toys, including larger scale die-cast models, plastic model kits, slot car racing, and action figures.

It started when Rodney and Leslie Smith (two unrelated school boys) decided that when they left school they would set up an engineering firm together. The firm was registered as Lesney Products ( an amalgamation of the first and last parts of their first names)

Lesney originally started operations in a derelict pub in north London (The Rifleman), but later, as finances allowed, changed location several times before finally moving to a factory in Hackney which became synonymous with the company.

Their first products were metal string cutters made with razor blades. Their first toy was a large Aveling Barford Road Roller. Their first big hit was a small-scale coach for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, it was packed in a "Matchbox" style box. Further miniature models were planned; road roller, dumper truck and the famous No5 London Bus.

In 1982, after years of difficulties due to the economic climate in Britain at the time, Lesney went bankrupt and fell into receivership.


Meccano Ltd


Meccano Ltd was a British toy manufacturing company, established in 1908 by Frank Hornby in Liverpool, England, to manufacture and distribute Meccano and other model toys and kits created by the company. During the 1920s and 1930s it became the biggest toy manufacturer in the United Kingdom and produced three of the most popular lines of toys in the twentieth century: Meccano, Hornby Trains and Dinky Toys.

By the early 1960s Meccano Ltd began experiencing financial problems, in spite of exports worth over £1m, and was bought out by Lines Bros Ltd (tradename: "Tri-ang"), Meccano's biggest competitor, in February 1964.

In 1971 the Lines Brothers Tri-ang group itself went into voluntary liquidation and 'Meccano-Tri-ang' was eventually sold to Airfix industries in 1972, the company name reverting to "Meccano Ltd"

The manufacture of Meccano, continued in France but Airfix were eventually liquidated and General Mills purchased Meccano Ltd UK, in 1981.

A French accountant Marc Rebibo bought Meccano from General Mills and reverted the French company name to "Meccano S.A." and reintroduced some of the discontinued Meccano sets. The current owners of Meccano are a Canadian Multinational called Spin Master, a far cry from its origins at the end of the Victorian age in Liverpool.


Mettoy Co Ltd

Mettoy (an abbreviation of "Metal Toy") was a British manufacturing company founded in 1933 by German émigré Philip Ullmann, who was later joined by South African-born German Arthur Katz who had previously worked for Ullmann at his toy company Tipp and Co of Nuremberg. The firm made a variety of lithographed metal wind-up toys. Both Jewish, they moved to Britain following Hitler's rise to power in 1933.


The firm is most famous for the line of die-cast toy motor vehicles produced by its Corgi Toys branch, created in 1956. In the same year Mettoy merged with the Playcraft model railway and slot car company. The company was sold in 1984, with the assets of the company transferred to independent company Corgi Classics, but it folded shortly afterward.


Optical Toys

The experience of watching the landscape through the spoked wheels of a farm cart as it trundled down the lane may have been the first clue that led eventually to the vast 20th century industry of moving pictures. It was in 1825 that Dr Roget first showed why separate drawings passing quickly before the eyes of the viewer appear to form one moving picture. During the ensuing 160 years this phenomenon, persistence of vision, has been developed and used in a vast number of devices and machines, whose inventors gave them learned Greek or Latin names. Devices such as the Thaumatrope, Zeotrope, Phenakisticope and the Praxinoscope.

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