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Britains Toy Soldiers (Hardback)

The History and Handbook 1893-2013

Reference Collectables

By James Opie
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 480
ISBN: 9781848844445
Published: 11th July 2016

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£35.00


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This is the first full-colour history of the world-famous toy soldiers to chart the whole story of their development from Victorian table toy to 21st Century collectable. Prior to 1893 the family toy business of the Britain family was struggling as the toy industry was dominated by German manufacturers and importers. Then came the fateful decision first to import, then to design and manufacture, toy soldiers, an area the German firms were particularly strong in. Britains Toy Soldiers were born and soon their boxes stamped with the slogan 'Best Quality English Make' were being eagerly opened by little boys across Britain and then around the world. The rest, as they say is history and it is all captured here by James Opie, the world's leading expert on the subject, as he lovingly traces the varying fortunes of arguably the most famous British toy company.
Illustrated with lavish colour photographs, many of them featuring items from the author's own collection, the book includes feature sections such as collectors' favourites and prices, high-value and famous sets, artistic highlights, quirks and mysteries. It is without doubt the most authoritative book on the subject and will be welcomed by the thousands of devoted collectors world wide as well as many more with fond memories of childhood battles with these beautiful toys.

For a long-time collector like myself, reading James Opie’s new book, “BritainsToy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013,” is like paying a
wonderful visit to tiny old friends while learning lots of fascinating tidbits about them that I never knew before. The prolific writer is once again generously sharing his specialized expertise motivated by his deep affection for
our hobby...

... Opie has penned an extraordinary history not just of Britains, but of the hobby. Page after page reveals how the convergence of military history, child’s play, civilian themes, floor wars and ceremonial splendour makes people so
devoted to collecting old Britains and the latest releases, and wax nostalgic. This exceptional handbook is highly recommended to anyone who has
fallen prey to the charms of Britains and toy figures in general.

Toy Soldier & Model Figure magazine issue 221 reviewed by Stuart A. Hessney

Quite early in this book the author attempts to justify "why another book on Britains?"
Not that he needs to justify it... but I suspect that the real answer is that the alternative would be NOT writing another book on Britains, and to James, that would be unthinkable.

The History part is divided up unto The Seven Ages of Britains: The Fifth Age being plastic and diecast, and also includes a 5,000 word marketing report which Britains-Petite commissioned from James in 1985, reproduced in full.

The Handbook part is on Collecting Britains; everything you need to know set out in alphabetical order as an encyclopaedia glossary.
I'll be looking forward to the next one, James!

Plastic Warrior, 165

The author is the world's leading expert on toy soldiers and his latest monster volume is a treasure, taking us back to a time when hordes of children, enthusiastically played with tin, wooden and plastic soldiers. Some were common, some were rare but each had a mystique which tugged at the heart-strings of juvenile curiosity. Read all about the main manufacturer called, appropriately, Britains, and see if you can find your old models among the pages.

This England, December 2016

The author is the world's leading expert on toy soldiers and his latest monster volume is a treasure.

This England Winter 2016

As featured in

Antiques Diary, November-December 2016

Very interesting. A magnificent book for both the collector, fans and lovers of Toy Soldiers Guides.

Read the full Spanish review here!

José Manuél Rico Cortés (Mister JM) - Miniaturas JM

Britains Toy Soldiers is a lavishly illustrated history of the classic toy soldier line. The book is organized chronologically, with each section offering a description of significant product releases from that year. For example: In 1938, Britains released the first figures of British Troops from World War I. There is a color photo of the figures, along with text descriptions, and product numbers such as 1611 Prone 1938 2V-1941 U. Opie notes that Britains never did produce German figures from the period, and that the same figures were also released as American troops. The section also notes that the figures were likely released in response to Elastolin and Lineol figures that were marketed at the time.

Although I am not a Britains collector, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. It is a great history of the toy soldier beginnings of my miniature wargaming hobby. If you ARE a Britains collector, I think that this is a must-own.

Read the full review here.

Miniature Wargaming +

The hobby of ‘collecting’ is widespread and can range from full-size machinery to very minute items. Almost anything can be ‘collected. If the interest is sufficient and the collecting fraternity large enough, eventually ‘learned tomes’ are written about the subject. Such works can cover all and any aspects of the hobby, and can themselves be worthy of collecting; if only for the sheer volume and detail of their contents.

It is this reviewer’s opinion that James Opie’s Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and handbook 1893-2013 falls into this latter category; it’s comprehensiveness and encyclopaedic detail ensuring that it is worthy of attention on its own merit.

As will be evident from the title, this volume is essentially a history of Britains Ltd., internationally-renowned makers of the small-scale figures known colloquially as ‘Toy’ soldiers. Britains do however make other figures and objects and these (and the aforementioned soldiers) are covered within the eight chapters (and a separate sub-chapter) which comprise the majority of this work’s pages. The author believes that there have been seven separate stages in the evolution of the Britains organisation and its models. He designates these stages ‘Ages’ and uses them to form the basis for the volume’s seven main chapters. Within each chapter the company’s activities during that time are detailed and the models created during that period, critiqued. The previously mentioned sub-chapter (2a) investigates in detail the many variations of a specific series within the larger Britains range of models. In addition (and to quote the author) , Chapter 8 provides ‘…An encyclopaedic glossary of subjects…that are of interest to Britains collectors’. It is a fair summary. The work also contains a Foreword, an Introduction, a Bibliography, an Appendix and an Index. Four hundred high-quality photographs are also provided. Regrettably, the Foreword, although subtitled Auctioneering, does not detail the Auctioneering process, but rather describes the author’s experiences as an auctioneer of both toy collections and Britains figures. As it broadly outlines what the author’s activities consist of, some readers may find it of interest.

That the author knows his subject is very evident, yet it is precisely that knowledge which caused this reviewer difficulties. The work contains an incredible amount of detail, with the photographs acting as aid memoirs for the text. The information appears to be accurate and as noted, it is both comprehensive and encyclopaedic. However, the sheer volume of information tends to overwhelm the casual reader, to the extent that it is almost information ‘overload’. This is very definitely not a volume for light reading; but is rather (as with many encyclopaedia-type books), a work which can be dipped-into when seeking specific information about a specific item. Used in that manner, this volume will be a work of great value.
This reviewer believes that this work is very-much in the ‘niche market’ category and as such will be invaluable to any specialist collector of Britain’s material. In that context, it may well become a classic, and perhaps even a ‘Collectable’ in its own right.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

NZ Crown Mines

For some people it will be about value, rarity and investments, for others it may be nostalgia and for still more, just an appreciation of some fine military models. Heavily illustrated throughout the book with some marvellous, and in some cases memory jogging illustrations, this makes for a really interesting story about such a famous brand.

Read the full review here.

Military Modelling, Robin Buckland

Possibly the most helpful way to describe this latest hefty 480 page offering from acknowledged toy soldier expert James Opie is to briefly summarise the contents. Essentially, following an Introduction – in which the author asks (and answers) the question why yet another book on Britains? Mr Opie divides the main part of his book into seven chapters, covering what he describes as the Seven Ages of Britains 1893-2013.

The First Age - Start-up 1893-1900; the toy industry in the 1890s; the Britain family before 1893; How it all began; Hollow casting; the first hundred sets etc.

The Second Age - Expansion 1900-1918; Boer War to First World War; Copyright and fighting the competition; cheap lines and small sizes; Incorporation; France and Beiser; Salvation Army’ Boy Scouts; Railways and Floor Games etc.

The Third Age - The Golden Age 1919-1941; Home farm; Zoo; Gardening; Coronation; Disney etc.

The Fourth Age - Hollow cast Twilight 1945-1967; Export drive; new technologies: Britains hollow cast become collectable etc.

The Fifth Age – Plastic and diecast 1953-2013; Herald; Hong Kong; Tractors; Demise of the British toy industry etc.

The Sixth Age - Collector’s Toys 1983-2013; Nostalgia and re-living the dream; the Britains Collectors Club etc.

The Seventh Age - Collector’s Models 1999-2013; Historical realism; Lord of the Rings; Peter Rabbit.

Add chapters on Britains Small Size; an investigation in detail 1896-1915, Collecting Britains – lore and language; terminology; nicknames; care; condition and values to this already impressive list and a most comprehensive of Britains products between the stated years is complete.

A bibliography, an appendix tabling significant sets, an index and 495 all new colour illustrations are also included in this highly recommended and splendid work which is quite simply a ‘must’ for collectors of toy soldiers.

Stuart Asquith, author

About James Opie

James Opie is the toy soldier consultant to Bonham's auctioneers and recognized as one of the world's leading experts on the subject. He has a very significant collection of his own, which he has been building since childhood. For over a quarter of a century, until his recent retirement, James Opie was also editor and buyer for the Military and Aviation Book Society and various other book clubs. He has written seven previous books on various aspects of toy soldier collecting.

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