Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Greys Cigarettes Toy Soldiers

In the days before Osprey books, illustrations of military uniforms were fairly sparse on the ground, but a reliable source was found in the plethora of cigarette cards which every schoolboy would cadge from adults as they emerged from the tobacconists and prised open a new pack.  So prolific was this practice that cigarette cards became a currency to be swapped in the playground for every conceivable commodity, marbles, sweets, etc.   My favourite set was "Uniforms of the Territorial Army" issued by John Player & Sons in 1939, but there were plenty of others to search for.  What I didn't know back then was that there had been Toy Soldiers given away with packs of cigarettes:

Major Drapkin & Co registered at 84 Piccadily, London W1 was founded by a tobacco merchant and cigar manufacturer named Samuel Barnett, they produced The "Greys" brand of cigarettes and claimed that the Colonel of 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) had given them permission to use the Regiments name.

In 1914, Drapkin's issued with their "Crayol Virginia and Karam Turkish" Cigarettes, a set of 25 die cut card toy soldiers representing allied troops of the Triple Entente, which included Belgian, French, Russian and British Regiments.  

Later with The "Greys" they issued two sets of 30mm flat lead figures representing firstly the Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo and then the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava.  I haven't been able to put an exact date to these lead flats, the earliest mention of The "Greys" that I've found is an advert from 1916 while the rather fine illustration above is a full page advert from the Graphic Magazine of 1917.  I would expect these flat toy soldiers to have been made well after the First World War due to limitations on the use of metals.

A little bit more 3 dimensional than traditional German tin flats, they seem to be a mix of lead and tin which gives makes them a bit heavier, darker and softer than Continental production.  One of the original moulds recently surfaced on ebay priced at £150, the seller stated that they had 12 more and that they had been shown to a member of the Ochel family who confirmed that their firm had produced them at Kiel in Germany, in which case this would date them to the late 1920's or early 1930's, the moulds looked to be engraved in brass.

Both sets seem to have used the same designs for the Scots Greys and have had 52 pieces.   The lower figures in the first photo are a Russian cavalryman and limber from the Balaclava set.

The infantry above are from the Waterloo set, which included British, French and Prussian foot along with the Scots Greys, a mounted Napoleon and artillery.  

The Balaclava set contained British Foot Guards, Highlanders and Russian infantry with the Scots Greys, Russian Cavalry, Cossacks and artillery.

There are nine figures of Scots Greys, numbered 34 - 42, the Waterloo set also had a figure of Sergeant Ewart capturing the Eagle of the 45th (which I don't have).  The bottom row shows the British cannon and limber with the French caisson.

Another great full page illustrated advert form the Graphic Magazine of 1917, I love the legend of Christian Davis, described here, it's well worth taking a moment to read her story on Wikipedia.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Dorset Greys, who are they?

With all the Collectors Shows cancelled I was feeling very much in need of a Toy Soldier fix, so trawling through everybodies favourite internet auction site I came across these:


Nobody seemed interested in them but they are toy soldiers and they were fairly priced, so they fill two of my buying criteria (well, all of my buying criteria really), but the question is What are they?

They were listed as Dorset - Crimean War period - Infantry grey uniforms.  I could see from the sculpting and painting style they were made by Dorset Model Soldiers (they're also marked GB under the base - Giles Brown, the founder of Dorset) but Crimean War?  I'm less comfortable with that, they look something more like U.S. infantry of 1812/20 to me, what do you think?

I may have to do a bit of basing to make them more table stable.  I have no qualms about mixing plastic with metal figures in my collection but have tended to avoid the later because of the weight when transporting them.   Anyway it's nice to be able to add a complete new unit where someone else has done all the work.  I plan to use them as the nucleus for a Napoleonic Swedish army, another project which has been on the back burner for a very long time!

Friday, 3 April 2020

HMS Neptune saved form oblivion

Another model ship, another cutting, this one has almost faded and sunk into to mists of time, but has been salvaged by the heroic efforts of digital technology.

The caption tells us this is HMS Neptune, which was a Collosus class Dreadnaught, launched in 1909, and saw action in the Battle of Jutland.  There is no indication of scale, you could assume the sailors were standard 54mm but I don't recognise the pose so they might have been homecast just for this model, in which case they could be any size, still it's a nice chunky little model and I wouldn't mind having it in my fleet.  The model is signed "Charles Ashley, 1916", the year of Jutland, it's reasonable to suppose he made it, maybe he even served on Neptune during the Battle, who knows?

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Queen Mary had some Toy Soldiers.

Queen Mary, wife of King George V, was an inveterate collector with a penchant for things miniature, and she was reported to be "extremely surprised" when it was suggested she be presented with a dolls' house as a gift from the Nation.  But this would be no ordinary dolls' house, it was to be designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, the architect responsible for building the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and would be furnished with contributions from all the major manufacturers and artisans of the day to promote the names and products of Britain's finest craftsmen.

William Britains, being the leading toy soldier manufacturer of the day provided a miniature example of a box of their toy soldiers for the dolls' house nursery, and they made a second set for the daughter of Frederick Britain, this is what it looks like:

The miniature set was never issued commercially and never featured in any of the catalogues or product lists.  In 1988 the second set was put up for auction by the Britains family and this postcard was sent by Phillips Auctioneers to collectors on their mailing list in the hope that one or more of us might have the odd ten grand to spare.  I attended the auction and the bids fell well short of the reserve, I don't know if it was subsequently sold by private treaty but have never heard anything of it since.  In fairness it's very difficult to put a value on a set like this which is literally unique, given that the set in the Royal collection will never come to market, and that in every field of collecting there are those individuals for whom money is no object!

Work on Queen Mary's dolls' house began in 1921, it was first displayed at the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 and is currently on permanent display in Windsor Castle (although at the time of writing it is closed until further notice).