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.

12 comments:

  1. Very interesting , never heard of them before .

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    1. The adverts alone are enough to make you want to take up smoking!

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  2. Replies
    1. I wonder if anyone ever had enough of them to wargame with?

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  3. Thanks for a wonderful report Brian! The Christian Davis story was fascinating! Old Toy Soldier Newsletter did an article on these figures years ago, but you filled in a lot of the holes. The perfect tie-in between the fabled regiment, cigarettes, and toy soldiers! You made my day again!

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    1. I have the OTSN article and another more recent one in Der Zinnlaube, but like you say they have a lot of holes in them, I'm sure there's still a lot more of this story to come out. I was first drawn to them when I saw one pictured in one of Opie's early books and now I'm more taken by the WW1 advertising material.

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  4. Superb miniatures...and illustrations!

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    1. It's another aspect of this fascinating hobby we all share.

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  5. Magnificent flats Brian.
    I have most of the cigarette cards from my father that were acquired courtesy of his. Sadly a few were attacked in a termite problem that we had in the 1980s. Even sadder, Dad always attested that the desire to furnish him with the cards contributed to his father's early death from cancer.

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    1. That is a sad story, cancer is such a terrible disease.

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  6. Hi, I have found 50 of these in my loft. I’ve sat on them a few years scanning eBay to get a value. I’m tempted to list them but wondered if anyone has an idea of value? They seem so rare I’ve failed to find any sales prices.
    Martin

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    1. Hi Martin, they do turn up but not very often, they are more of a curio rather than mainstream collectables amongst the toy soldier collecting fraternity so it's difficult to put a value on them. At the end of the day they are worth whatever someone else is prepared to pay for them so if your intention is to sell them then listing on ebay is probably your best option. Alternatively yu could get them mounted and framed and keep them for an interesting decorative item. Sorry I can't be more help.

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