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According to our latest research, an early British naval landing party set with gun, initially identified by L.W. Richards1 as having been manufactured by the REKA Company, may not now be a REKA set.

Luigi Toiati Naval landing party illustration

The figures in this set are rarely seen in the market, and most examples have paint obscuring any markings on the base. As such it has been accepted on Richards’ advice that the set was made by REKA. A poor-quality worn figure was recently found that showed a marking on the base of REG P.612934. This number refers to a Board of Trade design registration from 1913, and enquiries were made through the U.K. National Archives, who hold these records.

The information that came back from the National Archives was a complete surprise, in more ways than one!

The copy of the Board of Trade design registration ledgers showed that the registration number 612934 was attributed to Alfred James Holladay, rather than the expected name of Charles Wheeler Baker, the Managing Director of the REKA Company, or some other person associated with REKA.

British Naval landing party gun team set. (courtesy Rob Wilson)
British Naval landing party gun team set. (courtesy Rob Wilson)
Extract from ledger of British Board of Trade design registrations.
Extract from ledger of British Board of Trade design registrations.
A.J. Holladay landing party set illustrated in a 1913 trade magazine for Holladay’s employer, C.F. Eckhardt.
A.J. Holladay landing party set illustrated in a 1913 trade magazine for Holladay’s employer, C.F. Eckhardt.

Alfred J. Holladay
Holladay’s name may be familiar to Britains toy soldier collectors. Having served with the 2nd City of London Volunteer Rifles through the Boer War, and while subsequently working for toy distributors C. F. Eckhardt as a travelling salesman, he is believed to have commissioned Britains in 1906 to create the very collectable Boer War Supply Wagon Column set. This was for exclusive distribution through his employer to department stores such as Gamages.

In 1909 Holladay wrote the pamphlet War games for Boy Scouts, played with model soldiers which was later distributed as a boxed set named The Great War Game, with figures manufactured by Hanks Brothers. This boxed set was also distributed by C.F. Eckhardt and sold through Gamages department store. By 1914, Holladay had become a director of C.F. Eckhardt and by 1916 he had bought the company and changed its name to A.J. Holladay & Company. His company was for many years a prominent toy and fancy goods distributor in the U.K.

The Board of Trade design registration ledger therefore provides evidence that Alfred James Holladay was not only interested in the commercial benefits derived from the distribution of interesting sets of toy soldiers, but that he was also personally involved in the design of the figures as well.

Naval Landing Party – design vs. retail versions
A C.F. Eckhardt trade journal illustration from 1913 shows both The Great War Game (at centre) and the naval landing party gun team as examples of the products the firm had available for supply at that time. Collectors of early British made toy soldiers may be familiar with these naval figures with two movable arms and rifles slung across their backs. It was therefore a further surprise to see that the design illustrations which accompanied the Board of Trade registration numbers 612934 and 612935 show figures that are completely different to the set that was produced for the market. As can be seen from the illustrations, the original design for the gun party was for them to be simply standing with their rifles slung over their right shoulders.

It must therefore have been a late design change for the gun party figures to be sculpted, still with their two movable hands, but now walking with rifles slung in a more practical fashion across their backs.

llustration submitted with A.J. Holladay’s 1913 British Board of Trade design registration.
llustration submitted with A.J. Holladay’s 1913 British Board of Trade design registration.

This set is also distinct from most toy soldier depictions of the Royal Navy, because the figures are shown wearing the sennit, or sennet, straw hat that was part of the British Royal Navy uniform from 1857 until around 1921.

The reason why Holladay would want to have a set of Royal Navy sailors wearing straw hats rather than the cloth caps that Royal Navy sailors are usually represented wearing may have something to do with his Boer War experience, seeing sailors wearing the hats in the hot climate conditions.

The Navy List2 from 1891 specifies that the standard naval uniform for Petty Officers and Seamen should not only include 2 caps but also a ‘hat’ and ‘hat over’ with the hat being defined as:

40. Hat. – To be made of white sennet, with oval crown three inches high; brim to be straight, 3½ inches wide, inclined upwards 1½ inches, and bound with ¾ inch black braid… and that

50. (5.) Hats are to be worn (a) During the summer season, weather permitting.. (b) Always with No. 6 dress. (c) At any time as a protection from the sun, if ordered by the Senior Officer present.

The 1907 Navy List confirms that the sennet hat was still being issued to Royal Navy sailors post-Boer War.

Comparison between 1911 Hanks Brothers scout (Richard Forrester collection)
and A.J. Holladay illustrated naval landing party figure
Comparison between 1911 Hanks Brothers scout (Richard Forrester collection)
and A.J. Holladay illustrated naval landing party figure

Another possible reason for Holladay choosing to represent the sailors this way is likely to be simply good marketing. From the point of view of a child looking at an affordable set of toy sailors wearing something different to the Britains version, then the tropical white dress and sennet hat looks quite

Whatever the reason, the sennit hat on the figure shown in the design representation has helped us to identify the manufacturer of the original set of figures illustrated in the Board of Trade photographs that accompanied the 1913 registration.

The naval landing party team illustrated in the Board of Trade design representations appears to be a slightly altered version of the Hanks Brothers Boy Scout figure first produced in 1911, with the only changes being new arms and a flattened top to the hat. The right arm on the figure illustrated has a nicely detailed rifle integrated into the mould and the hand was holed to allow the haulage rope to pass through.

The Hanks Brothers Boy Scouts figures, together with their trek cart, was featured in a 2015 Old Toy Soldier article3 by Rob Wilson. The article pictures the boy scout figures with a haulage rope passed through a hole cast in the hand.

Looking at the two figures it is possible to see that a completely different appearance is created, simply through the artifice of painting, with the neckerchief, belt and boots highlighted against the white of the uniform. On close inspection it becomes plain to see that the naval rating figure is actually wearing shorts, and the trouser folds above his boots is bare kneecaps on the scout figure.

A.J. Holladay landing party figure, Whitejacket and Bluejacket versions
(Norman Joplin collection)
A.J. Holladay landing party figure, Whitejacket and Bluejacket versions
(Norman Joplin collection)

However, the Hanks Brothers scout figure is only around 50mm in height which would make the set appear out of proportion with other 54mm scale figures. The scout figure was evidently abandoned for the final production set soon after the design was registered, and a completely new, larger, and more animated figure was created and used for the version which was distributed for sale.

The naval landing party figures for the set that was distributed by C.F. Eckhardt were produced in both whitejacket and bluejacket variations, however neither version of the figure is commonly found in the market.

Looking now at the artillery piece shown in the original registration design representations, and then also shown in the 1913 C.F Eckhardt trade journal, we are again surprised.

The illustration shows that the cannon used for the set did not change when it was first released, however this gun is itself a puzzle.

Comparison of the image from the original patent application and the retail catalogue.
Comparison of the image from the original patent application and the retail catalogue.

Collectors of Britains B-scale sets may recognise this artillery piece as being identical to that used for Britains Royal Horse Artillery sets #125 (Review Order) and #126 (Service Order).

It is easy to understand why a B-scale gun would be used for the naval landing party set, because the scale is better suited to representing the 12-pounder 8 cwt, light field pieces used ashore by the Royal Navy.

The most likely manufacturer
Does the presence of a Britains field artillery piece suggest that the set was therefore manufactured by Britains, and not REKA or Hanks Brothers? The answer to that question is, it’s not likely.

We already know4 that Hanks Brothers were sued by Britains in 1902 for copying one of their toy soldiers that was marked with “W. Britain” and “1.6.1900”, the creation date of the original mould. Despite losing the lawsuit, Hanks Brothers very likely continued to produce copies of earlier Britains figures which were not marked and dated, and it is therefore quite possible that if Hanks Brothers were the makers of the set, they may have simply produced a copy of the Britains B-scale Royal Horse Artillery canon. A page from the 1913 Gamages and Benetfinks department store Christmas Bazaar catalogue5 may give us some further clues. Here we see the Hanks Brothers Boy Scouts pulling their trek cart (picture item 1 in the following catalogue page) showing that this set was certainly available at the same time as the A. J. Holladay design was using these figures for registration with the Board of Trade.

close up of toy soldier

We also see No. TY 79 (picture item 2) – Britains Royal Navy Landing Party advertised and note that the TY 79 code corresponds to the Britains set number. Also pictured is No. TY 146 which number also corresponds to the Britains Royal Army Service Corps Set #146.

 Britains Royal Navy Landing Party advertised
Image from a Gamages catalogue (see references in text to the red numbered items)

Illustrated on the catalogue page 103 but not pictured here are No. TY 93 British Army Presentation Case; No. TY 100 21st Empress of India’s Own Lancers; No. TY 128 12th Lancers; and No. TY 161 Boy Scouts, all of which correspond to the Britains set of the same number. Also suggestive, we can see illustrated the Army Service Supply Column (pictured 3), referred to above. This is the set generally believed to have been commissioned by A. J Holladay in 1906 for his employer C.F. Eckhardt, and manufactured by Britains. A very rare, boxed set was sold at auction as part of the Jim Cook Toy Soldier Collection by Old Toy Soldier in 2015 (Auction 23, 17 October 2015).

Additionally, we see the C.F. Eckhardt distributed War Game set (pictured 4) which was also produced for A.J. Holladay but this time the manufacturer was Hanks Brothers, and again is llustrated in the 1913 C.F. Eckhardt trade publication shown above.

The presence of the Holladay designed, and C.F. Eckhardt distributed, Army Service Supply Column and War Game set, but not the C.F. Eckhardt version of the naval landing party is a strong indication that the naval landing party set was not manufactured by Britains. In their Christmas Bazaar catalogue,
Gamages proudly proclaim that “prospective customers should note that all GAMAGE’S “SOLDIERS” are the Best Make obtainable…. AVOID CHEAP IMITATIONS!” and if the artillery piece was a copy of the Britains gun then Gamages would not sell it. So, would the REKA Company make a copy of the unmarked and undated Britains artillery piece?

There is no indication that the REKA Company, which commenced manufacturing toy soldiers around 1908 and therefore well after the 1902 court case that Britains brought against Hanks Brothers, produced direct copies of Britains figures.

Certainly, in their early years REKA produced mounted figures that were very similar to some Britains versions. For example, REKA produced cavalry figures mounted on a horse in a very similar but slightly different pose to Britains Life Guards Set #72, and it is very difficult to pick the difference between the later standard REKA fixed arm mounted figure horse, with the left foreleg raised and the bent neck, and the mounted officer from Britains 1895 Royal Artillery Mountain Gun set #28.

A possible scenario is that REKA took over producing the set for Holladay and
C. F. Eckhardt from Hanks Brothers, either toward the end of 1913, or later in 19186. The reason for this possibility is that at both of these specific times there was turmoil within Hanks Brothers, and
they may not have been considered by Holladay to be a reliable supplier.

Illustration from the 1921 REKA catalogue, page 23.
Illustration from the 1921 REKA catalogue, page 23.

In late 1913 Albert, one of the two Hanks Brothers, split from the partnership. Soon after, a new partner, Walter Samuel Sutton, bought into Hanks Brothers and the other Hanks brother, Orlando, left the business soon afterwards.

Later, in 1917, Sutton was called up for war service in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and in June 1918 he was drowned when the ship he had been assigned to was torpedoed and sunk by a German U -boat, after which all ‘Hanks Brothers’ and ‘Hanks and Sutton’ branded toy soldier manufacturing ceased.

Since the design for the naval landing party set was registered to A. J. Holladay it is likely then that he alsoowned the casts for the figures.

It is quite plausible to think that Holladay took the casts to the REKA Company to produce, after having initially used Hanks Brothers to produce both the design set and the first production version, and this is perhaps why the few complete sets are found with a REKA light field piece.

The REKA Company did later produce their own Naval Brigade Landing Party set, as the illustration from their 1921 catalogue shows. The sailors in this REKA set have the same holed hands to allow a hauling line to be fed through, and these toy soldiers are generally marked REKA and dated 10.3.15. The shade of the blue on the A.J. Holladay figure is, however, darker than the colour of these later REKA Company figures.

For reason of the fact there are very few examples of the sennet hatted version of the naval landing party, and the difference in blue paint colour, the most likely scenario is that REKA did take over
production of the Royal Navy landing party set from Hanks Brothers in 1914 but they only produced the set for a few years using a light field gun of their own design and an ammunition limber which is similar, but slightly different, to the ammunition limber used for the Britains B-scale Royal Horse Artillery sets #125 (Review Order) and #126 (Service Order). Production of the Holladay set probably stopped when REKA began to produce their own Naval Brigade Landing Party set after 1915.

Crescent version of the Gun Team, earlier Reka versions are found in 1st grade paint schemes
Crescent version of the Gun Team, earlier Reka versions are found in 1st grade paint schemes

So, back to the question: who manufactured this very attractive set – Hanks Brothers or REKA or perhaps even Britains? While the evidence that we have considered above is less than conclusive, it suggests that the set was initially manufactured by Hanks Brothers in 1913, who likely created
a copy of the Britains B-scale Royal Horse Artillery cannon to represent the 12-pounder light field gun used by the Royal Navy.

However, not long afterwards Hanks Brothers ceased production of the set because of the problems that beset the company in late 1913 through to mid-1914, and REKA became the manufacturer for possibly only one or two years.

If any collectors are fortunate enough to have a boxed set of these extremely rare figures in their collection, or have any other thoughts on this question, the authors would be grateful to receive
photos or information through Old Toy Soldier.

1 Richards, L.W. (1970) Old British Model Soldiers 1893-1918: An Illustrated Reference Guide for Collectors.Arms and Armour Press, London. Plate 24.
2 The Navy List (1891), HathiTrust Pg 576 – 577.
3 Wilson, R. eBay Find – Rare Hanks Bros. Boy Scouts with Trek Scout. (2015) V39 N3 Fall Pg9
4 Forrester, R. Hanks Brothers Toy Soldier Manufacturers. (2021) Old Toy Soldier V45 No.2 Summer. Pg17
5Gamage’s Christmas Bazaar, 1913 (reprinted 1974) David & Charles, Exeter
6 Forrester, R. Hanks Brothers Toy Soldier Manufacturers. Op Cit. Pg24

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