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Barely two years after the cessation of Britains hollow cast production, what is considered to be the first public Toy Soldier and Model Figure Auction took place on Friday 6th December 1968.

It was held in London at the headquarters of well-known Estate Agents and Valuers, Knight, Frank and Rutley (KFR), 20 Hanover Square, London, W1.

The catalogue and pictures reproduced here were kindly supplied to me by Ron Ruddell, late of London Bridge Collectors shop, with assistance from Kent Kline.

London dealer Vic Medcalf attended the sale and noted the prices achieved for each lot with handwritten annotations in the catalogue. The total realized was 1,957 pounds and 10 shillings. This represented an average of just under 10 pounds per lot!

The auctioneers and two probably atypical attendants at the auction

No consultant was attributed to the sale, however KFR acknowledged the assistance of the British Model Soldier Society and directed any enquiries to L.W. Richards of 25 The Drive, Barking, Essex. The auction was organized by Richard Lane, who subsequently joined Phillips Auctioneers. Phillips dominated the auction market in the UK until Christie’s South Kensington entered the field in 1994. During Phillips’ reign, a number of famous collections came under the hammer, including the pioneering author, Len Richards collection. Other famous collections included the 3,000-piece horde of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (which sold in 1977 for a then-impressive $16,000) and collector John Hanington’s treasure trove of some 24,000 toy soldiers which went for a then record shattering $300,000 in 1984. Many of these figures were captured by Malcolm Forbes, whose own collection was put up for auction simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic in 1997.

In marked contrast, the very first auction comprised 200 lots and made a total of just under $4,700. It included many examples by Britains, some others that were Britains but not identified as such, as well as figures by Courtenay, Heyde, Mignot, Hinton Hunt, Johillco, Stadden, Greenwood and Ball, Allgeyer, Ping (from Courtenay moulds), Rose, Renvoize, Timpo, and Reka. As well as individual figures and boxed sets, it included a number of Dioramas.

20 Hanover Square, London, W1

The catalogue contains only two photos, one of lot 18, The Last Stand at Hastings, 1066 by Ping using Courtenay moulds, which sold for 32 pounds. An article in OTS Vol 35, No 2, by Rob Wilson featured a similar set (from the Nod Faulkner collection, referenced in Garrett’s 1972 book1 ), but the figures shown here are in different poses to the ones shown in that article. The second was a diorama of Napoleon looking across the English Channel. However, further images of the lots on offer can be found in a fascinating short film by British Pathé.

It is apparent from the short (just under 9 minutes) film that this sale was regarded as a noteworthy news item at the time. Most of the film is devoted to showing some of the lots on offer in the sale, often filmed against appropriate
scenic backdrops. The lots featured in the film include (in the following order):

  • Lot 104, Britains Royal Horse Artillery gun team, 1st version alongside Lot 130, an early RASC
  • Lot 113, Britains Army Mechanised units, including an SR armoured car and Carden Lloyd tankettes.
  • 13 Britains Zouaves, possibly from lot 165.
  • Lots 70 & 71, Britains Egyptian cavalry on pony horses opposed by Heyde Afghan warriors.
  • Lot 59, Hinton Hunt 20mm scale diorama of Pickett’s Charge (American Civil War).
  • Lot 66, a WW I diorama, with Greenwood and Ball 1” troops and a Mk IV tank in a ruined street scene.
A still from the Pathé film – Lots 70 and 71
Another still – Lots 104 and 130
  • Lot 15, Mounted Courtenay knight (Sir Roger Clarendon), with other Courtenay mounted and foot knights.
  • Lot 60, Hinton Hunt 54mm diorama of a Napoleonic battle scene.
  • Lot 55 “Mignot” figures of Napoleon and others (in fact these appear to be by the Belgian maker MIM).
  • Lot 200, Rose Pipe Band of the Pakistani Infantry.
  • Lot 199, Rose Pipe Band of the Gurkhas.
  • Lot 198, Queen Elizabeth at the Trooping of the Colour (Britains conversion).
  • Lot 14, a Rose Diorama – “War in the Desert” from the personal collection of Russell Gammage.
  • Lot 18, “Last stand at Hastings” by Ping, including mounted Normans and Saxons
Highlight of the sale was this Desert diorama (Lot 14) with two Egyption chariots charging
Syrian archers which went under the hammer for 42 pounds

A number of entries in the auction came from well-known toy soldier collectors of the day including: Major Denny Stokes, John G Garratt, H.C Faulkner President of the BMSS, and Russell Gammage.

At the risk of making grown collectors cry, here are some of the prices realized at the auction.

Lot 5 Courtenay. Henry VIII, Charles 1st, Cardinal Wolsey, Helene of Aquitane, Lady in waiting and an
Executioner – 8 Pounds.

Lot 8 Mignot. A mounted figure of Joan of Arc, eleven standing Knights, five Archers, two Bowmen, five Halberdiers and a Herald – 9 Pounds.

Lot 16 Courtenay – The Black Prince – 5 Pounds.

Lot 18 The Last Stand at Hastings – 32 pounds

Lots 61 – 68 Dioramas by Denny Stokes, each in specially constructed box, with glass front and electric lighting. These included: Mowgli and Bagheera; The crucifixion; Napoleon at Boulogne; Wellington at Waterloo; The MacGregors 1745; Verdun; and a Stag hunt, Louis XVI period; as well as prototype wax figures. – Accumulated total of 127 Pounds for all 8 dioramas.

Lot 86 – 100 Timpo Circus figures, Clowns and horses, Buffalo Bill and Cowboys, Bandsmen and Soldiers. 922 pieces – 24 Pounds.

Lot 106 Britains. Two Royal Navy landing party sets and 42 Sailors – 20 Pounds.

Lot 111 Britains State Coach in original box for 1937 Coronation of Edward VIII 6 Pounds.

Lot 116 Britains Set 38 South Africa Mounted Infantry with original box – 8 Pounds.

Lots 135-147 Heyde Regiments of The British Empire, 131 Pieces – 210 Pounds.

Lots 154-157 Britains b series in their original boxes (16b, 18b, 21b, 23b) – 21 Pounds.

Lot 193-197 Greenwood and Ball A collection of 29 Regimental figures, Officers of the British and Indian Army 58 Pounds.

There is no mention in the catalogue of a buyers’ commission for any lots.

The 1968 exchange rate for the Dollar against the Pound Sterling was $2.39.

However, if we take inflation into account, the average, full-time male, weekly earnings in 1968 was just 23 pounds. By 2023 this had risen to 725 pounds, an increase of a factor of almost 32. Multiplying the figures above by 32, some of these prices are not quite as cheap as they might first appear (e.g. Lot 8, the unboxed group of 25 CBG figures at 9 pounds (= 288 current (2024) pounds or $688) looks rather expensive in today’s market!).

The following pages reproduce the catalogue in full, with Medcalf’s annotations of the hammer prices.
They represent a fascinating insight into how things have changed over the past almost 60 years.

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