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Madame Tussaud H.R.H. The Prince of Wales souvenir in original box, $1,440-1,800.
A postwar issue for the U.S. market replicating Charbens Big Show Circus, with original box, $1,440-1,800.
A Timpo Tiger Hunt set, tied in original box, illustrated label, $2,160-2,700.
The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe set, from the Nursery Rhyme & Fairy Tale series produced by Phillip Segal Toys, Christchurch, Hampshire. Provenance: from the Norman Joplin Reference Collection, $1,800-2,160.
Britains no. 1654 Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs set with each dwarf’s name printed on original backing, in original box, $1,440-1,800.
An exceptionally rare Britains set no. 433 red, round-wing Royal Air Force Monoplane, with original box, $7,200-10,800.
Extremely rare Britains set 90F Davis Estates Builders’ Lorry, $4,500-5,400.
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker …
Britains civilian figures are a window to gentler times.
LONDON – With Christmas fast approaching, It’s not just children who have their minds on toys. Grown-ups who collect toys of small scale are turning their attention to Christie’s South Kensington and the Dec. 1 single-owner auction of the Philip Dean collection of civilian lead figures. Christie’s toy specialist, Hugo Marsh, describes the blue-chip 590-lot inventory as “the finest collection of its type ever to come to auction.” The Dean collection carries a total presale estimate in excess of $270,000.
Those who appreciate the artistry behind early toys but who are not especially familiar with lead figures may tend to think of Britains primarily as a company that manufactured miniature armies, navies and other military regiments. In fact, there is much more to the firm’s production history. Since its inception around 1845, Britains has issued some of the most appealing, beautifully hand-detailed civilian figures, characters, buildings and accessories within the entire toy realm. Today, there are far more collectors pursuing the specialty than there are fine-condition examples to satisfy their desires.
“Civilians” comprise a collecting niche that first captured Philip Dean’s attention around 15 years ago. “It seemed for every aspect of life, there was a Britains set – the farm, circus, zoo, railway station, shopkeepers – the range is so all encompassing.”
Between 3,000 and 4,000 figures, representing around 95 percent of Dean’s collection, are included in the Dec. 1 sale. But it is important to note that he did not cherry-pick it to cull out the best pieces prior to consignment. Neither did he allow anyone to purchase items from it privately. Philip knew that once a collector, always a collector, and he felt he should choose some small subgroup to serve as the matrix of a new collection – something to keep him occupied in the hobby for many years to come. “While it was very difficult to make the decision to sell the collection, it was made easier when I decided I would keep only the figures made by Johillco.” he said. “They don’t have a fantastic worth like Britains, but I had far fewer of that make, so I knew I could build onto that collection for a long time.”
Any serious Britains aficionado has seen elements of Philip’s collection whether they’ve been to his home or not, since most of it is illustrated in the pages of several high-profile reference books, among them Britains Civilian Toy Figures and the soon to be released Hollow-Cast Civilian Toy Figures by Norman Joplin. Philip’s collection forms a major part of both books, with a very substantial number of non-Britains figures featured in the latter text. But in terms of invaluable reference materials, Christie’s auction catalog is destined to rank among the best of them. Philip, who is a professional photographer, shot all of the catalog photos, referring to the auction book as “my baby, if you like … my way of saying goodbye to the collection.”
Philip speaks with pride in describing some of his favorites to be sold on Dec. 1. “There’s an Exella set I quite like called Three Little Pigs. It was brought out to coincide with the 1935 Disney cartoon of the same name and contains boxed sets of the pigs with their houses meant to look as thought they were created of brick, straw and twig. Actually, they are of painted lead.” The estimate is $5,400-7,200.
Another cherished piece is the Britains Racing Colours sample card (estimate $2,700-3,240) featuring British jockeys wearing colored “silks” to represent distinguished horse owners, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Winston Churchill, Prince Aly Khan and Baron Rothschild. “It’s very, very rare. There is one set known in Canada, but this one was made for a British salesman, and is the only known example. It had its first public showing at Norman Joplin’s Old Toy Soldier and Figure Show on Sept. 10 in London, and there was a lot of interest in it.”
Every Englishman loves his garden, and Philip is no exception. His collection boasts 17 boxed Britains garden sets. Each of the ensembles includes painted lead depictions of flowers, shrubs, flower beds and, based on the size of the set, additional accessories such as crazy paving, hedges, balustrading, interwoven fencing and even a lily pond with rockery. “These sets are of absolutely beautiful quality,” Philip remarked.
Another staple of British life is football – or soccer, as it is known in America. The Philip Dean collection includes four complete boxed sets of English football teams, with the earliest made around 1904 and the latest around 1938. The teams represented are: Everton, Aston Villa, Liverpool and Derby County; and the estimate range is from $1,600-2,700 per set.
Six early, unboxed football sets have been catalogd, as well. Among them is a miniature version of the team known from 1898 through 1937 as Clapton Orient. “Their football ground was the closest one to the Britains factory, and many of the players worked for Britains. The company made the figures as a special-commission job for the team.” Clapton Orient distinguished itself in British history when, immediately after a football match that took place at the outset of World War I, the young players – most still in their teens – signed up en masse to join the military. “The man who sold the set to me a few years ago was loath to sell it; now he’s coming to the auction to try to buy it back.” Reportedly, the gentleman will have some competition, since executives of the present-day incarnation of Clapton Orient – Leyton Orient – have been notified by Christie’s that the set is coming up for sale (estimate: $1,800-2,160), and may wish to add it to their club’s archive.
Transportation is a popular theme with collectors of Britains civilian lead figures. The auction will feature three different color variations of a very rare motorbike with sidecar: red, silver and blue. Each comes with a man, who is the driver; a woman, who rides on the pillion; and a little girl, who travels in the sidecar. Each of the motorbikes is estimated at $1,250-1,450. Another transport treasure to be offered is a red British monoplane with pilot, one of only two known to exist. Made sometime between 1931 and 1941, it is complete with its original white rubber tires, and is accompanied by its original box. Estimate: $7,200-10,800.
Within the array of “fairly exclusive” Britains items in the sale is a builder’s lorry from the 1930s that had only a brief production run. Philip explained that local builders could commission Britains to add a decal of their company name to the side of the light-blue, tip-back truck with functional doors. The example in the sale, estimated at $4,500-5,400, advertises Davis Estates Ltd., Builders of Homes.
Two British Salvation Army bands made in 1934 will be auctioned, one in red ($1,800-2,700) and another in the rarer blue color scheme ($4,860-5,760). “Those two sets were especially hard to part with,” said Philip. “I almost talked myself into keeping the blue one.”
But, as previously mentioned, Philip wanted to do the right thing by his fellow collectors, and consigned nearly everything in his collection to the sale, even the item to which he felt the most personal connection: a salesman’s display case for the Wend-al company. While researching his self-published book on the history of Wend-al, a small toy company near his home that made aluminum figures in the 1940s and early 1950s, Philip was able to locate and interview the firm’s owner, who died last year at age 101. “He gave me one of the salesman’s cases, that had been used to hold cans of paint in his garage for more than 50 years. It is somewhat distressed, but it is unique, and the sample tray is still complete. Also, it comes with excellent provenance.” The case is expected to fetch in the vicinity of $1,100.
For additional information or to order a catalogue, please contact Hugo Marsh at: tel. [UK] 011 44 207 752-3274
Exella marketed this set around 1935, when Disney released the cartoon feature The Three Little Pigs. Set includes painted lead figures of each of the pigs with his own distinctive house. Estimate: $5,400-7,200.
Rare and highly desirable 15-piece Britains Salvation Army Band and Escort, in blue uniforms, $4,860-5760.
Unique Britains factory/salesman's sample Racing Colours jockeys and horse contained within a Plexiglas-fronted display case, $2,700-3,240.