A New Birth For Britains Old Set #73

A New Birth For Britains Set #73

By Art and Addie Ward

At an auction of Britains and other toy soldiers some years back we saw something we had never seen before: a gigantic empty red wooden box with a beautiful black and gold Wm. Britains’ label proclaiming the toys within to be Set 73! We had read about and seen pictures of such monster toy boxes from bygone days in various catalogs over our more than sixty-two years of collecting Britains soldiers, but never in real life. What a Christmas or birthday morning it must have been for any boy who received such a wondrous array of toy soldiers! I just had to relive such childhood ecstasy. We all know, if you are a serious toy soldier collector there are some things you have to try for. I bid extravagantly against a phantom collector whose phone bids emphatically topped ours, bid after bid — until they stopped and we had won! “Nearly $200 for an old empty box?” My wonderful wife, Addie, wanted to know. What could I say. A Britains collector has to do what a Britains collector has to do!

We began to research Britains’ set 73 and found it to have had a fluid history with an ever changing range of sets, each contents make-up dependent upon the time it was produced. Postwar sets dropped the beautiful big, red wooden boxes and housed the contents in heavy paperboard boxes. Even the total number of pieces changed from time to time. The type of content, however, seemed to remain constant, always including three cavalry regiments, two infantry regiments, one band, a royal horse artillery unit and a commanding general. We set our sights on a medium content of 70 figures but ended up with 77, which Joe Wallis (a well-known author and authority on Britains) says was the original quantity. Our contents became as follows:

Set 32 Second Dragoons “Royal Scots Greys” (prewar & expanded to 7 pieces)

Set 81 17th Lancers — foreign service dress of the Zulu war period with “Ulundi” smooth white helmets (prewar & expanded to 7 pcs.)

Set 43 2nd Life Guards black galloping horses for the four troopers w/short carbines (prewar & expanded to 7 pieces.)

Set 27 Band of the line (postwar, figures expanded to 14 pieces.)

Set 74 Royal Welsh Fusiliers (postwar, 9 marching + officer, 2 pioneers, flag carrier and the ubiquitous goat mascot)

Set 77 Gordon Highlanders (postwar, expanded to 12 marching at slope plus 2 pipers)

Set 144 Royal Field Artillery in review order (6 walking horses, 3 with drivers, 2 men seated on limber, 2 riding the gun and an officer on a cantering horse, all prewar and a very old matched set from a Scottish collector.)

Set 73 The General on the swayback horse (prewar and only available in the large sets)

We do not know what the present value of this one box collection should be. By adding up the various sets and individual pieces included, checking the last O’Brien’s catalog, making adjustments for condition and other variables such as minor expert repairs, plus the worth of the box, we have estimated the current value to be between $3,000 and $4,000. We do not know what the father of a little boy in the 1920’s or 1930’s paid for the original box and its contents — but our guess would be less than $20.

It took over two years for us to assemble this complete set of contents for old 73, but it was worth every hour and every dollar. It is the centerpiece of our Britains’ collection. In the course of our research we discovered that Britains produced even larger wooden boxes with many more soldiers in them (275 in the largest recorded!). Who knows when we might find one of those really, really big red boxes and then, would we live long enough to find all those great pieces to make it live again as our old 73 does now?

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