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British Toy Companies : Wells Brimtoy (part 1)

THE WELLS – BRIMTOY STORY

 THE EARLY BEGINNINGS :

Although not the earliest of the British tinplate toy companies to anyone who collects tinplate models the name of Wells-Brimtoy is synonymous with quality models, well made and nicely lithographed.

However the story of Wells-Brimtoy is not so straight forward and one needs to look into its “family tree” to see how exactly it came about. Wells-Brimtoy was in fact the end result of the amalgamation of two or perhapse that should be three seperate London toy manufacturers – Brimtoy Ltd. (who had their roots firmly established in the earlier British Metal & Toy Manufacturers) and its take over by A.W.J. Wells in 1932.

So in order to look at the formation of Wells-Brimtoy we need to go back to the very beginning and start with the background and history of the British Metal & Toy Manufacturers (abbreviated in future to BMTM)

British Metal & Toy Manufacturers : 1914 – 1921

BMTM was registered in Sept.1914 with a substantial capital at the time of £35,000, making it one of the six largest such firms in Britain. In 1915 its offices were at given at Audrey House, Ely Place, Holburn, London E.C. whilst its works were listed at Clissold Park, Hackney, but in 1919 the company was at 153 Green Lanes, Stoke Newington, N16.

The outbreak of the First World War did much to shape the future of the British toy industry and set the pattern for the rest of the C20th. Anti-German feeling was understandably high following the formal declaration of hostilities and several toy companies at the time urged the general public to buy British toys made by British labour with British materials !

German toy imports, which stood at c£149,000 in 1914 were down to just c£1,000 by 1915 which left a major gap in the British market, a gap which was initially filled by the USA but more significantly by Japan. However both were thwarted by the severe restrictions on toy and game imports imposed in March 1916 by the Board of Trade.

With this legislation in place, together with other incentives and initiatives from the Board of Trade, the way was now clear for British companies to fill this void. One such company was the British Metal & Toy Manufacturers, which incorporated the letters from within its name to form the trademark - ’BRIMTOY BRAND’, with the words ‘BRITISH MADE’ and a pictoral representation of Nelsons Column all within a roundal. Nothing could be more patriotic in those times !

Even so it was not that straight forward for although it had work for 100 toolmakers due to the higher wages offered in the expanding war industries it could only recruit a mere 12. The prospects of quick profits were not all they seemed and the overall picture was summed up by the BMTM – M.D. Sidney Stowe in 1917 when he commented that his company was having to face up to four major problems. Firstly; a shortage of working capital, caused in part by escalating labour costs. Secondly; a massive rise in the costs of raw materials (when available). Thidly; a serious shortage of skilled workers and finally, a total lack of exports.

These were however difficulties not just faced by BMTM, but by the toy industry as a whole, and unable to overcome several or all of these problems it was no surprise that many of the smaller companies at this time disappeared altogether.

When the guns fell silent in Nov.1918 the economic prospects for the British toy industry appeared relatively good. Within just three weeks of the Armistice ‘The Times’ reported that even shopkeepers were astonished by the amount of money that was changing hands for toys, due in the main to high demand and high raw material costs.

Everyon anticipated a rosy future with the world markets now opening up to British manufacturers, the demand from which would dwarf the home markets which had kept the industry going. The boom which followed was short lived and lasted just two years ! Consumer expenditure rose by 21% between 1918 – 19 and the removal of wartime controls in the spring of 1919 gave it further impetus. But productive capacity could not keep pace with demand and as a result prices rose faster than output, which in turn pushed up wages and thus costs. By the middle of 1921 Britain was in the grip of severe depression with c2,400,000 workers unemployed. This inevitably took its toll on the toy industry with hundreds of companies closing their doors. One such company, despite having a turnover of £75,000 in 1919 and 1920, was the British Metal & Toy Manufacturers which was liquidated in 1921.

BRIMTOY LTD : 1923 – 1932

With the demise of many toy manufacturers including the BMTM in 1921 there were, it has to be said, many others who opened up to take advantage of the upturn in trade which took place after 1923. One such company which was founded in 1923 was Brimtoy Ltd., who included amongst its directors many from the now defunct BMTM and which continued, as before, in the production of tinplate toys. Their address was given as 133 Highbury Quadrant, Islington, London N5.

Brimtoy was a listed exhibitor (Stand C39) at the British Industries Fair held at the White City, London in 1929 where they were given as : A manufacturer of metal toys both mechanical and non-mechanical, advertising & constructional toys, money boxes and strong toys.

Brimtoy was acquired by A. Wells in 1932, at the time it employed some 300 workers.

A.W.J. WELLS : 1919 – 1932

Wells was a metal toy company founded by Alfred Wells, a toolmaker, in 1919 launched with a capital of just £50. Because of his background Wells was able to make his own tooling and initially also did his own selling, so successfull was he that his company was destined to become a major force in the interwar years.

Wells operated from the ‘Progress Works’, 90 Somers Road, Walthamstow, in North London and their well known Wells ‘O’ London trademark first made is appearance in 1924.

Like Brimtoy, Wells also exhibited at the British Industries Fair in 1929 (stand D23), where they were listed as : A manufacturer of mechanical and non-mechanical tinplate toys.

Wells, at this time emloying some 200 workers, went on to acquire Brimtoy Ltd. in 1932 and thus form the new company of Wells-Brimtoy which will be dealt with in ‘Part 2′.

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  1. Robin
    April 6th, 2010 at 13:52 | #1

    Hi,
    I was most interested to discover your recently launched (I think) website, as I have been trying to research a 4″ long ‘Wells o’ London’ tin clockwork six wheel double decker bus which I found at the back of a cupboard. It is the only example I have come across so far, which has solid rubber tyres mounted on cast metal rims. I was hoping that you might be able to help me date/identify it if I sent some photos. If you are willing/able to help me, could you furnish me with an email address to which the information could be sent. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks, Rob

  2. dave
    April 6th, 2010 at 19:56 | #2

    Rob, e-mail address duly sent and yes it is a relatively new site, just 3 months old and barely walking ! Looking forward to seeing the item in question but from your description it sounds like an early Wells-Brimtoy ‘Pocketoy’ which were produced at 4″ in length, their other double deckers were 7-8 inches long with either black plastic or tinplate balloon tyres. Wells -Brimtoy ‘Pocketoys’ were launched in 1952 and one such item was a double deck bus, grey ribbed roof, red body with lithographed passengers in the windows. 6-wheels of solid rubber construction with a clockwork drive, may be your bus. By the way Part 2 of the Wells-Brimtoy story will, with a bit of luck and a following wind, appear later this month.
    Cheers for now, David.

  3. Robin
    April 7th, 2010 at 18:36 | #3

    David, Many thanks for the amazingly swift and informative response. You have described my bus to a T, and obviously have an impressive breadth of knowledge about antique toys. I shall send some photos for your perusal/interest. It’s nice to discover that I have found something which may have intrinsic value to toy collectors.
    Thanks and kind regards, Rob.

  4. Jennifer
    October 22nd, 2010 at 12:50 | #4

    Hello – wondered if you can help. I recently bought a boxed (tatty but nice contents) Lewis’s Train Set. The tunnel is Brimtoy – loco is black British Railways, and 2 coaches are red. Bogies are plastic. Not been able to find anything out about it. Wondered when made (c 1950′s I presume as BR) etc.. Thanks

  5. dave
    October 24th, 2010 at 19:07 | #5

    Hi there Jen, not a lot to go on from your description, a few pics would help me alot. Will e-mail you on this point shortly along with a few questions which might narrow it down. You are correct date wise assuming my memory isn’t playing me up British Railways came into being in 1948 and lasted until the mid 60′s when it was re-branded to British Rail. The good old Brimtoy tunnel may be a red herring as these tend to turn up in many a box particularly I find when bought from auction.
    Will e-mail you soon, David.

  6. Chris Eaton
    February 20th, 2011 at 15:17 | #6

    David;
    My pal has unearthed from his attic a boxed, (though not pristine box) trainset of Brimtoy make, clockwork variety, which looks to be complete with a couple of coaches, lengths of track etc, and a 4 wheeled loco in black bearing the number 67020, so obviously in the BR era – post 1948 – all in the larger O gauge. Has this any real value, and if so what would be a sensible price ?
    Wondered if you could help please ?
    Many thanks

  7. dave
    February 21st, 2011 at 20:53 | #7

    Hi there Chris – Always a difficult one this, I don’t mind giving you a price but please remember its only my opinion and as I’ve said so many times now 101 things can effect the value. Number 1 is obviously condition both of the item and its box, but it also matters where you would offer it for sale. Expect less at auction, a buyer will have to add on commission etc in deciding how much to bid and as a seller you will have to take off auction charges etc from the hammer price. Its a similar story with online auction sites. Toy / antique fairs are probably the nearest you can get to a retail price situation but thats no good unless you have a table full of items to sell and a pitch isn’t cheap. So bearing in mind I have not seen the set I can suggest a typical auction estimate would be between £20.00 – £40.00 less commission. Your best bet is always to take it to a local auction house that holds toy/train auctions where they will give you a valuation but sorry mate its not going to be life changing ! Thanks for visiting, hope you will keep popping back. – David.

  8. RAY STANBOROUGH
    August 5th, 2011 at 14:40 | #8

    I HAVE FOUND AN INTERESTING TOY OR PERHAPS BETTER DESCRIBED AS A HORSE RACING GAME WHICH WAS MADE BY WELLS O LONDON AND WONDERED IF THERE WAS ANY GENERAL INFORMATION AVAILABLE ABOUT THIS ITEM. IT IS CALLED ” WELLS O’LONDON AUTO GEE THE HOME STEEPLE CHASE”

    THANK YOU

  9. carole
    August 24th, 2011 at 21:24 | #9

    Hi have recently found 2 wind up brimtoy buses one is a double decker the other is a double decker trolley bus in red can you tell me anything about them

  10. dave
    August 28th, 2011 at 18:16 | #10

    Hi Ray to be honest the ‘Auto-Gee’ game is one of those Wells items that you don’t see all that often. I think it was a little too complicated for children and is one of those ‘toys’ that I would use on an adults ‘games-nite’ after a few beers ! although no doubt I would loose my shirt as I’m rubbish when it comes to betting on horses !
    For those of you who don’t know the ‘Auto-Gee’ its a little like Escalado in that its betting on which horse will be first past the post and there the similarity ends.
    Made by Wells sometime in the mid to late 1920′s I think. It consists of a wooden base board about 3′-0″ long on which is mounted the straight tinplate ‘track’ complete with ‘jumps’. When a lever is thrown a clockwork driven disc moves the course on which are mounted the different horses – a little like ‘slot-cars’.
    There were 5 horses complete with their jockies in red, blue, white, green and yellow named Red Hunter/Miss Bluitt/White Lady/The Jade & Gold Rush.
    As well as a straight race there was also the ability to handicap each race.
    Hope that is of some use to you, sorry about the delay in responding but we are looking at moving house at some point so busy trying to clear out all my old stuff etc etc. Not 100% sure but may be able to find some instructions for this item if you don’t have any – they won’t be original, but I can always e-mail some.
    Cheers, David.

  11. dave
    August 29th, 2011 at 18:45 | #11

    Phew Carole what a question ! Brimtoy buses is a subject worth a page or two on this site on its own and without any more details I can’t be too specific but for starters I’ll list those that spring to mind. Baring in mind that all the d/deckers are red, based on London Transport vehicles some pics shown on my Brimtoy or Pocketoy sections.
    1 – Pocketoy D/Deck Bus / clockwork / stop-start action / ringing bell / advertising : Wells Brimtoy Distributors / destination : Brimtoy – Pocketoy / 7cm.
    2 – D/Deck Trolleybus with black poles / clockwork / stop start action / ringing bell / advertising : Wells Brimtoy Distributors / destination : 516 Brimtoy Walthamstow / 12cm.
    3 – D/Deck bus / friction drive / advertising : Wells Brimtoy Distributors / 11cm.
    4 – Pocketoy D/Deck bus / grey roof / 6 wheels / clockwork / advertising : Thanks for Buying British / 11cm
    5 – D/Deck bus / clockwork / permanent key / advertising : Regnt Petrol / destination : Stirling Rd. Walthamstow / 17cm.
    6 – Pocketoy D/Deck bus / grey roof / 6 wheels / clockwork / advertising : Brimtoy Pocketoy Series / destination : 10 / 11cm
    7 – D/Deck Trolleybus with red poles / white roof / clockwork / permanent key / advertising : Buy British / destination : 804 / 17cm.
    8 – D/Deck bus / Routemaster RM1 prototype / friction drive / advertising : Esso Petrol / destination : 23 / 16cm.
    9 – D/Deck bus / clockwork / permanent key / advertising : Cinderella Sweeper Sets / destination : Stirling Rd. Walthamstow / 21cm.
    10 – D/Deck Trolleybus with red poles / white roof / clockwork / permanent key / advertising : Buy British / destination : 657 / 21cm.
    Hope that gives you a start Carole and includes your two buses. David.

  12. Roger Charlesworth
    February 12th, 2012 at 19:13 | #12

    Hi. I have a ‘Brimtoy Brand’ O gauge train set. The engine is named ‘King George’ and has the number 8040 on its side; it has four large wheels and a four wheel bogy at the front; it has a four-wheel tender and two Pullman coaches each with two four-wheel bogies. The colour scheme is crean and orange. Can you please give me an idea of the date of manufacture? Any idea of value?

    Thanks.

  13. dave
    February 14th, 2012 at 18:45 | #13

    Hi there Roger, thanks for visiting the site and your question re your Brimtoy train set.
    The ‘King George’ streamlined ‘O’ gauge locomotive No.8040 was a clockwork 4-4-0 loco finished in red, orange and cream. The set complete, in original box and in good condition, normally sells at auction for around the £40-£45 mark. Indeed I noticed that one unboxed set recently sold on an internet auction site for £25 ! As for date of manufacture I believe this particular set was marketed around 1938-’40.
    Cheers, David.

  14. Helen
    July 17th, 2012 at 09:29 | #14

    Are you still responding to queries from the blog? I’m in Australia and have a tin train set with tracks. It is a Wells O London. By Permission Walt Disney. MADE IN ENGLAND. Prov. Patent 33964. There is an engine SILVER LINE, a Circus Dining Car and Mickey the Stoker.
    Do you know what age it is, is it common / rare and being well used in a damaged box the value?
    Thank you

  15. dave
    October 25th, 2012 at 18:23 | #15

    Hi Helen, yes still responding better late than never and hopefully will get better now we are settled in our new home. Got to say I’m not 100% on this apart from the fact that it is a very scarce set ! The reason for my hesitance is that I think I am right in saying that both LIONEL in the USA & WELLS in England produced a Mickey Mouse Circus Set. Both of which dated to the 1930′s. Both had a circular big top – the Wells one was tinplate with lithographed disney figures around the outside – I think the Lionel big top was card (but I may be wrong). Now I think both had 3 x tinplate carriages each carriage had 4 wheels – one carriage was a M.M circus carriage, one was a M.M. band carriage all in red and yellow tinprinting. The Wells carriages had a sliding removeable roof. Interestingly from pictures I have seen these carriges were the same from each set so who actually produced them I do not know ! Both engines were of the streamline design – in the case of Lionel both the engine and tender came in a red finish with the tender having the Lionel name in capitol letters to its side. In both cases Mickey the Stoker was animated and as the train moved along Mickey revolved as if stoking the engine. Lionel set was number 1536 don’t believe the Wells set was numbered. As to the engine – you have Siver Line as the name – I certainly know Wells had locos named Silver Link and Silver Streak both had the same running number of 2509 so your engine may well be original to the set but I cannot confirm this for you. Hope this is some help but rest assured you do have an interesting a valuable set. My advice is to take it to a specialist toy auction house ideally one whos sales are on the internet for an evaluation – over here its free of charge and from there you can decide if you want to sell or not.
    Best of luck, David.

  16. Sarah
    March 2nd, 2013 at 16:04 | #16

    I have found a Brimtoy cooking range and would like to know more about it. The tinplate is printed to look like red brick, with 2 embossed metal oven doors, 4 legs, a splash back with shelf at the top and hooks for hanging (utensils?) under the shelf. Measures 61/2″ x 41/2″ and stands 8″ high. There are 2 holes on the hob, to put cooking pans over. Would it originally have had some pans and utensils? Anything you can tell me would be great!

  17. dave
    March 4th, 2013 at 14:22 | #17

    Sarah,
    Think I may have to hold my hands up on this one without a pic., can you send me one ?
    I know Brimtoy did the ‘Junior Cooker’, tinplate model in red and white colourway, 4 ring burner, splash back in red/white tile effect with hooks for utensils, two lift-up side worksurfaces with a range of plastic pots/pans. They also doid ‘My Dolly’s Kitchen’ a range of kitchen equipment which included a cooker, white tinplate item with small splashback tinprinted with dials etc., 4 ring burner, two front opening oven doors. Neither of these matches your description especially the mounted on 4 legs bit which is more like the mettoy cookers. Any thoughts from anyone would be appreciated.
    David.

  18. Sarah
    March 7th, 2013 at 11:43 | #18

    Thanks for your reply David.
    Looking more closely I see it is Brimtoy Brand and the logo is identical to the one you show, with Nelsons column. Does this date it to pre 1921? The style is definitely like the old cast iron cooking ranges of that period, although the body of it is lithographed brickwork. I’d love to find some pans or utensils to go with it, but wouldn’t know where to start looking. I would send a photo but don’t know how to attach it to this message!
    Sarah

  19. dave
    March 7th, 2013 at 16:04 | #19

    Hi again Sarah,
    Since my last response I did manage to find your stove.

    Although I’m still not familiar with this particular toy I would assume it is similar to others of the period in so much that it would be powered using wick burners (small candles) and have hot plates where the two holes are on the stove top that would actually heat up ! It would also have a full range of aluminium pots and pans to suit. By todays health and safety standards its amazing what was considered ‘toys’ in days gone by ! Sorry I can’t provide any further info at this time but will keep looking .. if anyone else can add anything I’m sure Sarah would appreciate it.
    David.

  20. Sarah
    March 7th, 2013 at 16:08 | #20

    Wow – thanks for the info but i don’t think i’ll be trying it out! I will keep looking for pans though.
    Sarah

  21. Gary Rothera
    May 11th, 2013 at 04:01 | #21

    Simple question: what year(s) were the “Happy” and “Dopey” tin wind-up toys manufactured by Wells. I can’t find the dates anywhere. I have Dopey in the original clean box. Thank you, Gary

  22. dave
    May 11th, 2013 at 12:49 | #22

    Hi there Gary, by and large simple questions tend not to have a simple answer and dating items is always a problem. The range of toys marked ‘by permission of Walt Disney Mickey Mouse’ were generally produced in the 1930′s / ’40′s and I believe the two ‘walker’ figures you have Dopey No.6313 / Happy No.6312 were originally produced in 1938. I don’t know if youv’e noticed but Dopey looks something like Wells’ Mr. Porter figure, there again perhapse not !
    Thanks for visiting and your question, David.

  23. Sally Young
    July 30th, 2014 at 00:03 | #23

    My husband was a Jig and Tool draughtsman at Wells. I remember a dancer (in a pink dress) dancing with a ‘prince’ I called him. Unfortunately I don’t have this ‘toy’ but would like to know if there is one I could look at on line. I now live in Australia. Thanks Sally

  24. dave
    August 6th, 2014 at 14:16 | #24

    Hi there Sally and many thanks for messaging from over there in Oz. Your memory is quite correct as the item you are referring to was the Wells/Brimtoy ‘Cinderella and Price Charming’ toy. This was clockwork in operation and when wound up would move the pair forwards whilst rotating as if waltzing together. The toy, plastic in construction, model no. 9/19, came in an illustrated card box and was just one of several such novelty mechanical figures dating from around the early 1950′s which included a ‘Spanish Dancer’, ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ and even a ‘Fairy Godmother’. Both figures can be found in a variety of colourway finishes, the Prince for instance came in a dark blue or light blue uniform, alternatively with a red tunic and mid-blue trousers and yet again in all white uniform to name but four whilst Cinders is often found in an all pale blue ball gown or pale blue gown with a white top or even the all pink gown you remember, sometimes her dresses were also covered with a smattering of silver glitter !

    These Wells toys are relatively commonplace over here both boxed and unboxed so if you cannot readily find them in Oz just message me and I will try to help you out.
    All the best from North Yorkshire, David.
    P.S. The Wells/Brimtoy collectors out there may be interested to note that in the past I have also came across the self same item manufactured in the USA by Irwin and labelled as Walt Disney’s Waltzing Cinderella and Prince. Again it appeared to be a direct replica of the Wells pair, plastic in manufacture and clockwork in operation although the key appeared to be a permanent fixture. Did Irwin acquire any Wells moulds ? Is there any other tie-up between the companies ? as usual more questions than answers !
    All the best from North Yorkshire, David.

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