Toy farm horses (7), painted lead, William Britain Ltd / Hornby, England, 1930 - 1939
Toy farms became popular through the 19th century when manufacture was dominated by German firms and woodcarvers. From the 1920s the British firm of William Britain had enormous success with their 'Model Home Farm' series of finely detailed hand painted hollow cast lead farm figures and accessories. It was a technique perfected in the production of model soldiers from the 1890s, reflecting also a shift from the firm's military focus in the years following World War One. Other firms such as Hornby also produced lead figures.
Britains sold their pieces individually and in boxed sets so that children could develop their sets with small purchases and larger Christmas or birthday presents. For many years the Britain's figures presented a somewhat nostalgic version of the British farm life. Motorised vehicles were not produced until after World War Two and even then horsedrawn vehicles remained popular. Eventually plastic models replaced lead figures. Britain's original lead figures and models are now highly sought after by collectors.
These horses are part of a large set of Britain's farm figures and Australian made buildings collected in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the donor and her sister. The collection was amassed with regular visits to the large Sydney toy shop Walther and Stevenson in George Street. Purchases were often of individual pieces. Eventually the farm comprised dozens of over 20 people, many animals, elaborate vehicles and pieces of equipment, numerous buildings, fences and trees, detailed accessories such as ponds, rosebushes and even a sundial. A large piece of cane-ite was cut out as a base for the farm. It was inscribed with the outlines of buildings and other features so that the same layout couldbe recreated.
With the onset of World War Two pieces became harder to acquire and the development of the collection was determined by availability rather than design. Later the donor passed the lead set on to her children who added to it with plastic Britain's trees and combined it with a railway. It was then used by her grand children until fragility required that it be packed away.
These pieces are significant as examples of the quality and range of Britain's pre-war production. While many pieces of this era have lost their provenance, this set is firmly related to the history of Australian childhood and retailing. The development of the entire set from the late 1930s through to the early years of World War Two, when shop stocks of the imported toys were depleted, is an interesting aspect of the production and use of toys in Australia and the impact of war upon the Australian homefront.
The farm horses were manufactured by William Britain Ltd in England and by Hornby. This date range reflects the probable period of manuacture.
The toy farm horses were collected and used by the donor over a number of years from the 1930s to the early war years. The set was later used by the donor's children until fragility required that it be packed away. The set remained with the donor until it was donated to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 2002.