Toys and Games

Toys and Games

At the start of the 20th century, penny toys were very popular. They were cheap but attractive, providing all but the poorest families their first chance to buy non-essential goods. Their availability and affordability reflected developments in the mass-production of toys from the late 19th century.

Penny toys were imported from Germany, France and Japan by wholesalers in the Houndsditch area of London. They were often sold by 'gutter merchants', particularly on Ludgate Hill and in the City. The trade was at its height at the start of the century, and disappeared during the First World War.

Until the 20th century, most toys were manufactured in Germany and imported into Britain. During the 20th century, a number of toy manufacturers were founded in London. British toy manufacture improved after the First World War, and many new toy firms were established around this time.

One of the most successful was Lines Brothers Limited, established in 1919 by brothers William, Walter and Arthur Lines. Since three 'lines' make a triangle, they decided to trade under the name of Tri-ang Toys from 1924. The company later bought Meccano Ltd, formed Tri-ang-Hornby Railways, and bought Hamleys toyshop.

Henry Eagles and Arthur Schneider founded the Crescent Toy Company in the 1920s. The firm was based in Islington, north London. By 1950, the company was producing a range of cast metal toys including soldiers, racing cars, historical figures, model aircraft, warships and farm equipment.

Another company, Lesney's, was founded by two ex-servicemen when they began making industrial die-castings in an old pub in Tottenham. In 1949, they produced a few die-cast metal toys as a sideline to keep sections of the small factory operating. The 'Matchbox' toys soon became hugely popular and, by 1970, 5.5 million toy models were being made each week.

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