Britains 1st Bomber Lancers at Vectis
Britains set 60: the 1st Bombay Lancers from 1896, which sold for £11,000 at Vecits Auctions on August 28.

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Fighting back for the old-school toy market in the August 28 Military, Civilian Figures, Equipment & Accessories sale at Vectis Auctions was Britains set 60: the 1st Bombay Lancers, a first issue comprising officer with extended sabre arm, trumpeter on grey horse and 13 lancers.

It had come to Vectis, in Thornaby-on-Tees, after an email enquiry regarding the discovery of three Britains sets in a loft from the finder who was interested to see if they might be worth auctioning – and this extraordinarily rare set, as the saleroom put it, the first example of its type to be sold by Vectis, clearly was.

Estimated at £2000-3000, it notched up the top result of the day by selling for £11,000 (plus 20% buyer’s premium) to a US online bidder. The other two less rarer sets from this discovery made their estimates.

Set 60 was not only market-fresh but in excellent condition for a set dating from 1896. It was only three years after W Britain had started manufacturing hollowcast soldiers, challenging the dominant German makers with this revolutionary new casting method meaning prices could be kept low.

Vectis specialist Simon Clark said: “It is very rare to find a set of this age in ‘untouched’ condition still contained in its original box. The price reflects the desirability to a collector of acquiring fresh to the market pieces of this vintage and condition. Generally, any set or individual figures that are, for whatever reason, rare/unique and have not been repaired or repainted will attract maximum interest and large bids.”

Racing ahead

The Britains Racing Colours of Famous Owners series produced from 1925-60 proved to be another popular choice for bidders at Vectis, achieving what the saleroom believes to be world-record prices for these models.

According to toy soldier expert James Opie (now working with Kent saleroom C&T Auctioneers after Phillips, Christies and then Bonhams) in his book Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013, the Racing Colours were “another excellent attempt at the sporting market” following the Famous Football team series. Indeed, “they were revived in the Fourth Age [of Britains manufacture] from 1951-60, “whereas the football teams were not”.

Opie writes: “For collectors these are a most interesting series, as there are the regularly advertised colours and sets, mostly with individual boxes, and then there are sample boxes and special paintings”. The unique Racing Colour horse and jockey was produced in a larger than usual scale of about 70mm.

At Vectis, five lots achieved four-figure hammer prices. A pre-war model of the Earl of Ellesmere Colours achieved £1300, while that in the colours of Lt Cmdr EWB Leake, an extremely rare model from 1936, sold for £1400. The saleroom said that “previously the only known examples to sell over the £1000 mark were the famous Duchess of Norfolk ‘Mickey Mouse’ colours”.

Clark added: “Many Racing Colours models were produced to order by Britains for clients in the racing fraternity and were produced in relatively small numbers or even as single examples. Therefore, as with the 1896 Bombay Lancers set, condition/rarity will always demand a premium from collectors. Some of the models in the August sale met both of these criteria which in turn was reflected in the £1000+ prices achieved on the day.”