The summer break of 2018 was almost over – even if the forecasters were still suggesting that the dry, sunny weather hadn’t deserted these shores completely. For Retro Ronnie, however, it was the start of the new ‘season’, with a return to The Bingham Hall for the third of our Cirencester Toy & Train Fairs of the year. The basic details remained the same – doors opened at 10:00 am, with early-birds from 8:00 am. Further information, as always, could be found on the website: Retro Ronnie Website.

What to expect at Cirencester ….

Some of the top dealers in the area were confirmed for the weekend’s Fair. These include Toy Hunter, Toy Planet UK, Bob Burnett (diecast), Abid Khan, Clive’s Collectables, Anne & Ray’s Trains, Harvey Cornwall (model railways), Sue Saunders (left), Andrew Dyke (construction & commercial models), Tim Mayhews (model railways) and Paul Bridgeman, as well as many others.

Retro Ronnie’s own Tim Pearson would be there of course, offering Star Wars memorabilia and figures, while Ronnie Davies was displaying a broad selection of toys, games and shop display items. Visitors were told to expect all the usual array, from model railways & diecast, through board games & constructions sets, to action figures & a smattering of militaria.

More than just a Box

For years it’s been an accepted fact that almost any collectible is worth more if it’s still in the original packaging. For some toys, especially earlier examples, that can just mean a cardboard box, but the last thirty years or so has seen a growing prevalence of the blister pack, and that can mean that prime value rests with the unopened package. Try explaining that to an eager ten-year-old!
A few months ago I had an interesting encounter with staff in my local Post Office. When faced with the demand to know what was in the parcel, I replied, in all honesty, “a box”. “Yes,” came the reply, “but what’s in the box?” I could see already where this was likely to go, but responded anyway. “Nothing. It’s empty.” Incredulity (and a first hint of annoyance) morphed into intrigue when I explained that it was a 1950s cardboard box for a rare Dinky diecast and, despite being empty, this particular box was worth about £150. How could an empty box possibly be worth so much? Because, combined with a near-mint example of the original lorry, purchased for around £250, the resulting ensemble was valued at nearer £600. That made investment in the box financially attractive for the collector.

The desire for ‘complete originality’ has created a very active market for vintage packaging and boxes, but it’s also spawned a new industry in reproduction and replica examples, some of which appear sufficiently authentic that unwary collectors can be hoodwinked into believing they’re the real thing. Most sellers are up-front and honest about their reproduction boxes, but “buyer beware” – if the condition looks too good to be true, check the ages of the box!

Some collectors are now expanding their search criteria to encompass almost anything associated with their chosen interest. “There is a growing sub-culture of people that will now seek out anything and everything to do with their collecting field, including advertising and display material” says Tim Pearson. “Even in its day, marketing was a big thing in collecting circles, and it still is. Corgi had their iconic dog (with its Royal connections!) and Dinky used an image of a child playing with his diecast models. Advertising ephemera, display cases, shelving and signage are always hard to find, since so few examples survive, and original items command massive money, but you can see how a collection is enhanced by the associated paperwork or signage. Being able to show off choice pieces in a period display case, or alongside contemporary merchandising, can really appeal to a collector. The value of illuminated signs and display stands, for example, can often run into hundreds. It’s a massive growth area at the moment,” suggests Tim.

These items may not always be directly related to the toy or manufacturer, but to the theme. “People collect catalogues, posters and even books, especially for the TV and film-related stuff,” says Tim. “They’ll develop their display with items to complement their James Bond Aston Martin or Batmobile collection, for example. They seek out examples in years, from start to finish of production. The later stuff is usually card-based rather than wood, metal or moulded plastic, but it’s all highly sought-after. This material was never meant to be kept – shopkeepers were expected to throw it away when the next promotion came along – and as a consequence, it’s very rare. That makes it even more desirable for the dedicated collector.

Ronnie had a prime example on offer at Cirencester the following weekend; a rare cardboard cut-out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from the 1968 film (illustrated above right). Corgi’s contemporary model (#266) now sells for upwards of £250 in mint, boxed condition, while a Husky (Corgi Junior, 1/76 scale) in blister pack isn’t far behind at around £150. How better to set one off than with something as impressive as this!

It’s all in the Deetail …

The firm of William Britain & Co would be celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, if it still existed in its original form. The name survives, of course, but the last 20 years have seen a succession of sales and takeovers, with current ownership resting with The Good Soldier LLC, located in Ohio, USA. In some respects, it’s a full circle for Britains, having started out as a small family company, and now being owned and operated by another small family business – albeit American and not British. You can visit the website here: W Britain Toy Soldiers.

The name is now associated with the same kind of hand-finished, cast metal figures that first established the William Britain name over a century ago, but there’s still scope for more affordable, ‘playable’ figures made predominantly from plastic, with metal bases. This harks back to the famous Britains Deetail range that first came out of the company’s workshops in the mid-1970s, and made to the classic 1/32 (54mm) scale.

“These were metal-based plastic soldiers that typically came in six or seven different poses and a number of different series,” explains Ronnie – a keen collector himself. Between 1973 and about 1992, these included Knights & Turks, Waterloo, American Wild West, American Civil War, African Desert, and WW2 Military, from British, American, Japanese and German, to the more contemporary Guards, Space and Farming series.

“Some are more desirable than others, of course,” says Ronnie. “The Africa Korps released on brown Zamak bases are especially sought-after, as are Arabs on horseback and the range of machine and mortar gun crews, military vehicles, and the brilliant American Civil War Gatling Gun set. The “Super Deetail” paratroopers are like hen’s teeth.”

Manufacture was transferred to Britains’ factories in China before initially being phased out in the 1990s. A limited range is available again today from Britains, while some figures (notably the FFL series, Africa Korps and British 8th Army) are being remanufactured in Argentina. “Deetail figures were sold in trade packs in the toy shops and you can still find them complete for a few hundred pounds,” adds Ronnie. “However, individual figures can be picked up for a pound or two, through to £50 each for the rarest examples.”