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2008/158/4 Toy North American Indians and accessories (21), lead, made by Britains Ltd, England / maker unknown, place of production unknown,1908-1935, used by Wyatt family, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia / Roseville, New South Wales, Australia, 1935-1965. Click to enlarge.

Toy North American Indians and accessories

These toy North American Indians were mostly made by the famous English firm, Britains Ltd, the world's leading toy model manufacturer for over 60 years. Britains made not only several thousand different sets of cavalry, infantry and militia from many countries, but also farm animals and workers, circuses and zoos, and cowboys and Indians.

The inclusion of cowboys and Indians in the company's range came about in 1913 and 1908 respectively, with the onset of moving pictures. Before the advent …


Object No.


Object Statement

Toy North American Indians and accessories (21), lead, made by Britains Ltd, England / maker unknown, place of production unknown,1908-1935, used by Wyatt family, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia / Roseville, New South Wales, Australia, 1935-1965

Physical Description

Toy North American Indians and accessories (21), metal, made by Britains Ltd, England, and maker unknown, 1908-1935, used by Wyatt family, Hobart, Tasmania, and Roseville, New South Wales, Australia, 1935-1965

The 21 North American model Indians comprise two groups, 12 hollow-cast lead ones made by Britains Ltd and another 8 by an unknown manufacturer. The 12 made by Britains include both foot and mounted Indians and comprise:

Four North American Indian chiefs mounted on horseback each carrying a tomahawk. The horses they are riding have their tails flying out. A later version of this model was made with the tails down and moulded into the body of the horses to minimise breakage. Of all the horses produced by Britain's, these ones were made in the fastest galloping position and appear to be almost leaving the ground. So much so, that they required an added base on one hoof to stand upright. Two of the chiefs are on brown horses with dark green leggings, green shirts and long head dresses, and two are on black horses with blue shirts.

Three North American Indian braves are standing with rifles on guard in a curiously disciplined and regimented manner. One brave has red leggings, a single feather in his hair and a bare chest. The two other models are similar except one has yellow leggings and the other blue. Red, yellow and blue were the usual three-colour variations used by Britain's model painters.

Two North American Indian braves are represented each crawling with a knife. One has red leggings, a gold headdress and bare chest and the other is similar except he has blue leggings. This particular model is said to be a second grade paint version.

Two North American Indians crouching with a knife and a tomahawk. One wears a brown shirt, blue leggings and gold headdress while the other is the same with yellow leggings.

One North American Indian standing with a tomahawk wearing a green shirt, brown leggings and a gold head dress.

The eight other lead Indians made by an unknown manufacturer comprise a mounted brave on a black horse with a pistol, three running braves carrying shields and brandishing hatchets, a brown bear, two large trees and two smaller trees. These figures are much less three-dimensional in appearance than the Britain's Indians and stand on six-sided, green painted bases.



The firm of Britains Ltd was founded in Birmingham, England, in about 1845, by William Britain (1828-1906). Later, William moved from Birmingham to Hornsey Rise in North London where he converted his new family home in Lambton Road into a factory. The family worked together producing ingenious mechanical clockwork toys. However, it was the miniature toy lead soldiers, farm animals, cowboys and Indians for which the company became famous.

A major development for the company occurred in 1893 when William Britain Jnr, found a way of casting lead figures that were hollow, more life-like and most importantly more economical to make than the two dimensional solid figures (known as flats), which were being made by German toy manufacturers. Despite this claim, the origin of the hollow-cast method has also been attributed to Germany.

At first Britains made British Army regiments from the United Kingdom including mounted Lifeguards, the monarch's Household Cavalry, foot soldiers and guardsmen. Models of football teams where introduced in 1904, Salvation Army figures in 1906, and other civilians in 1908, followed by railway staff and passengers in 1909, all in the standardised 54 mm size.

Britains first issued North American Indians in 1908 and cowboys followed five years later in 1913 under the name of 'American Cowboys'. The first was Set No.150, North American Indians and chiefs on foot, and featured six Indians standing with rifles and two chiefs with tomahawks, all with fixed arms. Later, two additional figures with moveable arms were added, a chief with a knife and a medicine man, in place of two of the braves. Set No.152 which comprised five mounted Indian figures was first released in 1908. Three of the riders carried rifles and two had tomahawks.

Combination sets of cowboys and Indians were referred to as 'Wild West'. Many of the standard 54mm size figures remained until the end of lead production in 1966. The cowboys and Indians were issued both in boxed sets and individually in the Picture Pack Range made between 1954 and 1959.

In the 1950s plastic models were added to the range under the name of the 'Herald' but the firm never regained its pre-War stature and in 1966 stopped production of its lead models due to child health and safety concerns.



The donor owned and played with these toy Indians while growing up in Hobart, Tasmania, from about 1935 to 1942. They show little sign of wear and were obviously carefully looked after. After he finished playing with them the Indians were packed away in a small cardboard box which originally held a toy DC-1 aircraft called the 'Baby Douglas'. They were brought to Sydney with all his possessions when he moved with his wife and family in 1965. The Indians are part of a toy collection owned by the Wyatt family and presented to the Museum in 2008.


Credit Line

Gift of Ruth & Richard Wyatt, 2008

Acquisition Date

5 August 2008

Cite this Object


Toy North American Indians and accessories 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 14 May 2021, <https://ma.as/380142>


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