Royal Mail on August 21 released a set of 10 stamps featuring some of the most iconic and much-loved British toys from the last 100 years.
Evoking feelings of nostalgia across generations, the toys featured are: the Merrythought Bear; Sindy Doll; Spirograph; Stickle Bricks; W. Britain Toy Figures; Space Hopper; Fuzzy Felt; Meccano; Action Man and Hornby Dublo trains.
Many of the toys shown are the same or similar to toys sold around the same time in the United States or elsewhere.
Some of the British toys depicted followed similar American versions. For example, the Sindy fashion doll released in 1963 has a famous American cousin named Barbie, who first appeared in 1959; and Action Man, released in 1966, is a close cousin to the Hasbro’s GI Joe of the U.S., issued just two years earlier.
British engineer Denys Fisher developed and released Spirograph in 1965, with Kenner obtaining the U.S. rights in 1966.
Meccano building toys were being sold at the start of the 20th century, about a dozen years before the U.S. counterpart, Erector Sets.
The British toy industry rose in the 19th century as along with the growing middle class of the Victorian era. Major names in British manufacturing started to appear and compete with foreign makers.
For example, previously a producer of mechanical toys, W. Britain pioneered the hollowcast method of figure-making: made using less molten metal, toy soldiers were both lighter and significantly cheaper to produce. British manufacturers grew in confidence as the 20th century progressed. Soft-toy companies, including Merrythought, which still produces luxury bears to this day, began to take on the might of European giants such as Germany’s Steiff.
In 1938 Frank Hornby launched the Hornby Dublo train set. The following years would see the arrival of some of the biggest names in the history of toys — Fuzzy-Felt (1950), Sindy (1963), Action Man (1966) and the Spacehopper (1969) all materialised in a wild two-decade span, as well as Spirograph (1965) and Stickle Bricks (1969), which were two exceptional and enduring innovations that helped inspire young minds and encourage creativity.
By the early 1960s, Britain was exporting more toys than all but three other countries, with annual sales totaling more than £7 million.
Here are a few details about the stamps and toys:
Spacehopper: The precise origins of the ever-popular Spacehopper are uncertain, but what is known is that in the 1960s Aquilino Cosani patented a Pon-Pon exercise ball that had many of the Spacehopper’s features. Marketed over the years under names such as the Hoppity Hop, the traditional Spacehopper, sold in blue, was first introduced to the UK in 1969 by toy makers Mettoy.
Meccano: The idea for Hornby’s unique construction system originated in 1898, when he was trying to source small parts for a model crane that he was making with his sons. He realized that it would be possible to make all sorts of models if children had immediate access to parts, such as metal strips and plates with holes in, which could be fitted together with nuts and bolts “in different positions and at different angles.” After the invention was patented in 1901, the first Mechanics Made Easy sets were produced in 1902.
Stickle Bricks: Invented in the UK in 1969, Stickle Bricks offered an easy introduction to the world of construction toys. Designed to develop the imagination of young children, thanks to the appealing combination of chunky bricks in attractive bold colors, Stickle Bricks became a much-loved toy that encouraged children to stick, stack, and build. Thin plastic ‘fingers’ on the edges and sides of the bricks interlock easily and can also be pulled apart with little difficulty.
Spirograph: A drawing toy invented in the UK in the mid-1960s, Spirograph was originally developed as a drafting tool. As its design evolved, it soon became clear that Spirograph had even greater potential as a child’s toy. Its distinctive wheels and gears, which combine the principles of mathematics and art, have enabled children of all levels of artistic ability to create decorative, intricate patterns.
The Merrythought Bear: Merrythought’s quintessentially British teddy bears have been hand-crafted in Ironbridge, Shropshire since 1930. The founder of the company, Gordon Holmes, was the owner of a spinning mill in Yorkshire when he realized the possibilities of using mohair – the fleece of the Angora goat – in the production of soft toys. In 1931, the first catalog revealed an eclectic range of 32 soft toys, including the original Merrythought teddy bear..
Fuzzy-Felt: For more than 65 years, Fuzzy-Felt has been encouraging the creativity of children 3 and older in the crafting of imaginative scenes using colorful pre-cut felt shapes that can stick on a flocked backing board. Perhaps less well known is the fact that the toy’s origins lie in the production of tanks during the WWII. The tanks’ gaskets were made of felt and the manufacturing process created small offcuts which the factory workers’ children would play with. Lois Allan, whose outbuildings were used to make the gaskets during wartime, saw the potential for developing the idea, and launched the first Fuzzy-Felt set in 1950. The original felt pieces were plain silhouettes and later evolved into more detailed printed shapes on themes such as farm animals and dinosaurs.
Action Man: Two years after the GI Joe toy arrived in the U.S., in 1966 Palitoy introduced the youth of Britain to an exciting new toy called Action Man. This fully poseable action figure was originally produced in three different versions: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, and Action Pilot. Each had painted hair (either black, brown, red or blond), a scarred face and came packaged with a basic uniform and dog tag.
Sindy: In September 1963, Pedigree Toys launched Sindy, Britain’s new teenage fashion doll dressed in a range of outfits created by cutting-edge designers Foale and Tuffin. Sindy’s first collection included her iconic Weekender (in a red, white and blue matelot top with bell-bottom jeans), as modeled on the stamp, as well as Skating Girl and Pony Club. Later in the 1960s, Sindy was joined by her then boyfriend Paul, sister Patch and friends Vicki, Mitzi, Poppet and Betsy.
Britain Toy Figures: It was in the late 19th century that W. Britain Limited (also known as Britains and William Britain) first enjoyed success in the business of making toy soldiers. From 1893, W. Britain began producing hollowcast figures. The company dominated the market with these products until the 1950s, when plastic figures made by firms such as Herald grew popular.
Hornby Dublo: Hornby’s first toy trains, powered by a high-quality clockwork motor and ‘O’ gauge in size, were introduced in 1920. Five years later, the first electric Hornby train was produced. In 1938, Hornby Dublo was launched. About half the size of the ‘O’ gauge sets, the new ‘double-O’ range fitted into modest British living rooms more easily. Appealing on many different levels, a set could capture the imagination of a child, as well as tempting an adult to create ever-more complex and intricate layouts.