As collectors, we like to identify and categorise our collections, to bring order out of chaos and tie up loose ends. Where we have unidentified models, the urge to classify things makes us look for similarities with known models and draw inferences about the origins of the unknown items which may sometimes be based on the flimsiest of evidence.
The late 1940s has more than its fair share of toys by small or unidentified manufacturers to be classified and categorised. This is not so surprising, because metal toys had been virtually unobtainable from 1942-45, and metal was still in short supply. Quality toys, such as Dinky and Britains were needed for the export drive, so that in the home market almost any metal blob with four wheels could be sold as a toy car. Many small engineering firms tried their hand at making die-cast toys. Some companies grew into household name toy firms (e.g. Lesney, Lone Star) while others faded away, returning to industrial die-casting or disappearing altogether. A watershed in this process came in 1951-2, when there was a ban on using zinc in toy manufacture, as a consequence of the Korean war. This hit die-cast toy makers quite heavily, and many minor firms did not reappear after the ban was lifted.
The models in this article are all from the 1946-51 period, and are those that I have been able to group together by some similarities and common features as 'South London - late 1940s', as opposed to the much larger number of models from small firms in North London, or indeed the West Midlands/Stoke-on-Trent toys which have their own characteristics.
Our starting point is a firm called Arbur Products Ltd., which was incorporated in late 1946. Unfortunately, Companies House records get us no further than this because the file has been destroyed. The company was listed in the London street directory, in 1948 only, as toy makers, of 44 Molesworth Street, Lewisham, London S.E.13. After this article appeared online, I was contacted by the daughter of one of the partners in the firm, and she gave me a little more history. The partners were Les Arlow and Ernie Burridge, and the combination of their surnames gave the name 'Arbur'. They were both bus drivers in south London before starting toy production. Their premises at the rear of 44 Molesworth Street were rented from Ernie's future mother-in-law. Ernie employed her eldest daughter in the office, and later married her!
Arbur made some lead soldiers, but as far I know they were unmarked. There are several die-cast models marked with the Arbur name, all but one of which had turned brass wheel hubs with smooth black rubber tyres. The wheels can look as good as new if you shine them up with some metal polish! These brass hubs were a bought-in component, and can also be found on models by Timpo, Betal and Kemlows.
Ernie and Les had a falling-out which resulted in the company closing around 1947 or 1948, and Ernie returned to driving as a coach driver. Some of the Arbur dies seem to have passed to other manufacturers (presumably after 1948) and on various models we can find the names LDCW, DHE Co. Products, and Rollee Products. More details of these are given under the individual model descriptions, but I have been unable to find any of these names in street directories or other contemporary sources.
I propose first to describe the models which are marked Arbur, and then the 'others' which appear to have some connection to this little group.
The front end of the model, with its radiator grille and large badge above, is recognisably based on the 1946-8 Buick, although the rear end of the car is more British in style. I have seen original examples in red, black, light blue, medium blue, dark blue or green paint. MADE IN ENGLAND was cast under the bonnet and ARBUR PRODUCTS under the roof. There are many detailed differences between the blue and green models shown, due to modifications to the die. The earlier models (the blue examples) had open space between the bumpers and bodywork, later filled in (on the green example). The earlier cylindrical axle supports were replaced by much thinner supports; two casting ejectors were added to the later model, resulting in the MADE IN ENGLAND lettering being moved further to the rear; and the quotation marks around "ARBUR" on the earlier models disappeared on the later version. There is also an interim version with the bumper openings filled in but still with the cylindrical axle supports (not illustrated). The axles were fitted to the cylindrical supports either through drilled holes (as in the fifth photo above) or by inserting the axles into slots in the supports, with the two sides then squeezed together (as in the second photo). Thanks to Kerry Hamer for pointing out this variation.
Streamlined Fire Engine - 4 windows, 2 bells
Loosely based on the Dinky Toy (25h), there are two versions of the Arbur fire engine which seem to be from different dies. The first version had two windows on each side and two bells cast on the roof. ARBUR PRODUCTS MADE IN ENGLAND was cast underneath the roof. Paint was red, of course, and there was a separate unpainted ladder.
Streamlined Fire Engine - 6 windows, 1 bell
This fire engine has so many differences from the four-window version that it must be from a new die. The most obvious difference is that there were three windows on each side rather than two, but only one bell on the roof. MADE IN ENGLAND was cast under the bonnet and ARBUR PRODUCTS under the roof. The ten-rung ladder (length 101mm) shown in the photo with this model is thought to be original, whereas the other ladders shown are probably not. This die was later modified to delete the ARBUR PRODUCTS name, and replace it with the letters LDCW. At the same time some new casting ejectors were added, and the axle supports were modified. The LDCW letters look like typewriter script, and were presumably done with some kind of stamp in the die. The letter C could actually be a G, because it has a tail, but I tend to think it was intended to be a C, because then the letters might stand for 'L------- Die Casting Works'. Maybe the L was for Lewisham? Or London? I have not found any names in directories that might fit. The LDCW fire engine retained the unpainted ladder and brass wheel hubs of the Arbur.
Forward Control Articulated Flat Lorry
At first sight this crude model is not based on any particular prototype, but in fact the tractor unit is remarkably similar to some cast iron toys by the American maker Hubley from the 1930s. The photograph reproduced here from Modellers' World (vol.5 no.2, January 1976) shows two Hubley car transporters, and according to Clint Seeley ('CBC Lee') who wrote the article in which the illustration appears, the Hubleys were models of a cab-over design by International. American cast iron toys are rare in Europe, because by and large they were not exported, but somehow it seems that Arbur had found a 1930s Hubley to copy. MADE IN ENGLAND ARBUR PRODUCTS was cast under the front end of the trailer, but there was no identification on the cab. Three colour variations are pictured here - black/orange, orange/black and dark green/beige. I have also seen a red cab with dark green trailer, and no doubt other colours exist.
Forward Control Articulated Box Van
The forward control cab unit was also married to a box trailer which is reminiscent of the Timpo toy. The red and brown cabs shown here are a slightly later casting than on the flat lorries, having all the space between the bumper and front mudguards filled in. The turquoise trailer has no sign of any adverts and no identification cast on it. A casting ejector circle forms a sort of step at the rear end of the model.
Gardner's MG Magnette Record Car
This was a good copy of Dinky Toys 23p. Unlike the Dinky there was no baseplate, and the concealed wheels were solid unpainted metal, without tyres; this was the only Arbur model without brass hubs. An octagonal MG badge was cast at the front, where the Dinky Toy had a transfer. The first version had ARBUR PRODUCTS MADE IN ENGLAND cast underneath. Presumably the die then changed hands because the ARBUR name was removed and replaced by DHE.Co. The words PRODUCTS and MADE IN ENGLAND remained. The letters of DHE.Co were in 'typewriter' script, like LDCW, and again the C had a tail, making it look a bit like a G. This tends to confirm that the letter was really intended to be a C, since 'Co' is more meaningful than 'Go'! I would speculate that these initials stood for 'D------- H------- Engineering Co.', but have been unable to identify this company, or work out the connection, which the style of lettering implies existed, with LDCW. To complicate things further, there was then a third version of the MG record car with DHE.Co removed and replaced by the name ROLLEE in conventional lettering. The words PRODUCTS and MADE IN ENGLAND still remained. Again this is a complete enigma, and neither DHE.Co nor ROLLEE have been found on any other toys. Also there is no doubt about the order in which the die was modified because traces of the DHE.Co name can be seen on the ROLLEE version. The metallic blue colour of the DHE.Co model illustrated is original. I cannot be certain of any other original colours, although red has been listed (see Model Auto Review, no.48, December 1990).
Normal Control Articulated Open Wagon
This and the fire engine are the only known models marked LDCW. There are many similarities to the Arbur flat lorry, suggesting that the designer or toolmaker was the same. The cab unit looks like the Arbur with a bonnet stuck on the front. MADE IN UK was cast under the rear platform, while the lowside trailer had LDCW cast underneath. Brass wheel hubs with black tyres were fitted. Colours included red cab/grey trailer, purple cab/dark green trailer, pinkish-red cab and trailer, or blue cab and trailer.
Bedford Articulated Open Wagon
The same toolmaker was at work again on this model. The cab was a more conventional looking normal control type, the radiator grille making it closer to a Bedford than anything else, although it should have had a divided windscreen. The lowside trailer was wider and shorter than the LDCW. The brass wheel hubs always seem to have been fitted before painting, so that they are sprayed on the outside face. No identification was cast anywhere on the model, although the two examples illustrated both have the original price of 2/6 pencilled under the trailer! Colours: green or red. Also found in blue. This one also has the price of 2/6 pencilled under the trailer!
Newmarket Horse Box
Compare the front view of this model with the Bedford articulated wagon and it is obvious that the same toolmaker made this die as well. There is no connection other than design between this model and the previous items, but the grille, headlights and bonnet convince me that the same hand was at work. Of course it may be the case that the models were cast by different companies, but they went to the same man to make their dies. We may never know, but there is always the possibility that an original box or another variation of the model will turn up, which may add a little extra piece of information.
Update: Amazingly, after writing the above, an original box has turned up, and it was a surprise to find that the horse box was made by a familiar company - Cleveland Toy Manufacturing Co. of 102 Cleveland Street, London, W1, whose brand name was 'Teeny Toy'. This firm merits a page in its own right, but meanwhile I will leave the model here!
The horse box body was a separate casting riveted to the cab/chassis, and there was also a separate let-down tailboard. No lettering was cast on the model, but paper labels reading NEWMARKET HORSE BOX in sepia coloured print were applied to each side. Wheels were solid unpainted metal castings. I have never seen a die-cast horse that might be suitable for this model - probably there are enough lead farmyard horses around that the makers did not bother to provide one. The model has been found in the following colour combinations (cab and chassis colour first, then body and tailboard): green/blue, blue/green, green/red, red/green and red/blue.
Bedford Articulated Log Transporter
The tractor unit is a reasonable likeness of the wartime Bedford. The bonnet is a little too long and it should have a divided screen, but nonetheless this would have been a recognisable model to a boy in the late 1940s. The trailer looks a little fragile, and it is true that the tractor unit turns up on its own more often than the complete model. Wheels were the same as on the Newmarket horse box, apart from a casting variation on the inner face. A different type of solid metal wheel, rather flatter in section, can also be found on this model. No identification was cast anywhere, but the wheels make it likely this is another Teeny Toy. The colour schemes always included silver headlights and grille, black mudguards, and the wheel hubs painted a contrasting colour. I have seen yellow with red hubs, red with yellow hubs and blue with yellow hubs. The yellow model illustrated here has three twigs as a 'log' load. I have no idea if these are original, but they look quite effective!
I have included this model in the article because the brass hubs and crude appearance mean that it is often attributed to Arbur. However, it started life as a Timpo toy. The first version probably dates from 1945, and had TIMPO TOYS (in script) and MADE IN ENGLAND (in capitals) cast underneath, together with normal Timpo die-cast wheels and rubber tyres. Probably the model was dropped by Timpo because it was more expensive to produce than their simpler one-piece diecast vehicles, and the sub-contract manufacturer then continued to produce the toy and sell it through other channels. The TIMPO TOYS name was blanked out, leaving just MADE IN ENGLAND cast on the base, and this version always had brass hubs. There is really no other evidence for Arbur as the manufacturer, and as has already been mentioned, identical brass hubs were used by others, including Timpo themselves. Colours included blue body/red chassis, dark green body/red chassis, light blue body/black chassis, yellow-ochre body/maroon chassis, brown body/orange chassis and dark blue body/brown chassis.
I think it is fair to say that most of the models described in this article are hard to find. The exceptions are the articulated flat lorry and the six-window fire engine, which are relatively common, and the LDCW articulated truck also turns up reasonably often. Rarity of course is not always matched by high prices, but there are now quite a lot of collectors who are interested in these obscure toys. They have the simplicity and charm of items made purely as toys, and present a real collecting challenge - but don't insist on mint and boxed condition, because you won't find very much if you do!
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Lesley Chapman and Ron Blair for their contributions.