one person it could be an essential display structure for a prized toy
To another it may be no more than a large bit of dusty, worm-eaten
old junk cluttering up the attic - in which case one can only hope that a
dedicated collector, rather than the local waste tip, will be the
recipient of such an unloved treasure.
is about commercially manufactured toy forts on which toy soldiers came to
life in a three-dimensional context.
It does not include the early lead ‘flat’ type that can only be
used as scenery or for target practice.
Nor does it include the build-it-yourself (eg: Lego, Exin) and DIY
soldiers began to be manufactured towards the end of the 18th century.
They became a commercial proposition
in the early 19th century, and toy forts must have come along not
long after - probably about 1850.
But there is little concrete evidence for it.
There is one , illustrated in the French version of “The Golden
Age of Toys”, apparently dating from about 1865 but there is no clear
statement to that effect.
Another, with a label in three languages, proclaims it to be “The
Siege of Sebastopol” which almost certainly dates it at about 1855.
Moritz Gottschalk catalogue from about 1885 illustrates a number of
“fortresses” but the author has never seen one.
Of the reasonably well authenticated forts only two others can be
placed confidently before the turn of the century, both now in a private
One is a Gottschalk which was found in Switzerland.
The other is an Austrian-made candlelit beauty, with verbal
provenance from the original owner’s grand-daughter who knew it to be in
existence in 1895.
from this it would appear that the trade began to develop, in a modern
commercial sense, about 1900.
There is evidence for this in Gamage’s 1902 catalogue which
carried seven significantly different models,
each in a range of sizes providing a total of eighteen different forts to
surviving examples from this period are surprisingly few and far between,
with only a small number of these being made in Britain.
Indeed, in the decade prior to World War 1, it is known that they
came almost exclusively from Germany.
Of course this should be no surprise considering that the
long-established Anglo-German trade in toy soldiers would have provided a
ready-made basis for the emerging toy fort market.
is known about the manufacturers of this period.
This is probably because production in the early days was a
relatively unsophisticated process - bearing all the hallmarks of a
However one at least has been identified.
This is the prolific German company of Moritz Gottschalk in
Marienberg, which was founded in 1865 and was producing toy forts in 1885
if not before.
They manufactured much, if not all, of the range carried by
Gamage’s from 1910 to 1930.
only British manufacturer, who is known to have been active before the
first World War, was C E Turnbull & Co producing under the trade mark
of “Charterhouse” - maybe better known for their various very large
boxed sets which usually included some of Britain’s soldiers.
the Great War the two ‘giants’ of toy fort manufacturing in Europe
came onto the scene and remained there for more than 50 years - with a
hiatus for the Second World War, of course.
Their names were Lines Bros, trading under the name Tri-ang
and sometimes Triangtois; and Gebruder Hausser, trading under the
first to appear was the Elastolin range.
Hausser had been producing small military figures since about 1912, but the earliest reference to the production of toy forts appeared
some time between 1925 and 1929.
Tri-ang was established in 1923, although they may not have
produced a fort until the early 1930s - at least they were not listed
under ‘FORTS’ in the Games and Toys Trade Directory and Diary for
1929, but they were in 1935.
manufacturers were involved to some extent, although they hardly compare
with Lines and Hausser.
Names such as Dansk LegetØjsfabrik, Lord Roberts’ Memorial
Workshops, Burleytoys, Chad Valley, Burnett Ltd (with its UBILDA range)
and Bournemouth Novelty Works (and even Moritz Gottschalk until the early
1930s) are some of them.
notable absentee from this role-call of manufacturers is William Britain
Apart from one or two minor attempts at producing cardboard forts -
mostly incorporated somehow into their packaging design (this is not to
say that they are not collector’s items - on the contrary, they are so
rare and valuable that one sold for £6,600 at Auction in 1988).
One wonders why they did not persuade the firm of Huger, who made
so many agricultural and village buildings on their behalf, to have a go
at making forts for them as well.
World War II
production of toy forts immediately after World War ll took up more or
less where it left off in 1940.
Composition (Hausser), wood (Tri-ang and Tudor Toys) and metal (UBILDA
now owned by Chad Valley) were used, and exactly the same production
processes came back into action.
appeared in the early fifties.
Notably Crescent came into the market with two small-scale metal
forts, while Chad Valley dropped out.
continued until the mid 1960s when plastic began to provide a commercially
viable alternative material.
Various new manufacturers emerged such as Cherilea, Kleeware, Marx
and remarkably Britains finally got involved in the market for the first
Elastolin range seemed to lend itself to this new technology and Hausser
quite quickly changed over to it, making some of the moulds directly from
the old composition pieces. On the other hand, Lines Brothers’ Tri-ang
range did not adapt so very well, and they continued with wood and
hardboard , making more elaborate forts based on real castles.
In any case, Lines Bros failed in 1972 and Hausser ceased
production in December 1983.