Collecting Articles and Features

Charbens Circus Figures and Sets

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Whilst looking at items to write a feature on Circus Collectables, I came across the delightful range of Circus miniatures created by Charbens. Many people recognise the name Britains and their miniatures but apart from keen collectors, Charbens is not a too familiar. In this feature we will take a look Charbens with a brief company history and a look at some of the Charbens Circus Figures they created. We focus mainly on the early lead miniatures rather than the later plastic.

A Rare Boxed Charbens 1924 Lead Circus Set numbered 26022 24
A Rare Boxed Charbens 1924 Lead Circus Set numbered 26022/24. Sold for £600 at
Tennants Auctioneers, August 2009.

Charbens Toys, founded around 1927 by Charles and Ben Reid in North London, is a testament to early 20th-century British craftsmanship in toy manufacturing. The name ‘Charbens’ is a portmanteau of the founders’ names, Charles and Ben, hinting at its family-run origins. The Reids, possibly inspired by their proximity to Britains Ltd., a leader in lead figures, initially established Charbens to produce similar items. The company was first documented in a 1928 trade magazine, marking its participation in the British Industries Fair.

Charbens Circus Sets
The Circus sets and miniatures were initially made in the 1930s. A number of sets were designed and distributed including: The Mimic Circus; set No.41; and set No. 715. Complete sets are rare and some figures have been reproduced. The Mimic Circus had nearly 20 figures and pieces; and the sets 41 and 715 had twelve figures and pieces. Most sets have since been separated and figures are normally found singularly or often mixed with other Circus miniatures such as by Britains.

Charbens Circus series including equestrienne on horseback
Charbens Circus series including equestrienne on horseback. Sold for £300 at Special Auction Services, July 2013.

Originally located at 34 Mitford Road, N19, and later moving to Andover Yard on Hornsey Road, the firm became well-known for its diverse range of toys which began with lead figures and farm scene accessories. By the late 1930s, Charbens had expanded its offerings to include a variety of lead vehicles, though post-war production shifted towards zinc die-cast models due to changes in manufacturing techniques and material availability.

Charbens Circus Set No 715
Charbens Circus Set No 715 comprising of Elephant, Podium, Standing Bear, Strongmen with Barbells, Policeman with Truncheon, Sealion with ball, 2 Horses, Clown with Hoop, Acrobat (no chair), Acrobat with Indian Clubs, Ringmaster – condition varies from F to G – some overall paint loss, some figures missing – all contained in a reproduction box. Sold for £300 at Vectis Auctions, August 2003.

Types of Circus Characters
The range of miniatures covered all aspects of Circus performers, animals and accessories including: Ringmaster, Elephant, Podium, Standing Bear, Strongman with Barbells, Policeman with Truncheon, Sealion with ball, Horses, Clown with Hoop, Acrobat with chair, Acrobat with Indian Clubs, Stiltwalkers, Clowns, Jugglers, Dancers, Dogs and others.

Incorporated as a limited company in 1943, Charbens gradually introduced plastic into its product line in the 1960s, reflecting industry trends towards safer and less expensive materials. Noteworthy among their products were the Matchbox-sized ‘Old Crocks’ or ‘Old Timers’ series of vintage cars introduced in 1955.

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By the late 1960s, Ben Reid sold the company, and Charbens ceased diecast toy production by 1967, with plastic figure production continuing until 1974. After their original premises were acquired for redevelopment by the London Borough of Islington, the company relocated to Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, and eventually shifted focus from toys to craft sets under the Charbens brand name. This marked the end of an era for a company that had significantly contributed to the British toy industry for over four decades.

A Charbens No 41 Comic Circus set of figures
A Charbens No. 41 Comic Circus set of figures, including stilt walker, clowns, juggler, dog and ringmaster, boxed (playwear, box creased, torn and scuffed). Sold for £170 at Toovey’s, June 2011.

1960s Plastic Circus Set – Charbens later created Circus sets and miniatures in plastic.

Charbens Plastic Circus Set 1960s
Charbens Plastic Circus Set 1960s. Sold for £85 at Special Auction Services, April 2007.

CHARBENS Forty years of toy vehicles from north London by Robert Newsome

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