The Story of Benbros Diecast Toys
Jack & Nathan Benenson, the creators of Benbros, were well known for their manufacture of lead figures and animals in the years after WW2 (often sold under the name 'Benson' or 'Benson Bros') which were produced alongside other products under the name 'Pure Rubber Products'. They also made a few diecast toy farm tractors including mechanical ones, but in 1951 they decided to expand diecast toy manufacture devising the name 'Benbros' and forming a limited company called Benbros (London) Ltd. Their foundry, where all the Benbros toys were made, was at 145 Gosport Road, Walthamstow in north-east London (London E17).
It was not an ideal time to be starting to expand the diecast toys business because in 1951-52 the use of zinc, brass and copper was banned in toy-making during the Korean war crisis. Yet the Benenson brothers must have been optimistic because when the rival toymaker Timpo decided to cease production of several of their models following the disruption, the brothers bought the dies and eventually were able to re-issue the models in new colours and combinations.
Prompted by Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953, Benbros, like many toy-makers, produced two souvenir models, a Coronation Coach and a State Landau. Horse-drawn models were also made on a larger scale and these joined the ex-Timpo farm toys along with new items reflecting popular television series about the American Wild West and famous characters like Buffalo Bill.
Unfortunately Benbros almost never issued catalogues or lists of their products so the dates for many toys are uncertain and have to be gleaned from a few surviving adverts and rare trade lists.
A strong theme of toys made by Benbros was farming and from early days they had produced horse-drawn models, tractors and farm implements, and some excellent horses. One of their most successful toys was the little Ferguson Tractor which later formed the base for further models and combinations. This was followed by a larger Caterpillar tractor from which the Bulldozer and Excavator were developed.
At the end of 1954 Benbros launched a new range of miniature models under the name 'TV Series' with each model packed in a box representing a 1950's television set. The name of the model and a small line drawing were printed on the TV 'screen' of each box. There were 15 models issued during the first few months but more appeared until by 1956 there were 24 in the series.
Perhaps because the boxes were a bit subdued or maybe in response to the popularity of Lesney's Matchbox Toys, Benbros decided in 1956 to re-lauch the miniatures in a new range called 'Mighty Midgets' in bright red and yellow boxes. They also expanded the range to 48 models by 1958, later rounding it up to 49 with plans for a 50th.
Meanwhile a diverse range of Qualitoy models was being produced including a small range of military vehicles, more farm models, several trucks including some based on the ex-Timpo AEC lorry, various Land Rovers, and a collection of motorcycles in different liveries. Some of these began to incorporate plastic parts and figures.
Unlike the TV Series & Mighty Midget range, Benbros did not use a numbering system for the large-scale Qualitoys models although some items were given numbers in a rather haphazard way. These did not follow a sequence or progression but were used to identify models of a similar type or casting, such as the military vehicles.
Later, in the 1960's Benbros launched a new upgraded series alongside Qualitoys called 'Zebra Toys' with boxes printed in a distinctive black & white style. New models were introduced with windows and bright crystal headlights and some former Qualitoys were re-issued, but Zebra Toys were short-lived and in all there were just 20 produced including two cowboy toy guns.
Sadly by the mid 1960's the popularity of diecast toys among children was beginning to fade and in 1965 Jack & Nathan Benenson sold their foundry to new owners Unerman Greenman Berger Ltd. who manufacturered fittings for furniture. The new owners were not interested in making toys and so the entire Benbros brand of diecast models came to an end.