The Story of Morestone
The story of Morestone Toys started in 1946 when Sam Morris began selling toys. He based his enterprise at 106 Stoke Newington Church Street in London and before long built up a wholesale business which, in 1948, became Morris & Stone (London) Ltd. The company bought and sold toys from several small manufacturers in the north-east of London but one toy maker in particular, Modern Products Ltd. which had been started in 1946 by two brothers Jim and Len Burkett, developed a special connection with Morris & Stone. Their foundry was not far from Sam's office and unsurprisingly Sam began marketing their toys which sold under their own 'Modern Product' label.
In 1948 Sam decided to launch his own range of exclusive toys calling it the 'Morestone Series'. The first Morestone model, the Clockwork Fire Engine made by Agasee, was not a great success but the next one, a Hansom Cab made by Modern Products Ltd., undoubtedly was. It immediately sold well and stayed in production for ten years.
To expand the new range Sam Morris contracted various toymakers as well as Modern Products to manufacture Morestone Series toys. Sam's Snack Bar was the next to appear followed by the 'Galloping Horses' Stage Coach, made by F W Birch & Co., who also made other Morestone horse-drawn items.
In 1950 Sam's brother Harry Morris joined the business and the offices were moved to No.95 Stoke Newington Church Street. A year later the Korean war brought a ban on the use of zinc, copper and brass in toy-making which restricted production of all toy manufacturers. Morestone responded by experimenting with plastic for wheels, horses and eventually complete models such as the Low Loader trailer of the Prime Mover.
In 1952 restrictions were lifted and production and sales of diecast toys rapidly increased. Within a year it became clear that Morestone needed its own factory. One toymaker used by Morestone was Rodney Smith, originally one of the founders of Lesney and Matchbox Toys, who owned his own business at 57 Clapton Common, London E5. In 1954, Sam & Harry Morris bought 50% of R.Smith (Diecastings) Ltd., later moving it to premises in Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. Morestone continued to contract out some models, particularly to Modern Products, but increasingly production was now 'in house'. By the mid-1950's Morestone Series toys were selling worldwide.
In 1956 Sam decided to launch a miniature series in rivalry to Lesney's Matchbox models. Rodney Smith, who had some time before left Lesney, agreed to help Sam & Harry Morris create the new collection. It was to be the 'Esso' Petrol Pump Series and each model was boxed in a cardboard representation of an 'Esso' petrol pump. At first just 10 models were made but within a year this had expanded to 20, yet surprisingly after that no further models were added until the Budgie Toys era.
Next, in 1958, the large scale 'Trucks of the World' collection was launched with plans for a range of nine models inspired by international truck makers. In fact only three appeared because this scheme was soon overtaken by a much larger project.
In 1959, sales of Morestone and Esso Series toys continued to break records. The quality of the toys such as the Foden trucks had improved enormously from the early days in the 1940's. Sam & Harry Morris saw the opportunity for a fresh range of models under a new name. They had decided to transform Morestone into Budgie Toys and, well in time for Christmas, the first Budgie models arrived in toy shops.
Collectors of Morestone and Budgie Toys are indebted to the diecast historian ROBERT NEWSON for his research and publications about these toys. His book BUDGIE MODELS (1988 Leisure-Time Publications) remains the standard work on the subject and contains much more detail than I have included here.
His website is robertnewson.co.uk