Examples of 'Toys'

The following gives an impression of what toys were, as well as the different kinds that were made in Birmingham, and includes excerpts from the 1767 Birmingham Directory.


From the 1767 Directory:

'An infinite Variety of Articles that come under this Denomination are made here, and it would be endless to attempt to give a List of the Whole, but for the information of Strangers, we shall here Observe, that these Artists are divided into several Branches as the Gold and Silver TOY MAKERS, who make Trinkets, Seals, Tweezer and Tooth Pick cases, Smelling Bottles, Snuff Boxes, and Filigree Work [see below], such as Toilets, Tea Chests, Inkstands, &c. &c. The Tortoise TOY MAKER, makes a beautiful Variety of the above and other Articles; as does also the Steel, who make CORK SCREWS, Buckles, Draw and other Boxes, Snuffers, Watch Chains, Stay Hooks, Sugar Nippers , &c., and almost all of these are likewise made in various Metals, and for cheapness, Beauty and Elegance no place in the World can vie with them'.

A filigree counter box with
enamel top, an example of
the kind of toys made in
Continue down to find out more about some of the toys made in Birmingham.

An 'inlaid' steel button, c. 1790s.
"This Branch is very Extensive, and is distinguished under the following; […] Gilt, Plated, Silvered, Lacquered, and Pinchback [pinchbeck], the beautiful New Manufacture Platina, Inlaid [image above], Glass, Horn, Ivory, and Pearl [image below]: Metal Buttons, such as Bath, Hard and Soft White etc. there is likewise made Link Buttons in most of the above Metals as well as Paste, Stones, etc. in short the vast Variety of sorts in both Branches is really amazing, and we may with Truth aver that this is the cheapest Market in the World for these Articles." (1767 Directory)

Pearl button and paste stone, c.1790s.

A pair of silver buckles made by Willmore & Allston,
1782, Birmingham.

Buckles were worn by men and women, young and old, and the rich as well as the poor; mainly on shoes, but also on hats and breeches (trousers).

From the 1767 Directory:  'An infinite Variety are made both in White, Yellow, Bath Metal, Pinchbeck, Silver, Tuetinage, and Soft White, also of Copper and Steel'.

Silver buckle by Thomas Willmore, 1780s.

Steel and Jasper watch chain, 1780s,
Jasper by Wedgwood and mounted in (probably) Birmingham steel.

Watch chains were often more elaborate than a simple chain. These are made from intricate steel bead-work, with Jasper cameos and beads (made by Josiah Wedgwood) included in the design.

These could be worn by men and women, though women's chains were often more elaborate. Women's chains could carry other articles, such as boxes, seals, perfume bottles and scissors, and were later called chatelaines (though were not called so in the eighteenth-century). Men's chains could also hold more than watches, and were sometimes called fobs.

Japanned and painted snuff-box, c. 1820,
box probably Henry Clay, painted by Samuel Raven

Snuff-boxes contained ground tobacco that was sniffed during the eighteenth century, and came in all manner of shapes, sizes, designs and materials. Other boxes were made for 'patches', which were dark spots that would be used to cover blemishes, and often included a mirror. Toothpick boxes were popular in the later 1700s, and also included a mirror. 'Bonboneries' were boxes for carrying sweets.

Silver patch-box, by Samuel Pemberton.


Enamel nutmeg-grater, 1770, made in Bilston.

It was fashionable to grate nutmeg into drinks (such as chocolate and punch) over the eighteenth-century, so purpose-made nutmeg graters and holders were produced, which could hold a whole nutmeg, and also contained a small grater. These could be very simple, such as ones made of tin, or more elaborate.

Birmingham made enamel watch face,
1760-80. The design has been transfer printed.

From the 1767 Directory:  'These ingenious Artists, make Candlesticks, Snuff Boxes,  Ink Stands, Ink Cases, Tweezers, Tooth-Pick Cases, Quadrille Pooles, Smelling Bottles, Clock and Watch Faces, and all sorts of small Trinkets for Ladies Watches, &c and the Merchant and Tradesman will find their Account by purchasing these Goods here'.

Enamel was made from glass fused onto copper, which could then be painted, or, from the 1750s, transfer printed. A vast trade was carried on in Birmingham, as well as locally in Bilston and Wednesbury.

The skills for toy-making were also utilised
in making jewellery, and Birmingham's famous
jewellery trade grew out of toy-making.

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