I have been buying and selling vintage Britains Toy Soldiers on Ebay for several years. I have been collecting Britains since childhood and would like to offer some BASIC IDENTIFICATION HINTS as I have noticed many Britains being sold on Ebay which are not exactly described and/or listed properly - please understand, that in many instances, this is completely unintentional and the purpose of these basic identification hints is for the use of both buyers and sellers of Britains toy soldiers - vintage, hollowcast lead soldiers originally intended for children, not the current collectors line of Britains marketed to adults.
There are two basic periods of Britains Toy Soldier production - Pre-War (before WWII) and Post-War (1947-1966).
The Pre-War period began in 1893 (Ancient Britains - often on round unmarked bases, later with paper labels and copyright information affixed to the round base) and later with a rectangular base with Britains, Made in England, Copyright Proprietors engraved underneath the base and are, many times, dated (early figures) and sometimes with the word depose added (possibly meaning the figures were made in Britains short-lived Paris, France office (quite rare) or more often than not, that the figures were originally intended for Paris but the molds were in fact used in England for production purposes).
Painting is often a very good way to identify figures - Britains Pre-War painting is often more detailed than Post-War painting and Paris office figures tend to have even more painting detail and darker skin tones. Also, there were many figures produced in Paris that were not produced by Britains in England - particularly French and European continental armies.
On the subject of painting, one of the best ways to determine a Pre-War figure is the mustache on the face - although it must be pointed out that Britains ceased painting mustaches after 1938 - still a mustache is often a clue as to the age of the figure. Another hint is the 1/2 or "jack booted" figure - prior to the early 1930's most Britains figures were 1/2 booted and then the molds were modified and full trousered figures were introduced. Often Britains Pre-War cavalry figures had the horses reins painted while Post-War this additional painting step was eliminated
Early Britains horse-drawn artillery sets had "twisted wire" traces and "collar harnesses" while later horse-drawn artillery sets had straight wire traces and "breast harnesses."
Boxes offer another clue - Britains very earliest boxes were quite ornate with script and "battle honors" and sometimes a "Black Label" identifying the particular regiment - later, up until the 1920's, Fred Whisstock signed boxes were utilized by the company - usually the name Fred Whisstock will be found on the lower left corner of the box lid. Later Pre-War boxes would carry a more "generic" Armies of the World label with the set number and name of the regiment sometimes in a rectangular block on the box lid or on the end label of the box.
Post-War Britains figures tend to have less painting detail and many regiments produced Pre-War were not produced Post-War. The numbering system employed by Britains is somewhat confusing - the first set produced Pre-War would be set #1 thru set #1920 - although many sets were produced from the very beginning, set #1 Life Guards for example was produced straight through to the end of Britains hollow-cast lead production in 1966. Post-War sets continued with the original numbering system through set # 2190.
Post War boxes from 1947-1960 were basically labeled Regiments of All Nations on the box lid - usually 7 infantry figures (8 Pre-War) and 5 Cavalry (later often reduced to 4 figures). In 1960, the numbering system was changed to 9000 numbers and the boxes had a window-pane (cellophane) lid so the figures could be seen without opening the boxes. There were also "1/2" boxes introduced in the mid-1950's as well as "Picture Packs" - these are sometimes offered for sale on ebay.
It must be remembered that there are many exceptions to these rules and it is extremely important that a new collector study the myriad of books available on the market - many of these books are also being sold on ebay - Norman Joplin, Joe Wallis, James Opie, Henry Kurtz, Andrew Rose to name a few of the foremost "experts."
Often, I have found that figures are being listed that are incomplete - helmet spikes on line infantry regiments are often missing, bayonets are often missing from rifles (although some figures were made without bayonets), lance tips and/or pennons from cavalry figures are often broken and/or damaged - missing arms, significant loss of paint, damaged bases, repaired or re-touched figures all affect value and should be taken into consideration when bidding on items being offered for sale on Ebay.
The above are only BASIC IDENTIFICATION HINTS - again there are many exceptions and I have not even discussed the Britains Civilian, Farm, Zoo, Garden, Roadway and Circus ranges which are also highly collectible but require intense study as to paint color versions, Pre-War and Post-War variations etc.
Collecting Britains toy soldiers is a most enjoyable hobby however I suggest gaining as much knowledge as possible to avoid costly mistakes!