Thursday, February 23, 2023

Mettoy Mad Hatter's Race Game

Here is a preview of the section on the Mettoy Mad Hatter's Race game from the forthcoming book.  Enjoy!


Founded in 1933 by Jewish emigrants fleeing the Nazis, Mettoy (a contraction of METal TOY) made a metal, tin, and plastic toys over a span of fifty years.

Arthur Katz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1908.  When his father died in 1920 he moved to Nuremberg with his mother since she was originally German.  After completing school he entered the toy business as an apprentice for a toy export company.  Once his apprenticeship was complete he began working for a tin toy company, Tipp & Co, which was owned by a cousin Philip Ullmann.

With the rise of the Nazis in 1933, he emigrated to England on his South African British passport.  Ullmann joined him shortly thereafter, and the two formed a new toy company, Mettoy, in a workshop owned by a model train maker, Basset-Lowke.  But within five years they has to switch from tin toys to war production as England entered World War II.  Interestingly their landlord Basset-Lowke had a vested interest in many Jewish-German suppliers for their business, and that company spent a large portion of their profits helping Jewish refugees escape Germany.  

The war and accompanying defense contracts were good to Mettoy, so much so that the company needed to expand into a larger manufacturing space, which was arranged by the British government.  The new factory was in Swansea, Wales in the town of Fforestfach.  When the war ended in 1945, toy production resumed.  By this time Mettoy had expanded into plastics given that rationing of metal was still in force, but by 1956 rationing had been lifted and they began making their most well known toy line of all:  Corgi die cast vehicles.  

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s Mettoy continued to grow with Corgi sales increasing in their standard car line but especially so with their licensed cars for Batman, James Bond, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  However, the arrival of Mattel's Hot Wheels in the late 1960s, coupled with a devastating fire in at the factory in 1969, Mettoy's fortunes began to turn.  The 1970s and 1980s were a difficult time for Mettoy, and despite many efforts to turn the company around, including the creation of their very own personal computer product "The Dragon", the company went into receivership in 1983.  

The following years saw the company spin-off the Corgi brand, which eventually was purchased by Mattel.  The brand was sold several more times through the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, until it was purchased by Hornby in 2008 where the brand continues to be sold to this day.

The number of Disney toys made by Mettoy is not known to me, but I am aware of a few tin toys from the 1950s including a zoetrope called the Disneyland Moviedrome, a toy called the Disneyland Skating, and the Alice game below; as well as the plastic film viewer toy from the 1970s called the Walt Disney Movie Viewer.

The one known Alice toy, The Mad Hatter's Race, was likely released at the time of the original film's release in 1951 or perhaps 1952.  No historical pricing has been discovered.

This is one of the coolest toys ever made for Alice in Wonderland.  It is a game played on a tin race track, with the game piece being a windup toy of Alice on the Drink Me bottle from the Sea of Tears.  I have only ever seen one complete example with box - this one.  I've seen the tin board and the windup toy once or twice before.  Needless to say this is an exceptionally rare toy.