The River Series has always been something of an enigma for collectors. For a long time we did not know who made them, and we still don't know exactly when. They do not seem to appear in any trade catalogues, lists or advertisements. The name River Series does not even appear on the earlier boxes for the cars in the series, and at one time I wondered whether the cars and trucks were connected at all. The story is further confused by versions of the models made in New Zealand and Israel.
It was the discovery of a clockwork key that gave me the first clue as to the manufacturer of these intriguing models. The die-cast key came with one of the clockwork trucks, and the words RIVER SERIES were cast on each side, above and below the entwined letters J L. So I started searching for possible die-cast toy manufacturers with these initials, and identified Jordan & Lewden Ltd. as a likely candidate (see Model Collector, May 1994, page 14).
This company was incorporated around 1950 and appeared in the London street directories as 'toy manufacturers'. Their address was 52A Brooksby's Walk, Homerton, London, E.9. In the trade magazine Games & Toys there is a reference to them as manufacturers of die-cast metal toys. Unfortunately, these references are all too brief, and the firm seems to have made very little attempt to market itself and its products to either the trade or to consumers.
However, more recently Andrew Ralston followed up the reference to Jordan & Lewden Ltd. by contacting Lewden Metal Products Ltd., who are still in existence in east London. This company confirmed that Jordan & Lewden had indeed made the River Series toys.
It should also be mentioned that in the past, collectors often attributed the River Series to DCMT (Die Casting Machine Tools Ltd.), the makers of Lone Star toys, possibly because the DCMT factory in Palmers Green, north London was known as 'River Works'. Unfortunately this error has been perpetuated over the years in several published books and articles, but is quite incorrect.
The CarsThere were six cars in the range, all based on actual vehicles from 1953 or 1954. They were generally a little larger than contemporary Dinky Toys, about 1:40 scale, and initially had friction drive motors. The models were painted in a limited number of single tone colours - only two or three colours can be found for most of them. Silver trim was generally not applied, and models that have it may well have been decorated by a previous owner rather than in the factory. Several models have also been seen in a chrome plated finish.
The die-cast baseplates were unpainted, and wheels were unpainted metal with large smooth black rubber tyres. Later models had treaded solid rubber wheels which were of two types, either with fine treads and symmetrical in cross-section, or with a projection on the inside to attach to the axle and a domed appearance on the outside. The rubber wheels were a bought-in component, and can also be found on other toys which had no connection with the River Series.
Non-motorised versions of the models were also made, and these had a tinplate pressing riveted to the inside of the base in place of the motor to support the rear axle. The Buick, Vanguard Estate and Daimler Conquest also exist with a casting modification to provide die-cast rear axle supports and delete the tinplate component, thus removing the possibility of a motor. It would be interesting to know if the others were modified in this way.
A standard type of box was used, printed in blue and red or orange and blue, with an illustration of the Austin A40. The box made a great feature of the 'no winding' friction motor. The end flaps showed the name of the actual model contained within.
I also have a box for the 'Rally Car Series' in red and yellow with something like a Sunbeam-Talbot shown on the front and an Aston Martin on the sides. Presumably this was a later box because there was no mention of the friction motor. Again, the actual model name was printed on the end flaps, in this case 'Standard Estate Wagon'.
Later versions of the cars came in the same red and yellow River Series box as used for the trucks.
The individual models were as follows.
Austin A40 Somerset
Length 98mm. Larger than the Dinky Toy, this model was too wide but its curves were quite evocative of the rounded lines of the real car. Cast on the baseplate was AUSTIN A 40 MODEL and MADE IN ENGLAND.
Colours: Metallic blue; non-metallic blue; red; beige.
Ford Prefect 100E
Length 97mm. In my opinion this was the least attractive of the cars. The bonnet was too long and the grille and headlights were poorly modelled. FORD PREFECT and MADE IN ENGLAND were cast underneath.
Colours: Orange; green; red; pale green.
Standard Vanguard Phase II Saloon
Length 101mm. I believe this was the only contemporary model of the Phase II Vanguard. Again it was rather let down by the poor modelling of the front of the bonnet and the grille. STANDARD VANGUARD and MADE IN ENGLAND were cast on the baseplate.
Colours: Red; orange; metallic gold.
Standard Vanguard 2-door Estate Car
Length 98mm. Similar comments apply as for the Vanguard saloon. STANDARD ESTATE WAGON and MADE IN ENGLAND were cast underneath.
Colours: Red; beige; chrome plated.
Length 100mm. A reasonably good model, and much the best of the series. DAIMLER CONQUEST and MADE IN ENGLAND cast underneath.
Colours: Mauve; green; chrome plated. Also as an army staff car in very dark glossy green.
1953 Buick Coupe
Length 108mm. The absence of silver trim on the River Series cars is quite significant on this model, since heavy chrome was such an important part of American car styling of the time. The orange Buick in the illustration does look better than the cream model, even if the silver trim is not original. On the baseplate was cast AMERICAN BUICK and MODEL MADE IN ENGLAND.
Colours: Cream; orange; red; chrome plated.
Garage Car Jack
Length of trolley 83mm This trolley jack was strung onto a display card, which was the only means of identifying it as a River Series model. CAR JACK was cast on the top of the base, and MADE IN ENGLAND underneath. There was a spring wire underneath, keeping the brake lever engaged with the ratchet wheel, so that the jack stayed in the elevated position until the brake lever was lifted. Painted red and blue.
The New Zealand Issues
In the late 1950s, New Zealand tightened import restrictions and exchange controls, and in fact from 1958 there was a total prohibition on importing toys (according to David Daw in his book Micro Models: A Collectors' Guide). Lincoln Industries Ltd. was a New Zealand toy importer and manufacturer (based in Auckland) and the import ban meant that home production was essential. Lincoln produced the Australian Micro Models range using dies hired in from Australia. At least three of the cars from the River Series were also made by Lincoln in New Zealand, and it seems very likely that a similar arrangement operated, whereby Jordan & Lewden loaned the dies to Lincoln. Alternatively, they may have supplied castings and other components to Lincoln for assembly in New Zealand.
New Zealand versions are known of the Austin A40, Ford Prefect and Buick. They all had friction motors and die-cast wheels with smooth black tyres, identical to the UK models. I have New Zealand versions of the Austin A40 and Ford Prefect. Both are painted dark blue, and differ from the UK models in having spray painted silver trim front and rear, and black painted baseplates.
The sure way to tell a New Zealand issue is that MADE IN ENGLAND does not appear on the baseplate, and on my examples the offending lettering seems to have been machined off the base after casting, rather than modify the die.
New Zealand models had rather plain boxes with 'Lincoln Toys' on the face, 'Authentic Scale Model Friction Drive Car All Metal Construction' on the sides, and 'Model Friction Series Lincoln Industries Ltd. Auckland N.Z.' on the end flaps, together with the model name and catalogue number. Thanks to Ron Ford who found this example for me.
If the dies went to New Zealand, they must have returned to the UK, because we know that certainly the Buick and Ford Prefect were subsequently produced in Israel - of which more later.
River Series TrucksThe River Series of trucks was based around two models: a forward control lorry, to which various different truck bodies were attached, and a normal control articulated cab with various trailers.
The forward control model had a very deep chassis section to incorporate a clockwork motor driving the rear axle. The motor was attached by tabs through the rear flat part of the chassis, partly covered by a tray-like flat bed riveted on top. Different bodies were slotted in to this flat bed and were mostly removable, so that incomplete models are quite often found. There was also a Gift Set containing one truck with three interchangeable bodies.
Non-motorised models were also made, with cast metal supports for the rear axle. There are some detail differences which make me think that there were actually two dies to make the mechanical or non-mechanical versions. In addition, a completely new die was later made for many of the military models, and will be described in that section.
The civilian forward control trucks had metal wheels, usually unpainted, but some have black painted wheels with red hubs. Most models had MADE IN ENGLAND cast under the cab roof, but this was absent on some early versions.
The truck was obviously not based on any real vehicle, and the design probably owes more to the need to use a simple three-piece die, without the expense of a slide to make any more authentic grille detail.
The articulated cab was cast from an even simpler two-piece die. The articulated models probably came later than the forward control trucks, because they always had rubber wheels and no attempt was made to include a motor. MADE IN ENGLAND was absent at first, and later cast underneath the cab.
Three types of boxes were used for the civilian trucks. Firstly there was an off-white box printed in black and green with a crude roadway scene on the face. Above the illustration were the words 'A River Series Realistic Toy' which seems something of a joke given the crudity of the models! This box was superseded by a red and yellow version with approximate illustrations of some items in the series and others which bear no relation to the models produced.
There was also a red and blue box proclaiming 'True to Type Metal Models' - another somewhat misleading slogan. The 'True to Type' boxes had the model name printed on the end flaps, whereas on the others the name was rubber stamped or hand written.
The following versions of the civilian trucks have been noted.
A tanker body was fitted and the model had a movable boom extending over the cab with a hose attached. The bottom of the hose was secured through a hole in the front bumper. This hole can be seen on all the forward control trucks by looking at the model from underneath.
Colours: Dark green or light blue cab/chassis, cream tank, red boom.
Similar to the Gully Emptier, but without the boom and with a plastic filler hose.
Colours: Red or dark green cab/chassis, cream tank, one or two "Esso" transfers.
Length 94mm. A die-cast frame was fitted to the flat bed to retain a bent wire tipping lever. The tipping body was hinged on the frame and had a separate removable tailboard (later a hinged tailboard, not removable).
Colours: Blue cab/chassis, frame and lever, red tipper; or red cab/chassis and tipper, unpainted frame and lever.
River Transport Lorry
Length 101mm. This had a box van body but with long open windows either side. RIVER TRANSPORT was cast below the windows and there was a let-down tailboard. Two miniature cars were supplied with this model, presumably intended to be carried inside! These were one-piece castings with MADE IN ENGLAND underneath (length 33mm).
Colours: Green cab/chassis with red body, or red cab/chassis with yellow body. Miniature cars yellow, dark green, red or blue.
Length 94mm. This had a simple frame-like body with no fewer than four of the miniature cars. When piled up inside, they look as if they are on their way to the scrap yard.
Colours: Dark green, red or blue cab/chassis, dark green, red or yellow body. Miniature cars yellow, dark green, red or blue.
An open stake truck type of body with a hinged tailgate (missing on the example shown). On the box end flap is rubber stamped "1. FARM CAR".
Colours: Dark green or green cab/chassis, red or yellow body.
I think this was the same model as the farm lorry, with two horses inside (not illustrated).
Colours: Dark green, brown horses.
Length 94mm. The tower was slotted in to the flat bed as usual, and consisted of a two-piece tower structure with a separate platform at the top which could be rotated. The top section of the tower was raised by a crude arrangement of a wire handle and string.
Colours: Red cab/chassis, unpainted tower and red platform.
Length 94mm. The crane consisted of a tinplate pressing riveted to a die-cast base which slotted in to the flat bed on the truck. This allowed the crane to rotate. The hook and winding handle were crudely made of bent wire. Colours: Blue cab/chassis, red crane and base.
Length 122mm (max). The fork-lift mechanism could slide along the bed of the truck by operating the rearmost wire lever (of two) that passed through a cradle at the front of the bed. In the model pictured, the front wire lever is missing, but it would have served as a winder for the string to raise and lower the forks. When the mechanism was slid to the rearmost position on the bed, the forks could be lowered to the ground. Colours: Green cab/chassis with red cradle and fork-lift mechanism; or red cab/chassis with red cradle and unpainted fork-lift mechanism.
Length 114mm. The excavator had a cab which slotted in to the flat bed, and attached to it a movable arm with lever and a movable bucket on the end.
Colours: Green or red cab/chassis, blue excavator.
Length 94mm. This model had a cable drum (wound with plastic cable) mounted vertically in a frame attached to the usual forward control cab/chassis.
Colours: Green cab/chassis, unpainted cable drum and support; or red cab/chassis and drum support, unpainted cable drum.
Length 94mm. The cement mixer consisted of no fewer than six separate die-castings, and maybe the complexity of the assembly accounts for its rarity. The base (which slotted into the flat bed on the truck) was the same component as used on the crane and excavator.
Colours: Red cab/chassis, metallic blue cement mixer.
Articulated Low Loader
Length 163mm. The simple low loader trailer had no identification cast on it. On one of the box end flaps, this model has '22 Low Loader' hand written in pencil.
Colours: Cream or red cab; green trailer. See also the military version.
Articulated Flat Lorry
Length 145mm. With or without MADE IN ENGLAND cast underneath the trailer. '36 Artic Truck' was hand written on the box flap of the example shown.
Colours: Dark green or cream cab, red trailer.
Length 151mm. The tank was a two-piece casting, plus a separate piece for the rear mudguards and axle supports. This was in fact the same component as used on the flat lorry.
Colours: Dark green or green cab, cream or red trailer with 'Esso' transfer on each side.
Articulated Timber Transporter
This had a piece of dowel as a "log" load.
Colours: Red cab and trailer.
Here Comes The ArmyBoth the forward control truck and the articulated truck were used as the basis for various military models, and there were also specific army items in the form of a jeep, armoured car, field gun and gun limber. There was also a Daimler Conquest staff car, mentioned above.
Most of these items came in a red and yellow box with 'Here Comes the Army' shown on all four sides. The front face showed a military convoy with two wagons, a jeep and a field gun. There was also a 'Here Comes the Army' Gift Set containing seven items, with a box which could be made into a Bailey bridge. The models were attached by string to a separate card base, and No.67 was printed on the end flaps.
Earlier military models were painted a very dark glossy green, later changed to a matt finish. The individual models were as follows.
Army Covered Wagon
This was the forward control truck with a tin tilt slotted directly on to the flat bed. At some point in the model's life, the truck casting was replaced by a completely new die. There were many differences, particularly in the grille where the new casting had fewer and more widely spaced bars (see photo). Also, MADE IN ENGLAND was cast lengthwise under the rear body rather than under the cab roof, and there was no longer any provision to fit a clockwork motor. The flat bed body was deleted in favour of two separate cross members, one of which was riveted at the rear of the chassis and the other behind the cab. The new casting had a towing hook at the rear for the limber and gun. The first casting usually had unpainted metal wheels, and the later type had rubber wheels.
Colours: Very dark green, gloss or matt.
Same as the covered wagon but with a white painted tilt and red cross transfers on each side. Second casting, rubber wheels.
Colours: Very dark green (gloss or matt), white tilt.
Length 94mm. Similar to the civilian version but without the clockwork motor. The truck was the first casting, but in this case had rubber wheels.
Colours: Very dark gloss green truck, very dark matt green crane.
Army Open Wagon
Length 101mm. This model was produced on both the first and second truck casting. The open wagon body was riveted directly to the chassis. Rubber wheels were fitted. An example with a tinplate tilt is shown in the Bailey Bridge set above.
Colour: Dark brownish green (first casting); very dark matt green (second casting).
Length 101mm. This used the second type casting. A tanker body was slotted in to the cross members and trapped a plastic hose in position. At the free end of the hose a die-cast filler nozzle was fitted. Rubber wheels.
Colour: Very dark matt green.
Army Articulated Low Loader
Length 163mm. This was identical to the civilian model. MADE IN ENGLAND was cast under the cab, and rubber wheels were fitted.
Colour: Very dark matt green.
Length 91mm. This had a separate baseplate on which was cast "HERE COMES THE ARMY" SERIES JEEP MADE IN ENGLAND. There was a towing hook at the rear, a separate steering wheel, and a plastic windscreen. Solid rubber wheels.
Colour: Very dark matt green, or matt grey-brown (a sandy colour).
Length 97mm. This consisted of a body with towing hook, a separate rotating turret including a gun and a separate baseplate on which was cast ''HERE COMES THE ARMY'' SERIES ARMOURED CAR MADE IN ENGLAND. Solid rubber wheels.
Colour: Very dark matt green.
Length 101mm. Similar guns, designed to fire matchsticks etc., were made by many manufacturers including Lone Star, Benbros and Kemlows as well as Jordan & Lewden. The Lone Star and Benbros versions carried the maker's name, while the Kemlows version had no lettering cast on it but had the distinctive Kemlows die-cast wheels with rubber tyres. The Jordan & Lewden model came with or without MADE IN ENGLAND cast and was available in an individual box. Wheels were unpainted metal or solid rubber.
Colours: Red; matt brownish green; very dark matt green.
The red painted version is rather unlikely for a field gun!
Length 63mm. Again Kemlows made a very similar model. The Kemlows model had a separately cast towing hook and MADE IN ENGLAND in a circle underneath, whereas on the Jordan & Lewden model the hook was cast with the body and there was no cast lettering. Solid rubber wheels were fitted.
Colour: Very dark matt green.
Railway LocomotivesThere were four or possibly five railway locomotives in the River Series. These models were cast in two halves with a join down the centre line which allowed a lot of detail to be included while still using relatively simple dies. Two types of box have been seen, the first having 'Engines Through the Ages' on the face together with crude illustrations of four models, recognisable as Stephenson's Rocket, Old Copperknob, the Stirling single and a 4-6-0 streamlined loco that has yet to turn up. This box was in fact created by applying a printed label over one face and two end flaps of the standard early box for the River Series trucks. The end flap declared 'Full Descriptive Leaflet with each Engine Sold'.
The later box type was individually printed for each model in dark blue, with the series now called 'Engines of History'. The model's scale was quoted and technical data was listed on the rear of the box rather than in a separate leaflet.
The four models confirmed to exist are as follows.
Length 48mm. ROCKET cast on each side, MADE IN ENGLAND cast on the left side.
Colours: Yellow with black connecting rods and black trim.
Furness Railway 'Old Copperknob'
Length 90mm. An 0-4-0 open locomotive, designated No.2 in the series on the box. With or without MADE IN ENGLAND cast.
Colours: Red or dark green; gold boiler, black trim, unpainted wheels and connecting rods.
GNR Stirling No.1
Length 110mm. A 4-2-2 locomotive with a single pair of driving wheels.
Colours: Green, unpainted wheels and connecting rods.
LNWR 2-4-0 Locomotive 'The Hardwicke'
Length 105mm. This model was not shown on the 'Engines Through the Ages' box, but is clearly part of the same series and was certainly issued in an 'Engines of History' box. The number 790 was cast on the cab sides. With or without MADE IN ENGLAND cast on the right side above the number.
Colours: Red or green, unpainted wheels and connecting rods.
Made in IsraelIn the early 1960s, many of the River Series dies were sold to Israel where they were produced under the Gamda name. An article on Gamda by Andrew Ralston appeared in Model Collector in March 1994, and more recently he has published a small booklet on the subject.*
The cars lost their friction motors but gained plastic windows. The Daimler and Buick were given two-tone colour schemes and the Vanguard Estate was issued as an ambulance. The Ford Prefect was also reissued, but the Austin A40 and Vanguard Saloon were not.
The forward control truck (second casting) was issued with a tin tilt or with the open wagon body, both models in military or civilian versions. The articulated tanker appeared in several different liveries, and the articulated flat truck, articulated timber transporter, jeep, armoured car and field gun were also made. Gamda also acquired dies from Kemlows and Charbens at the same time, so that a large proportion of the initial Gamda range originated in north London!
Confusingly, Gamda made a limber and field gun from the former Kemlows dies as well as the Jordan & Lewden field gun. In the photos above, the field gun on the right is from the Jordan & Lewden dies, with MADE IN ISRAEL on the back of the shield in place of the original MADE IN ENGLAND lettering. The Gamda Army Set on the left contains a field gun and limber from the Kemlows dies.
The River Series therefore came to an end, but not before setting in train a course of confusion and questions for collectors for the next 40 years. Hopefully some of these have now been answered.
Thanks to Vic Davey, Ron Ford, John Garside, Brian & Hilary Gatward, Hadi Orr, Colin Penn, Andrew Ralston, Brian Salter and Patrick Trench who provided photos or loaned models for photographing, and also to Peter Corley and Nigel Robertshaw for additional information.
Model Cars from Israel by Andrew Ralston, published by the author, 2002.