J & H Glasman Ltd of Betal Works
by Rebecca Green
My research on J & H Glasman has revealed that Marks Glasman, wife Kate and sons Joseph (b ca 1888) and Hyman (b ca 1894) arrived in England from Russia, probably between 1901 (when they are not on the census) and 1911 (when they are). Marks and Joseph were working as cap makers at the time of the 1911 census; Hyman was a cabinet maker. This seems an excellent combination of skills for manufacturing toys, including play outfits like conductor and scout sets, and wooden toys. Marks Glasman died in 1924.
In 1916, Joseph Glasman married Vetta Wiseman (who had been born in Romania), and in 1921, Hyman Glasman married Fanny Weitzman / Whitesman (who was also born in what was then part of Russia, and is now in Ukraine). Hyman had two children, Cissy and Max. Joseph had four children – the family can be seen in this photo which they donated to the Jewish Museum, London, showing Vetta and Joseph at the back, and in front, from left to right, Coleman, Paul, Frances, and Marcus (Max).
Glasman Family, Jewish Museum London, https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/?s=glasman&source=adlibsearch
1921 is the earliest date that I have evidence of the Glasman brothers as toy makers: an online history of Stratford, West Ham, etc, lists the contents of a 1921 London street directory, showing Joseph Glasman, toy dealer, at 156 Salmon Lane, Limehouse, E14 (Stepney), and Joseph & Hyman Glasman, toy makers, at 644 Commercial Road east, Limehouse E14.
They remained at the Commercial Road address until 1928. Later addresses can be found in telephone directories: from 1928-1934, the address was 40 West India Dock Road, Limehouse E14. The name Betal Works, chosen by Joseph Glasman “probably in an aspirational moment”, his son suggests, appears in 1938, with a move to Plaistow Road, Plaistow E15. This was the address until 1973; the last address was 10 Burford Road, Stratford E15, 1978-1980s. (For those who don’t know London, the postcodes E14, E15 etc refer to areas in the east of London.)
J & H Glasman exhibited at the British Industries Fair in 1929, with their products including conductor sets, scout sets, Indian sets, children's tool and fretwork outfits, Xmas stockings, lucky snowball and snowmen, toy shops, etc, and indoor games.
So by 1929, they were making toy shops – whether dolls houses were included in the ‘etc’, we don’t know.
At the 1949 British Industries Fair, J & H Glasman exhibited carpenters tool sets; mechanical and non-mechanical metal toys; carded and boxed tool sets; conductor sets; cowboy sets; a large variety of outdoor and indoor games; forts, table tennis, needlework and dressmaking sets, tinplate trains on lines, and a large range of kindergarten games and toys.
Advertisement for J & H Glasman at the 1949 British Industries Fair. http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/J._and_H._Glasman
Other Betal products, many found through searching the internet, include toy cuffs (perhaps part of a policeman’s set?), toy cash registers (part of the toy shops?), Happy Families card games, billiard tables, toy cooking ranges, scales, ironing sets and kitchen sets, toy tea sets and diecast cars. Some of these can also be seen on the J & H Glasman ad from the 1950 British Industries Fair catalogue:
One of the most popular Betal toys were tinplate red London Buses, in several sizes. This became a hallmark of the company, and later, a plastic equivalent was made, which was also a success.
I have been able to contact Joseph Glasman’s youngest son Max Glasman, and two of Coleman Glasman’s children, who have very generously shared their memories of their father and grandfather and of the family firm. Max Glasman was born in 1927 (so is now 85 years old), and being a child in the 1930s he was not aware of business details. He did not commence work in the business until 1948, and by that time, he says, the business no longer manufactured dolls houses or forts (a similar wooden line), the main list being tin toys and boxed and other games. (Perhaps the forts exhibited in 1947 did not sell as well as the other products? Interestingly, though, the banner artwork of the 1950 ad above does show a fort.) Max thinks that the main time of manufacturing dolls houses was until 1939, as ‘When the war came manufacturing of any sort became difficult, everything was suspended and all materials were rationed under licence.
We know of J & H Glasman dolls houses through 2 pages of their 1939 catalogue, which Marion Osborne included in her book A-Z 1914-1941 Dollshouses. The catalogue shows 5 dolls houses, numbered 751-753 and 701-702. It also describes two unillustrated dolls houses, number 754, which is the same as 753 with an added garage, and number 703, which is a bungalow like 701 but twice as big.
Dolls houses from J & H Glasman catalogue, 1939, from Marion Osborne’s A-Z 1914-1941 Dollshouses (catalogue pages contributed by Jim Osborne). Reproduced with kind permission of Marion Osborne and the Glasman family.
So we know of 7 dolls houses produced by J & H Glasman in 1939. As Celia notes in her article on the previous page, the house she handled bears more resemblance to the bungalow series, so appears to be an 8th model. A collector in Scotland has a tiny bungalow which is most likely no 701, although it is missing the green shutters shown in the catalogue.
Betal bungalow, above: closed; below: open, © Katherine Carington Smith, http://www.squidoo.com/vintage_and_antique_dollouse_collection
In about 1953, Joseph Glasman bought out his brother Hyman. However, Joseph died in 1954, without having made a will. Hyman briefly returned to help organise the sale of large parts of the business. After a lengthy period, the company was inherited by all four of Joseph Glasman’s children. Coleman Glasman subsequently bought out the shares of each of his three siblings. Around 1982, Coleman became acutely ill; his son Joe had just left college, and for several months he ran the business until his father returned.
By that time, however, J & H Glasman was a small enterprise which subcontracted manufacture, assembly and distribution of a small range of plastic toys (such as children's tea sets), but had no employees itself, despite being still housed in the Burford Road warehouse. Coleman Glasman’s brother Max used the premises to create his own small line in children's fancy-dress outfits (policemen, bus-conductors), but was not at that time a partner in the business. Coleman returned to work, but his health and vigour was fading, cheap imported toys from east Asia provided strong competition in the market, and Coleman closed and retired the business before the decade was out.
Max Glasman and Coleman Glasman’s son Joe have shared their memories of the firm, but sadly have almost nothing in the way of records of any sort. During the 1939-45 war, Max was evacuated out of London, his parents’ house was bombed and they moved two or three times. Max himself has moved numerous times, and says that many items have become lost over the years.
Max has been able to provide information about how Betal toys were sold in the early days. He says,
“When the company got really going in the 1930s they employed 'travellers’, or reps who travelled all over the British Isles calling on customers using a large car and filling it with cases of samples, and as you know the range of toys was quite extensive.
There were also in January Toy Fairs, pre war held at London Olympia and post war at Harrogate in the North of England where we regularly exhibited. This sales method continued right to the end. We did not sell to retail customers of course but we sold to chain stores, wholesalers and anyone who gave a decent order. In the 1930s we supplied every Woolworth store, but not dolls houses as far as I know.”
With two named, illustrated catalogue pages, we know more about the dolls houses made by J & H Glasman than we do about many other pre-war dolls house manufacturers, but it would be wonderful to know more about when production started and what other models, if any, were made. Hopefully, more catalogues or advertisements will come to light!
Sincere thanks to Max Glasman, Joe Glasman and Gina Karp for their generous help and information provided for this article.