Britains Swoppet Knights: Horses.

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  Of one thing, most authorities are agreed - the Swoppet Knights' horses came in two poses, the "rearing" and the "galloping" models. And, although many swops between the two are aesthetically pleasing, and whispered tales are heard about finding the "wrong" horse in unopened boxes from the 1960s, there seems little doubt that, almost universally, the rearing horse came with figures #1450 ("With Standard") and #1453 ("Defending"), while the galloping horse was the mount for #1451 ("Charging") and #1452 ("Attacking").

  From here on, however, the plot gets a bit more complicated. The rearing horse was certainly issued in white and in a colour called "dark grey" by Plastic Warrior but in essence somewhere between brown and black. The Britains catalogue does not help on this point, showing #1453 astride a charger in a light shade of brown, but it seems this was, not for the only time, a flight of fancy by the illustrators. The galloping horse came as standard in black and in a medium shade of brown ("chestnut brown" according to early versions of the Plastic Warrior document). There was, however, some quite discernible "drift" in the colours of the steeds over the years, especially with the "brown" galloping horse, while the almost legendary white galloping horse has inevitably become a magnet for collectors. No bays or greys though - unless anyone out there knows something ...

Galloping white horse.
The rarest of the rare? - the famous white galloping horse

  The white galloping horse, though not mentioned by Plastic Warrior, is a fairly well-known variant, though its scarcity is indisputable. One of the many fascinations about following online sales of Swoppets is trying to spot a rarity such as this when it is offered for sale in amongst a job lot of otherwise unobtrusive Knights. The white galloping horse has been observed in a couple of such auctions in recent times, so don't give up hope of one day owning one. It remains one of the essential items in any Swoppet-hunter's collection, as well as one of the hardest to track down.

Blankets and Caparisons.

  The Swoppet horse was either covered in a solid-looking blanket, or in a mesh garment called a "caparison". The blanket was generally available in blue or purple. However, the shade of purple that is present in models today is vary variable, suggesting either that there was some drift in the exact hue of the plastic used over the years, or that this piece was particularly susceptible to fading, perhaps due to exposure to sunlight.

Galloping horses in brown and black with royal blue and purple blankets.
Galloping horses
Rearing horses in white and dark brown with purple and royal blue blankets.
Rearing horses

  The blanket used was not the same for the two types of horses: the most obvious distinguishing feature is that, for the rearing model, the diagonal pattern went from the top at the front to the bottom at the rear; whereas, for the galloping horse, it went the other way.

  The Plastic Warrior document states that the blue blanket went with the dark grey (rearing) or brown (galloping) horse, while the purple blanket was confined to the white (rearing) or black (galloping) horse. I've seen exceptions to all these rules, though of course it's impossible to say for certain that the figures in question haven't been "swopped" over the years.

  However, the blankets were the most unswoppable feature of the Knights, as attempts to substitute them were often doomed to failure, due to the difficulty in getting this one-piece sheet of plastic over the horse's head or tail without breaking it at the other end. I'd say any mounted figure with the "wrong" pattern on the blanket (as opposed to the "wrong" colour) has definitely been swopped and is almost certainly damaged.

  The caparison came in two basic colours, red and yellow, but was also to be seen in four designs. There was a 6-strapped design, adorned with diamond patterns on the vertical straps, and it appears some models had the diamonds across the horizontal straps whereas others didn't. The 8-strapped designs came either plain or adorned with diamonds on the vertical stripes and the fleur-de-lys symbol where the straps met.

  The assertions in the Plastic Warrior document that the red caparison went only with white (rearing) or brown (galloping) horse, and that the yellow caparison went with the dark grey (rearing) or brown or black (galloping) horse (and by implication not the white rearing horse), do not seem to to be borne out by the evidence.

Rearing horses in dark brown and white with 6-strapped "diamond" caparison in yellow and red.
Horses with diamond caparison
Galloping horses in slightly different shades of brown with 8-strapped "fleur-de-lys" caparison in yellow and red.
Horses with fleur de lys caparison
 
Galloping horses in brown and black with 8-strapped plain caparison in red and yellow.
Horses with plain caparison

  And then, inevitably, we come to the rarities...

  Stories about horses with yellow blankets do seem to be widespread. Examples on galloping horses have been auctioned in recent times, and the bidding has been, to say the least, extravagant. Illustrated below are a yellow blanket on the black galloping horse, and one on a rearing white horse. As the blankets have the correct diagonal pattern for the horses, they seem genuine. Caution should be exercised when purchasing the yellow blankets, however, as Timpo made horse blankets in similar colour (as well as red, white, green and black), which may be substituted for the real thing. If the blanket isn't the same shape as the ones illustrated here, it most certainly is not Britains. Also, it should be noted that, contrary to what some sellers try and tell you, the yellow blanket may be rare, but the yellow caparison is not.

Horses with yellow blankets.
Horses with yellow blanket

  Rather less prevalent are tales about horses with caparisons in unusual colours, and the illustrated brown specimen is a good example of how interchangeable the Swoppets were, not only with each other but also with Knights of other makes. This has almost certainly been sneakily swopped with a Cherilea (Ellem) Knight of similar vintage. The same firm also did green caparisons. (Thanks to Peter Cowan for pointing this out!)

Rearing horse with caparison in brown.
Horse with brown caparison
Brown caparison on galloping white horse.
Brown caparison famous white galloping horse, thanks Jamie

  I have received photos of a "fleur-de-lys" caparison in what seems like a deep brown colour: the sender assures me it is genuine, won in a "spares" auction on eBay, and the colour is clearly much darker than the reds illustrated above. And yes, it's on a galloping white horse, which would make this one of the most collectable figures in existence.

  I also know of a collector who claims to have a white galloping horse with a yellow blanket - wonder what that would be worth?

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Saddles.

  The saddle came in two designs and two colours. Design A (in Plastic Warrior parlance) had flat, square top at the front and rear, while design B had a rounded point at the front and a curved top at the rear. Both came in either red or black, and were equally at home on the rearing and galloping horses, and with any of the Knights.

Saddle design A

A

B

Saddle design B
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Reins.

  The reins, or bridles, by which the Swoppet Knight (if he by any chance had a free hand) could control his horse, were available as standard, in only two colours, white and sky blue. There were four designs, which might be called "fancy", "round", "jagged" and "square", and these are illustrated below in the same order as given in Plastic Warrior. Of all the items in the Knights' repertoire, the reins were perhaps the most susceptible to fading due to wear and/or exposure to sunlight, making them quite a good indicator of the overall amount of what the collectors call "play wear" to which a Knight has been subjected over the years.

Sky blue reins in design 1

I

II

Sky blue reins in design 2
Sky blue reins in design 3

III

IV

Sky blue reins in design 4

  The picture concerning rare colours for reins is far from clear, and again the finger of suspicion points at Wiltons for muddying the waters with their imitations of the real thing. Some collectors will tell you they can identify a cheap impersonation by the inferior quality of the plastic, but it's perhaps easier to get taken in when looking at a picture. Timpo and Toyway reins can usually be spotted, as they are far larger than the Britains Swoppet versions.

  Plastic Warrior claims red reins were issued, but only in designs II and III, whereas the illustrated example is in design I, and the author can attest to the existence of red reins in all four designs, though whether they are all actually Britains must remain open to question.

Red reins in design 1
Green reins in design 4

  Green reins seem to be even rarer, and it would take a brave man to vouch for the authenticity of the ones shown here. Note they are in design IV - the author claims to have some in design III, and Plastic Warrior says they were issued by Britains exclusively in design I.

  And here is a mounted Knight with yellow reins, in design II, though once more it's anyone's guess whether or not they are genuine Britains. Yellow reins in designs I and III have also been spotted, but the Plastic Warrior article is silent on this subject.

Yellow reins in design 2
Mucky grey reins in design 2

  A much less inspiring colour scheme is this set of reins, which I can only describe as mucky grey - well, they're not sky blue and they're not green anyway. Keen though I always am to have rare and authentic variants on the Britains colour schemes in my collection, I have to say I really do hope these ones are not genuine!

  Finally, here's a mounted Knight with royal blue reins, design I. I'm fairly sure they also were made in designs II (thanks, Ged) and III. Like a few other unusual colour variants, they seem to have been much more common overseas than in the UK.

  As with all parts of this site, feedback from any informed source would be most welcome.

Royal blue reins, design 1.
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