Founded in Northampton, England, 1899 to date. Wenman J. Bassett-Lowke was the first to recognize the quality workmanship of German toy train manufactures (i.e. Bing, Marklin, Carette and Ismayer) and to commission specific British designs.
Bassett-Lowke also innovated the mail order catalog of toys concept, mailing its first edition, with tipped-in photographs, in 1899.
Bassett-Lowke initially started as a mail-order catalog business and primarily remained so, although it sometimes designed and even manufactured some of its own items.
Bassett-Lowke were primarily a sale organisation, contracting out the manufacture of models and parts to other manufacturers, such as Twining Models, and Wintringham's also of Northampton. They did, however, keep the manufacture of shipmodels for display purposes in-house.
Bassett-Lowke produced trains in a variety of sizes, from 15-inch gauge live steam models to Gauge 2, Gauge 1, and O gauge. In the 1920s, Bassett-Lowke introduced OO gauge products as well.
Bassett-Lowke's decline starting in the late 1950s can be blamed on at least two factors: Sometimes people would browse the firm's free catalog and then buy similar or nearly identical items elsewhere at a lower price, but also consumer interest in technical toys in general began to decline in the late 1950s and even more so in the 1960s . Bassett-Lowke's fall was mirrored by two of its U.S. counterparts, the A. C. Gilbert Company and Lionel Corporation.
However, the 1960s were also to bring their problems, and in 1964 the company ceased its retail sales and sold its shops, including the famous one at High Holborn in London, to Beatties. The original Bassett-Lowke went out of business in 1965.
In 1966 the company was acquired by Messrs. Riley and Derry, and in the late 1980s by Nigel Turner, a Northampton businessman.
In 1993 the name was revived for a while with short-run white metal models. These included a Burrell Type Traction Engine, Clayton Undertype Steam Wagon, Burrell Type Steam Roller, and London 'B' Type bus.
Because of the premium nature of Bassett-Lowke's toys, they tended to be well preserved, and many examples survive today. They are highly collectible.
The brand name has been acquired by toy manufacturer Corgi Toys, who has made efforts in recent years to revive it.