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I never heard of this before, but I was able to find something through a quick Google Patent search. Unfortunately, there is no way to access the actual patent itself. I tried to see if I could find it elsewhere but didn't have any luck. It appears as though a patent was granted in 1924? (if I'm reading it right). Patent number is: FR588985A Asignee is Le Batima Soc.
Seeing as you are in the UK and the instructions are in English, it looks as though they had an export market. Valuing early construction toys is pretty tough because they can be all over the map in terms of price. I've seen some stuff from the early 1900s sell for $20 USD (with box). Some sell high. In this case, I think there would be some interest from LEGO collectors because of the stud-based system and that fact that it is so old. The box and instructions help, too. This could be a real "wild card." My guess is that, at the minimum someone might pay $100 USD. Then again, someone might even be willing to pay $300+ USD, depending on how much they value the unofficial LEGO connection.
Do you think your friend might be willing to make digital scans or nice, clear photos of the box cover and the instructions? I keep files on non-LEGO construction toys, and those would be cool to include. They actually kind of remind me of the American Bricks (later American Plastic Bricks) which were introduced in the 1930s. The studs on those were less pronounced.
Good find for your friend! And maybe a good find for you. ;-)
This MoDIP page at http://www.modip.ac.uk/exhibitions/work-rest-play-plastics/play-construction-toys suggests Batima was the earliest plastic construction toy, and "was first made in Belgium in 1905 and was marketed with a booklet of building patterns."
When I was told it came back from the war, I didn't think to ask which war :)
Also, I hadn't appreciated that the bricks are actually a plastic, but MoDIP houses the Plastics Historical Society collection, so I guess they know their stuff!
The font details are interesting, as I hadn't thought about that aspect, and it could suggest this set is from the 1920s/1930s like some of the examples I found via Google this morning. The pictures of the 1930s bricks on the MoDIP page look the same, albeit in a worse condition:
I think the most interesting thing I've found out about them is that they are compression moulded from casein formaldehyde - literally milk curds hardened with formaldehyde!
Irregardless of all that, I think it is a neat and unique piece of history. If your friend is planning to sell it, I wish him/her good luck! If you decide to buy it off your friend, I congratulate you! ;)
If you search Batima Blocks you'll find various pictures on Pintrest and Flickr. Maybe one of those users might have further information, so you might try contacting them. Some of the photos indicate they are from the Huis Van Alijn museum collection in Ghent.
Wooden boxes were often used to house earlier construction toys, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility. Cardboard might have come later.
The Canadian Centre for Architecture also has at least one Batima set in their collection of construction toys.
I'm sure there is a very good chance that the box is original with the set, but philosophy is that unless it is known for 100% certain, it shouldn't be advertised as such and it could affect value if someone is considering going that route... not that many people would even know for certain themselves.
EDIT - Oh... I just decided to look on eBay and look, there is one available right now - Item 253521339603.
It's in a cardboard box and the box image is the same as what is on the wooden box. The plot thickens.... now I'm thinking the wood box was used to replace a deteriorating cardboard box maybe?
Looking more closely at the lid of that wooden box, it really looks repurposed. There are a lot of extra holes, the shadow of some kind of plate, and a line across the near end on the inside.
Also, good find on eBay. It will be interesting to see what it fetches. That one has French instructions. I'm more interested in the OP's friend's set with English instructions since it shows they had a presence in English-speaking countries (maybe just UK). If the box was re-purposed, it could have been a cigar box. It kind of has that look with the hinges. Or was the wooden box used under circumstances.
I was able to find some older eBay listings through worthpoint.com Unfortunately you have to pay for a membership to see what the items sold for. :-(
Here is one that has a boxed set similar to the one you shared:
Here is a boxed set that looks like none of the others. It comes in a huge brown box that appears to be official. The box appears to have a faux wood-printed inlay. Seller wrote, "My grandfather brought it back from Normandy during WW2 as a gift for my father, then 12 years old."
I'm still trying to find the origins to these... Ceramic Coburg Building Blocks.... partly because that's the name of the town in Germany where I was born, before coming to the USA at age 5.
I only have this one image... and have not found any other. Looks like a wondrous toy though.... except the box top images are almost always deceiving! ;-)
The French version that was referenced a few months back sold for less than $60 USD, so it's really hard to say what this will sell for. My advice is to just list it and let the market decide what it will sell for.
When the listing goes live, share it here. I'm sure you will generate some more interest.
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