We have had our cotton reel set for a little while now. I picked it up from a local charity shop after nursery said that Joseph (4) liked playing with theirs, about 18 months ago. It only came with a piece of string that had tape on the end so I bought some new colour boot laces from a market for 50p a pair & tied a knot in one end.
I keep these in the kitchen as an activity to keep them busy while I'm cooking dinner. More recently Daniel (2.5) has shown an interest in the cotton reels, and before he could manage to use the lace I gave him a long pipe cleaner, as we used with our pasta threading. The cotton reels are nice & chunky for little hands it is an excellent activity for improving fine motor skills. They can also be used for stacking & colour sorting.
Once Daniel had strung several together he started to pull them along the floor, pretending it was first a caterpillar & then a snake.
You can buy a new Galt Cotton Reel set from Amazon US & Amazon UK, they also make a giant button set which, I think the boys would enjoy so I might get one for Daniels birthday in May.