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From Toys to Collectables: A Century of Toy Soldiers

Last updated: 28 April 2016

Recorded on 7 March 2013

Dr Roger Stearn places the National Army Museum's collection of toy soldiers in a wider context. Topics covered include: famous men and their toy soldiers; the British toy soldier industry and its leading firm, Britains; and the more recent developments brought about by the end of hollow cast production in 1966.

Transcript

Dr Roger Stearn:

OK. Well, thank you very much for inviting me and thank you all for coming.

Now, when you look round this wonderful museum you will see, or have seen, in various display cases old toy soldiers, and when you go to the shop you will see new toy soldiers. And basically this talk is about British toy soldiers - from the old toy soldiers, as in the display cases, to the new toy soldiers, as in the shop.

I, myself, am not a toy soldier collector or dealer; I'm just a historian who is interested in toy soldiers as a part of our history.

The toy soldiers I will be talking about are mostly the little 54mm - that's about two and a quarter inches - 1:32 scale figures like this one. Probably those of you at the back can't see it, but anyway. And I hope for some of you this talk may be a sort of trip down memory lane.

Now, of course, the subject of toy soldiers is not important history. It is not in any way as important as the history you normally get here and it would be absurd to try to argue that it was. But, I suggest, toy soldiers are of some historical significance and, I hope, of some interest.

Now, if you look up there you can see the classic image of British toy soldiers - say the 1930s or whatever, Highlanders, nice red coats, glossy paint, etc, etc, and behind them a nice wooden fort. Unfortunately, the image isn't quite what it seems, because these are actually Chinese replicas made for collectors fairly recently. But, as I say, it does give the image, which I am sure many of you remember, of the nice glossy painted toy soldiers. These are actually Camerons.

Right, let's get going then.

For over 100 years from the 1880s playing with toy soldiers was a part of British boyhood. In his memoirs, 'My Early Life', Winston Churchill wrote about the toy soldiers he had as a boy in the 1880s. 'I had ultimately nearly 1,500. They were all of one size, all British. The toy soldiers turned the current of my life.'

In the same period Churchill's contemporary, GM Trevelyan, and his brothers up north at Wallington Hall in Northumberland were war gaming with 3,800 toy solders - that's quite a lot of toy soldiers, isn't it? 3,800. Trevelyan later, of course, the most famous historian of his generation, wrote in his autobiography that these war games influenced his history writing and enabled him to describe battles. And today Wallington Hall is owned and run by the National Trust, and if you go up there you can actually see the toy soldiers, not quite all of them, but a lot of them.

Moving on. In the Edwardian period one of the boys who played with toy soldiers was Basil Hart, later famous as Captain Sir Basil Liddell-Hart, the controversial military pundit and historian. Liddell-Hart wrote in his memoirs that 'when playing with lead soldiers I like to make the game as tactical as possible. Manoeuvring them rather than arranging them or shooting them down.' 

Other memoirs and autobiographies also tell of boys playing with their toy soldiers. You will find this in the memoirs or autobiographies of Dennis Wheatley, of Graham Greene, of AJP Taylor and others. And this also occurs in fiction, in the books by HG Wells, by E Nesbitt, by Saki, by Richmal Crompton, by Evelyn Waugh, by Kingsley Amis and others. And more recently those who played with toy soldiers include His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, Sir Max Hastings, Roy Hattersley, Clive James and Professor Sir Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford University and formerly a trustee of this museum. So all the evidence indicates that playing with toy soldiers was very widespread and normal for a long time.

Yet, of course, there were always exceptions. Some boys just weren't interested and some parents would not allow their children to have 'war toys' and that was obviously true with Quakers and other pacifists. In fact war toys were a continued, if relatively minor, concern of the peace movement. For example, in March 1914 - ie before the First World War - the National Peace Council, which was a sort of umbrella organisation of pacifist organisations, stated their 'grave objection to toy soldiers'. And at the Child's Welfare Exhibition at Olympia they put on a display of 'peace toys', with 'not miniature soldiers but miniature civilians... not guns but ploughs and the tools of industry'.

Next, let's look at the history of toy solders and a little bit about what's been written and published on them. Now, today, there's a lot available... in fact if you go down the shops you can see some of it, there's a lot available on toy soldiers. And today the books, the articles and the websites on toy soldiers are almost all by hobbyists, collectors, dealers and experts from the flourishing international toy soldier collector community.

Today, old toy soldiers, like old teddy bears, are very collectable, though incidentally they are much cheaper than teddy bears - the big money is in teddy bears, that's just by the way. Just to give you an example and a slight digression, a 1904 cinnamon-colour Steiff teddy bear called 'Teddy Girl' sold at Christies for £110,000. No toy soldiers have ever sold for anything like that.

Now, today, among the people who write on toy soldiers, the leading expert on British toy soldiers, the author of standard books, is Mr James Opie. He is himself an enthusiastic collector and over the years he accumulated about 65,000 figures, then he had to move house so he slimmed down his collection to about 16,000. And Mr Opie has made an entire successful career as a toy soldier expert, writing books and working for the leading auction houses - Phillips, Christies and Bonhams.

Another writer on toy soldiers, and in fact really the odd one out because he is an academic historian, is Professor Kenneth Brown, who is Professor Emeritus at Queens University, Belfast. He is actually an economic historian. He has written books on the history of the toy industry, quite a depressing subject actually, and articles on toy soldiers in learned and academic journals. And in this lecture I draw with gratitude on the publications of Mr James Opie, Professor Kenneth Brown and others.

OK. Let's look briefly at the history and the background of toy soldiers. The early history of toy soldiers can be traced back for centuries in different countries and different cultures. They are made in varied sizes and materials, in silver for princes and in wood or metal for lesser mortals like us.

Now, in the 1880s, which is where we're really starting in this talk, in the 1880s there was no, or no significant manufacture of toy soldiers in Britain. Toy soldiers just weren't made here. There may have been the old wooden toy soldier but basically what we know of as toy soldiers just weren't made in this country. Toy soldiers were imported; they were imported from Germany and France, and mostly from Germany. And Winston Churchill's and GM Trevelyan's toy soldiers were in fact made in Germany.

In the late 19th and early 20th century Germany was the world's leading toy manufacturer and exporter. In Edwardian England about half the toys sold were actually German imports. The leading German toy soldier manufacturer was Heyde of Dresden. And Heyde, and other German toy soldiers, were solid metal figures and relatively expensive. This point about them being solid is quite significant, as you will see in a moment.

And this brings us to the biggest name in British toy soldier history, the firm of Britains - I am sure, many of you, if not most of you, have heard of Britains.

Now, Britains was a London family firm. It was started by William Britain Sr; his dates are 1831-1907. If you're interested you can look online on the Dictionary of National Biography and there's an article there about William Britain and his family.

Now, William Britain Sr was a skilled metalworker. He was a brass worker and he came from Birmingham, which of course was a great metalworking centre. He moved to London, he married a London girl and he had a large family - they had five sons and four daughters.

And probably from the 1860s, nobody seems to know quite for sure, William Britain Sr started manufacturing toys. But the toys he manufactured were quite large clockwork toys and other mechanical toys. He made a waltzing cowboy, a tea drinking mandarin, all clever little mechanical toys, and these were made at the Britains' family home which was in Islington. And I think what one needs to emphasise was it was on a very small scale, it was a workshop production, craftsman production, it wasn't a factory at all, it was very small scale.

Then in 1893 - a key date in our story - in 1893 William Britain Jr, who was a son of William Britain Sr - William Britain Jr, whose dates are 1859-1933, made a crucial innovation which transformed the fortunes of the Britains' family firm and also transformed the manufacture of toy soldiers. William Britain, as I am sure many of you already know, introduced hollow casting. Now, the method of casting might seem a mere nerdish technicality, but in fact it made a crucial difference.

Now, hollow casting itself was not new, it had been used for various things including dolls heads, but its application to the manufacture of metal toy soldiers was 'new and revolutionary' - that's James Opie's term for it, 'new and revolutionary'. Now, in hollow casting molten metal, a lead alloy, was poured into a handheld brass mould and then it ran out and it left a hollow figure. Now, in theory it is very simple. In practice, it is rather more difficult to do.

In other words, the production of these toy soldiers was not by machines, it was by craftsmen. It was a whole load of individual craftsmen each with their handheld brass mould and ladle of molten metal etc, etc. And these individual craftsmen, skilled craftsmen, could do over 300 figures per hour - quite a lot - 300 figures per hour. After the castings had been made, they were then painted by women in the factory. Later on they used outworkers but in the early period the women were all in the factory.

Now, hollow casting obviously used much less metal than solid casting and therefore the hollow cast figures obviously cost much less to produce. And, therefore, obviously they could be sold at much lower prices than the imported German solid figures. And before the First World War they sold at very roughly half the price of the German figures.

Moreover, Britains soldiers were attractive. They were well modelled, they were well painted and they were usually accurate - there are odd sort of slip-ups where they got things wrong, but on the whole they were pretty accurate - and they were in a standard scale, which we've already mentioned 1:32 scale, 54mm, like this chap here. This scale in fact was the scale of the then popular Gauge One model railways, which is quite large by modern standards.

Now, Britains' first set came out in 1893. It was a box of lifeguards, four troopers and an officer, and over the following years this set was followed by an extensive range of sets, more and more and more, year after year. There were British, there were Indian, there were colonial and foreign, there were Arabs and Zulus, there were cowboys and Indians - cowboys and Indians very popular and very much a part of British boyhood for a long time, including when I was young. I mean I had a wooden tomahawk, but that's by the way.

The British Army sets included a variety of units including, of course, the Household troops, line infantry, Highlanders and Mountain Artillery and the Royal Army Medical Corps. The Royal Army Medical Corps came complete with ambulances, nurses, stretcher bearers and recumbent bandaged wounded. Usually the bandage consisted of a rather tasteful bandage around the head with just a little bit of red on it, but never corpses. Britians, and other British toy soldiers manufacturers, never made dead soldiers.

Britains also, of course, also manufactured toy artillery guns which fired projectiles and caps. These were in various sizes, ranging up to the big so-called 18-inch Howitzer, which I'm told fired a lead projectile with significant force. I've never actually seen one fired. In fact today, when they are offered for sale in online auctions, it says specifically they are not for sale to children. Things have changed, of course. Mind you in this period children could actually buy guns. I mean anybody could buy a gun. There's a Kipling story where these children go out and buy a revolver. Anyway, that's by the way.

So, Britains also manufactured vehicles, wagons, carts, etc, and Britains were remarkably successful. They ousted foreign imports, they dominated the home market and they became the world's leading toy soldier manufacturer. And they retained their leading position until at least the end of hollow cast toy soldier production in 1966, and arguably even after that, even you could argue today.

Britains exported to the empire, they exported to the United States, despite the fact that the United States had high protective tariffs, they exported to South America - in Argentina they were very popular, in fact in Argentina the locals actually made their own imitations of Britains toy soldiers - and they even exported to Germany. They produced very large numbers by 1910, about 200,000 per week - that's from Professor Brown that figure - and according to James Opie the total hollow cast production - that's from 1893 through to 1966 - was about 1,000 million, and that is a lot.

Now, let's look briefly at prices - just quickly. Britains best quality models were sold in boxed sets. They were dark red cardboard boxes with attractive labels and from 1893 to 1914 a box of eight infantry or five cavalry cost a shilling or less at Gamages - I will mention about Gamages in a moment.

In 1933 a box cost one shilling and seven pence halfpenny, and there were of course also much cheaper ranges. Also, Britains soon had competitors - rival manufacturers of hollow cast toy soldiers; some of them people who had actually learnt about it by working as Britains employees and then sort of slipped away and started up their own firm. And these rival firms, including Raker, BMC, Johillco, otherwise known as John Hill & Co - and that was Britains' main rival; Johillco went right from the 1890s through to the 1960s - and later, of course, Cress, Timpo and others. These produced figures as cheap or cheaper than Britains and presumably competition kept prices down.

Now, let's look at availability and retail. Toy soldiers were widely available in various retail outlets, including department stores and notably Gamages of Holborn - there's Gamages in all its glory. That's from their 1913 catalogue.

Now, some of you may remember Gamages. It closed in 1972. It was demolished and there's absolutely no sign of it left. Nothing at all. But it had been started back in 1878, started on a very small scale - it was just a small shop - by the enterprising Mr Albert Gammage, and it grew and grew and grew. From this one small shop he kept taking more and more adjoining premises until it ends up like that. And by the 1890s it was a leading London department store known as 'the people's popular emporium'. It was much advertised and had a flourishing catalogue and mail order business.

Now, unlike other department stores, Gamages focused very much on men rather than on ladies and it specialised in sports equipment, sports clothes, etc. It was quite a masculine place in its early days. Gamages sold an amazing range of goods, including motor cars, billiard tables, 12-bore shot guns and live alligators, and is also had a big and famous toy department.

In 1893, in other words when Britains started, Mr Gammage agreed to sell Britains toy soldiers and his store effectively became the launch pad for Britains toy soldiers. In fact Gamages displayed so many Britains soldiers that they became known, at least according to their own publicity, as 'the Aldershot of the toy soldier world'.

Britains toy soldiers were also sold in Woolworths - Woolworths, of course, an American firm, but in the UK from 1909, and by 1931 they had 444 branches. I'm sure most of you, like me, can remember the time when wherever you seemed to go in England, whatever town you landed up in, there would be a Woolworths.

So Britains soldiers, and other toy soldiers as well of course, were very widely available. They were attractive, they were affordable and, as I say, widely available. And, arguably, supply had created demand - the fact that these were available made people want them. They also fitted what one might call the dominant image of war, especially before 1914 - the rather glamourised romantic image of war put across in the media including The Illustrated London News, The Graphic, The Navy and Army Illustrated, and in fiction such as the works of GA Henty, and in displays such the Royal Tournament and, later on, the Aldershot Tattoo.

OK. Let's look now a bit more at Britains and their toy soldiers. Now, after their initial success, their production was for many years a mixture of continuity and innovation. First of all the continuity. They continued throughout to produce such firm favourites as the Household troops, the Royal Horse Artillery, Drums and Bugles of the Line, Highlanders and Mountain Artillery. These sets went on for years and years and years and some of them were being made in the early 1960s. They had a very long shelf life as it were.

Yet Britains also, especially in the early years, responded to current events, to contemporary wars by issuing topical sets. In 1896 following the Jameson Raid into the Transvaal, which was an absolute disaster as I'm sure you will all know, Britains issued their set, 'Dr Jameson and the South African Mounted Infantry', with Dr Jameson leading his troops into imprisonment in fact, but that's by the way.

Now, in 1898 they responded to the Spanish-American War in Cuba by issuing sets of American and Spanish troops. In 1898 also, following the famous charge of the 21st Lancers of Omdurman, Britains issued a set of '21st Lancers: Heroes of Omdurman' in khaki foreign service uniforms.

During the Boer War Britains issued various Boer War troops, including both Boers and British and including the famous City Imperial Volunteers (CIV) and the Imperial Yeomanry and the famous 4.7 naval gun on its land mounting. The point about this is that they were manufacturing an enormous range of sets by this date.

There we have some more from Gamages' 1913 catalogue. Notice here you have got the Egyptian Camel Corps there, you have got the Royal Army Medical Corps there, Red Indians at the top, sailors there. And this, of course, the interesting set, that's the Mountain Artillery. That set was very popular. It came in in the 1890s and it was still in production in the 1960s. A very nice little set, and what you've got, for anybody who isn't familiar with it, are four mules and a gun which you disassemble, you can take it apart, and each part of the gun goes on one mule. So you've got three parts of the gun going on three mules and then the fourth mule has the ammunition and a mounted officer. Not quite an accurate model because the real ones disassembled into more parts than three. But, anyway, a nice set.

OK. Here we have some more again from Gamages' 1913 catalogue. Mostly Britains on this page but not entirely. Notice at this date they are making a lot of stuff to go with their toy soldiers. There's guns, there's transport, there's tents, etc, etc. And what you've got - you can see the tents up there, obviously - what you've got there is an interesting set because the set was a set that comprised Britains figures but the set was actually put together by another firm and marketed by them.

There you have the... what it says is Army Service Corp Transport. What that is, of course, is the old general service wagon - the GS wagon. And the GS wagon was the basic transport of the British Army for a very long time, right from the 1860s through to mechanisation between the wars. And I am sure you have all seen photographs of the First World War with GS wagons heavily laden with stuff, often going through the mud, etc. Therewe are, there is the general service wagon, the GS wagon.

Boy Scouts there. As I say they did make some civilians. The Boy Scouts started in 1908. A lot of media interest in it. A lot of interest from boys, as well, of course. Naval landing party with a gun there. More Boy Scouts there. More cavalry. That's the 21st Lancers, yet again, and then that's advertising one of their big expensive sets there.

OK. Moving on, then. Now, during the First World War, Britains started to make munitions, but surprisingly they continued to make toy soldiers quite late. You may remember the slogan 'Business As Usual', which was used at the early stages of the war. And in fact they continued their toy soldier production in the First World War up to 1916 and they introduced some specifically First World War models, including machine gunners, and they put their 21st Lancers into steel helmets, and they produced their biggest gun so far, the so-called 18-inch Howitzer, which I've already mentioned. They also, by the way, introduced an exploding trench, but there were such protests over this that they quickly withdrew it, so it's quite rare.

OK. Moving on to the interwar period. In the 1920s and 1930s Britains continued to manufacture their pre-war and wartime sets. So, basically, they have an enormous range and this range keeps growing because they do drop a very few but not many. And they introduced the Royal Air Force, the Royal Engineers Pontoons, King's African Rifles and Royal Artillery Gunners in khaki, and they belatedly modernised their field guns. Right up to this period they had still been using the old Victorian-style field guns.

Topical again, in 1936 at the time of the controversial Abyssinian War they made models of both Abyssinian and Italian troops. Later in the 1930s at the time of rearmament they made ARP [Air Raid Precautions] figures and in 1940 they actually made the Home Guard. That was one of the last figures they made before they stopped production.

Now, in 1941 Britains switched entirely to munitions productions - they totally stopped making toy soldiers for the duration. And this was basically the end of an era. It was the end of their huge pre-war range, which you have seen some of there. It was the end of the Boer War sets, the 17th Lancers, the 21st Lancers, the Yeomanry, the Pontoons, the Royal Field Artillery gun teams and many more.

After the Second World War, Britains resumed toy soldier production successfully, but with far fewer sets than before the war. They re-issued some pre-war sets and they introduced a few new models, including more soldiers in battle dress. However, and this I find slightly strange, in their post-war hollow cast production Britains ignored the Second World War. They didn't do the 8th Army; they didn't do any of the specifically Second World War troops. Why this is I don't know.

Now, after the Second World War British toy soldier production was very largely exported especially to the United States. As you know the British economy was in a bad way at that time and the British government was desperate for dollars and both Britains and their rival, Johillco, were significant dollar earners. In fact post-war about 70 per cent of Johillco production was exported to the United States. I'm afraid I don't have figures for Britains, my guess is it could be about the same.

Then, moving on, in the 1950s and 1960s came a big change, the switch to plastic. Gradually Britains made more and more plastic, fewer and fewer metal, and in 1966 the end of hollow cast metal toy soldier production by Britains. It was the end of an era, obviously, and the era which it started, as we have seen, back in 1893 with William Britain Jr.

Now, I would just like to say a tiny bit more about Britains' firm, just to round off about Britains. Now, Britains had been a very successful family firm for three generations, but in 1978 when Mr Dennis Britain, who is an interesting chap, he ran Britains roughly speaking from the 1930s through into the 1970s with an interlude in the RAF - I think he had the DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross], but you could check that. Anyway, in 1978 Mr Dennis Britain retired and there was no member of the family willing or able to take over, and so in 1984 the family sold the company. So 1984 Britains ceased to be run by the Britain family. After that there have been various changes of ownership and today the company is American-owned, manufacture is in China. Sadly today there is nothing, or very little, that is British about Britains.

Now, looking back, in retrospect one can see now that Britains' pre-1966 models were just part of what has been called the golden age of British toys, which included Meccano, Hornby trains, Dinkys, Corgis, Sutcliffe boats, Tri-ang, Mallard steam engines and much else. And it is a belated tribute to the attractiveness and quality of those British toys that today they are so 'very collectable and in international demand'.

And this brings us to the question: why do adults collect toy soldiers? Of course motivation is always a problem. Why does anybody do anything? We're never quite sure, but at least one can make a few suggestions. Now, probably, and this is very briefly, probably most people collect toy soldiers for three reasons - that's in addition to what you might call their inherent attractiveness and interest. There is a double nostalgia, I think. There is nostalgia for one's own childhood, boyhood, and there is nostalgia for when Britain was a great power with a great empire and a victorious Army. And in addition to this double nostalgia there is also the fascination of the miniature. People love miniature things, as you know, when you see this in dolls' houses, model trains, etc, etc.

OK. Now, to end up with, let's look briefly at what has happened since 1966, when they stopped making the traditional hollow cast toy soldiers. Now, the first thing that happened is that they still make toy soldiers, they make them in plastic. You can still go in a toy shop and you can buy cheap toy soldiers but a very, very limited range - mostly in fact Second World War, and probably almost all made in China, and there is nothing to go with them. Britains no longer make vehicles, they no longer make artillery, all you've got is just a few Second World War figures.

Now, the second thing that has happened since 1966 is that toy soldiers have continued to be collected and to be very collectable. It is very much an international hobby. It is very big in the United States and it has all the paraphernalia of such a hobby. There are experts, there are dealers, there are auctions, there are shows, books, magazine, societies, crooks, fakes, forgeries, etc. And, of course, rare sets fetch high prices at auction, but it is a myth that all old toy soldiers are valuable. Most of them aren't.

Now, the third development since 1966 is the production of what are called new toy soldiers. Now, new toy soldiers, strictly speaking, aren't toys at all and you are not allowed to sell them to children. These are toy soldier-type, toy soldier-scale figures made specifically for adult collectors. This started only a few years after 1966. It started with a couple called the Scrobys in London. They made some figures in their flat, I think presumably the kitchen of their flat, and they took them down to their stall in Portobello Road and they sold them.

And after this there was a very rapid growth of what one could call a cottage industry, making toy soldiers for collectors. You needed very little capital. You could do it at home. You could do it in your shed or garage or whatever, and by 1991 there were, or had been, about 180 makers of these new toy soldiers. Most of them were small firms. They just came and went, and sadly a lot more went than came, as it were.

Anyway, today the leading firms making these toy soldiers for collectors are Britains, who belatedly came into the sector, and King and Country, which is a Hong Kong-based firm which actually manufactures in mainland China. Other firms include Tradition of London, and Dorset Soldiers, which is Giles Brown's outfit down on Portland. And if you go into the museum shop downstairs, you can see and you can buy, if you feel inclined, figures by Britains, by King and Country and by Tradition. But as you may know, perhaps I should warm you, they are expensive. A single figure costs £20 or more, a mounted figure £80 or more, and sets even more than that.

To take a few recent examples a Britains First World War 18-pounder and four men costs £130. The new Britains Zulu War artillery gun team costs £500. And if you've still got plenty of money, the Britains Nile gun boat costs £900, and they've got one downstairs - or at least when I last looked, they had one downstairs. So hurry, hurry and buy it! [Laughter]

And moving on to pictures - this is just to show you some of the so-called new toy soldiers, the ones made for collectors. These are 1990s Britains. You will notice various differences from the traditional toy soldiers and just a couple of things to point out. The poses are much more 'realistic', there is more action in them than the rather static poses of the old toy soldiers. Notice also the gun which is a 4.5 Howitzer. This is not a toy gun anymore. They used to make toy guns which fired. By this time, when they're making them for collectors, they're making scale models. That's quite a nice scale model of the 4.5.

And there we are, the same set again. And you will notice a limber in the background - the set actually comprises what you see there: a gun, a four-man detachment and a limber. But there's nothing to pull the limber, you have to provide your own horses if you want the limber to move, or notionally to move anyway.

OK. Moving on. Now we come to the latest - this is the current Britains, and you will notice quite a change from the earlier new toy soldiers, and particularly from the traditional toy soldiers. You will notice of course very much more realistic, matt painted. This is obviously their desert series, their 'War Along the Nile', I think they call it. Basically, it's the Gordon Relief Expedition etc. And there they are, and very realistic. And, as I said before, very expensive - about £400 worth of figures there.

OK. Moving on again. There we are, more of the same. Very nice figures, but as I say a different genre from the old toy soldiers. They don't look like old toy soldiers, they're not meant to look like old toy soldiers.

Moving on. There we are, more of them. And you can see infantry in the background, of course.

And there we are, we started with Highlanders and our last picture there is a Highlander, Black Watch, of course, and again from the Britains Sudan War series.

OK. So it's an expensive hobby buying these new metal toy soldiers. If you want to play or to war game with 1:32 scale figures, you would do much better with Airfix. Airfix, of course, the famous maker of plastic kits. From the 1950s they made plastic soldiers, unpainted plastic soldiers from the 1970s, they made 1:32 scale figures. These are still available and you can buy them in the shop downstairs and they are a lot cheaper. You can get two boxes - 28 figures - for less than the price of a single metal toy soldier.

OK, ladies and gentleman, that's it. Thank you for listening.

4 comments

David Bagnall
27 June 2013, 2.40pm

'I, myself, am not a toy

'I, myself, am not a toy soldier collector or dealer; I'm just a historian who is interested in toy soldiers as a part of our history.'

So get someone who is a collector and enthusiast! This talk was limited in scope and didn't refer to the museum's collection, just about the development of Britains'. While this was interesting, it did little to explain the intense interest in toy soldiers some people have. And there is the tantalising comment - 'People love miniature things, as you know, when you see this in dolls' houses, model trains, etc, etc.' Why? There is no attempt to explain this or to analyse the psychology behind why people collect things.

And what about the huge numbers of people who collect toy/model soldiers to wargame? Why was there no mention of them? Even in passing? This talk missed a great deal and described Britains' formation and that of Gamage's. Interesting to a degree no doubt, but any analysis of why people collect toy soldiers (or anything at all for that matter) was sadly missing along with any reference to the huge wargaming community. Many missed opportunities here - very disappointing.

Mike Budd
13 December 2013, 4.32pm

I'm afraid I totally agree

I'm afraid I totally agree with the feedback from David Bagnall, anyone could of read from that script the contact was bland and Dr Roger Stearn hardly looked up from the script to engage with the audience, anyone with any interest in this subject could of elaborated a lot more on numerous points raised here - not really beneficial at all sorry but thanks for trying.

Mike Niederman
29 May 2014, 2.45am

"...analyse the psychology

"...analyse the psychology behind why people collect things" in a Lunchtime Lecture. It's meant to be a quick history of a once-common toy, not an examination of a complex impulse. And wargamers have rarely used any form of 'toy' soldier since figures made specifically for that hobby emerged 50 years ago.

James O'Connell
10 July 2015, 1.03am

As a child in the 60s my toy

As a child in the 60s my toy soldier battles were primarily with Timpo, Cresent, Lone Star and a few Swoppet plastics. I had a handful of metal Britains Grenadier Guards and a mounted Household Guard. These all saw service in the backyard, sand pit, carpets and garage floor. They sustained fire from matchsticks from cannons, marbles, elastic bands, hardened sand and dart guns. Most of these figures I still have and the original armies are tiny compared to the many thousands I have now. A sort of toy soldier Renaissance happened in the 90s with new companies like Accurate and a call to Arms boxes of plastic figures and also New metal Britains. More recently we have Armies in Plastic which makes figures from late 19th century conflicts and WW1. This is all 1/32, my preferred scale, whilst most wargamers wargame in smaller scales.

I am unashamed to say that with fellow collectors and wargamers I play massive games and campaigns with these figures that I painstakingly paint. My armies are primarily plastic but include old repaired and re-painted hollow cast as well as home castings.
In Australia I am a member of ACOTS (Australian Collectors of Toy Soldiers). I also subscribe to the British magazine, plastic Warrior and yahoo groups, Little Wars and Funny Little Wars. There are also Facebook sites, International Collectors of Toy Soldiers and Toy Soldier collectors of New York. In addition I have Warhammer and Warhammer 40K armies that younger collectors are familiar with. That is a whole other but relate area of 28mm fantasy and SF.

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