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Armies in Miniature: Toy Soldiers

Red Devil

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After a lively Dimestore discussion on the US forum, I'd like to start a topic on non-US toy soldiers. I grew fond of old Britains at an early age, and collecting them led to learning about the kit and regiments they represented, and of course the next logical step was to enter the world of militaria collecting.


I'll work on getting some photos taken soon, but would like to invite the community to share their miniature army collections here!


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Here you go....for those that collect Britain's, an English company that produced lead soldiers from 1893 thru1967. The company is still in business today, although under corporate ownership. At the time Britain's starting making hollowcast lead soldiers, the Germans and French dominated the toy soldier market. Their figures were usually cast of solid lead and were finely paint finished. The Britain's company found a way to produce lead soldiers that were hollow inside and yet durable and much cheaper than their continental counterparts. They are now like the Ames Company of the soldier world....when you think Civil War cavalry saber, you think Ames...when you think lead toy soldiers it's Britain's. They quickly dominated the British market and soon expanded sales worldwide. They produced a massive range of soldiers to include other nations armed forces and frequently updated their figures thru better castings or uniform and equipment changes. I discovered them in the early 1960's when I bought my first set...and by the 70's I was hooked. Trips to the Soldier Shop in NYC and visting the U.K.has allowed me to get many of the sets I dreamed of a as kid. To the collectors there are various eras of painting styles to build collections around: Ancients cover figures made between 1893-1918, prewar from 1918 thru 1941 and postwar 1945 thru 1967. I favor prewar, but when I can find cheaper Ancients I try and buy them. Each era had its own paint style.This is the 2nd version of set 35 Royal Marine Artillery...first produced in 1897....there are eight variations of this set alone that was made thru the 1950's. This is the second version dating from 1905-08 so this would fall in the "Ancients" range.


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Here are some prewar items, some with their original boxes. Collectors try to obtain models in their original boxes. Many years ago collectors scorned the boxes and stories abound of them throwing some of the larger boxes away because of Transport difficulties following sales....that's totally changed over time. Rarity and condition drive prices...some sets were only made for a few years, while others had a variation that lasted only a short time. The market is somewhat down for these now from the 1970's-80's, but the Anicent ranges are still holding their prices well as well as the rare or unusual. There are also sadly reproductions of these coming out of England that are very good and can easily fool the collector, both novice and expert. Repaints and touch ups are a negative as well. Collectors prefer matching sets, vice mustaches or "married" sets





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Great thread. Here is some of my toy soldier collection. The majority of these figures are W. Britain's, but there are some First Legion, Front Line and a few hand painted plastic, metal and resin figures in there.


Dirk's story sounds much like mine. As a kid in the 60s I would go the toy soldier shop to buy the 1/72 scale Airfix Figures. I think it was something like 48 figures for .50 cents, for a 10 year old that was affordable. While in the shop I would just stand and admire and gawk at all the polished, brightly colored and expensive Britain's lead soldiers in the top lighted case. Like you Dirk I was hooked and have been collecting them whenever I could afford them.


Not being able to afford those nice figures and sets led me to start painting my own.


Anyway here are some of mine.


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Old Marine: When I was young there was a toy store in Rockledge that had their Britains on the upper shelves....with the Eyes Right Figures below. I remember buying a USMC Eyes Right Color Guard set in 1967 as lead was on the way out. So for me, Like you, Woolworth's had the Airfix figures that I would buy until I rediscovered lead figures in the early 70's when my parents stumbled across a older collectors cast off's.....I was hooked.

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I never knew about the store in Rockledge. I used to go to a tiny hardware store on 5th street in Olney. Primarily it was camped hardware store on one side and on the other side of the store he had display cases full of Britain's and other figures. He sold a lot of those Airfix figures and those HO scale, Rocco mini tank vehicles. It was an odd combination, mouse traps, plungers and collectible lead figures, but I guess the owner loved the figures and it was his store so he did what he wanted.........

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I remember those Marx Presidents! Olney was NE Philly so we were close by....going to the Trevose Show in Apr? It was MFCA's replacement location for Valley Forge.

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Here you go...on campaign 21st Lancers, Imperial Yeomanry, South African Defense Force, West Inidian Regiment, the Royal Army Service Corps, Zulus and their Karaal.....second photo....21 piece Royal Marine Band (set 1288)c. Mid 1930's.



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Both versions of the Royal Navy Landing Party.....the prewar dates from the early 1900's. The 1st version of set 35, Royal Marine Artillery 1897-1905, and Blue and White Jackets at trail, foreground officers of the Royal Navy.


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Royal Army Medical Corps....Kings African Rifles, Devonshire Regt, CapeTown Highlander's, and the Indian Army Service Corps and the 1st version of the Mountain Battery....sorry about the glare as these are taken through the glass case.


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Lastly, this is what they looked liked with their original box...infantry was normally 8 to a set including officer and cav sets were 5 with tumpeter or officer.....this example is a prewar box with art by Fred Whisstock, the prewar boxes are highly sought after....allowing a collector to marry unboxed figures up to its correct box. The final image is a shot of two Royal Horse Artillery men riding on their cannon. When Britians introduced this set they spent extra time painting details on the figures and horses. This is the 1st version of this set and dates from Queen Victoria's time.



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Stunning collections! Dirk-- those 1V and 2V early figures are especially nice. I like the full sets you've collected. I started in the 90s on a small allowance, trying to save up for single figures and admiring the sets from afar.

Dennis- I really like the top shelf band of the Scots Greys!

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