Toy soldiers are miniature figures, usually measuring between 30mm and 75mm, made to represent soldiers in military uniform and other figures associated with combat. They are used by children to play with as toys, but can also be used by adults to fight war games as a pastime or for instructive purposes and are highly popular collectors items.
Toy soldiers are a highly popular collector's item.
The most popular types of toy soldier with collectors is usually early lead toy soldiers as these are the rarest in the field.
Many companies today make toy soldiers not only as toys but also specifically for collectors.
The first toy soldiers
The earliest miniature military figures have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs, and have appeared in many cultures and eras.
Tin soldiers were produced in Germany as early as the 1730s, and became widespread during the 18th century.
Up until the late 19th century such toys were reserved for the wealthy, with many toy soldiers being hand-made out of silver and gold for the children of powerful leaders and royalty.
Toy soldiers were first produced in numbers by the French manufacturer Mignot.
Starting in the 1830s, they created a line of solidcast toy soldiers of all eras spanning ancient times to World War I and beyond, with special emphasis on the French Napoleonic period. During the 1950's, to accommodate the American market, Mignot began producing troops of the American Civil War.
These early figures are some of the most collectible on the market.
Their popularity spread throughout European and German manufacturers such as the Hilpert family of Nuremberg and Georg Heyde.
However, in 1893, William Britain revolutionized the production of toy soldiers by devising the method of hollow casting, making soldiers that were cheaper and lighter than those of the previously dominant German companies.
For the first half of the twentieth century, the only soldiers available were made of lead or a sawdust and glue mixture called composition.
But after WWII, many manufacturers started to use plastic as a cheaper alternative. While lead figures continued to be popular with adult collectors, unpainted plastic figures became highly popular as children’s toys in the 1950s.
The first American plastic soldiers were made by Beton as early as 1937.
The first plastic toy soldiers produced in Great Britain were made in 1946 by Airfix before they became known for their famous model kits range. Their success launched the introduction of painted plastic figures, which soon surpassed the competing lead models in sculpting and painting sophistication.
In 1966 new laws were introduced to ban the use of lead in the production of toys, and the majority of toy soldier manufacturers switched to plastic or closed down. However, during the late 1960s and early 1970s the anti-war sentiments that surrounded the Vietnam War meant the popularity of military based toys such as toy soldiers and action figures like G.I Joe was severely diminished.
During the 1970s a small number of companies started to produce lead toy soldiers on a small scale, this time purely for the adult collectors market. They were highly detailed and replicated the ‘old toy soldier’ style, with poses devoted to parade and ceremonial stances.
During the 1990s, the production of metal toy-grade painted figures and connoisseur-grade painted toy soldiers increased to serve the demands of the collectors' market. The style of many of these figures shifted from the traditional gloss-coat enamel paint to the matte-finished acrylic paint, which allows for greater detail and historical accuracy.
There are currently over 200 companies worldwide producing toy soldiers for both the adult collectors market and as children’s toys.
Main article: List of toy manufacturers
Toy soldiers have been manufactured around the world since the mid 19th century, in a variety of materials.
Many of the first manufacturers continue to produce collectible figures to this day.
Early lead figures from the turn of the century and even plastic models from the fifties and sixties are now highly collectible.
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