Saturday, May 5, 2012

Collecting Toy Soldiers/Military Miniatures; The State of the Hobby

The following “observations” were recently presented to the membership of two popular toy soldier forums. I would like to take the opportunity to reiterate and refine them, incorporating the additional thoughts of the membership of the forums. I'm including a few photographs from my personal collection in this post, and would invite the interested reader to explore elsewhere within the blog for additional pictures. Please excuse the "miniaturized sands of time", i.e. dust, from the Arizona desert.

Formation of both 'Armies of the World' and 'Regiments of
all Nations'; all vintage Wm. Britains Ltd. the majority dating to
the 1950's.

An assortment of vintage Wm. Britains, 'New Britains' and
Toy Army Workshop figures and vehicles

Have had the good fortune to be able to collect militaria, including “toy soldiers”, for almost six decades commencing in the late 1940’s. College major was in architecture, however my work in the real world, for over four of those decades, was in defense systems engineering /threat analysis, and as a naval intelligence officer. Suffices that I’m also an amateur historian. From that vantage point and perspective I would like to venture some limited observations, and my personal perspective, on the evolved hobby of the collection of toy soldiers/military miniatures. Recently I started a review of my library, for my own re-education, of the hobby/industry. In an attempt to maintain objectivity, any multiple listing or reference will be in alphabetical order. This review, while far from inclusive, included the following representative sample of makers and manufacturers:

W. Britains (Vintage 1893 -1966)*
Greenwood and Ball*

The Battle of Rorke's Drift, 22 January 1879 as produced
by Imperial Productions of New Zealand, themselves survivors;
 Note miniature of the Victoria Cross, South Africa (Zulu)
 Medal 1879, a Martini-Henry cartridge, cap badge of the
24th Regiment of Foot (South Wales Borderers) and two
pieces of rock from the battlefield.

Highland Regimental Games including operable caber throwers,
and the regimental band of the Royal Marine LIght Infantry in
concert. Lower shelf includes the Gurkha Rifles and the 92nd
 Gordon Highlanders at the Heights of Dragai; All produced by
Wm. Hocker. 

I then turned the review to again a representative sample of what have been defined by some as “new toy soldiers”, and their makers/manufacturers. In both lists my advanced apologies for any individual favorites that I may have excluded, it was due solely out of my ignorance, or not having observed their significant presence in forums and auctions. Have also indicated by asterisk, those makers that I presently have within my collection. The vast majority of the collection being “nominally” 1:32 Scale (~ 54mm) or “nominally” 1:30 Scale (~60mm).

All the Queen’s Men*
AeroArt St Petersburg*
Ballantynes of Walkerburn (Not really “toys”, due to size)*
Beau Geste
British Bulldog*
Chota Sahib*
Collector’s Showcase
First Legion
Honour Bound
King & Country*
Monarch Regalia*
New Britains*
Oz Made*
PNF Figurines*
Tommy Atkins*
Toy Army Workshop*

Although present in my collection, I have not included makers of principally armored fighting vehicles (Forces of Valor, Corgi,, or aircraft (Corgi, Franklin Mint, Showcase, Skymax, et. al.).

Some examples of the excellent die cast/plastic scale armor
produced by Forces of Valor and Corgi
Would like to state from the outset that these observations are prefaced as my personal opinion as opposed to universally acknowledged fact. Having started as a child collecting W. Britains the reader will have to indulge my frequent use of their product as a “benchmark” of comparison. Also recognize that some observations may seem self-evident, if not trite, yet still relevant:

•  Initially, after W. Britains ceased production effectively about 1966, there seemed to be a hiatus in the hobby while remaining existing stock was assimilated by collectors. A somewhat arbitrary date of 1973, marks the commencement of the era of the “New Toy Soldier”. From that point forward an extensive “cottage industry” developed in the United Kingdom, as well as other parts of the world where collectors lived. In the intervening time the vast majority of these firms have come and gone. Only the most hardy, truly artisan, and innovative makers remain today.

•  As a follow-up exercise, the reader, if so inclined, only has to scan the pages of Stuart Asquith’s book, The Collector’s Guide to New Toy Soldiers,  S. Asquith, Argus Books, Hemel Hempstead, Herts., 1991, ISBN 1 85486 051, or The World Encyclopedia of Model Soldiers, J. Garratt, The Overlook Press, F. Muller Ltd., London, 1981, 0 87951 129 X.  The casualty list is extensive, however significant new makers have since arrived on the field.

• W. Britains castings dating from the early to mid 1930’s were (are) greatly superior to the painted end product (even custom painted sets). By this I mean anatomically (perhaps slightly elongated, stayed, limited poses until late 1930’s) and in level of detail.

• Facts be known Britains vehicles, guns and aircraft were not accurately scaled to their toy soldiers, nor were they intended to be (primarily WWII motor transport), with exceptions such as King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, horse-drawn RAMC ambulance and RASC wagons.

A selection of the range of the fine artillery pieces and other
 ordnance produced by W. Britains Ltd. over the years 

• The integration of scale model armor, transport, aircraft into the hobby, and the emergence of dioramists has raised a lot of new issues with regard to consistency of scale and compatibility of figures with armor, vehicles and aircraft.

• Toy soldier collectors today are physically and chronologically no longer children.

•  The overall population of toy soldier collectors is declining due to age and younger population's interest in other hobbies. Extremely realistic computer simulation and reality computer games seem to predominate today.

•  Another aspect in the evolution of the hobby I had neglected, primarily a contribution of the dioramists, is the level of attention now being given to attaining absolute historical accuracy in the totality of their efforts. The spectrum of this detail covers everything from terrain and foliage to correct tactical markings on vehicles.

• The hobby has seen a significant movement away from the classic toy soldier (Britains and Mignot) towards military miniatures. Conscious exceptions being Wm Hocker, Asset, and Hiriart, to cite three examples, all which far exceed Britains standard normal painting in quality and detail.

• The introduction, development and resultant popularity of 1:30 Scale figures, has provided a tremendous boost in the animation and detailing of figures being offered today. However, there is the contention among some collectors that the same enhanced detail can still be achieved in 1:32 Scale (54mm). I personally contend that the required skill and intensity of labor, with the resultant cost incurred, limits feasibility.

•  In an attempt to reduce both the cost, and to a lesser extent weight of their products, manufacturers have introduced the use of polystone as a substitute for diecast metal. To more discerning collectors there is a loss of detail resulting from the use of this material. It also has its limitations in detailing complex shapes and small parts, principally in armored fighting vehicles and aircraft.

• When King & Country, Figarti, Collectors Showcase, et al., changed the scale of figures from 1:32 to 1:30 scale their figures ceased to be toy soldiers, and became semi-connoisseur military miniatures.

• W. Britains wounded figures, such that there were, laid on stretchers at attention with all wounds carefully bandaged showing no blood. Care taken not to offend either child or parents. Suffices such is no longer the case.

• The level of artistry achieved by highly skilled painters such as Aeroart St. Petersburg, elevates these masterpieces to objects d’art, far removed from the relatively crude classic toy soldier, even including such past masters as Courtenay and Stadden. The accompanying prices corresponding to their quality, placing them out of the range of the wallets of the majority of collectors.

• In the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s the level of artistry achieved by skilled painters in the People’s Republic of China was significantly superior to more recent production. That group of artists have either retired/died, or have because of their skills moved on to better paying jobs. Compare for example the King & Country Crimean Series or early Streets of Old Hong Kong, to newer production. This has to a degree been off-set/compensated for, through the development and use of micro decals.

• Unless they collect vintage W. Britains or Wm Hocker sets (perhaps Imperial and Steadfast or equivalent), individuals no longer collect toy soldiers, they collect semi-connoisseur military miniatures.

• Even if they collect vintage Britains or Hocker, collectors certainly no longer pay "toy soldier" prices.

• Today with the evolved level of detail afforded by the increased size of the figures, collectors have come to expect, if not demand, accuracy in the research and execution in every figure, vehicle, and aircraft. Within that context collectors have begun a cost/accuracy/quality analysis in their buying decisions.

• It used to be that the majority of toy soldier collectors were traditionalists and displayed their figures/sets in mass formations in display cases, not in extensively detailed museum sized dioramas.

• It used to be that the hobby was, for the most part much cheaper, and there were far more collectors. Collectors predominately purchased toy soldiers in boxed sets. If they did purchase individual figures, they were most likely connoisseur figures like Stadden, Greenwood & Ball or equivalent.

• As background I have conducted a “back of the envelope” quasi-statistical analysis of a given forum’s membership. Sample size 299 forum members. Based upon available data 220 would appear gainfully employed (inferring stable or growing income), 63 retired (probable fixed income, except for COLA adjustment if any, recognizing there are exceptions), 11 students (undetermined discretionary income), currently unemployed 5. This would strongly indicate approximately 26% of forum membership (based on this limited sample) are inclined to have little or no discretionary income.

• My observations on vintage Briains sales on e-Bay (Fewer sets of either quality or rarity, going for vastly inflated realized prices) is predicated on a comparison of the prices realized versus recent year’s results at Vectis Toy Auctions and Phillip’s in the United Kingdom and The Old Toy Soldier Auctions in the United States. Offerings at the latter auction houses have been, as a rule, in better condition for an identical set/gun/vehicle (boxed/unboxed), and even with the buyer’s premium, sold for less than prices often realized on e-Bay. You can certainly argue that e-Bay is exposed to a larger population, including many new and inexperienced collectors, however to the veteran collector the other auction houses are equally well known. I certainly will admit that I have not done a detailed in-depth analysis of comparative prices, and it very well may be that “anomalies” have made a more lasting impression than the norm. I totally concur with the assessment regarding that portion of the collecting population who are aging and on a fixed income. I feel very grateful that I was able to collect what I did, when I did it. My only regret is a short detour from Britains to Greenwood & Ball figures during the mid to late sixties, at least from an investment perspective, and what would have been a more complete W. Britains collection.

Note the Scottish Regiments (Highland and Lowland) of the
 British Army by Greenwood & Ball just visible behind the
 beginnings of the Charge by the Greys and Gordons at Waterloo
by King & Country

• Having studied architecture at university, worked as an engineer for over four decades, and collected toy soldiers for seven decades, I would cite the selection of scale, i.e. size, as a very important, if not critical parameter. It allows makers to execute proportion, anatomical reality, and detail (particularly facial expression, armament, insignia and accouterments) not possible in smaller sized figures, yet still small enough to build fairly extensive displays/dioramas in a reasonable amount of space.

The full regimental band of the Parachute Regiment, playing
"Don't Cry for Me Argentina", April 1982, lead by their mascot
Pegasus II and the Pony Corporal, marching out of barracks,
Aldershot, enroute to the Falklands. Figures are from All the
Queen's Men 

For a slightly different perspective, but with many similar observations on the same subject, interested readers are encouraged to get a copy of a book written by a widely acknowledged and respected expert n the field; Collecting Toy Soldiers in the 21st Century, James Opie, Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2011, ISBN 184884373-9. See the Links on this blog for his web site.

Finally a "pot pouri" including various elements of the Royal
Navy and Fleet Air Arm, and a good start at the Charge of the
4th and 11th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, which has
subsequently seen the additions to their ranks including
 Lt-Gen Sir Harry E. Chauvel GCMG KCB, heliograph party
 and Vickers Machine Gun Section, all by King & Country

You may equivocate and debate the finer points of these factors, but are going to be hard pressed to refute their fundamental validity. Will be most interested in receiving any and all comments, be they round shot, grape, chain, even shrapnel.


janderson said...


Excellent and valid points in your discussion on the toy soldier collecting hobby. I very much enjoyed your evaluation. As a relatively "young" collector of old Britains (started at age 11 in 1995), I have the perspective of only being able to afford single figures growing up and since have only seen prices increase and quality items decrease in availability. My preference to view figures first-hand has kept me from buying from most but the more renowned online dealers as toy soldier shows I attended ceased around 2004. The decreasing availability has led to my shift to collecting primarily militaria in recent years instead, which has proven more plentiful and just as rewarding--with the bonus of numerous online forum collaboration opportunities within the collecting circles. I often marvel at massive quality collections, such as yours, assembled while old Britains were more accessible and plentiful!

I also agree with your point that today's youngsters have not had a "toy soldier" experience. I ask the students I teach and very few ever played with green plastic army men, and a decreasing number even with action figures. Electronics are the dominant entertainment. I think the kids have missed out!

Fantastic photos in your blog--I particularly like the WWII air raid/battledress section!


Playmobil Romans said...

Wow! you had a great collections of this mini military action figure! For sure you had a wonderful childhood since you are collecting this fun toys. It is so good to see a collection of this in your cabinet. It needs time before you can say that your collection is complete. But I think yours is complete already.

Diane said...

I liked your blog and I personally invite you to join - The World's Free Collectors Zone.
We will also be happy to cooperate with your blog such as adding its link to our site.
All the best,

Michel said...

Interesting to read
Please note; lot of makers in your list, manufactured figures in Kit form .
My point is :
A Britain is a Toy Soldier ( at large ), it was delivered painted
Chota Shib or Rose .. were supplied in kit form
to assemble and paint yourself so the quality of a painted one may vary a lot
If interested in actual and past makers :
a list of actual in XLS form to download at
and about "Nostalgia" see list and lot of catalogs in PDF forms to consult at
By the way to you have info about a company named PMD (UK) mabufaturing painted music bands in 28mm ??
Will be happy to share infos

vabna islam said...

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military toy guns

Brian Carrick said...

Hello, I have just found your blog and thought this was an interesting and informed,post. I've been collecting toy soldiers for just over 50 years now and have seen the various trends you describe as they came and went, I'm pretty much in agreement with your views although from a somewhat different perspective as I've lived all my life in London and am closer to the UK/European collectors scene. Here in London we are rather spoilt for major toy soldier shows and auctions but I have to say they're not what they used to be!

Best wishes, Brian

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. I am just looking to get into the hobby as I have always wanted to pursue it. Now I have the means to do so. The information in the post was very helpful.

Anonymous said...

hi do you have any info on a co. named G. H. D. thanks blake

Arnhemjim said...

Hello Blake,
Am not aware of a G.H.D. toy soldier manufacturer. For a short period around 1990 there was a firm called Gerry Ford Design (GFD?) that manufactured toy soldiers for a short time, and was based in England. Have no idea as to their current status. One of their sets; RAF Fighter Pilots, Battle of Britain, 1940, GFD-9-C, is currently on consignment; . There is also a Gulf War Marines, 6 Piece Set, GFDa-C; .
The figures appear to be 1:32 scale (54mm). Trust this is of some assistance.
Arnhem Jim

jawad zaib said...

Nice Share Thanks For The Post...

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