Toy Soldiers

Last weekend, while Christmas shopping for our many grandchildren, I treated myself to an Airfix (other manufacturers are available) Supermarine Spitfire kit. This came complete with paints, brush, Poly cement and (hopefully) detailed instructions on construction. It is suitable for ages in excess of 8 years, which amply covers me, so I thought why should the grandchildren have all the fun.

As a boy I built many of these delightful models. I felt the glorious pull of nostalgia when I bought the model, which is exactly what our mature toy collecting customers feel when they attend our toy auctions. One thing that really pushes the nostalgia button is a toy soldier.

The first commercial toy soldiers were produced in the mid 18th century on the continent, especially in Germany. They were small, solid, flat and made of lead. By the beginning of the 19th century the lead soldier was becoming more rounded in figure and production was centred on France and Germany.

Throughout the 19th century demand increased and production spread, although still mainly in Europe. But all was soon to change. A very clever Englishman called William Britain developed the hollow cast lead soldier in the 1890s. This sparked what can only be described as a toy soldier revolution as all the continental models lost favour.

The battle of the toy soldier continued however up to World War Two, with Germany, France and Italy still producing this solid model and William Britain and his fellow British manufacturers producing their hollow cast version.

Production stopped during World War Two and when the War was over experiments began with plastic. Production of the lead models ceased in 1966, with legislation regarding the lead paint and strangely enough that is when collecting hollow cast lead soldiers started to become fashionable.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website