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What's Up Magazine

Antique Toy Soldiers

Nov 09, 2010 05:54PM ● By Anonymous

Toy soldiers were once a coveted gift for a little boy. With his army of soldiers he could stage marches and battles on a floor or tabletop. Today, the toys of choice include computer games, remote-control cars, and decoder rings. If children choose to reenact the strategies of war, they are likely to do so with airplanes, helicopters, and guerilla fighters—not with neatly uniformed soldiers lined up in a straight row. Still, there are older children and adults who do collect and trade miniature soldiers and warriors they paint and decorate themselves for battle reenactments. There are also the nostalgic adults who collect antique toy soldiers.

As long as man has had armies, there have been soldier toys, but the collectible ones were made mostly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The least-expensive soldiers were those made out of paper, which were meant to be cut and pasted on wood or cardboard. If you come across uncut sheets of paper soldiers, you have a valuable find.

Composition soldiers were manufactured mostly in Germany. Those marketed with the name Elastolin were made by O&M Hausser of Naustadt.

Metal soldiers, composed of varying types of lead and tin alloys like the soldiers described in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, are the most valuable. There are basically four kinds of metal soldiers: flats, semi-rounds, three-dimensional hollows, and three-dimensional solids. Flats generally tend to be used for war gaming. Semi-rounds were cast from molds that people could buy for their own use; for that reason, they don’t have a lot of collectors’ value.

Any of the four types of metal model soldiers can be “connoisseur figures.” A connoisseur figure is an individually decorated piece with great detail given to historical accuracy. They are currently sold new and can be decorated by the buyer. Old models decorated by English historian Richard Courtenay are particularly prized and can be worth hundreds of dollars. Generally, connoisseur figures are distinguished by their flat colors and shading.

Mass-produced soldiers are quickly hand-painted with glossy paint and uniformly given rosy-red cheeks. William Britain developed the concept of creating hollow metal soldiers in 1893 as a strategy for using less-costly materials and taking advantage of cheap labor. Although it was more time consuming to make the hollow cast pieces, less metal was used. Nowadays, all three-dimensional soldiers are solid. Britains Ltd. currently makes a line of diecast model soldiers and a line of plastic soldiers.

Other popular companies include the French firm, Lucotte, and German firm, George Heyde. Lucotte figures are often marked with an “L” and “C” flanking the image of a bee. Subsequent models are marked “L.B.G.” and, later, “Mignot,” representing successive ownership. By the 1950s, Mignot had 20,000 molds covering soldiers from the early Romans through World War II.

The value of an antique toy soldier can range from a few dollars to several thousand dollars depending on age, condition, and rarity. Complete sets in original packaging command the highest prices. Consult reference books at your local library and bookstore, or go online to research specific companies and availability.

A display of antique toy soldiers can look great along with a toy village or trains around the Christmas tree—but should be out of the reach of small children and pets. And keep your tin soldiers away from the fireplace, or one might suffer the same fate as the steadfast tin soldier in the Hans Christian Andersen story: be thrown into the fire and melt into a tin heart.