Baptism at Manassas
Toy soldiers capture the glory of war with bright uniforms and exciting opportunities for play or display. Toy soldiers have been around for many years. They were discovered in cultures dating as far back as Ancient Egypt and early versions of the familiar toy have been found in locations around the world from China to Rome.
Toy soldiers have been mass-produced for more than 150 years. Commercially made toy soldiers started as expensive playthings that were, at first, only available to the wealthy. The reach of this favorite toy was extended, however, as toy soldier manufacturers discovered a way to make affordable hollow metal figures. These inexpensive toy soldiers were available to a wider market of people and this less expensive option boosted the popularity of the favorite toy.
Types of toy soldiers
The term toy soldier applies to different types of military miniatures. From flat metal soldiers to cheap plastic playthings, toy soldiers can take several forms. Commercially sold solid toy soldiers were first produced in the late 1700’s. These were more expensive than their hollow successors and as such, were available to a smaller group of customers. During the mid-1800’s, flats were a popular type of toy soldier. These thin, flat toy soldiers had the shape of a soldier but did not stand like many other toy soldiers. Hollow toy soldiers quickly became popular after their introduction in 1893. These affordable toy soldiers were available to a much larger group of children which contributed to their immediate success. Composition toy soldiers appeared in the 1930’s. These military miniatures were made of a mixture of sawdust and glue. After WWII, companies started creating ranges of plastic toy soldiers that included both cheap playthings and highly detailed figures. Finally, in the 1970’s, new metal toy soldiers entered the market. These are usually made from a white metal alloy and are the collectible toy soldiers often seen today.
Toy Safety Laws
In the 1960s, new laws about consumer safety impacted the toy industry. These laws appeared internationally and considerably changed the toy soldier market. One of these safety laws banned lead from being used in consumer products. At this time, lead was the main component of metal toy soldiers. Toy soldier companies were forced to focus on new products or go out of business.
New Metal Toy Soldiers
Normandy Landing Craft
In the 1970s, new metal toy soldiers were introduced. These military miniatures were solid, white metal figures that had the same look as the lead miniatures that were taken off of the market years before. These new military miniatures were meant to appeal to children but also attracted interest from adult consumers who wanted to collect the figures.
Collecting Toy Soldiers
Toy soldiers have been around for hundreds of years; but collecting toy soldiers is a relatively recent phenomena that became a noticeable trend starting in the 1960’s. Since then, the practice of collecting toy soldiers has grown. People now collect old and discontinued toy soldiers as well as modern military miniatures.
Modernization of Metal Toy Soldiers
Metal figures saw a change in design in the 1980’s. Because more adult collectors were buying military miniatures, toy soldiers were modernized to be even more appealing to the adult consumer.
Modern metal toy soldiers are created in new action poses that show military miniatures in the heat of battle. Early toy soldiers looked stiff, usually shown standing at attention or sitting horseback. They were unimaginative compared to action packed modern toy soldiers. Today, toy soldiers are created in every situation imaginable. Metal figures fall in battle, charge on the battlefield, and even climb into planes. This variety of experiences allows the collector to create an accurate portrayal of any scene or conflict with their metal figures.
Modern toy soldiers are also much more detailed than earlier toy soldiers. Early toy soldiers were expressionless and had limited detail in their uniforms and weaponry. Modern toy soldiers are so realistic they are considered to have photograph like detail. Their features, uniforms, and props are all historically accurate and carefully crafted. Modern toy soldiers are shown in a much greater variety of collections as well. They are available in battles, events, and geographical locations around the world. This variety and detail are what distinguish new metal toy soldiers from their predecessors and make them appealing to modern collectors.
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Toy Soldiers. Rebecca Kingsley, Siân Keogh, Jo Wells, Martin Laurie, Linda Doeser, Ben Cumming. London: Grange Books, 1999.
“A Brief History of Toy Soldiers.” The Toy Soldier Company. 2011-06-03. 2012-05-09. toysoldierco.com/companyinfo/historyoftoysoldiers.htm.