Monday, February 27, 2006

Soldiers’ Soldiers



John Tunstill is delighted to announce his Second Annual Toy Soldier Convention and Collector’s Meeting.

John now lives in Umbria, central Italy, where he moved to from London, Lambeth where he ran the Soldier Shop near the Imperial War Museum. The stock from the shop was in store for ten years until his private collection was inaugurated a year ago at La Preghiera Country House, in Calzolaro, near Umbertide and Città di Castello in the province of Perugia, central Italy.
Some of you may remember John as the creator of the Soldiers’ Soldiers range of lead toy soldiers, which he manufactured in the 1970’s to complement 54mm Britain’s collections, or as the Manager of Tradition in Piccadilly, London, he was also the author of Discovering Wargames and The World of Toy Soldiers, and for many years edited the Magazines Tradition and Miniature Warfare.

Exhibitors’ spaces for the Convention will be available free of cost, and located on the ground floor of La Preghiera Monastery, in the Display room, on the loggias (covered areas), in the grounds of La Preghiera Estate, and the Oratorio.
If weather conditions are inclement, exhibitors are invited to use the public rooms of the Monastery.

Exhibitors who are guests at La Preghiera Country House are also invited to exhibit out of hours, during the entire weekend.

La Preghiera Country House is offering a special weekend promotion for visitors and exhibitors, 1 night accommodation in a shared twin or double room, copious breakfast and light lunch for only 95 Euro per person. Two nights also available.

La Preghiera Country House is situated in the village of Calzolaro, in the Upper Tiber valley, between Città di Castello and Umbertide, close to the E45 highway (exit Promano), and 90 minutes drive from Rome, Firenze, Bologna, Forli and Ancona all of which have international airports.
The nearest railway stations are Terontola-Cortona and Perugia San Giovanni.

0039 075 930 2428 Mon to Fri office hours

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Britain’s figures

Britain’s figures have been a source of pleasure to collectors for the last hundred years, but where did father William get his information and inspiration from?

John Tunstill, after several years of patient research, and with reference to his collection of Victorian prints and early reference works of a military nature, and also his modest collection of Britains’ figures has discovered The Origin of the Species, with due reference to a certain Mr Darwin.

Many of these early prints that inspired William Britain are now being scanned, and, together with many illustrations from the 70’s, will form the basis of the military print collection soon to be made available on the site

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Toy Soldiers in Film/tv programmes

Dear Mr. Tunstill,

I'm Michelle and I'm a student of Media and Culture from the Netherlands. I'm searching for films/tv programmes with toy soldiers in them, just like in the sixth sense when the little boy plays with them and speaks in latin to them. I know there have to be many more but it's hard to find them. I wondered if you could help me out.

..........The two versions of the Four Feathers had toy soldiers in them; Christmas under Fire, see stills on my site, War Films, contained a few shots............I'll make an appeal on our blog pages and message board for more information.

..............Your interest in Media and Culture might be stimulated by my
other web site, where we seek to find the locations used in old films and compare the site with the same locations today. I'll also put your request onto the blog and message board of that site.

.............Best wishes in your studies
............John Tunstill

..........PS, I provided many of the soldiers for the Callan TV series, do you have any screen grabs, stills showing them? I also provided the figures for book covers, record sleeves, adverts and a BBC production on the Boxer Revolution. If these are of interest I'll try and find better references.

With some help from others I've come this far:

The Sixth Sense
Indian in the Cupboard
Toy Story
TV series Callan
The Living Daylights
Small soldiers
The Patriot

With kind regards,
Michelle Lentz

Monday, February 13, 2006

The History of “Tin” or “Lead” Soldiers, PART 3

Least examined in all the books that have been written on tin soldiers were the tiny war-game figures which were used by collectors all over the world to re-create historical military tactics. These were made with just as much detail as the larger figures, were made in greater numbers than any metal model or toy soldier, and were collected in tens of thousands as opposed to the ones and twos of their expensive counterparts.
The current fascination with war gaming started approximately 30 years ago when the model makers in Britain and the U.S.A., because of financial pressures, started to make small figures. Up until that time all war-gaming activity had been carried on using the 54 mm figures.
Thousands of varieties of figures were produced for the different periods of conflict, and the hobby quickly took hold on both sides of the Atlantic. Now available for the first time available to a mass market who, up until that time, had only ever looked at model soldiers in shop windows and yearned for them, but had never been able to afford them.
Although the first manufacturers of war-game figures in the mid 1950s produced their figures in the 20 mm size, since then figures have been made for war gaming in every size from 5 mm to 30 mm. This diversity in size has come about for various reasons, but the most important was that a small figure was cheaper to produce. The second was lack of space, and this becomes especially critical in modern periods of warfare where the range of even the humblest weapon is possibly two or three miles and where one may be dealing with long-range artillery as well as with air strikes. For war games of this modern period to be played with anything approaching accuracy, the smallest size of all, the 1/300th scale was created. A foot soldier was 5 mm in height and there were some 400–500 different figures being produced, each one clearly recognizable. The companies concerned with these minute figures also produced about 300-400 different vehicles. Ros and Heroics of south east England was the most famous produce.
But of course miniaturisation wasn’t new, Heinrichsen was making tiny troops in the 1840’s.
Whereas the most usual way of playing war games in Britain was with model soldiers, in the United States the majority of people tended to play board games with counters, but the aesthetic appeal obviously does not match that of model figures.
On the European Continent, war gaming did not have a great following and any that was done usually involved flat figures.
The vogue for the larger size of figure began in the early 1970s when Pat Bird and John Tassell, both employees of Norman Newton Ltd., the firm which ran the Tradition magazine and shop in Piccadilly, London, decided to produce some figures of their own. He and Pat Bird, both living in Kent, persevered and to make absolutely certain that no one could claim that they had either pirated or infringed any copyright (at that time they were both producing Stadden figures for Tradition in London) they decided to move well away from the standard-size figure of 54 mm and produce something much larger.
Their early figures turned out to be about 77 mm in height and this decided the name of the series. The Series 77 must be among the more popular of the larger-sized figures to have been produced in the seventies, and they were so successful that eventually when Tassell left the partnership to join the firm of Greenwood and Ball, Pat Bird and his wife, Olive, continued to produce the figures and which they began to sell more and more to the United States to where they deceided to emigrate and set up a factory in California.
Following the lead that Series 77 created, a host of traders began producing large sized figures, 75 mm, 80 mm, 90 mm, 100 mm, 120 mm, 140 mm, and later Pat Bird doubled his original size competely with a 154 mm figure.
Soldiers’ commissioned a range of 75mm figures which were never put into production. Perhaps there is someone out there who would like to produce them under licence?
Hinchliffe of Yorkshire produced 75 mm figures sculpted by the gifted artist, Julian Benassi, and also produced a 75 mm Stadden figure and a 90 mm Jarvis range, ‘All The Queen’s Men’ – made by Dek Military Models of Leicester were sculpted by Alan Caton. A large figure of the 1900’s was the ‘Gentleman in Khaki’, from the Caton Woodville illustration, which captured the patriotic mood of the Boer War and which appeared in the publication ‘With the Flag to Pretoria’. At that time, these figures were produced in a variety of materials from porcelain and china, through an early form of bakelite or plastic, to metal, in many cases coated with silver or gold.
Seagull Models, in London, continued to expand their range of Realmodels and did a 54 mm, 80 mm, and 90 mm range. Bill Hearne, a very talented figure maker, sculpted a number of the models and Richard Almond carved their 120 and 140 mm figures.
Chota Sahib of Brighton in Sussex, made 90 mm figures, Ray Lamb maker of the Poste Militaire figures, Caledonian of Scotland produced a 75 mm Rob Roy McGregor, Eagle Miniatures of South Wales, and the large range produced by Miss Edmonds of Sentry Box in Billinghurst, Sussex. Kilmore, a rather unfortunate name for a firm making model soldiers in this pacific age, from Buckinghamshire, produced their figures in cold cast bronze, which is a form of resin with a metal filler.
In the United States, the firm of Little Generals had a good range of horse soldiers in the 90 mm size, distributed by the Soldier Center of Boston. They also produced in the 140 mm size, soldiers of the Black Watch. Another American firm, Valiant Figures of Chicago, Illinois, produced models in both the 90 mm and 120 mm sizes.
Charles Stadden, the original master sculptor of the 54mm figures sold by Tradition, made figures on his own and he called them his Collector’s Range. Made in pewter, they came on an attractive mount and stood 80 mm high. Men O’War Figures, from Kent, and Phoenix Model Developments produced 75 mm figures. made in pewter.
Elastolin, the well-known German manufacturers of plastic figures, produced a whole range of ancient peoples with their siege weapons and castles, not only in the 40 mm size, but also in 70 mm. Superior Models produced 90 mm 150 mm models which were distributed by Coulter-Bennett in California.

Soldier Museums and Collections

For many years in Britian, it was felt that there ought to be a national collection of model soldiers and for this reason, the British Model Soldier Society gathered together what they call the National Collection, which is on permanent loan to Hatfield House, in Hertfordshire. Quite near Nuremberg in Germany is the town of Kulmbach, where, every two years there is a congress or fair for all those interested in flat soldiers. This exhibition is held over a period of three days and the local school hall is taken over by the Tin Figure Society of Kulmbach which invites people from all over the world to display their wares and to buy, sell, exchange, and talk tin figures and visit the Castle of Plassenburg which has probably the world’s largest collection of flat figures.
Since 1983 John Tunstill has been engaged in buying, selling and restoring medieval country properties in Umbria, Italy;, and rebuilding an 11th century monastic building, which is now a country house, run by his wife Liliana, and open to guests, The Tunstills started to visit the area some twenty years ago; and he is sometimes known as “The Man Who Invented Umbria” . Because of the requests made for Tunstill’s soldiers, by an Italian nobleman; who had more ruined country houses than he knew what to do with, but really only wanted more lead soldiers; Tunstill traded. He, Tunstill, still has a huge collection of soldier figures from the 1970s, as well as some 10,000 Italian postcards,, dating from1890 - 1950; and, about twenty Italian properties. The nobleman has sadly departed to the great soldier collector in the sky, but some of his figures are now becoming available and are on show in his collection, to which you are all invited

Nowadays the internet has made the finding of lead, model or toy soldiers an easy experience, and the books and magazines dealing with the subject can be easily ordered directly from the publishers, also the values of the figures can often be established by watching the prices achieved at the more fashionable auction houses whilst eBay makes it easy and cheap to sell off surplus figures.
The important thing is that the hobby continues to thrive. When are you coming to Calzolaro, Umbria?
20/21 May – International Toy Soldiers Convention at La Preghiera

Monday, February 06, 2006

The History of “Tin” or “Lead” Soldiers, PART 2, John Tunstill

Following on from the last article we arrive at the time when curious figures were produced, which were called semi-round or semi-flat, depending on whether one is primarily a flat-figure or a round-figure collector. There were moulds available for these figures, which were made of aluminium in the early 1950s and 1960s, but currently two firms, Schildkrot in Germany and Scad in France, are making moulds for 30mm, semi-round figures, from vulcanized rubber, which is the moulding compound that the majority of professional soldier makers use today. Another company, Prince Rupert, from Ireland, also makes a wide range of rubber moulds for the home enthusiast.
The consistency of tin is such that it can be poured easily and will pick up the finest details from the mould. In order to make the flat figures, the manufacturers had to use a fairly pure tin in order to fill the cavity of the mould which were usually engraved in slate by the master engraver. One of the reasons for the advent of the half-round soldier was that the rising cost of tin caused manufacturers to look for an alternative and cheaper metal, lead. A much softer metal than tin, lead has flowing properties which are similar to that of warm toffee; thus, when it is poured into a mould, the viscosity of the liquid metal is such that the finer points of the mould are not readily reproduced. The makers therefore could not easily cast in the flat moulds and started to make the figures fatter and thicker, with less sharpness of detail, but at a cheaper price.
The standard-size model soldier, is the 54 mm figure, the size that the majority of the early toy soldier makers in England, such as Britains, John Hill & Company, Johillco, Crescent, Charbens, and a host of others, used in the early 1900s. They followed Lucotte and Mignot who produced 54 mm figures in France in the nineteenth century. Some fifty years ago when manufacturers started to make figures which were exact representations of human and animal bodies, they too produced their models in the original 54 mm scale. (The measurement of a figure is from the sole of the foot to the top of the head of a standing man, discounting any head gear.)
Currently figures in the 54 mm size are produced in both plastic and metal. One of the larger manufacturers of model soldiers in the 1970s that produced in metal was Hinchliffe Models Ltd. of Yorkshire, who provided a handbook for collectors which was a directory of the hundreds of castings that they produced but also a colour guide to the various uniforms of the figures, Frank Hinchliffe also excelled at producing 54mm scale artillery pieces.
Rose Miniatures, produced by Russell Gammage, and his wife Rose, covered almost every period from the days of Ancient Egypt to figures of British Guardsmen up to the mid 1970s.
New Hope Design, a company which operated from Northumbria, in England (rather than North Umbria in Italy, where the author of this article now lives) came up with a very good marketing idea for their figures. They produced models in conjunction with the Osprey series of Men at Arms books.
When John Tunstill was with Tradition, the model soldier and militaria shop in London’s Piccadilly, where he worked as the general manager, Charles, or Charlie, Stadden produced his wide range of 54mm figures for Norman Newton Ltd, which was the pare4nt company of Tradition.
Phoenix Model Developments, from Northampton, was founded by Les Higgins, an artist who created some of the finest 54 mm figures, of Regency period (1800-1830) ladies and gentlemen in court dress, sitting, standing, dancing, and playing the piano, and also a large range of accessories including furniture, plates, goblets, lanterns, tables, and chairs
Ensign Miniatures, which were produced by Bob Rowe and his partner, D.C. James, were novel in that they represented the British Army in mess dress and also a comprehensive selection from the British Navy. The Ensign Miniatures were not fighting soldiers, but attractive figures in the style of Harry Payne, Richard Simkin, or Walter Richards, who were famous British military artists at the turn of the century before last.
The firm of Greenwood and Ball, which was on Teesside made 54 mm figures sculpted by John Tassell called the Lasset range. (John transposed the T and L in his own name to give a name to the series). Abley assisted by Pat Bird; who later made the Series 77 range in the United States; Tassell produced a large number of figures for Tradition which were marketed under the sales name of “Stadden”. When John and Pat, the two model makers branched out on their own, many of the Stadden figures were crafted by Alan Caton, who also left Tradition in order to made his own range of Dek figures.
Leaving model soldiers to one side, there were many other ranges of 54 mm figures which were termed ‘toy’ soldiers. This time the word ‘toy’ is put in inverted commas, as these were no longer the playthings of children both because they contained lead, and because they were relatively expensive due to a limited production. These figures were meant to complement the huge ranges of early toy soldiers produced by Britains and other manufacturers. Due to the unavailability of real toy soldiers after the 1960s, several firms turned their attention to producing figures that were complementary to the traditional Britains soldier. These new toy soldiers were invariably produced in parade postures, came complete with peg-on or supposedly movable arms, were coloured with bright gloss paints, and were deliberately painted to a low standard in order that they would marry-in with the existing collections of earlier toys.
One of the earliest producers of this kind of toy soldier was the Welsh firm of Blenheim, the figures were attractively packaged in blue boxes. Blenheim also produced for Shamus Wade of Nostalgia Figures of West London a range of figures from some of the more exotic armies of the world. The firm of M.J. Mode, from Leicester, produced a wide range of figures and covered a number of the Indian Army regiments from the turn of the century. Ducal, Devon Model Soldiers, Mark Time and Gunners, also made figures which were in the same style as the Britains figures.
The Soldier Shop in Lambeth, London, near the Imperial War Museum, produced Soldiers’ Soldiers. They had over 350 models available, Their boxes were in the traditional Britains colour of deep maroon and contained eight figures, normally seven men and one officer. The advantage of these figures is that many have two separate arms, and, therefore, many castings could be adapted to represent a dozen or more different, but similar, soldiers. British and Empire Armies of the period from 1880 to 1914, and European nations were included. At last, enthusiasts were able to collect complete regiments in all the varieties and styles of dress which could be viewed in a barracks at the time of the great military artists, like Harry Payne and Richard Simpkin. Soldiers’ Soldiers were selected by two London museums – the National Army Museum, in Chelsea, and the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green – to produce figures for exclusive sale. Soldiers’ even produced model soldiers at slow march with reversed arms for use in a military funeral.
The production of 54 mm model soldiers in countries other than Great Britain was something very difficult to keep a check on, but now with the internet, on-line catalogues, and communication by e-mail, the task is much simpler.
In France, the long-established firm of Mignot was still going strong in Paris, producing toy figures exactly as it had done for the better part of 120 years. The figures were expensive but they were produced according to company tradition, and to those collectors who were addicted to their particular quality, no others would suffice.
In the United States, Imrie- Risley and Cavalier Miniatures, both of New York produced a wide range of models and castings.
Other American firms included Valiant Miniatures of Skokie, Illinois, Squadron/Rubin Miniatures of Michigan, Mini Men, produced in Ohio, Monarch Miniatures produced figures made by the British artist, Cliff Sanderson, and sold his series of ‘Pirates of Portuga’, and H R Products of Illinois manufactured a range of 54 mm weapons. Monogram had produced a good range of plastic armoured fighting vehicles. The Squadron Company made war gaming pieces in 54 mm which could also be used in a diorama and a range called the ‘Waterloo Series’, which were plastic figures.
Hinchliffe Models, had their figures were made under licence in the United States by Heritage Models of Dallas, Texas.
From San Sebastian, in Spain, came a series of 54 mm metal figures by the firm of Labayen. Jaime Hiriart, who lives in Montevideo, in Uruguay sells his figures from a shop in the Metro station, near the exhibition centre in Milano.
And now, via the internet, there are hundreds of companies throughout the world making and selling model figures.
In recent years the range of figures has enlarged from those merely depicting military subjects to those from a wide range of civilian walks of life, a collector can vary his collection by adding girl friends, pirate scenes, fantasy figures, and all the attractive sets of indoor and outdoor civilian life that are currently available.
In 1972 John opened Soldiers, a soldier and militaria shop, at 36 Kennington Road, and later at 44 Kennington Road, near the Imperial War Museum, and Lambeth North tube station in London, and organised the first "human" scale auctions for toy soldiers at the local public house, the Hercules Tavern. James Opie was one of his casual saturday morning boys and Norman Joplin, one of his customers. Marcus Hinton of Hinton Hunt Figures; Jim Johnson of MJ Mode; Roy Maitland, and Alex of Tradition; Russel Gamage of Rose Figures; Frank Hinchliffe of Hinchliffe Models; John Tassel of Lasset Figures, and Pat and Olie Bird of Series 77, were some of his suppliers, colleagues and friends in England and Nat Polk, Bill Imre and Clyde Risley were some friends in the soldier business in the USA. John started production of Soldiers' Soldiers, the 54mm range of lead alloy castings and he and his staff made and sold some 500 figures a week for about ten years! Something like a quarter of a million lead soldiers! Recent auction results have shown that the value of these figures is rising all the time. John authored the World of Toy Soldiers, c.1985.

For more information contact :

John Tunstill La Preghiera Calzolaro 06018 PG 075 930 2428

Friday, February 03, 2006

3 Day Cookery Course at La Preghiera Weds 26th April - Saturday 30th April

Join us at La Preghiera for a hands-on cookery course experience in Umbria, Italy.

Meet our cooks, Mara and Emma and learn how to make fresh pasta, fillings, sauces, traditional Umbrian antipasti, meats, salads and dolci....

The course includes a trip to a local market where you can savour the atmosphere of a thriving market town and buy fruit, vegetables, prosciutto and cheeses, the ingredients that you will need for the course.

Also included is an excursion to find the highly prized "Tartufo" or truffle in the valleys around Città di Castello, learning how to prepare and use them in Italian cooking with a dinner based on truffles afterwards...

The course includes:
3 nights luxury accommodation in historic home
Three hands-on cookery classes, approx 3 hours each
All meals including: Buffet Breakfast, Lunch with wine, soft drinks and coffee, Dinner with aperitivo, wine, liqueurs, soft drinks and coffee
Aperitivo and Stuzzichini on first evening
Truffle Hunting Excursion and market visit
Car, driver and interpreter where necessary
With prices from 1255 Euro per person....

Contact Sally Ann at to reserve your place on the course!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The History of “Tin” or “Lead” Soldiers – PART 1

The earliest collections of model soldiers belonged to the ancient Chinese cavalry commander, Chang, and was found in the province of Wu Wei in 1969; another belonged to the Egyptian prince, Emsah, who lived about 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.
Throughout the Mediterranean there have been discoveries of bronze model figures from Ancient Greece and flat tin figures of Romans, and Mexico, and Peru both have claims to be the sites of early manufactories of model soldiers.
Many of the model figures of the Middle Ages were probably used as religious tokens. Made of lead-tin alloy because of the ease of production, they were sold, to pilgrims who had made a journey to a holy place. They would have been made by local craftsmen, used to casting in soft metal.
Playing with model soldiers was very popular among the children of noble households. There is an illustration in the medieval manuscript, The Hortus Deliciarum, which depicts two children manipulating foot knights on a table top, and, with the use of strings, making them engage in combat.
In the 1600s the French kings had collections of soldiers, often made of precious metals. Louis XIII and Louis XIV both had magnificent model armies with figures made of silver, lead, wood, pottery, and paper. Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden had troops of bronze. Others included The King of Rome, Napoleon II, who had soldiers made of gold, the Prince Elector of Bavaria favoured men of wood, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Napoleon II, Czar Nicholas I, Czar Peter III, Alfonso XIII of Spain, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the King of Hannover, and Frederick William III of Prussia all collected toy soldiers. More modern collectors of note included H.G.Wells, Winston Churchill, Douglas Fairbanks, James Mason and Peter Cushing.
As far as the modern-day collector is concerned, the history of toy or model soldiers begins in the second half of the eighteenth century in Southern Germany when manufacturers in Nuremberg began to make tin Nativity scenes and illustrations from the childhood of Christ. The famous Hilpert family was one of the first to popularize tin figures, their production beginning in about 1770. Their stock was taken over by J.L.Stahl, who continued the business during the Napoleonic Wars.
To date, the manufacturers of flat soldiers have produced figures of every conceivable subject, both military and civilian, ranging back in time to the Stone Ages and forward into the realms of fantasy and science fiction.
In Britain and the United States, flat tin figures, although very popular about 100 years ago, and from these evolved the semi-flat, half-round figure, until, in about 1870, they finally started producing solid fully round figures. Two firms, well known to collectors, were Haffner of Fuerth and Heyde of Dresden, and these figures are avidly collected to this day. But they gradually declined in popularity because the figures which were imported became more and more expensive and were gradually overtaken by home-produced items which were fully round figures similar to those that many of us played with as children. Although they were often larger, they could be marketed at a much lower price because of lower distribution costs, and the fact that taxation and import duties were not levied on them.
In France in about 1790, a man called Lucotte began to produced toy soldiers in French army uniforms. In 1825 three other Frenchmen, Cuperly, Blondel, and Gerbeau, founded another soldier firm in competition with Lucotte and their trademark was C.B.G. They eventually absorbed Lucotte only to be taken over by the firm of Mignot some years later. Mignot still produces toy soldiers of good quality from their works in Paris.
In the 1890s William Britain, of North London, started to produce toy soldiers. He discovered that he was able to cast metal soldiers by what is called the slush-casting, or hollow-casting process, which leaves the centre of the figure hollow, thus reducing costs of materials and transport.
Britain’s figures soon became popular, and within a few years his firm, had a catalogue of hundreds of different items. The figures cheaper than the German imports, were more accurate in detail, were painted to a very high standard and they were 54 mm in size, some 9mm larger than the competing armies from France and Germany.
An innovation in the toy soldier industry was that of the German firm of Hausser, who, realizing that mountains of sawdust were going to waste in the Black Forest from the wood-cutting industry, hit upon the idea of making what is, in effect, a papier máché figure. It is formed of sawdust and glue around a wire base, pressed while damp into a metal mould, heated in an oven until the glue had hardened, and then left to dry. In the 1920s and 1930s, these figures, marketed under the name of ‘Elastolin’, were very popular throughout continental Europe because of their cheapness of manufacture, their lightness when it came to transportation, and the tremendous variety in their positions. For the first time, the manufacturers of larger toy figures were able to produce realistic-looking men in action. These are really model soldiers. Various other firms copied the Elastolin figures, the most famous being Lineol of Dresden.
In Italy there also were attempts to make the figures from sawdust, or seggatura, but as most Italians at that time were very poor the domestic market was not profitable. In the 1950s, these models, also known as “pasta” figures, were exported in large quantities to the United States in order to earn dollars, which was at that time a much more stable currency than the lire. There were about ten companies producing the figures Celloplasto, Chialú, Confaloniera, Figir; made by the Antonini family in Rome; Fontanini, Nardi, Rovello, Salpa Vittoria and Xiloplasto, being the most well known.
Firms such as Britains, Heyde, and Mignot also made a variety of vehicles, wagons, and guns to go with their soldiers and the flat tin soldier manufacturers very often made three-dimensional wagons or artillery pieces to accompany their small armies.
The basic difference between model soldiers and toy soldiers is the market for which they are intended. Most toy soldiers are, or were, produced for children, a model soldier, on the other hand, was usually created by a craftsman for an adult market. These figures were not mass produced as were toy soldiers, but were made in relatively small quantities, and normally, individual figures were animated and positioned by hand, either to the customer’s requirements, or to the individual taste of the animator.
After World War II the hobby of collecting model soldiers started to grow. There had been model soldier producers before the war, for example the firm of Greenwood and Ball, and two other manufacturers, Frederick Ping and Richard Courtenay, catering for a very small market and unknown beyond their own small circles of collectors. The value of these early figures is now enormous. After the war the collectors of toy soldiers began competing with one another in order to improve the quality of painting. They began to realize that shading ought to be a part of the painting process and also that the figures should be painted in matt rather than gloss paint. Gradually it dawned upon the collecting public that what they were attempting to do was not to make a fine array of toy figures, but to make miniature representations of the human form, clad in all the varieties of military clothing that history has recorded for us.
Dissatisfied with the commercial products then available, artists began to make their own figures. So from the late 1940s and early 1950s, the model and the toy soldier started to drift apart and today, while the model collector avidly seeks the finest figures he can afford, the toy soldier collector is quite happy to go rummaging through old boxes of broken and discarded toys.
During the 1950s, in Britain, continental Europe and the United States, there were probably as many as forty or fifty manufacturers, all attempting to sell their soldiers by mail order, or through soldier fairs, or soldier societiesand the first of these,The British Society of Collectors of Model Soldiers, was created in 1936, and is today called the British Model Soldier Society (BMSS). From the 1930s through the 1960s, very few of the creators of these soldiers were ever fortunate enough to obtain an outlet through a retail shop as, generally, the only shops that would consider stocking such items were toy shops and these model figures were much too expensive to be sold to children. In addition, the makers could not sell to fancy gift shops items that were regarded by the owners of such establishments as toys.
Whereas the toy soldiers were, and still are, invariably sold as finished products, the flat-soldier manufacturers in many cases put extra arms or legs on both men and horses, as well as different tails for the horses. From one basic casting, therefore, with perhaps six or eight legs on a horse and two or three arms on a man, plus three or four tails for the horse, a whole regiment of figures, all in slightly differing positions could be created, simply by carefully cutting off the surplus pieces.
A problem with traditional model soldiers was that the high cost of production coupled with minimal sales didn’t provide sufficient income for manufacturers.
In the mid 1970s, a new type figure was introduced. These figures had the detail typical of model soldiers, but because of their mass production, coupled with the fact that the figures were designed to complement toy soldier collections, they were distributed at a price which was less than half that of the model soldier. Made by the firm of Soldiers, of Lambeth in London, these figures, Soldiers’ Soldiers, could be provided with a dozen different arms and could therefore be assembled in a variety of different poses. Because of the detail on the figures, they could either be painted up as individual models, or as traditional gloss painted toysoldiers.
John Tunstill, the author of this and the next two articles, was born in London, England in 1939, and he received soldiers as Christmas and birthday presents throughout the 1940s. By the age of nine, John was casting lead figures in aluminium moulds, on the gas stove in his mother’s kitchen, painting them and selling them at school and through local friendly shopkeepers. John played soldiers in the back garden with regiments of converted Britains’ 54mm figures from about 1950 to 1955. He joined the British Model Soldier Society (BMSS) in 1955, served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) for five years, in England and Cyprus, in photo reconnaissance with 13 Squadron. He later became a Committee member of the BMSS, and organiser of the Wargame Section of the BMSS. In 1960, John was named Secretary of the Wargame Rules Section, and later co-authored the Rules for American Civil Wargames. He was also an organiser of the first known Wargame Convention, held at the Rembrant Hotel, in London and of the second one at the Piccadilly Hotel, also in central London. He became General Manager of Tradition, the militaria shop in Piccadilly, London, and advertising manager for the magazine Tradition. He was also an advisor to Phillips Auctioneers, London, regarding their early bulk soldier auctions, and became publisher and editor of Miniature Warfare, the world's first monthly wargaming magazine. He was producer and distributor of the Just Soldier range of 54mm lead alloy figures. John authored the book, Discovering Wargames, Shire Publications, c.1965, which ran to seven printings, and edited Discovering English Civil Wargames, c.1967 and his major work, “The world of Model Soldiers”, can be found on his website
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John Tunstill La Preghiera Calzolaro 06018 PG 0039 075 930 2428