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; www.propertiesumbria.com, and rebuilding an 11th century monastic building, which is now a country house, run by his wife Liliana, and open to guests, www.lapreghiera.com. The Tunstills started to visit the area some twenty years ago; and he is sometimes known as “The Man Who Invented Umbria” www.tunstillsumbria.com . 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, www.cartolinetunstill.com, 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 www.soldierssoldiers.com.

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