Wednesday, April 26, 2006


A recent description to accompany some of the figures that I was selling on Ebay;

This original Britain’s figure is in very good condition, and one has to question if in fact the paintwork is original. The figure was purchased some eighteen months ago, together with several thousand others, from the estate of the Italian Count with whom I had been doing business for more than thirty years. To my knowledge the old man had never used anyone to repaint his figures and only stopped collecting Britain’s figures when the company stopped the manufacture of lead soldiers. He, the Count, was a regular purchaser of my own Soldiers’ Soldiers. He never played with his figures and always stored them boxed, in cupboards, in cases in his palazzo, hence their immaculate condition.

The next niggle is that the figures don’t bear the “hangman’s mark” around their necks often seen under a strong lens and often considered to be a proof of originality of paintwork. These marks were caused by the impression of the black thread used by Britain’s to tie down the figures in their boxes, and was made on the still fresh, and relatively soft, paint. Therefore no “hangman’s mark” signifies that the figures were not tied into boxes, and not that they are necessarily repainted.

Figures “hanged” on a Monday, after drying over the weekend, would have harder paint, and the strength or enthusiasm of the packer would also determine if the figure bore such marks when boxed.

No original Britain’s boxes were found in the Count’s collection although more than a hundred replica, reproduction or replacement boxes were found. Seemingly His Excellency was having boxes made in order to house his collection. The boxes were never filled, and the manufacturer is unknown. It must be remembered that when the old boy started collecting his figures the boxes had no value, the figures were, after all, children’s toys. Perhaps in later years he decided to create boxes for his large collection.

It is well known that Britain’s created special paint jobs for wealthier clients, as of course I did in my Soldier business, in Lambeth, for the similar people. It is also known that Britain’s provided unpainted castings to larger toy shops, to at least, for example, Hamleys in London, and I believe, Polks in New York. The British Model Soldier Society when Len Richards was the President were also able to obtain a variety of painted and unpainted figures at discounted prices. One in particular that I remember was a French Legionaire which was provided as a gift at a BMSS dinner held perhaps in 1958. This was another bulk purchase of painted figures which had never been tied down.

It is also known that smaller toy shops were able to buy painted figures in bulk, as I recall when, as a lad of 12 or 14, more than 50 years ago, I was able to purchase many dozens of figures, at a slightly cheaper wholesale price, from my local toy shop. These are still in my collection, the West Point Cadets having been converted into Russian Napoleonic troops, and the kneeling and standing on guard figures in home service helmet converted to British waterloo infantry. These figures originally arrived in bulk, normally three dozen, in corrugated cardboard boxes, were wrapped in a brown coloured tissue paper and carried a yellow packing slip.

My own figures, which we made in small quantities for the Count, were packed in stout short, square-ish boxes, at the Count’s request, to enable him to pack more soldiers into smaller spaces, and also to give greater strength to the boxes.

I rest my case.

If you’re still doubt, or don’t believe, then don’t buy these soldiers. “Caveat emptor” being the watchword of the day. I offer no guarantees, only their history as explained above. Or, come to the Soldier Show in Umbria in May and examine the figures for yourself, and then buy them. As well as the Count’s collection there are several hundred other figures available for sale.

Also found among the old chap’s effects were a number of copies of the Britains’ reproduction of their first catalogue, original reproductions, if such a difficult use of the English language is allowed. And the difference between “allowed” and “a loud” are discussed, together with some 5000 other oddities of the English language, on

John Tunstill, La Preghiera, Calzolaro, 06018 PG, Italia