Antiques Column: Toy soldiers of fortune a collecting battlefield

editorial image

Toy soldiers. I had them as a boy, my friends had them and now some of my friends are acquiring them all over again.

The first commercial toy soldiers were produced in the mid 18th century on the continent, especially in Germany. They were small, solid, flat and made of lead.

By the beginning of the 19th century the lead soldier was becoming more rounded in figure (not unlike many of its present day collectors) and production was centring on France and Germany.

Throughout the 19th century demand increased and production spread, although still mainly in Europe.

But all was soon to change.

A very clever Englishman called William Britain developed the hollow-cast lead soldier in the 1890s.

This sparked what can only be described as a toy soldier revolution as all the continental models lost favour.

The battle of the toy soldier continued however up to World War II, with Germany, France and Italy still producing this solid model and William Britain and his fellow British manufacturers producing their hollow-cast version.

Production stopped during World War II and when the war was over experiments began with plastic.

Production of the lead models ceased in 1966, with legislation regarding the lead paint.

Strangely enough that is when collecting hollow-cast lead soldiers started to become fashionable.