Friday, 10 July 2020

Toy Soldiers of the Great War

An early birthday present to myself (because I'm worth it), "Les Petits Soldats de la Grande Guerre" has been out for while but I've only just come across it, the cover announces that it includes 800 toys of WW1 so I had to have it.

Published in 2013 by Editions Glenat, A4 format, it has 256 pages illustrated in full colour throughout, ISBN 978-2-7234-0700-2.  Written in French only but light on text so not too challenging for anyone with with a smattering of the language and a grounding in the Great War.  The pic below gives an example of the layout and quality of the illustrations.  The cover price is 39 Euro, which I would say offers very good value for a book of this size and quality, I got my copy on ebay France, new and still in the cellophane wrapping for 19 Euro plus 9 Euro P&P from seller "Book77".  Bargain!

There are 12 chapters looking at different aspects of the war, into which the toys are conveniently slotted.  The cover gives little away and I half expected the book to include every type of toy from diecast vehicles to dolls and teddy bears, but fear not, apart from a chapter containing tinplate tanks and ships the rest is all toy soldiers.  

You can expect to see the perennial favourites from Britains, CGB Mignot, and Elastolin  but they don't dominate, it's packed with figures of every genre: paper, flats and semi flats, conjoint tin, wood, hollowcast and solid lead, composition and even a little plastic and modern white metal (but not much).  The more I flick through it the more I enjoy it, I reckon you will too.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Britains, Airfix and Old School Wargaming - Pure Nostalgia!

Another lazy post here, these old British Pathe newsreels have been on YouTube for years and I'm sure everybody knows them well but I never tire of watching them, so I've put them up mostly for my own benefit.  

Toy Fair 1958
Nice footage of animated Trade Fair displays for Britains Swoppets and other Herald sets, "unbreakable" plastic toy soldiers were in the ascendancy in the British Toy Market in the late 1950's

Toy Fair 1968
Ten years later they are already old news and, in terms of the juvenile toy trade, heading into a long slow decline.  Interesting to see archive footage shot inside the Airfix factory here though.

Men Will Be Boys 1970.
Some great toys on show here, does anyone recognise the two chaps playing the wargame?  Come on, someone must know them, it was only 50 years ago!

For those who haven't heard, I am currently somewhat incapacitated, without access  to my toy soldiers or books, consequently my activity is reduced to writing posts like this and my ebay bill is going through the roof!

Thursday, 11 June 2020

French made Matelots

I have always had a particular fondness for toy soldiers made in France, they produce them in every conceivable material, and while the sculpting isn't always the sharpest, the poses are always very imaginative.  Here are a few examples:

The first two above were made by Miniajouet, the first is an early figure made in rubber during the 1950's the second is later manufacture in hard plastic.  The third figure was made by JSF (Jouets Standard Francaise) and was originally made in hollowcast lead.

Two helmsmen from JSF and one from Miniajouet, all of the figures shown in this post were originally produced in both white and blue plastic.

The Naval officer with pistol is a first series plastic figure by Starlux, who originally made toy soldiers in a plaster composition material called "blanc de meudon" hence the rather chunky design.  A Naval Aviator made in rubber and a later plastic Captain with sextant from Miniajouet.

The Matelot dragging an anchor is from the same Miniajouet set as the others shown in this post, they were originally made in hollowcast by HR (Henri Roger) there are a few more in the set but I don't have them (yet).  The middle two are by Domage & Cie who sold aluminium figures under the trade name Aludo and plastics (acetate) as here under the name Acedo, the first figure with the bucket of water is a soft plastic copy.  The last chap is sitting on a pile of rope eating his dinner, he has lost the spoon which he should be holding in his right hand, made by JSF and from the same series as the others in this post.

If figures like these float your boat you can see lots more on the French 1/32 Plastic Toy Soldier Forum, there is a link to it in the header bar of this blog.  You have to register to join and the text is mostly in French but there are lots of pictures and it is by far and away the best resource on the internet for all types of old toy soldiers.

Monday, 8 June 2020

A few pics from a past London Toy Soldier Show

A trawl through old stuff brought these photos of from the December 2018 London Toy Soldier Show to light.  To be honest I felt they were a bit too fuzzy and not interesting enough to post at the time but with the dearth of shows at present I thought I'd give them an airing.

Above and below are scenes from a King & Country VietNam diorama.

If WW2 in the Pacific floats your boat here are a few more diorama shots from King & Country

At the time of writing, the London Toy Soldier Show on 27th June has just been cancelled, so we keep our fingers crossed for the next one on 5th December.  The Herne Show run by Peter Bergner is scheduled for 5th July, Germany seems to be opening up slightly ahead of the rest of Europe.  The old Birmingham show, known as the Midlands Toy Soldier Show is moving to a new location in Stoke on Trent on 27th September.  Our local car boot fair is due to reopen next Sunday, so if nothing else I can look forward to a long early morning walk around a field in the countryside with a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea at the end of it.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Greys Cigarettes Toy Soldiers

In the days before Osprey books, illustrations of military uniforms were fairly sparse on the ground, but a reliable source was found in the plethora of cigarette cards which every schoolboy would cadge from adults as they emerged from the tobacconists and prised open a new pack.  So prolific was this practice that cigarette cards became a currency to be swapped in the playground for every conceivable commodity, marbles, sweets, etc.   My favourite set was "Uniforms of the Territorial Army" issued by John Player & Sons in 1939, but there were plenty of others to search for.  What I didn't know back then was that there had been Toy Soldiers given away with packs of cigarettes:

Major Drapkin & Co registered at 84 Piccadily, London W1 was founded by a tobacco merchant and cigar manufacturer named Samuel Barnett, they produced The "Greys" brand of cigarettes and claimed that the Colonel of 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) had given them permission to use the Regiments name.

In 1914, Drapkin's issued with their "Crayol Virginia and Karam Turkish" Cigarettes, a set of 25 die cut card toy soldiers representing allied troops of the Triple Entente, which included Belgian, French, Russian and British Regiments.  

Later with The "Greys" they issued two sets of 30mm flat lead figures representing firstly the Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo and then the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava.  I haven't been able to put an exact date to these lead flats, the earliest mention of The "Greys" that I've found is an advert from 1916 while the rather fine illustration above is a full page advert from the Graphic Magazine of 1917.  I would expect these flat toy soldiers to have been made well after the First World War due to limitations on the use of metals.

A little bit more 3 dimensional than traditional German tin flats, they seem to be a mix of lead and tin which gives makes them a bit heavier, darker and softer than Continental production.  One of the original moulds recently surfaced on ebay priced at £150, the seller stated that they had 12 more and that they had been shown to a member of the Ochel family who confirmed that their firm had produced them at Kiel in Germany, in which case this would date them to the late 1920's or early 1930's, the moulds looked to be engraved in brass.

Both sets seem to have used the same designs for the Scots Greys and have had 52 pieces.   The lower figures in the first photo are a Russian cavalryman and limber from the Balaclava set.

The infantry above are from the Waterloo set, which included British, French and Prussian foot along with the Scots Greys, a mounted Napoleon and artillery.  

The Balaclava set contained British Foot Guards, Highlanders and Russian infantry with the Scots Greys, Russian Cavalry, Cossacks and artillery.

There are nine figures of Scots Greys, numbered 34 - 42, the Waterloo set also had a figure of Sergeant Ewart capturing the Eagle of the 45th (which I don't have).  The bottom row shows the British cannon and limber with the French caisson.

Another great full page illustrated advert form the Graphic Magazine of 1917, I love the legend of Christian Davis, described here, it's well worth taking a moment to read her story on Wikipedia.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Dorset Greys, who are they?

With all the Collectors Shows cancelled I was feeling very much in need of a Toy Soldier fix, so trawling through everybodies favourite internet auction site I came across these:

Nobody seemed interested in them but they are toy soldiers and they were fairly priced, so they fill two of my buying criteria (well, all of my buying criteria really), but the question is What are they?

They were listed as Dorset - Crimean War period - Infantry grey uniforms.  I could see from the sculpting and painting style they were made by Dorset Model Soldiers (they're also marked GB under the base - Giles Brown, the founder of Dorset) but Crimean War?  I'm less comfortable with that, they look something more like U.S. infantry of 1812/20 to me, what do you think?

I may have to do a bit of basing to make them more table stable.  I have no qualms about mixing plastic with metal figures in my collection but have tended to avoid the later because of the weight when transporting them.   Anyway it's nice to be able to add a complete new unit where someone else has done all the work.  I plan to use them as the nucleus for a Napoleonic Swedish army, another project which has been on the back burner for a very long time!

Friday, 3 April 2020

HMS Neptune saved form oblivion

Another model ship, another cutting, this one has almost faded and sunk into to mists of time, but has been salvaged by the heroic efforts of digital technology.

The caption tells us this is HMS Neptune, which was a Collosus class Dreadnaught, launched in 1909, and saw action in the Battle of Jutland.  There is no indication of scale, you could assume the sailors were standard 54mm but I don't recognise the pose so they might have been homecast just for this model, in which case they could be any size, still it's a nice chunky little model and I wouldn't mind having it in my fleet.  The model is signed "Charles Ashley, 1916", the year of Jutland, it's reasonable to suppose he made it, maybe he even served on Neptune during the Battle, who knows?

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Queen Mary had some Toy Soldiers.

Queen Mary, wife of King George V, was an inveterate collector with a penchant for things miniature, and she was reported to be "extremely surprised" when it was suggested she be presented with a dolls' house as a gift from the Nation.  But this would be no ordinary dolls' house, it was to be designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, the architect responsible for building the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and would be furnished with contributions from all the major manufacturers and artisans of the day to promote the names and products of Britain's finest craftsmen.

William Britains, being the leading toy soldier manufacturer of the day provided a miniature example of a box of their toy soldiers for the dolls' house nursery, and they made a second set for the daughter of Frederick Britain, this is what it looks like:

The miniature set was never issued commercially and never featured in any of the catalogues or product lists.  In 1988 the second set was put up for auction by the Britains family and this postcard was sent by Phillips Auctioneers to collectors on their mailing list in the hope that one or more of us might have the odd ten grand to spare.  I attended the auction and the bids fell well short of the reserve, I don't know if it was subsequently sold by private treaty but have never heard anything of it since.  In fairness it's very difficult to put a value on a set like this which is literally unique, given that the set in the Royal collection will never come to market, and that in every field of collecting there are those individuals for whom money is no object!

Work on Queen Mary's dolls' house began in 1921, it was first displayed at the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 and is currently on permanent display in Windsor Castle (although at the time of writing it is closed until further notice).  

Thursday, 26 March 2020

How they made Tin Flat toy soldiers

The recent post featuring some Tin Flat toy soldiers drew some interest so continuing the theme I thought I'd throw in this short Italian clip from 1937 showing them being made in Austria.  I quite liked this one because it goes through the whole process from drawing the design to engraving the mould, casting, cleaning up, painting and displaying in dioramas.  For anyone who already casts lead toy soldiers, there won't be anything new here but it's always fun to see a piece of old film, and the music's quite jolly too!


Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Plastic Warrior Show 2020 - Postponed

The following press release was issued from Plastic Warrior magazine today:

"In light of the current situation and the government ban on meetings, we are unable to hold the PW Show in May. We intend to postpone the show until later in the year, at our usual venue, The Winning Post, ideally in the autumn.
Please keep checking our blog for further updates:
We will post a new date as soon as it is confirmed.
Please post this on your own websites or blogs, and ask everyone to pass the word."

The Show was due to be held on 16th May, so with half of Europe on lockdown and borders closed it's not really any great surprise, there is a link to the Plastic Warrior blog in the column on the right and the new show date will be published there as soon as it has been agreed.

7YW Prussian assault pioneers

Some time back, a 7 Years War siege game we were planning called for an assault on a breach in the walls of a fortified city, so I bodged up these figures for it.

All these conversions started life as 54mm plastic toy soldiers of the American Revolution made by Louis MARX.  The figure on the left was advancing with musket at the ready, on the right he was stabbing down, their muskets have been trimmed away and hats carved off, to be replaced with spare mitre caps from the HaT 7YW Prussian infantry set, then its just a case of assembling and pinning the ladder (a spare form the TIMPO Fort Apache set) to them, their hands have also been built up a bit with milliput.

The sappers with axes are the same two MARX poses used for the ladder carriers, again they've had their muskets trimmed away and headgear replaced with HaT spares, the axes are from the TIMPO Vikings and the leather aprons are cut from cartridge paper stiffened with PVA.  The chap throwing grenade is the British officer from the same American Revolution series, his cane has been cut away and a grenade made from milliput, the fuses are made from old fashioned fuse wire (can you still get that?).

We all have to get our ideas from somewhere and the inspiration for these conversions came from a book illustrating old German Tin Flats, these conversions were previously shown in an article I did for Plastic Warrior magazine but I didn't get to show where the idea came from.

The book is Soldaten des Rokoko by Waldemar Piecha, published in 1982 (ISBN 3-423--02874-2), it contains 72 prints like these, each depicting different Regiments and formations of the Prussian army.  It's a great resource for uniform info and every figure illustrated is unique so it's a goldmine for ideas.  

Tin Flats were relatively cheap and easy to manufacture, the designs were drawn and then engraved into slate, so the mould making process is relatively quick and inexpensive.  Designs were often copied from antiquity as well as period art sources which gives them a sense of the times they depict.  The collecting potential for Flats is enormous, covering every historical period, they are very well documented and books on Flats are by far the largest section of my toy soldier library,  yet they are a section of the hobby that has been virtually bypassed by the world outside of Germany.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

What happened to these ships?

The Royal Navy can float a Battleship anywhere...….and they have some very nice toys!

I really want one of these!

Here the Royal Navy are launching model Battleships into the fountains that surround Nelson's Column in London's Trafalgar Square (see the lions in the background), so I'm guessing that it might be a fundraising or morale building event for Trafalgar Day.  From the cut of the uniforms, the bulk of the ships and the omnibus in the background it possibly dates from about 1910-20 but it could be earlier, what do you think?

I'm not sure where I found this picture, probably the Illustrated London News or something like that, as I've been collecting hoarding articles and cuttings of anything relating to toy soldiers and wargaming for the past 50 years.  Now I'm not the tidiest or most organised of people, so to say that this hoard is a bit of a mess would be something of an understatement, but in these times of self exile I need something else to do beyond painting toy soldiers and so a big sort out is called for.  This clipping is already fading into oblivion and so I felt it behove me to sharpen it up and preserve it in ether before it's gone forever.

It may just be me, but it feels like there's been a marked slowdown in postings on the blogosphere lately, almost certainly due to the unprecedented upheaval hitting all our lives. Shows and group gatherings are being cancelled right left and centre so there is much less news to be reported, and people's routines have been turned upside down.  I feel I should be doing my bit by posting more, but apart from being disorganised I am also fundamentally lazy so you can expect to see more cheap posts like this in the future!

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

The Romanians are coming!

Plans are afoot for a wargame set in the Crimea during WW2 using 54mm plastic toy soldiers, it's a way off yet but it will still need a bit of preparation.  Fortunately the game will require little in the way of air and armour units, but it will require some Romanian infantry and I can't think of any firm that made such troops, therefore some sort of bodge is called for.

 Taking the Osprey book as my source for uniforms I trawled through the mountain of junk figures I keep for such purposes and came up with several bags of these Hugonnet figures.  I bought them for a few francs a bag in a supermarket, on a booze cruise to Calais forty years ago, and they have been languishing in the back of a cupboard ever since waiting for me to come up with a use for them.  I've included the header card from the bag which shows the Hugonnet/Feral logo quite nicely in the bottom right corner.

The Romanian uniform comprised a full length jacket and short gaiters, so we're okay on that score, Mountain Rifle Regiments wore a large floppy beret, so that's good too.  Only problem is with the regular infantry units who wore a variety of helmets including the French "Adrian" and Dutch models, I have some metal heads in Adrian helmets so could do a few quick swops for a bit of variation but the current helmets are fairly indistinct so I may just leave them as they are.

Here are all the poses, Hugonnet were notorious for making piracies of other firms figures, mostly Starlux but also Cofalu and Cherilea.  The first three figures in the top row are copies of Starlux and the rest are all copies of Cofalu modern French army toy soldiers.

Moulded in green and tan these are very much the French equivalent of "Army Men" cheap toys in plastic, colour coded to provide two distinct armies.  They are crude, anatomically challenged and badly moulded, many carrying the deformity of being injected into an overheated mould.  But for all that I have a certain fondness for them, the poses are very dynamic and I've always felt they had potential, I just never figured out what that might be.  Well, we'll see.....

Friday, 28 February 2020

Still limping on the long road home from Moscow

For Napoleon's Grand Armee, the humiliating retreat from the Russian capital is about to turn in a nightmare of epic proportions. 

While the muffled boom from the Russian guns, harrying the rearguard, drifts across the endless plain, the Cossacks look for any opportunity to pick off stragglers or fall on unescorted wagons.

The Cossacks attack in waves but are easily held off by formed up bodies of infantry, or scattered when they come under artillery fire.  An unfortunate salvo from the rearguard falls near the wagons and sees a unit of Cossacks driven off by friendly fire!

The Bavarians trudge on, shadowed by the menacing Cossacks, they know their only hope of salvation is to stick together.  Ahead of them in the right foreground the Russian main army is approaching from the flank and has set up a Grand Battery to ward off any attempt by the French to rescue their supply train and come to the aid of the rearguard.

Unprotected wagons are easy prey for the Cossacks, who suddenly appear like ghosts out of the swirling snow fluries.

………and never miss an opportunity for plunder.

The Russian main army makes it's appearance on the field...….

While the Grand Battery prepares to face the French relief force, which has now been spotted racing to save the supply column.

The column escort has now splintered into isolated pockets of resistance which are systematically picked off one by one

A unit of Saxon infantry, allied to the French, take shelter in the ruins of an abandoned monastery.

The Cossacks continue to plunder the column.

Nearing the end of the game, the French rearguard, seriously depleted, stood it's ground heroically just as it did in 1812.  While the Emperor and his staff, in a moment of distraction, fell prisoner to a passing Cossack patrol, okay that didn't happen in 1812 (but it could have!).

And suddenly it was all over!  Time to pack away all the toys and sit down for tea.

The rules used for the game were a Napoleonic variant of Funny Little Wars which are as yet unpublished and are here being playtested.  One new development is the use of polystyrene foam balls impaled on a matchstick (shown here in the centre foreground) so they can be fired from a cannon, this makes their flight rather erratic but it also makes it much easier to see what has been hit.  The figures were drawn from too many sources to list, and included many conversions, but most sharp eyed readers will be able to guess their origin (and if you're really stumped you can always ask!)

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Limping back from Moscow

Somewhere in the deep expanse of Russia the Grande Armee of Napoleon I has begun the long march back to it's homeland.  A successful invasion had seen the most glittering army ever assembled in history, chase an elusive foe all the way to the gates of Moscow.  But then the snow began to fall........
A French column is strung out on the march struggling through the drifts and eddies of snow, danger on every side form wolves, partisans and the dreaded Cossacks.  The slow lumbering wagons must be protected at all costs, they contain the food and ammunition essential to the survival of the army, not to mention all the loot plundered from the city.

Much of the Armee is composed of foreign contingents pressed into the service of the Emperor, here the Bavarians show good order as they trudge through the endless bleak landscape.

A French rearguard screens the column from the pursuing Russians, led by the redoubtable Marshal Ney, who is seen here on the left, conferring with Marshal LaSalle (quite amazing really, seeing as the later had been dead for three years by 1812, but history is a minor inconvenience when it comes to playing with 54mm toy soldiers!)

The well supplied, hardy Russian infantry catch up with the column and start to exert pressure on the rearguard.

The Russians throw themselves at the French oblivious to casualties, buoyed up with vodka and inflamed with patriotic zeal.

The French rearguard fall back steadily, contesting every inch of ground, selflessly sacrificing themselves to buy time for the rest of the army.

The column marches on but now stragglers are falling by the wayside with every turn.

The Corsican ogre watches in dismay as his grand ambitions begin to unravel and his army starts to  rapidly disintegrate.

Lurking in the shadows and on the flanks are the ever present and watchful Cossacks!

It was originally going to be a quick game put together at short notice between a couple of players, but such is the enthusiasm of the Funny Little Wars aficionados that it quickly escalated to seven players pitching in a few hundred figures on a thirty foot snowscape.

Well what else are you going to do on a wet, windy Monday afternoon in London?

Sunday, 16 February 2020

TAG Cossacks

I'm about to embark on a new project which involves painting up a load of Cossacks, happily there are lots of figures available thanks to the current Russian manufacturer Engineer Basevitch who has included several in his many excellent and unusual sets.  The problem is that I want them to be a generic unit that can be used from 1800 through to 1930, so what colour do I paint the tunics?  When in doubt I always look at what the toy manufacturers have done in the past, not always historically accurate, but good enough for me and with that in mind I dug out my old composition Cossacks made by TAG.

The figures I'll be painting are all wearing the distinctive cherkesska tunic with sown in cartridge pockets like these above.  The first two figures here are TAG and I assumed the third one was too when I bought it, but when I put them all together I see it's very different, obviously shorter with finer detail and made from white plaster, it's very TAG in style so it could be a later improved line of production but I'm just speculating here.

I've never been entirely sure what this thing hanging on their back is meant to be but I assume it's meant to be a traditional bashlik hood.  I'm not sure this exercise is helping with my uniform colour quandry!

While I had the Cossacks out I thought I might as well photograph the rest of my TAG figures,  These are curious creatures, made in England after WW2, but beyond that nobody seems to know much about them or who made them, the only clue being the large "dogtag" they wear tied around the neck which proclaims them to be "A TAG Educational Toy".  From left above are 2 Royal Armoured Corps, a paratrooper and an infantryman.  I've always been curious, on what basis TAG could claim these to be educational?

Mostly they're made from a green/grey composition material very similar to Milliput which put me in mind of the gunk people used back in the old days to repair the rusted patches and rotted wheel arches on their car.  Other materials such as plaster are also used.  I think the MP in white helmet is just an ordinary infantryman who has been embellished by a previous owner, I'm not the culprit on this occasion but I have to admit to ruining many a good toy soldier with dodgy painting in my schooldays.  The center figure is a British Military Police "Redcap" (factory painted) followed by two rather robust Guardsmen.

The reverse side of the "dogtag" gives unit information.  I wouldn't normally bother showing a back view but on this occasion I was quite taken with the detailing of the parachute harness and sten gun slung on the MP, it shows a modicum of research and modelling on what are otherwise very crude toys.  I've never consciously collected TAG figures, I don't really like them and I'm not even sure how I came to have these.  I guess you just acquire the odd figure here and there then before you know it a collection has quietly crept up on you.