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Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

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Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Guest on Thu Aug 23, 2012 8:44 pm

I know there are some very knowledgeable players who are interested in uniforms and military history. I came across these old lead soldiers this morning, roughly 54mm size. The quality of the casting is not very good so they are perhaps 1900-1920 and most of the paint has worn off, if indeed they were originally painted. There is no maker's mark. My best guess is that they are probably Napoleonic Highlanders, rather than anything much earlier, based on the hat which looks more like a feather bonnet than a bearskin; the feathers being more pronounced in some poses than others. The mounted officer is wearing a long-skirted coat but without the long cuffs from 1700 which could place it from the mid 1700s. Of course, these early toy makers were probably not as interested in replicating exact uniform details as more modern model makers are, so I may be trying to identify them more precisely than is possible?

Does anyone have any ideas what they are, how old, who made them, or suggestions where I could find out more?







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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by J Flower on Fri Aug 24, 2012 4:16 am

I think that you are right about them being Highlanders.

They maybe from a DIY casting kit something like Prinz August molds that you can cast at home. It may explain the lack of detail. As pure lead gives a less detailed figure.

Can you see what they are armed with or is the detail too poor, that may help to pin down the date a little better.

Because some are firing in the prone position I could suggest they are not armed with smoothbore muskets, because loading lying down is too hard. So that may push there period back to after the second half of the 1800s.


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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Guest on Fri Aug 24, 2012 8:41 am

Thank you, Jason,

I hadn't thought about the position the soldiers were in. The one in prone position with more paint left than most also has more of the base attached than others in prone position. Unfortunately the detail of the weapon is very poor, little more than a stick, but clearly with a bayonet attached. The last photo probably shows the detail as clear as I can get it.

If they were DIY-castings then why should the maker chose the positions he did? If you are going to have men kneeling to fire, then surely you would also want men standing to fire for the rank behind them?

Another thing I've noticed is that the soldiers who are kneeling do not have backpacks on or a flash on their hat. Although you can't tell from the picture, the officer is almost 2-dimensional, whereas the men are fully rounded figures, so I suppose it is possible that they are from different ages or makers?

Following your suggestion I did look through the online Prinz August catalogue to see if they did a Highlander range. They don't, but it was very interesting. They started in 1958 and their molds look very good. However, I'd be surprised if they are that modern given the condition/detail.

I don't know enough about model soldiers to get much further, but if you're right about them representing the 1880s, perhaps they can be dated to a time when that period was popular with gamers?
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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Jason on Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:09 am

I'd agree with other Jason given the quality of the castings, also from the photos it does seem like it is not even the paint has worn away but that some were never fully painted in the first place?

...unless they were the sort that got massed produced between the wars for American dime stores? I'm doing this completely from 25-30 year old memories of a book about Forbes' historic toy soldier collection and the history of toy soldiers but I do remember a comment in that about the poor quality of dime soldiers, with things like poor postures, little detail and casting edges still left on.

On the officer, again going from the same memories, I do recall that 'flats' were a German (and possibly French?) thing but if German it could be pre-WW1 as apparently German toy manufacturers after 1918 were discouraged (perhaps even banned?) from making warlike toys and didn't really until 1930s.

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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Guest on Fri Aug 24, 2012 12:33 pm

Thank you Jason,

based on your suggestions I've done a bit of digging on dime soldiers. On http://www.toysoldier.freeuk.com/ it divides lead soldiers into 5 main groupings:

- flat lead (A two dimensional wafer thin toy soldier cast from tin in molds engraved in slate, produced in Germany and Austria from the early 19th Century to date.)
- semi-flat (Cast in solid lead they are not fully three dimensional. First made in Germany in the 1830s where they were superceded by the Solid toy soldier. They remained popular in Austria well into the 20th Century.)
- solid lead (Cast in solid metal usually lead and most common in Germany during the 19th and early 20th Century.)
- hollow cast (Cast in metal, usually an alloy, which cools and sets first where it touches the mould, the excess molten metal is then poured out leaving a hollow figure. Pioneered by BRITAINS in the UK in 1893 they were much cheaper than the solid figures imported from Germany.)
- dimestore (Peculiar to the US where they were sold through "five and dime" stores from the 1920s to 1940s. Usually hollow cast toy soldiers, some were also made in slush cast iron.)

The officer remains a puzzle as he does appear to be semi-flat, and never painted, but the others are definitely solid, not flat/semi-flat or hollow. They may be dime soldiers, but if so it would be unusual. They are not iron.

I agree with the comment on the painting. It is odd that some colours have survived better than others. Modern advice is to use a primer, so perhaps if this wasn't done the old paint simply came off if they were cleaned or put in water? I don't know, but most of them (except the officer) look as though they were painted at some time as fragments of paint remain. The hats remain a puzzle, because although it doesn't show up well on the photos most have a bit of white on the hackle (if that is the right term). Surely it would have made more sense to paint the black of the bonnet first and then add a blob of white, yet all the black seems to have worn off? They were in poor condition inside an old metal tin when I found them with most of the weapons bent and unable to stand on the bases.

On Caring for Your Figures they offer the following guidance: Unlike those who collect them, toy soldiers are subject to lead oxidization, more commonly referred to as lead rot. Impure metal mixes and the absence of a sealing primer sow the seed of the problem, which blossoms in a humid atmosphere. Lead rot is readily detected: the figures are pockmarked, with white flakes at their base. The flakes are actually metal residue a figure with lead rot is literally decomposing before your eyes. The good news is that lead rot is seldom found in figures made after 1960. Better quality control of the metal mix and lower quantities of lead in the mix have contributed to this happy state of affairs. Another piece of good news lead rot is not contagious. It will not spread from figure to figure.

They aren't suffering from lead rot, so perhaps the lack of a good primer, poor storage and the effects of humidity go some way to explaining the condition they are in now?

I don't have any answers myself, but it is an interesting puzzle, and you know how I like puzzles!
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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Jason on Fri Aug 24, 2012 5:41 pm

I must admit it does seem a bit of a puzzle, do let us know what you find out.

I am struggling a bit to know of a museum or similar that might be able to advise; the V&A Museum of Childhood might not be much use (I can't recall them really having any toy specialists) but there is a toy museum in Brighton (very near the railway station) that used to have some excellent experts in various toy collections amongst its volunteers http://www.brightontoymuseum.co.uk/
always a chance they might be able to give some pointers?

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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Stuart Bailey on Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:49 pm

The scale 54mm and the poses of the chaps kneeling and lying down look a bit like figurers produced by a Toy Maker called Britains or Brittains (well something like that) who did a range of French, British Guards and Highlanders for Waterloo.

These could be a early version of that range.
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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Regor on Sat Aug 25, 2012 6:06 pm

Stu - but they only did plastic - surely? I'll have to have a research....
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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Jason on Sat Aug 25, 2012 7:26 pm

Regor wrote:Stu - but they only did plastic - surely? I'll have to have a research....

Britains did lead soldiers (as well as farm ranges and others) up until the 1960s (sure they stopped before the 70s). Have to be honest, always said if I was going to collect anything it would be Britains from their heyday.

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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Guest on Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:58 pm

Thank you all for your comments.

Britains did indeed produce lead soldiers and were famous for switching to hollow production earlier than most other makers (from 1893) and so could produce better quality soldiers at a lower cost than German makers. They stopped production of hollowcast figures in 1966 to concentrate on plastic, though now they produce even more detailed models in metal for collectors.

I spent a few hours looking through online records of old Britains highlanders (there is a huge amount of information out there). Britains are highly collectable and reliable records are very extensive. They seem to have been sold in sets of 4,5 or 6 of the same pose which could mean the 20 soldiers I am trying to identify could be from a mixture of sets.



The above pictures show examples of early Britains from the V&A (left) and from an American dealer (right), both sets around 1900. Stuart is right that the poses are similar, but looking at so many similar pictures the poses seem to be of a generic style common to lots of manufacturers. The biggest differences are in the moulding of the hats and detail on the kilts. Many of the models from this period have colonial pith helmets rather than feather bonnets, presumably for gaming the Zulu wars.

It is beginning to look as if they are a foreign make from around that period or slightly later which could make it very hard to identify with certainty. Most of the major English/US manufacturers are listed on their own wiki: http://toysoldierwiki.com/index.php/Main_Page with images. There seems to be a bias towards collecting known brands from one's home country.

Unfortunately I've got no further than this in the investigation so far, but will keep trying!

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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Jason on Sat Aug 25, 2012 9:52 pm

It's a bit of a long shot but if you can find this book

http://www.abebooks.com/Toy-armies-Johnson-Peter-Potter-Norman/7889692206/bd

in a local library, have a look. I am going from roughly 30 year old memories but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced it has a picture of kneeling highlanders in that pose and pointing out how wrong the pose is and how this one company got it wrong...


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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by J Flower on Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:41 am

To throw a completly new iron into the fire, It could be possiable that someone bought Original figures then used them to make there own home made dies. So you could have poses from a mainstream producer, But the quality of the DIY.

As to the time scale, it need not be influenced by when the period was popular with gamers, it could also be when the war at the time was being fought, Possibly the Boer War period, as that would put them at the turn of the century, Which seems to be the time span that is coming under speculation.

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Re: Can Anyone Identify These Soldiers?

Post by Guest on Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:00 am

J Flower wrote:It could be possible that someone bought Original figures then used them to make their own home made dies. So you could have poses from a mainstream producer, But the quality of the DIY.

That is an interesting possibility. It would explain the state of the painting. However, if you were going to go to all the trouble of making your own dies, then once the first casting came out badly, surely you would alter it and try again rather than make multiple figures in the same pose. Also, would you have chosen the poses which the maker did? Surely it would make more sense to try and copy more elusive poses or to create a base figure for conversions? Don't know. I'll continue investigating, including trying to track down the book Jason suggested, and report back when I get further.

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