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What are Military Miniatures?

by Thor O. Johnson

Toy soldiers date back to antiquity with samples found in tombs and archeological excavations dating back to Egyptian and Roman times. Royal offspring from Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) to Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) had toy soldiers to play with.

Toy Soldiers

Collecting considerable numbers of these miniature warrior replicas on a large scale has been a twentieth and twenty-first century phenomena. Personalities as diverse as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, publisher Malcolm Forbes, and film star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. had very large and famous collections of toy soldiers.

The times before, during, and after World War II were watershed periods for youngsters collecting and playing with toy soldiers. After World War II, a division in the toy soldier field materialized: model figures.

Toy soldiers were usually hardy and rugged little figures most often made of metal, strong and colorful gloss paint, and intended for sandboxes as well as display shelves. While the elegant 54mm figures made by the English, German, and French companies were highly prized by American youngsters, the favorite American toy soldiers were 80mm robust warriors called “Dimestore figures.” These playroom denizens were the precursors of the action figures of later generations.

As toy soldiers proliferated in sizes and shapes, the manufacturing materials were amended to include a wood and glue substance called composition, and eventually plastic. And while composition and plastic as well as metal were fine for the toybox, the emerging model figures were too delicate and expensive to be played with. They were figures for display, invariably made of metal.

Model Figures

Despite its many definitions, and most especially the desire by many however unworthy suppliers to have their particular brands referred to as model figures, the term ‘model figures’ should be reserved for the very best figures crafted for connoisseur collectors.

Model figures start with quality sculpting, topped off with careful hand painting. Not merely a paint line for a mouth and dots for eyes, model figures have skin tone, a realistic face and are proportioned commensurate with the size of the figure – most often 54mm, but also 90mm or 120mm. Model figure collecting has been clearly the realm of the adult collector and not intended for children.

Model figures very often represent historical characters: Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, George Washington, to name a few. Model figures also are created to display a famous regiment or historically interesting group. The possibilities are endless, and only the quality of the figure determines whether it is a mass-produced toy soldier or a skillfully rendered model figure extant with limited availability.

It is very interesting to note that the collectors of both toy soldiers and model figures are adamantly enthusiastic in their regard for their chosen side of the collecting division: toy or model miniatures. The collecting of toy soldiers has endured for centuries with many figures in today’s collector cases that are in their second century – the true test of time for a collectible.


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