I can help you to establish what sort of toys or models you have if you look through this page to see the sort of questions to ask, and their answers. I can also tell you if they are valuable enough to sell through Bonhams, the auctioneers, where I work, cataloguing and photographing the toy soldiers to go to auction three times a year.
Toy soldiers are playthings made for children. Old toy soldiers are collected by adults as antiques. Lifelike models in similar sizes and materials are both made and collected by adults interested in portraying events from military history. Smaller figures are used for wargaming, and any of the above can be used as souvenirs sold on historic sites worldwide. Toy soldiers are also known as lead soldiers, tin soldiers, antique toy soldiers or model soldiers, but the term by which they are best described is toy soldiers.
These are toy soldiers. Simpler than the models, below. Easier to make in large quantities. Often showing evidence of wear and tear, as can be seen here. The ones shown here are Britains British Foot Guard bandsmen
These are model soldiers. Both groups of figures are, if dismounted, about 54mm tall, but the models are much bulkier, complicated and realistic
Here are some different size figures, the smallest being a Niblett 20mm, up to the largest, a Prussian infantryman measuring a massive 110mm. While the larger German made figures are rare and valuable, most toy soldiers have a size between the smallest shown here and the next one up, which is a rare early French solid figure dating back to the late 19th century.
Measure from the top to the toe of a standing figure to give you the scale. This is expressed in millimetres. The must usual size for a toy or model soldier is 54mm. Flat or wargaming figures are most common in sizes of 27mm or less. Some models can go to sizes of 100mm or larger. Figures on horseback are taller, but it is the height of a standing figure that gives the definitive scale.
Wargaming figures are very common, and when you find 'toy soldiers', this can often be what you have. I used to have a lot of fun wargaming, but unless you have a superbly painted army, the second hand value of them is not very great.
These are French Imperial Guard, which I converted myself from Airfix 20mm scale British Foot Guards. It is usual to find wargaming figures on strips or large bases. All these figures are on just three bases, twelve to a base.
Are they metal or plastic? If metal, are they hollow, with a little hole perhaps in the top of the head, or are they solid and heavy?
Are they fully round models, flat, or semi-flat? Are they very detailed in their modelling and paintwork? Examples of the most common types of toy soldier are shown below, and in the recent auction pages.
Often it is possible to see a maker’s name underneath the base, or sometimes on other parts of the figure. This is very helpful in identification and valuation. Have a look at some of the manufacturers pages which I am constructing to see whether you have similar items.
Uniform identification is a large subject, so do not worry about getting this correct. A picture is very helpful, but please send pictures to my Yahoo E-mail address email@example.com, rather than my webmail, where I probably won’t be able to open them.
It is helpful to know when you bought them, particularly if you had them from a toyshop when you were young. If you bought them before 1950, they are probably old toy soldiers. If they were bought after 1980, they may well be modern toy soldiers made for collectors.
There are many names that people use to describe toy soldiers, and these sometimes get in the way of finding the best information on the web to do with identification.
- Toy soldiers
- Lead soldiers
- metal soldier
- model soldiers
- antique soldiers
- plastic soldiers
- toy figures
- little soldiers
There are also a number of ways in which the terms are commonly mis-spelt:
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