by James Opie
Pen and Sword Books
Most collectors who have any interest in military models will have heard of WIlliam Britains toy soldiers. Written by the world expert on the famous line of toy soldiers, long time valuer for the major auctioneers and equally a great collector himself. It's not the first book on the topic of either Britains or Toy Soldiers from James Opie, but this one doesn't just talk about the products, but ties them in with the history of the company itself, and within the context of the wider toy soldier market. For the collector there are tips on what is 'collectible' and what to look out for.
The book is split into 8 chapters, and after the introduction, these split the story into the Seven Ages of Britains and a final one about collecting them. For the Seven Ages, the first looks at the start of the story, between 1893 and 1900. This is about the toy scene in Britain at the time, how they took on the market dominance of the German toy makers and with hollow-casting made a success of the business, starting their tradition of making souvenir models. Also during this time, it makes the point that the culture of the time was quite different to today, and attitudes to soldiering and toy soldiers not what they are now. When it moves on to the Second Age, 1900-1918, new subject areas from the Boer War to the First World War came along, of new lines and sizes, along with expansion into Scouts, Railways and more.
The Third Age is described as the Golden Age, 1919-1941. This deals with the effects of Peace on the sales of Toy Soldiers and work with Farm, Zoo and Gardening products as well as export and on towards re-armament as they expanded their subject areas so the business was not completely reliant on military subjects. When it got to 1941, pressure of the war forced the business to close and move over to war work, and only able to move back to their toys again in 1945. After the war it gets to the Fourth Age,1945-1967, now it deals with the end of the hollowc-asting production and moves to new plastic and diecast production methods. The issues of Lead Poisoning and use of that metal also meant a change.
By the time we get to the Fifth Age, 1953 - 1967 it looks at the period when Britains bought the Herald range of plastic soldiers from Hong Kong, a controversial decision which was proved to be a wise decision with plastic figures alongside metal ones within the product range. This is a period showing many of the figures and sets I remember as a youngster but it was also the time when the Britains family finally sold the business, in 1984. It also looks at the demise of the British Toy industry as the products from the Far East were much cheaper. The Sixth Age examines the products of the market for Collector's Toys from 1983-1998 as rather than being sold only in toy shops they moved to more specialist dealers and the issue of new Limited Edition sets. The Seventh Age rounds this off covering Collector's Models from 1999-2013 and the move to even more Historical Realism, and when higher standards of painting for them became available at a reasonable price from China and they could be sold to an even wider market. Add a section on collecting Britains products and listing notable collectibles, you have a very complete reference on the subject.
For some people it will be about value, rarity and investments, for others it may be nostalgia and for still more, just an appreciation of some fine military models. Heavily illustrated throughout the book with some marvelous, and in some cases memory jogging illustrations, this makes for a really interesting story about such a famous brand.
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Also by James Opie
James Opie’s highly popular Collecting Toy Soldiers (1987) was an inspirational book for anyone involved in the hobby. Nearly a quarter of a century on, this is a completely new companion updating the experience for the twenty-first century collector. James now gives the reader the benefit of over thirty years’ participation as one of the world’s leading authorities on toy soldiers, figures and models, and a lifetime as a collector himself.
Collecting Toy Soldiers in the 21st Century contains comprehensive advice on all aspects of collecting, fully illustrated with new pictures. The main menu is an exposition of the thousands of different possibilities for pursuing individual fulfillment. Guidance for every budget includes price trends and pitfalls to avoid when buying or selling at auction, shows, on-line or privately. The informative and often-amusing anecdotes are provided from James' own involvement, and illustrate just how satisfying it can be to explore this blend of history, tradition, nostalgia and play, whether on the most grandiose scale or with the most limited of funds.