Newly Reinterpreted and Vastly Expanded
The Stewart Toy Soldier Gallery at The Frazier History Museum is one of the largest collections of historic miniatures on public display in the world. Made possible thanks to a generous donation from Charles Stewart, whose love of toy soldiers began as a boy and continues today with a collection of nearly 13,000 world class figures representing approximately 114 historic makers. The Stewart Toy Soldier Gallery Guide provides an invaluable tool for enjoying the collection on site. Many of the rare and distinctive figures in the collection have been featured across several issues of Old Toy Soldier Magazine
Rare Unique and Important
Renowned author and auction house expert, Norman Joplin, worked with the Frazier to analyze and assess the collection and provided input on its display and interpretation. As editor of Old Toy Soldier Magazine, a worldwide resource for historic miniature collectors, Joplin is a British Citizen who has been granted permanent residence status in the United States based on his exceptional ability in a specialist field of knowledge in connection with the Social History of toy figures as viewed through the eyes of children’s toys during the period 1893 to 1966. Read Norman Joplin’s comments about the Stewart Collection at the Frazier HERE
Discovery Through Play
With over 13,000 toy soldiers in its collection and over 10,000 on display, The Stewart Toy Soldier Gallery brings the toy soldier experience out from behind the glass, and into the hands of children (both young and at heart) who simply want to play. The exhibit allows visitors to browse makers, styles and periods of treasured miniatures, while using their imaginations to experience a tiny world of play though hands-on interaction.
The Louisville Citizen's Guard Unit set, and The Kentucky Derby diorama both displayed on the 1st floor of the museum underline the ties between the world of toy soldiers, and local history and culture.
Toy Soldiers Throughout the Museum
(highlighting the other areas of the museum where soldiers can be found)> may be too much info, may have to branch off as well.)Sets from the Stewart Collection with strong local connections (which sets?), depicting popular historical events, (which ones?), and showing the origin of toy soldiers in play are displayed throughout the museum.
Toy Soldiers Through the Ages
The Stewart Toy Soldier collection contains a comprehensive example of the different kinds of materials in the manufacture of toy soldiers: lead, tin, composition, paper, wood, and plastic. Modern toy soldiers emerged in the 1730s in Nuremburg. The figures were often crafted by local tinsmiths who cast thin metal figures that are now referred to as “flats”. Notable early flats makers include Johann Hilpert, and later Ernst Heinrichsen, whose descendants still make flats today. By the late 1700s figure began to take on more depth which lead to a style known as demi-round, which although they were no longer flat were still only two sided. The French maker Lucotte was one of the first makers that produced fully round figures around the turn of the 19th century. As figures changed in style they also began to change in material, initially made from tin or pewter, many makers switched to lead. Fully round figure became the standard for toy soldiers, although other styles have continued in production. Early round figures were cast as a solid piece, but in 1893 William Britain in England revolutionized the industry when he introduced hollow figures on a large scale. W. Britain figures were cast only as a thin shell of metal and were more affordable, initially they were sold as either 1 or 2 shilling sets. W. Britian became the largest toy soldier maker of its day. Over time toy soldiers also varied in scale, makers have cast figures generally from 28mm tall to 80mm, although some figures are even larger. In the early 1900s makers began using wood composition to produce figures, which is mostly wood pulp and glue, and after World War II plastic soldiers became increasingly popular as a cheaper and safer alternative to lead.
Maker Spotlight : The W. Britain Company 1845 - Present
The W. Britain Company began in 1845 with the production of a variety of mechanical toys. It wasn’t until 1893 that William Britain cracked the German process of hollow casting, which involves filling a mold with molten lead, allowing a shell to harden and then pouring the still molten lead back out. By saving lead, the most costly part of the soldiers at the time, William Britain Senior passed the production saving costs onto the customers, and his toy soldiers quickly became one of the most popular brands by the early 20th century. Production of W. Britain toy soldiers continues today, and after more than 120 years the company has the largest oeuvre of toy soldiers among makers. Though no longer owned by the Britain family, the company is currently owned and operated by American based diecast replica and custom imprinting and tooling business, First Gear.
Dimestore figures are American made toy soldiers that sold individually in five- and-dime stores such as Kresge, Woolworths, and Ben Franklin. Minimally painted hollow cast figures measuring 3 inches in size, they were made to corresponded with American made standard gauge toy trains of the time. The popularity of the toy soldier reflected public interest in wars around the world and America’s own military preparedness of the era. By the 1970s, Dimestore soldiers were replaced by plastic "army men" toy soldiers.
Grey Iron Casting Company located in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, was the first major Dimestore toy soldier maker and was the only company to produce 3 and 3 1⁄4 inch iron toy soldiers. Production began in 1933, with the introduction of 35 different soldiers. Manoil Manufacturing Company was founded in Manhattan in the late 1920s and began toy soldier production in 1935-1936. Their earliest figures were “hollow base” design, which featured a concave base. The largest manufacturer of Dimestore figures was the Barclay Manufacturing Company. Barclay and their competitors kept prices at about five cents per figure, making them affordable to children. The figures were made of 87% lead and 13% antimony.
Maker Spotlight: American Dimestore 1930s-1950s Barclay, Manoil and Grey
Maker Spotlight: Courtenay 1928-1965
Toy knights go back centuries, but the English maker Richard Courtenay (1928-1965) took them to a whole new level. Courtenay produced exquisitely sculpted 54mm knights painted in authentic heraldry. His talent as a miniatures painter was discovered while he was a student at the Slade School of Fine Art. At the end of World War I, he set up shop with Ernest Doran producing boxed sets of 45mm lead medieval toy soldiers, marketed as ‘Courtenay & Doran’. Courtenay issued over 300 variations of foot and mounted figures before specializing in knights. Until World War II, Courtenay figures were hollow cast, but he was convinced by fellow master craftsman Frederick Ping to make solid cast figures.
Courtenay found a patron in the owner of Hummel’s House of Miniatures in London’s Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly, who nurtured Courtenay Knights for many years in his popular shop. After Courtenay’s death, his son Reginald and Hummel commissioned the maker’s old friend, Frederick Ping, to take charge of the molds and a new era of Courtenay-Pings was ushered in. This tradition is carried on by Peter Greenhill of Greenhill Miniatures who acquired the Courtenay molds after Ping’s death in 1977.
Maker Spotlight: Ernst Heinrichsen 1839 -1940
Established in 1839, the Heinrichsen Company at a time when Germany was exporting two- dimensional toy soldiers throughout Europe and to the United States. When Heinrichsen began production, “flat” toy soldiers had traditionally been made in a variety of shapes and sizes. Heinrichsen boldly standardized his production offering all his figures in only one size, 28 millimeters. Thus, by making one size of figure, Heinrichsen could produce not only a greater volume, but also a wider variety of figures than his competitors, and he was able to dominate the market. The company was so successfully operated by Heinrichsen relatives until it closed in 1940 due to WWII, that the term “flat figure” was virtually synonymous with Heinrichsen.
Maker Spotlight : Georg Heyde 1870 -1944
Founded in Dresden, Germany in the 1830s by Gustav Adolf Theodor. It was not until 1872 when Georg Heyde took over and obtained a license to become a toy trader that the company’s products became the Heyde items that toy soldier collectors recognize today. Georg Heyde became the leader in producing a diversity of figures in huge display boxes containing up to 150 figures. Subject matters covered a vast range from Roman Legions to German infantry units to Native American warriors, all of which were rendered in industry leading, stunningly active poses. The flair and extensive variety of sets offered by Heyde made them the leading exporter of toy soldiers in the world until WWI. Heyde continued limited production after the war up to 1944, but the partial destruction of the factory and the political climate of WWII forced the company to end production completely.
Maker Spotlight: Gebrüder Märklin 1859 - Present
Founded in 1859 in Göppingen, Germany, Gebrüder Märklin, or Märklin, as it is known today originally specialized in dollhouse accessories! The maker is currently renowned for its model railways and technical toys. During WWI, as Britain and Germany raced to build bigger and better ships, toy makers followed suit building complex and sophisticated wind up tin ship models that were raced around ponds by children around the world. The toy ship craze was so popular that when a groundskeeper drained the pond in London's Kensington Gardens in 1923, he discovered 150 sunken vessels at the bottom!
Maker Spotlight: Mignot 1825 - present
CBG Mignot was founded in 1825 in Paris, France and is the oldest toy soldier company still in existence. Henri Mignot first joined Cuperly, Blondrel and Gerbeau in 1903, and by 1921 Mignot was the sole owner of the factory. Production focused on French Napoleonic Troops, but also large non-military display sets such as circus, zoo, and alpine. Mignot figures were distinguished by their presentation in beautiful red boxes with scenic backgrounds.
Mignot’s military items carry a distinctive mark on the underside of the base, similar to that of Lucotte. Cavalry are in boxed sets of six and Infantry in sets of 12. A er the death of Henri Mignot in 1965, his daughter, Mme. Bontemps, succeeded him until 1976. Today, Monsieur Edouard Pemzec owns the company and lovingly crafts soldiers from the old molds. Pemzec also releases a large number of sets which are unique to the new company, continuing the persevering love of the old craft of toy soldier production.
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Maker Spotlight: Gustave Vertunni 1884-1953
Gustave Vertunni settled in Paris where he began making his famous line of detailed single portrait historic figures. He meticulously sculpted each original from which the molds were made. His wife, along with a handful of assistants hand painted each figure, resulting in a singular artistic rendering that blurrs the distinction between toy soldier and sculpture. Vertunni created the forerunner of the modern connoisseur figure by selling his detailed characters individually, rather than in large uniform groups.
Maker Spotlight: Warren 1935 - 1941
Among the rarest and finest American made toy soldiers are those of the Warren Lines. John Warren Jr. founded the company in Brooklyn in 1935 and quickly achieved notoriety for his well-crafted figures. It is speculated that Warren recruited sculptress Margaret Cloninger to improve the improve the artistic quality of his line. With Cloninger on board, Warren figures rivaled their European counterparts artistically and anatomically. The partnership worked so well that Cloninger and Warren eventually married. In the United States, however, Dimestore figures proved too popular and the higher price and sophistication of Warren figures did not draw buyers, forcing the company to close in 1941.