Newly Reinterpreted and Vastly Expanded
The Stewart Historic Miniatures Collection at the Frazier History Museum is one of the largest collections of historic miniatures on public display in the world. It is made possible thanks to a generous donation from Charles W. Stewart, whose love of toy soldiers began as a boy and continues today with a collection of nearly 25,000 world-class figurines representing approximately 125 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 this collection have been featured in Old Toy Soldier.
Rare, Unique, and Important
Auction house consultant and toy soldier expert Norman Joplin worked with the Frazier to analyze and assess the collection, and provided input on its display and interpretation. As the 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 on the basis of his exceptional ability in a specialized field of knowledge in connection with the social history of children’s toys from 1893 to 1966. Read his comments about the Stewart Collection HERE.
Discovery Through Play
With over 25,000 toy soldiers in its collection and over 10,000 on display, The Stewart Historic Miniatures Collection 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 through 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.
The Stewart Historic Miniatures Collection
Sets from the Stewart Collection are located primarily in the Stewart Historic Miniatures Gallery on second floor of the museum. All other sets on display are grouped into the following categories: Introductory Case; Group 1: Local Connection; Group 2: Why Toy Soldiers?; Group 3: American History; Group 4; Napoleon; mobile and stationary interactive tables.
The Stewart Historic Miniatures Gallery (2nd floor) consists of three rooms: the Connoisseur’s Gallery, the Expansion Gallery, and the Marshall Charitable Foundation Education Center. First, the Connoisseur’s Gallery contains four walls of cases, each with a theme: Various Makers, W. Britains, French Figures, and German Figures. Highlighted makers include Vertunni, Warren, Courtenay, American Dimestores, W. Britain, Mignot, Heinrichsen, and Heyde. Second, the Expansion Gallery adjacent to that includes a wide range of old sets and models, primarily of German origin. Included are lead flats, demi-rounds, and fully round figures; zeppelins; submarines and boats; naval and coastal guns; various accessories, figures, and dioramas of both military and civilian scenes; and sets from the Atlanta Toy Museum. Third, dozens of sets of historic miniatures occupy a wall of cases in the Marshall Charitable Foundation Education Center on the southeast side of the building.
The Introductory Case (1st floor, Entrance Gallery) contains sets that introduce Charles W. Stewart and his vast collection of historic miniatures.
“Group 1: Kentucky Connection” (1st floor, Entrance Gallery) sets have some special connection to the state of Kentucky. Included are the Louisville Home Guard; the eleven fastest Kentucky Derby winners; and a set originally owned by a Louisville native turned US ambassador.
“Group 2: Why Toy Soldiers?” (1st floor, Northwest Gallery) sets explain the history and popularity of toy soldiers. The cases include “The Evolution of Toy Soldiers,” “The Napoleonic Wars,” “Not Just Toy Soldiers,” and “Events as They Happened.”
“Group 3: American History” (2nd floor, Northwest Gallery) sets are dioramas of pivotal moments in American history. The scenes include “The Frontier,” “The American Revolution,” “The American Civil War,” and “World War II.”
“Group 4: Napoleon” (3rd floor, alcove) is dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. It contains a diorama of the soldiers of the First French Empire.
Mobile interactive tables for kids to play with toy soldiers from the collection are moved throughout the museum. A stationary interactive table occupies the Connoisseur’s Gallery.
A Brief History of Toy Soldiers
The Stewart Historic Miniatures Collection features a comprehensive range of the different kinds of materials used in the manufacture of toy soldiers: lead, tin, composition, paper, wood, and plastic. In the 1770s, after German metalworkers discovered a commercial market for toy soldiers, a tinsmith named Johann Gottfried Hilpert started mass-producing zinnfiguren, or flat (1 mm thick) tin soldiers, from his shop in Nuremberg. His process was simple: a slab of slate was engraved with the front image of the figure; another slab was engraved with the back image; both slabs were pressed together and clamped shut; molten lead was poured into a hole on top; the lead was left to cool; the figure was painted by hand, assigned to a set, boxed up, and sold by the pound, with sets ranging in weight from about 2 oz. to 1 lb. In the mid-1800s, German makers of these “flats” started producing “semisolids,” which were sturdier but not quite three-dimensional. Then, in the 1860s, German makers followed the lead of French firms such as Lucotte and began making three-dimensional, or “fully round,” figures. In 1893, the British firm W. Britain revolutionized the industry by introducing hollow-cast lead soldiers. By the time it discontinued this process in the 1960s, W. Britain had become the world’s most successful toy soldier company. Since the beginning toy soldiers have also varied in scale: makers have cast figures generally from 28 to 80 mm tall, although some figures are even larger. In the early 1900s, toy makers began using wood composition, which is chiefly wood pulp and glue. Following World War II, plastic soldiers became popular as a cheaper and safer alternative to lead ones.
Maker Spotlight : W. Britain, 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 Sr. 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 world's largest oeuvre of historic toy soldiers. Though no longer owned by the Britain family, the 123-year-old brand is now owned by the Holland, Ohio based firm The Good Soldier LLC. This new company is owned and operated by toy and model figure collectors dedicated to continuing W. Britain’s commitment to quality and authenticity.
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 Dimestores, 1930s - 1950s
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: Heinrichsen, 1839 - 1940
In 1839, Ernst Heinrichsen established the toy firm Heinrichsen. It revolutionized the industry by standardizing the size of its flats at 28 mm tall, which critics praised as “utilitarian” and “proportioned properly.” Its figures also had more realistic poses and more accurate uniforms than those of its competitors. Over time, Heinrichsen so dominated the market for flat figures that its name came to be synonymous with zinnfiguren. Its sets included both ancient figures (Hannibal Alexander the Great) and modern conflicts (the Indian Mutiny, the Crimean War). Some even felt that these sets promoted jingoism among children: in the late 1800s, a French journal article accused Heinrichsen of “instilling into the minds of the young the bravery, the might, and the glory of the German army.” The company ended production in the 1940s.
Heinrichsen sets in the Stewart Collection include artillery, the Battle of Port Arthur, bivouacs, buglers, cavalry with swords, cowboys and Indians, dragoons, drummers, Dutch sailors, French zouaves, Hussars, naval flats, Prussian lancers, trumpeters, and wicker earthwork structures.
Maker Spotlight : Heyde, 1870 - 1944
In the 1870s, George Heyde took over his family company, a successful toy firm named Heyde, and turned it into international sensation. It used a metal alloy that was soft and pliable, allowing children to twist any Heyde figure into any form. Heads were cast separately and plugged into figures’ bodies, so the heads and bodies could be mixed and matched at the whim of any child. Heyde sets were bigger, more sophisticated, of higher quality, and more eclectic than those of its competitors, including such sets and figures as jazz bands, bullfights, coronations, caravans, sharpshooters, goblet-sippers, pontoon wagons, horse-drawn ambulances, airports, and nativity scenes. Early Heyde models, as in those produced prior to 1914, are considered to be of higher quality than those made during the interwar period. In 1945, the firm went under when its main factory in Dresden was destroyed by Allied bombers.
Heyde sets in the Stewart Collection include the 7th US Regiment, Alexander the Great’s elephant, the Arab camel corps, a bridge construction site, a campsite, devils on a ladder, a German-American raiding party, medieval knights, Moroccans, North American Indians, a procession of early Germanics, Prussian bands, Roman heralds, satyrs, a senate building, signal troops, a tank attack, telephone troops, US infantry, and Wild West battle scenes.
Maker Spotlight: Märklin, 1859 - Present
In 1859, a tinsmith in the Kingdom of Württemberg named Theodor Märklin started molding piece of tinplate into miniature accessories for dollhouses. His sons and a partner incorporated the business as Gebr Märklin & Co. By the early 1900s, the firm was manufacturing a wide selection of miniature civilian and military accessories, artillery, vehicles, vessels, railroads, locomotives operated by clockwork, and boats that children could race across ponds. In 1911, it started making motors for the companies Meccano and Hornby. During World War I, it limited its catalogue to stock parts only. In 1919, it switched its attention from trains to metal construction sets. In 1923, when a groundskeeper drained the pond of Kensington Gardens in London and found a whopping 150 toy boats at the bottom, it laid bare the popularity of Märklin at its peak.
Märklin sets in the Stewart Collection include cannons, coastal guns, a crane, an emplacement, an entrenchment, Howitzers, garrison guns, a gun-towing tank, lamp posts, naval guns, pedestal guns, rail guns, submarines, and zeppelins.
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.
Maker Spotlight: M.I.M., 1930s - 1948
M.I.M., or “Maximus in Minimus”, was founded in Belgium in the 1930s by a local model maker named Emmanuel Steinback. His first models depicted soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars, primarily the French Army. Next he began to make contemporary British and US troops, as well as ancient Romans, Gauls, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Persians. They were somewhat large: 60 mm for foot soldiers, 80 mm for mounted soldiers. Their exquisite casting and painting bore a resemblance to high-end models by Lucotte, Mignot, and Haffner. Production stopped in 1948, and M.I.M. figures have risen in rarity and value ever since.
M.I.M. sets in the Stewart Collection include an ancient Roman signifier, Dutch grenadiers marching, a French dragoon bugler, and a mounted hussar.
Maker Spotlight: 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. The higher price and sophistication of Warren figures did not draw buyers, forcing the company to close in 1941.