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Ron & Donna Miller - Publishers

Toy Soldier Collectibles Made To
Sell In Large Quantities

The Britains Company, which began making toy soldiers in 1893, reintroduced hollowcast toy soldiers in 1973 after not making this type for many years. This figure, holding the American flag, is pictured on the cover of Britains New Toy Soldiers, a 2008 Schiffer Norman Joplin & John T. Waterworth. These new toy soldiers are brightly painted.

Toy soldiers and other small figures have been popular collectibles since they were first made almost 200 years ago. By the end of the 19th century, there were four processes being used in their manufacture of little tin soldiers.

Flat figures were made of tin alloy and were two-dimensional silhouettes, showing the front and back of the figure portrayed. Many of these were engraved very nicely. The most common size was just over one inch in height.

Solid figures were made of a lead alloy. They were fully three-dimensional figurines and, as the name indicates, cast solid. They often had several parts soldered together. There was a wide size range, but most were 1 3/4 to about 2 1/3 inches in height.

Figures known as semi-flats were not fully rounded, being about halfway between a solid and a flat.

Hollowcast figures were also made of a lead alloy. They, too, are fully three-dimensional, but have a hollow center. Obviously, this was a boon to the manufacturer, who only needed about half as much metal per piece. The most popular size was 2 1/16 inches.

Also being produced around 1900 were composition figures. They were made of a mixture of wood, glue and plaster that was molded over a wire framework. Although the first ones were large, about four inches, the most popular size came to be 2 2/3 inches.

A method of casting aluminum figures was developed in France in the 1930s, and various companies used this type until the early 1950s. However, since about 1955, almost all methods have given way to plastic injection molding.

Many of these plastic toy soldiers have been very well done, with good modeling and fine detail. There has also been an assortment for children of unpainted figures; since painting in detail is usually hand-done, this can be very expensive and mass-produced toy figures for children by their very nature should be inexpensive. In the 1950s, for instance, dimestores were selling cast metal toy soldiers by Barclay or Manoil at a price of $15 for 100 figures, but children could also buy 100 unpainted plastic figures for just $1.

Since toy soldiers (along with cowboys and Indians or medieval knights) all look best in large groupings, manufacturers have tried to keep the size small enough, as well as keeping the price inexpensive enough, that large numbers of pieces can be sold. The size range varies from 3/4 inch to 4 inches. If the toys are any smaller, they are hard to see; if they get much larger, they enter into the range of what is usually considered to be a doll.

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Tough Pants Needed More Than Tents By Miners

Levis Saddleman
Reproduced from the Old Stuff archives, this photo of an original Levis Saddleman was taken at the now-closed Cowboys Then and Now museum in Portland. The advertising piece had come from Neuberger & Heilner, a clothing store in Baker City, Oregon.

At one time, cowboys wore pants made of wool, often reinforced by buckskin sewn over the seat and down the inside portion of the legs, to keep the pants from wearing out due to rubbing against the saddle. The cowboys were quick to change, however, when manufacturers began to offer them pants made of blue denim instead.

No one has been more successful over the years at producing blue denim jeans than the Levi Strauss Company. Strauss, a descendant of a New York tailoring family, set sail for California in 1849, lured by the call of gold. He paid his way on the trip by selling fabric to his fellow passengers.

By the time he reached California, the only fabric he had left was a bolt of canvas. His plan was to use it to make tents for the miners heading into the hills.

The miners, however, didn’t need tents. What they did need were pants – strong, sturdy pants. Strauss converted all the material he had with him into pants and dashed off messages to home calling for all the denim fabric that could be purchased to be shipped to him immediately.

Strauss’s “Levis” were designed to be tough and comfortable, both in the mines and in the saddle. They were cut low in the waist, snug in the hip and tapered in the leg. Custom fitting was achieved by putting them on, jumping into the river or water trough, and letting them shrink and dry on the body. The “shrink-to-fit” 501s of recent years are not a new idea for the Levi Strauss Company.

In the 1860s, Strauss began adding copper rivets on the pockets and at other points of stress. By 1870, the orange top stitching and the familiar leather label were also in use.

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