Collecting Toy Soldiers
There are a variety of things to look for in buying toy soldiers. Primarily you look at historic era, manufacture quality, scale and price. (See Pricing Guide)
History and Historic Era
Toy soldiers cover the spectrum of military engagements and historic events. You can buy figures from the ancient Egyptians, life of Jesus and every major military engagement since then. There are soldiers from ancient Eygpt, Rome and the Life of Jesus; the Crusades, French and Indian Wars, American Revolutionary War, American Civil War, Napoleonic Wars, Seven Year War, Crimean War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam and Desert Storm. There are also figures for the Alamo, American West, Rough Riders, Laurence of Aradbia, and Christmas. Do yourself (and your wallet) a favor and settle on an era or eras. Read about Malcolm Forbes palace of toy soldiers (New York Times) for some idea of obsessive and wealth.
The quality of the figures varies. I tend to buy King and Country, Frontline, First Legion, William Britains and John Jenkins because the detail and painting are very good. There are many other manufacturers that I don’t buy. Del Prado and Collector’s Showcase figures quality is good, but they don’t make figures for my era’s collection. I collect mainly American Revolutionary War figures and some colonial war pieces like the French and Indian War where we fought with the British (early 1700s) and the Battle of 1812 where we again fought against the British. Del Prado and Collector’s Showcase focus on other periods like World War II and the Napoleonic Wars. Del Prado makes a sideline product under the name Hachette that is totally French figures. Many of the other manufacturers just produce a sloppy product with a bad paint job. It should be noted that the quality of the accessories (i.e., cannon, horses, wagons) are usually good.
Toy soldiers are traditionally 54 mm (1:32) scale. I say traditionally because William Britains has been around forever and this is their scale. First Legion is also 54 mm. King and Country, Frontline and John Jenkins are slightly bigger at 60 mm (1:30) scale. Both scales are compatible. It is the visual difference between looking at a tall man or a short man. In the example below you have (A) Manes Marzono (54mm), (B) Wm. Britain (54mm), (C) St. Petersburg (54-60mm ), (D) King & Country (54-60mm), (E) First Legion (60mm), (F) Frontline Figures (60mm) and (G) John Jenkins (60mm).
Another chart I found shows (1) Thomas Gunn, (2) Wm. Britains, (3) King
and Country, (4) ONWTC, (5) Conte, (6) Oryon, (7) Collector's Showcase.
Where to Buy?
You can buy new figures direct from retailers or the manufacturers. Toy soldiers are generally sold like art in one time runs of 500-1,000. There is a huge after-market for the “retired” figures. The biggest source is eBay. The prices on eBay wildly fluctuate from a fair retail price to bargains that cost half as much or figures sold for twice as much. The key to eBay is patience. Sooner or later a figure you want will appear at a good price. So beware the descriptors of Rare, Last One, etc. The other places to buy are auctions and classifieds. You can get a good price at an online auction. It just takes more time. There are also several toy soldier online forums where people sell collections by the piece. They usually post the item number and the price. A fourth source is toy soldier shows. They are always held in big cities and mainly in the east. It isn’t worth my time and money (i.e., airfare, lodging) to go to a distant toy soldiers show.
The quality of pieces also changes over time. For example, the early William Britains and Frontline Figures are less than artful than the newer ones.
If you want information on how to buy at a fair price on eBay, auctions, classifieds or other sources, then check out my Resource section. I like folks who sell at a fair price. My philosophy is simple -- I will tell you when something is a fair price or not. On any given day you can find a spread of 500% on any given item. Sometimes it is a matter of someone not knowing what value a piece has. But when it shows up here for a couple of years, then you know. I could go further in terms of naming rip-off artists and scammers, but they are not worth my time.
Old or New?
Some manufacturers have been around for a long time. Some are new. For example, Country Honor is fairly new, but it making some very detailed and inexpensive pieces.
My bias and preferences?
I tend to like figures by King and Country, William Britains, Frontline, John Jenkins. In terms of quality, I also like First Legion , Collector's Showcase, Thomsa Gunns. But they are much more expensive for similar quality. I occasionally buy Historex (Nimrod), Imbrie/Risley and Hinchliffe. When building dioramas, I buy equipment pieces and scenics from J.G. Miniatures, Woodland Scenics, and Beneito.
I currently sell on eBay under the name Kit Carson.