Today I am not going to go into detail about old Antique Toy Soldiers of the far off past, I am going to start where things really seemed fun and exciting. The Great War (World War I) was recently over and people were trying to get back to normal. There was a whole generation of kids who lost their fathers, brothers and other family members in the war. They needed something to do to keep themselves occupied. Factories were turning back to producing civilian goods including toys rather than being used for war. Men with imaginations would create toys that children would play with for hours on end. Despite WWI being an awfully gruesome war, young boys sheltered from the violence of trench warfare still wanted to play army and have pretend battles with little lead figures.
Being a really big fan of metal miniatures, I never really knew much about them prior to 1978. I knew my brothers used to make lead toy soldiers by melting lead fishing weights and then pouring the mixture into molds that they still own today. I grew up with miniatures all around me. Lead miniatures that are so feared today for their potentially toxic harm – Very over rated IMO – are still being sought after and cherished.
My favorite memory was getting King Author’s Castle for Christmas. I think that year was one of the happiest Christmases I can remember. Everything on Santa’s list seemed to be under the tree, including something called Fort Apache. As my love for miniatures grew it would be inevitable that I would also create a website (MinaitureReview) showcasing miniatures from around the world. Some would even say I have an addiction for miniatures. That may be true, but there was a time during my college years that I almost kicked the habit. Somehow though, just like puffing on a cigarette, I was seduced by the little figures and sucked back in to the world of miniatures. Older miniatures somehow never really inspired me to collect them or learn their history, so they have remained hidden from me.
That has now changed. I think collecting antiques will do that to you. You become fascinated with things you never knew would fascinate you. Thus is this story of the Antique Toy Soldiers.
Barclay Toy Soldiers
Some of the most common and more recognizable toy soldiers were made by Barclay. Barclay along with many other manufacturers of toy soldiers were known as Dimestore toy soldiers in the early days. In 1922 Barclay was formed by two men Michael Levy and Leon Donze. The company wasn’t name for either gentlemen, but instead named after where the business was located (Barclay Street, West Hoboken, New Jersey). Barclay continued to produce metal figures until 1971 when the company closed it’s doors. Like most metal toy companies, production halted during WWII. For Barclay this left a gap in production from 1942-1945.
Barclay was one of the largest manufacturers of toy soldiers in the United States and was a major supplier of toy soldiers to what was referred to as “dimestores” like Woolworth’s. The company was known for making soldiers with tin helmets in the early days, which later evolved into cast helmets.
There are a few ways to determine age for these figures.
In 1936 many of the soldiers with longer strides were replaced with shorter strides.
After 1940 most solders were produced in a single mold verses using a two part mold (one for the helmet, one for the main body)
Barclay use a “B” numbering scheme
- Early (1st Series) (EB1 to EB21)
- Early (2nd Series) (2B1 – 2B22)
- Pre-1934 (Ba – Bn)
- 1935 and after (B1 – B200)
- 1945 and after (B201 – B295)
Based on the information I have, the figure shown in this article was produced between 1945 and 1971. Looking at the figure, it was probably made around 1950’s or before. Since the figure doesn’t have an actual base, the feet are often referred to as “podfoot” or “podfeet”
Manoil Toy Soldiers
In 1935 another toy company started called Manoil. The name was based on the brothers Maurice Manoil and Jack Manoil. Their main sculptor was Walter Baetz. Just like Barclay, production halted during WWII from 1942-1945. Maniol continued to produce metal figures until 1952 when the company closed it’s doors. Manoil employed a numbering system starting with “M” for figure identification. Early versions had hollow bases, but at some point they switched to a two hole base.
- 1935 – 1940 M1 – M128
- 1941 M129 – M169
- 1942 – 1945 Production halted
- 1945 – 1949 M170-M206
- 1950 M207 – M224
Other toy soldier companies included
Auburn, Grey Iron toy soldiers, and European W. Britains toy soldiers
One of the best resources for Antique Toy Soldiers is ToySoldierWiki