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The World of Model Soldiers

Part 6 : The 54 mm Range in Great Britain

We come now to the standard-size model soldier, the 54 mm figure. This was the size that the majority of toy-soldier makers, such as Britains, John Hill & Company or Johillco, Crescent, Charbens, and a host of others, worked to in the early 1900s and they were following in the footsteps of Lucotte and Mignot who produced 54 mm figures in France in the nineteenth century. Some 20 years ago when manufacturers started to make figures which were exact representations of human and animal bodies, rather than the caricatures that had been accepted up until then, they too produced models of the 54 mm scale. (The measurement of a figure is from the sole of the foot to the top of the head of a standing man, discounting any head gear.) The 54 mm size is still considered standard although model soldiers are now made in approximately 10 different sizes.

The early figures produced by Charles Stadden, the master figure maker for Norman Newton Ltd and Tradition, have, over the past 15 or 20 years, been improved upon and superseded by a host of artists and engravers who are devoting their talents to the production of masterpieces in a small scale. The last few years have seen the growth of a number of model-soldier companies which after reaching a peak in production and artistic achievement have then faded from the scene, being overtaken by new firms and newer makers whose ability to produce even more attractive figures is evident from their constantly increasing sales.

In Britain at the moment there are quite a number of model-soldier manufacturers who make their figures in the 54 mm size. These are produced in both plastic and metal, the latter comprising anything from pure lead through to a lead alloy with a very high tin content and in some cases pewter. The firms are both large and small some are international, or multinational, while others are still small family concerns.

Probably the largest manufacturer of model and toy soldiers is the plastics firm of Airfix who, in their Collector’s Series, produce a fine range of 54 mm figures of the Napoleonic period, the American Revolution, the French Foreign Legion, an the English Civil War. The Airfix catalogue always appears about a year in advance of their figures and although their models are well worth waiting for it is regrettable that they are not available when the catalogue is published. The delay is probably a deliberate sales ploy to goad collectors into a buying frenzy when the goods finally appear in the shops.

One of the larger manufacturers of model soldiers produced in metal is Hinchliffe Models Ltd of Yorkshire. They provide a handbook for collectors and enthusiasts which is not only a directory of the hundreds of castings that they produce but also a colour guide to the various uniforms, with information on the styles of dress and behaviour of the various figures in the wars in which they ae being used. There are discussions on the equipment used in the different conflicts, cut-out standards and flags for painting, shield shapes and designs, information on different types of warfare and how it was conducted, facts on artillery, guns, and on the composition of units. With all these facts in addition to illustrations of their model soldiers and warriors, this is not just a catalogue but a reference book.

Rose Miniatures, produced by Russell Gammage, cover almost every period of human conflict from the days of Ancient Egypt through the World War II and, with their figures of modern British Guardsmen, to the present.

New Hope Design, a company operating from Northumbria, have come up with a very good marketing idea for their figures: they produce models in conjunction with the Osprey series of ’Men at Arms’ books. The books give an indication of the uniform, the style, and the detail of the figures and by purchasing the kits from New Hope Design one is able to transform the coloured illustrations in the books into three-dimensional works of art. This company is also the British distributor and manufacturer for The Old Guard of Pennsylvania, USA.

The well-known figures of Charles Stadden are still produced, their sole distributor, apart from the shop, Tradition, being Peter Kemplay, in Skipton, Yorkshire. When he was with Tradition Stadden produced a wide range of figures from Ancient soldiers to those of Napoleon, an assortment from the British Army, the armies of France, German States, Imperial Germany, of foreign nations such as Japan, Poland, Turkey, and Russia, a variety of American figures, and miscellaneous female figures. His figures have always been very popular with collectors attempting to make military chess sets. For a long time the Stadden figures and Rose Miniatures were the only non-military model figures in the standard size.