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The World of Model Soldiers

Part 6 (Cont'd.) : The 54 mm Range in Great Britain

Phoenix Model Developments, a firm based in Northampton, was founded by Les Higgins, an artist who created some of the finest 54 mm figures that have ever been available via the retail or mail-order business, and the firm has carried on this tradition, producing a most attractive range of figures and accessories. They not only produce Regency period (1800 – 30) figures, ladies and gentlemen in court dress, sitting, standing, dancing, and playing the piano, but also a large range of accessories including furniture, plates, goblets, lanterns, tables, and chairs. They produce figures from many other periods, the choice being apparently completely arbitrary, and all their models are made to a very high standard. Until recently they were made of pewter, but because of the great increase in the price of this metal, rather than increase the cost of their basic castings, they have now introduced a greater lead content in order to try and keep their prices competitive.

Ensign Miniatures, which are produced by Bob Rowe and his partner, D.C. James, are novel in that they represent the British Army in mess dress. Rowe feels that it is unfortunate that model soldiers are only ever seen in battle or campaign dress whereas mess dress was worn much more often. His figures are most attractive and are of the British Army at the turn of the century, in mess dress, and all in casual positions leaning nonchalantly against a table, seated cross-legged, shaking hands, lighting a cigarette, and so on. The firm also produces a comprehensive selection from the British Navy throughout its history in both full dress and undress. They have some very fine 1914 British Grenadiers and also some attractive figures which are suitable for the Indian Mutiny period. They also produce a collection called ‘Napoleonic vignettes’, which are models of two people talking across a fence or wall, or leaning against a signpost or tree. The Ensign Miniatures are not fighting soldiers, but attractive figures in the style of Harry Payne, Richard Simkin, or Walter Richards, military artists at the turn of the last century, and as such make a welcome change.

The firm of Greenwood and Ball, on Teesside in the north of England, have a range of 54 mm figures made by John Tassell called the Lasset range (a near anagram of Tassell). For a number of years Tassell worked for the Tradition group of companies, and ably assisted by Pat Bird, who now makes the Series 77 range in the United States, produced a large number of figures under the sales name of Stadden. When these two modellers branched out on their own, many of the figures were produced by Alan Caton – he has also left, in order to make his own range of Dek figures.

Leaving model soldiers, other ranges of 54 mm figures include those which are termed ‘toy’ soldiers. This time the word ‘toy’ is put in inverted commas, as these are no longer the playthings of children both because they contain lead, which is prohibited in most countries for use in items with which children may come in contact, and because they are relatively expensive due to the limited numbers that are produced and the amount of time it takes to produce each one. These figures are meant to complement the huge ranges of early toy soldiers produced by Britains, Crescent, Hillco, Hanks, Renvoize, and Taylor& Barrett. Because of the unavailability of the real toy soldiers, several firms have turned their attention to producing figures that are complementary to the traditional Britains soldier. They are invariably produced in parade postures, come complete with peg-on or supposedly movable arms, are coloured with bright gloss paints, and are deliberately painted to a low standard in order that they will marry in with existing collections.

One of the earliest producers of this kind of toy soldier was the Welsh firm of Blenheim. Their figures are produced in many regiments and uniforms and include mounted figures and colour parties. They come attractively packaged in blue boxes, and have the traditional appearance of toy soldiers.

Blenheim also produce for Nostalgia Figures of West London figures from some of the more exotic armies of the world. These, however, are sold as a limited edition, by mail order and subscription, and were designed as investments.

The firm of M.J. Mode, produces a wide range of figures and covers a number of the Indian Army regiments at the turn of the century. Ducal, in Hampshire, make mounted and foot soldiers, including camel corps, Indian Army, Dragoon Guards, and Lancers.

The firm of Devon Model Soldiers produces some of the cheapest figures on the market. They are, again, brightly coloured and include bandsmen, cavalry men, and Spanish American soldiers. Mark Time, who took over the range of figures which was started by the firm of Gunners, also makes figures which are in the same style as the Britains figures and produces some fine model guns.

One of the most recent firms to start producing toy soldiers is now the biggest. This is Soldiers, who produce Soldiers’ Soldiers. They have over 250 models available which can be purchased either painted or unpainted, singly or in boxed sets. The boxes are in the traditional colour of deep maroon and contain eight figures, normally seven men and one officer. The advantage of these figures is that many have two separate arms, and, therefore, many castings can be made to represent five or more positions. The models currently available by the application of the varied arms, will allow some 500 different figures to be assembled. The range is confined to the British Army at the turn of the century, but plans are in hand for figures of the British Empire and of European nations of the same period. Now, at last, enthusiasts will be able to collect complete regiments in all varieties and styles of dress which could be viewed in a barracks at the time of the military artist, Harry Payne. It even produces model soldiers at the slow march with reversed arms for a military funeral. Soldiers’ Soldiers have been selected by two London museums – the National Army Museum, Chelsea, and the Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green – to produce figures for exclusive sale by these establishments from their sales kiosks.