Sunday, December 22, 2019

Boys of All Ages and Their Toys

H. G Wells and friends, circa 1910

Little boys will one day become grown men, but the love of toy soldiers will never leave them. I have enjoyed playing with toy soldiers for as long as I can remember.

I recall the excitement when the annual Sears Christmas Catalog arrived in the mail box. I would be the first to grab it and then I would quickly turn to the toy section of the catalog. There were usually lots and lots of Marx plastic toy soldier play sets such as the Alamo, Gettysburg, Western Stockade Fort with US Cavalry and Apache Warriors, etc. I wanted all of them, but hoped that one of them would find its way under our Christmas tree. More often than not, I was disappointed. They were too expensive for my parents to buy as presents. They would buy some of the smaller packs of Marx figures which were more economical.

One year my Grandmother gave me the most wonderful present that I could imagine, the Elastolin castle with little Saxons and Vikings figures. Prince Valiant was one of the Saxons. I played with this fort forever and a day and used it with all sizes of figures, from 20mm HO plastic figures, to the 25mm Elastolins, and on up to the 60mm Marx and Britain's figures. I wish that I had kept the castle and its figures. Who knows where they ended up?  A couple of years ago I was able to buy the exact same castle on eBay and I found some of the Elastolin 25mm figures. I wish that I could find the Elastolin seige tower and catapult.

Remember going to the toy store and marveling over all of the toy soldiers on display?

And of course once the teenage years and high school rolled around, the toy soldiers were put away on the top shelf of my bedroom closet and never seen again. My Mother, bless her, was probably the one who threw then all away or donated them to the annual church rummage sale. Of course, I wasn't that interested in my toy soldiers anymore, so I did not miss them.

Fast forward to about 1982, give or take a couple of years, and I was visiting London on a business trip. During some free time, I was walking up Oxford Street and found a curious little passageway that was actually a named street. I like a good adventure so I walked through the little passage and came upon Wigmore Street. Walking a block up the street, I happened across a store called Under Two Flags. It was a toy soldier shop that was filled to the brim with, what else, toy soldiers.

The window display had a square of Seaforth Highlanders fending off a Dervish charge. Toy soldiers and Highlanders will grab my attention any day, so I asked the proprietor, a gentleman named Jock Coutts, if the whole display was for sale. Why of course it was, so I bought the whole thing.

One of the advantages of being a grown up toy soldier fan is that you now have the disposible income to go on a lark and buy almost anything that you want (at least until you get married, but that's a story for another day). So now I was able to buy the toy soldiers that I couldn't dream of owning when I was a 8 to 10 year old boy.

Name that celebrity - why it's Peter Cushing!
One of the things that I still enjoy is to set up my toy soldier collection on a table and arrange a little diorama with the figures. The pictures below depict one that is currently set up on my game table.

Charge of the 21st Lancers at the Battle of Omdurman.

My toy soldier diorama - Egyptian troops await the Dervish charge.
A ferocious Dervish charge faces a counter-charge from the 21st Lancers.

A very nifty looking Nile River gunboat provides firepower support for the Egyptian army.

As you might imagine, I can be mezmerized for hours by my toy soldier diorama. I might be passing by the table, on the way to doing something else, and before I know what is happening, the little men call out to me to look at them. Now I am doomed, for once I start inspecting my troops, I can end up spending an hour just looking at them from every angle: left, right, aerial view, and best of all, getting down to my knees, at eye level to the table, where I can admire them. I am hopelessly captured in time now.

As the following pictures suggest, I am not the only one that has this problem. LOL!

Have you ever set up all of your toy soldiers on a table and then spent hours admiring them?
Me too.

The Don - Gettysburg with toy soldiers.

I can't identify this chap, but he is clearly enjoying his toy soldiers.
I am a grown-up now and a parent, but there is that little boy in me, who loves his toy soldiers, that will always be inside of me. He is never going to go away.


  1. Some times I wonder if I had not been fascinated by toy soldier how much richer - moneywise - I would have been ? , but I am SO pleased I am and always will be they have enriched my life beyond measure with the enjoyment and friendships I have had over the last 50 years or more .

    1. I probably would have spent the money on an old MGTC sports car. 😄

  2. I'm 54 years old, from Spain, and I too remember this old elastolin set. Here in Spain it was Normandos y Sajones, with the Prince Valiant too. And I had another with jannissaries and a siege tower. Good old times. Merry Christmas from Mallorca.

  3. Yuletide greetings to one and all, wonderful posts Jim.


    1. Thank you too Willz. Your support on the Fife and Drum Miniatures Forum is much appreciated- you were one of the first to sign up.

  4. What a great post! It really takes me back. I too used to enjoy the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogues for the same reason. One of the best Christmas gifts I ever received from my maternal grandparents was in 1976 when they gave me small sets of plastic Wm. Britains WWII German and British soldiers, plus a metal tiger tank and a large (firing) piece of artillery by a company called Solido. Absolutely wonderful! I played with them into the early 1980s when I carefully boxed them up with an eye toward preservation. I still have them -- along with all of my more common green and blue army men, tanks, trucks, guns, etc. -- in a copy paper box in a closet here in my office. The same set of grandparents continued to foster my solider hobby in later years with various wonderful books on Waterloo, related uniforms, and wargaming from The Soldier Shop in NYC for Christmas es and birthdays. Needless to say, I still have all of these, and they populate various bookshelves around the house. The most wonderful would have to be John' Elting's tome on Napoleonic uniforms that Granny and Granddaddy gave me for Christmas 1988 when I was 22. So many happy memories, happy play, and fascinating reading connected with these gifts from years past.

    Best Regards,


  5. You were wise to save your old toy soldiers. I still have the small quantity of old William Britain's hollowcast Grenadier Guard in the glossy red tunics and bearskin hats.

  6. Elastolin figures were way out of the price range of my family when I was a child,but I was allowed to buy one Timpo figure every Saturday as a treat. Sadly they were all thrown out as I reached manhood as were the hundreds of Airfix figures that I had collected.Its only later that you appreciate the worth of certain things.I do need to confess that my sister possessed a number of Britains, lovely Scots Guards that I decapitated with the fire axe. Children can be awful people. Great post Jim, thanks for that. .

  7. We must be kindred spirits, Jim. I was surprised at Christmas with the Fort Apache playset when I was a young one. That was the one thing I really wanted and it showed up. I was in heaven!

  8. It is VERY comforting to know that I am not alone in that boat! Your post sparked many happy childhood memories. I cannot recall a time when I did not play with toy soldiers and have a love for military history and maps of far away places with strange sounding names. Once I discovered wargaming existed... I was a goner for life (and maybe beyond)! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours, Jim!