Toy boats of wood well crewed by tiny men of lead …
The tiny metal sailors are 25mm Crescent figures, c. 1950s /60s.
The FH 133 West Wind Falmouth boat was locally made by the former Tree of Life Toys company of Paul, Penzance.
These two small wooden boats were picked up from a charity shop in Cornwall c. 2007. They are just the right size for Peter Laing 15mm figures or for the smaller OO/HO Airfix figures and these Peco railway modelling sailors.
They also do quite well for my DIY Fimo cake mould figures of a Victorian naval landing party:
Lostwithiel in Cornwall is an interesting cluster of antique and bric-a-brac shops, a great stop-off on the railway. There I saw this handmade 1950s much larger wooden toy boat.
Bashed but with ‘patina’, this one probably won’t need much painting or repair.
It suits larger toy soldier or sailor figures, 30mm to 54mm.
Excellent scenic items for a harbour scenario, garden “floor wars” or H.G. Wells’ The Game Of Islands.
Insert your own reference to Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army here in his old red coat, fixed bayonets and “they do not like it up ’em!” Several companies now make redcoat and khaki figures of Corporal Jones.
Another good example of hobby learning: how technology of cloth, dye and weapon along with politics, geography, climate and (social) history are all to be found in the now deemed slightly odd but still pleasurable hobby of painting toy soldiers!
The two Boer wars were probably the turning point in tactics and uniforms, developing a trend for clothing matching the battlefield and climate that had unifficailly been going on in India and across Empire since the early Nineteenth century.
It was the end of black powder and smoky battlefields, an age of more individual fighting, snipers and improved rifles, not to mention binoculars, balloons and aeroplanes; all these made bright colourful uniforms too conspicuous. The French poilu soldiers in their red and blue, almost Napoleonic French flag uniforms learned this the hard way in the first years of World War One. The age of drab camouflage colours and in the toy world “green army men” had arrived.
Repainting the drab green toy soldiers in bright colours has been my mild reverse protest against the age of drabness ever since:
Peter Laing 15mm miniatures range sheep – my only one!
Hence the protection of a well armed Peter Laing Ancient “shepherd”.
This is Peter Laing figure A921 Sheep Standing (as opposed to the more dynamic A922 Sheep Grazing) from his Medieval range.
Peter along recommends it for Dual Use or Suitable Items From Other Ranges in his catalogue for sheep figures from Ancients, Feudal and Dark Ages, Renaissance and the English Civil War periods.
Sadly this sheep doesn’t quite have what it takes to make it into Peter Laing’s recommended figures for Marlburian, the American War of Independence, Napoleonic, 19th Century, Wild West or 20th Century (WW1 or WW2).
A very long time ago as a child I was bought a jumble job lot of toy soldiers, mostly plastic but amongst them was this trio of metal soldiers.
I painted their hats, coats and boots but never finished them. I had no idea what they were, who made them or what to do with them as they were 40mm tall, bigger or smaller than my other figures. So no real use or match. On their base I could just make out the letters HE which meant nothing to me at the time.
Fast forward to ten years ago: poking around a craft shop on a trip to Cornwall, I discovered a tiny cache of Prince August moulds for making traditional toy soldiers which I bought straight away.
I had seen as a child intriguing adverts for this company in modelling magazines but the dangers of hot metal and shortage of pocket money as a child meant that I never bought any.
Looking through the Prince August online catalogue, I recognised these strange random trio of figures, their designer’s name HE (Holgar Eriksonn) and sent off for some PA moulds to find out at long last how they worked. And to give this three man patrol some company to pick on of their own size.
I found these figures are Prince August PA17 Musketeer, PA23 Musketeer standing and PA24 kneeling.
Playing around with paint finishes
There are many possible finishes for these shiny Prince August castings.
One suggestion is pewtering, an idea from their cast your own chess sets ‘antique finish’. Black acrylic paint is painted over the figures, then fairly quickly wiped off with a cloth or kitchen roll before fully dry.
Another alternative is the simple gilt or gold paint finish.
I tried out the gilt finish on another home casting, an American sailor drumming, from a metal mould of a different much older (American?) manufacturer.
The older type of metal home cast moulds (usually German or American origin) have much more flash and casting lines, requiring more time and filing to clean up than a modern rubber Prince August mould.
Sometimes I find stray home cast figures in junk shops and online lots that are quite crude, often overpriced such as this cowboy type figure from another metal mould (in this cast in quite soft and bendy lead).
They have a simple charm and many conversion or paint possibilities.
I have now tracked down a three figure (Schneider?) mould No. 56 of this cowboy and two Indian figures to produce more. At some point worth casting enough for a Close Little Wars home cast skirmish of settlers versus natives maybe?
This “fake pewter” or “antiquing” technique can also be tried with some success on silver plastic figures from pound stores.
Picked up in a second hand bookshop years ago is an illustrated copy of this E. Nesbit Short story The Town In the Library, first published in 1901.
How to Feed Toy Soldiers …
This out of print 1987 Macdonald / Beehive Books edition of the Edith Nesbit story has interesting illustrations of toy soldiers by illustrator Shirley Tourretwho died in 2007.
Some of the aspects of the story are an interesting and magical realist mixture of kaleidoscopic Chinese puzzle ‘box inside a box’ / ‘world inside a fantasy world’ of Lewis Carroll and H.G. Wells Floor Games and Little Wars. It is the familiar floor world of Wells’ Little Wars world of the Edwardian Nursery.
Two children Rosalind and Fabian are quarantined at home with measles on Christmas Eve. They are forbidden to open the top drawers of a bureau / desk but of course do and discover their Christmas treats and toys including blue and red toy soldiers.
The short story from Nesbit’s 1901 book Nine Unlikely Tales is played out amongst buildings and forts made of books, in a H.G. Wells style but ideas of scale are played around with throughout the story and the children appear to shrink into this world or town inside their house’s library.
The blue toy soldiers appear out of their wood and straw box in a novel and exciting way – abseiling down the wood shavings to the floor below, a decorative feat in full Napoleonic gear.
Thus is nicely pictured by Shirley Tourret with the soldier climbing down the side of the text to the book’s floor.
Captured by the blue toy soldiers, the children are persuaded to feed them their Christmas treats in a novel and unusual way. “I suppose you know how tin soldiers are fed?” Edith Nesbit / the narrator asks:
The children are rescued by the traditional red coated heroes (Nesbit’s story was written in 1901 at the height of Empire after all) which Shirley Tourret depicts in almost 18th Century uniform and head gear. They are nicely portrayed amongst a battlement of books.
All very H.G. Wells and Little Wars …
The story cleverly ends with the two children reappearing in their real nursery / library proper sized again but suffering from the fever of oncoming measles. So was it all a feverish dream or was it?
The book is an interesting mix of period uniforms, and absurd ideas for gaming scenarios such as the blue Napoleonic troops abseiling in full dress and shako.
The figures are stiffly posed in a toyness fashion when glimpsed as toys in some pictures but within the world of the bookish “Town in The Library” of the title and the children’s feverish imaginations the Toy Soldiers appear more animated, alive and human. This is cleverly distinguished in Shirley Tourret’s illustrations.
A sad postscript
The things you learn whilst exploring the world of toy soldiers.
As well as finding out about illustrators, you discover interesting things about the authors too.
Exploring Edith Nesbit’s life on Wikipedia, I found that Fabian and Rosamund the two children in the book are named after her own complicated family of birth and adopted children including a son Fabian, who died aged 15 in 1900, the year before this story was published in 1901. She also was one of the nine founders of the socialist Fabian Society in 1884 with her husband Hubert Bland, and her son Fabian was named after the society.
Nesbit’s children were Paul Bland (1880–1940), to whom The Railway Children was dedicated; Iris Bland (1881-1950s); Fabian Bland (1885–1900); Rosamund Bland (1886–1950), to whom The Book of Dragons was dedicated; and John Bland (1898–1971) to whom The House of Arden was dedicated.
Her son Fabian died aged 15 after a tonsil operation; Nesbit dedicated a number of books to him: Five Children and It and its sequels, as well as The Story of the Treasure Seekers and its sequels. Nesbit’s adopted daughter Rosamund collaborated with her on the book Cat Tales. (Wikipedia source: E.Nesbit)