Home cast metal Schneider mould No. 80 figures beside a 19C. paper mache / composition figure (Photo / collection Man of TIN)

Type casting

“With these 26 soldiers of lead  I will conquer the world” is a saying attributed to many famous people from history and world leaders from Gutenberg onwards to Benjamin Franklin and Karl Marx.

This quote’s origin  is explored more fully in this interesting typography blog:


“… I am the leaden army that conquers the world: I am type!”

The 25 or 26 soldiers of lead are of course the lead print letters of the alphabet in a printer’s case.

From a 1960s Ladybird book The Story of Printing

The 25 or 26 soldiers of lead also remind me of Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Steadfast Tin Soldier, where the source of metal is an old tin spoon, melted down to make almost 25 soldiers, including  one incomplete soldier with one leg and a complicated love life.


“Prowl the car boot sales, you can probably pick pint mugs up for around 50p” is Iain Dickie’s advice in sourcing old pewter mugs to melt down for soldier metal in Wargaming on a Budget (Pen & Sword, 2010).

Iain Dickie talks wisely about the dangers and safety measures around melting and moulding lead on the kitchen stove or table, where food is prepared.

Other writers like Theodore Gray in Gray Matters on the Popsci blog in the USA talk more about the apparent and often disputed risks of lead casting toys of the past: http://www.popsci.com/diy/article/2012-01/getting-lead-out2

The classic book War Games (1962) by Donald Featherstone, ex-wartime tank sergeant and peacetime physiotherapist, had a short section on how to make your own model figures in plaster of Paris moulds.

Proper DIY figure making in Donald Featherstone’s Wargames  (Stanley Paul, 1962)

One part of printer’s type, which can usually be obtained from the local printer, who usually has a considerable surplus of cuttings and small pieces“, Donald Featherstone says.

These scraps of lead from printers as a source of lead was obviously from the pre-computer days when Fleet Street and local printers still used lead type faces. Vanished world …

I remember when this technology change happened in the 1980s, when suddenly loads of printers’ type trays were on the market. Not sure if they were UPPER CASE or lower cases.

At first sight these trays looked good display frames for figures but were quite shallow and  without a glass cover, you’d be forever dusting. Another manly household chore to add to “slaving over a hot stove” as Donald Featherstone mentions below.

I love this photograph, and this is how I always think of Donald Featherstone; I always feel underdressed and under groomed when casting, compared to this. Note the nifty plate warming rack and lack of safety goggles. This photo is in Donald Featherstone’s  book Tackle Model Soldiers this Way (pub. Stanley Paul, 1965)