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Dennis Diamond takes a look at some classic, in more way than one, figures by Tommy Atkins
Certain stories, classical literature, retain their resonance and have the ability to touch us in the present day just as they did when originally written. 2012 marked the bicentenary of the birth of writer Charles Dickens and one of the great mans most famous works is undoubtedly Oliver Twist which also went by the subtitle of 'The Parish Boy's Progress'. First published in 1838 there can be few of us who have not heard of the plight of orphan and workhouse child Oliver Twist and all those rich and wonderful characters met along the way within the novel which sheds light on the darkness of a time which has become known to us today as simply Dickensian England. A time when poverty, disease and exploitation were rife within Britain and Dickens helped to highlight and expose to the masses, via his literature, the need for change, and a greater understanding to affect that change.
I could prattle on all day about Oliver Twist the story but we are here for toy soldiers and all things 54mm. I get quite excited when I discover figures which reflect in miniature the heroes and villains of great literature or movies. Tommy Atkins range of characters relating to Oliver Twist are by no means new but deserve a relook if for no other reason than because they are so damned good!
Always one for a bargain I could not resist purchasing the six figure casting set (7 if you include the dog), which inclusive of postage and packing cost me about half of a decent quality painted figure these days. In the set are all the key protagonists of the tale. The arch villain Fagin, the aptly named bumbling beadle Mr Bumble, The Artful Dodger (real name Jack Dawkins), Bill Sikes (surely the most vile essence of man ever created for sheer brutality) and luckless dog Bull's-eye, ever suffering girlfriend to Bill is prostitute Nancy and last but not least the supplicating eponymous hero little Oliver himself.
As castings these 54mm figures are some of the sharpest I have seen with a good even weight to them. They paint up very nicely and though my efforts may not match the more adept and professional toy soldier artists I believe they are acceptable and I am pleased with the outcome; which as usual for all devotees of toy soldier collecting is the whole point.
When ordering these figures I enquired of Tommy Atkins whether there might be more characters from the novel to follow but sadly I was informed that nothing was planned, though they would complement TA/Fusilier's more recent range of Victorian street figures, thus building an entire street scene and a wonderfully evocative miniature world exuding period charm.
The figures in more depth are worth commenting on. Oliver himself is the typical pose we are all familiar with, the frail nine year old boy wanting more, the begging bowl if you will speaking for all those like him, then and now, standing up for his rights against a cruel system, the haves and the have not's. Take a closer look at the open book I have used as an appropriate atmospheric backdrop to this article and its associated figures. On the title page that silhouette of Oliver, that pose which needs no description, once seen you know who it is, the boy, the story, the whole thing, that is the power of good literature and this little figure, dare I say it, made easy for Tommy Atkins to tap into, but done very well as are all the pieces on offer here. A good friend of mine, a non toy soldier collector, saw these figures displayed at Christmas in my home and was very envious and desirous of them, put more simply they speak for themselves and induce desirability.
What of the other figures in this range? For me the real scene stealer (pardon the pun here!) is thief and all round bad lot Bill Sikes, described to Oliver by Fagin as '...a rough man, and thinks nothing of blood when his own is up.' Just marvel at that sinister pose, that brooding furtive look, a stare which suggests he really would do for you at the drop of a low denomination coin, the club held behind his back as one might conceal a bunch of flowers for a loved one, but nothing genteel or pleasant will come of this hidden 'gift'. This is a man with not one decent atom in his corrupt and evil body as we discover, if not having suspected it earlier in the tale, when he puts a gun to Oliver's head, then at the end when the ruffian kills Nancy in a horrific act of sheer brutality. Sikes only dubious ally through the dirty world he inhabits is his dog, bull terrier, Bull's-eye which again has a modern day resonance for us, think in terms of those bullying thugs who use such intimidating canines to enhance their macho reputations, many of the breeds held illegally. In essence nothing changes. Bulls-eye is often portrayed in film versions of Oliver Twist as a gentle beast at heart, but Dickens makes us fully aware from the outset that this red eyed dog will give as good as he gets and is not adverse to sinking his teeth into his masters leg if the occasion warrants it and only out lives his barbaric master by a matter of moments, both meeting a grizzly end.
Poor ill fated Nancy is modelled here in cheery mood, flirtatious, hands to hips, low cut dress. In superior company this young girl would have fared better but once in tow with Sikes the end was inevitable. Her exact age in the novel is never determined but we can assume she was probably a mere teenager when she met her untimely end.
The Artful Dodger, another lost boy, who befriends Oliver merely to ingratiate himself with Fagin, lives well enough from his ill gotten association but as can be seen by Tommy Atkins representation the boy is never going to be a gentleman as much as he tries, his attire well reflected here in miniature and there is to be presumably no happy ending for the Dodger when he is sentenced to transportation once the game is up.
The man who gave name to the central character and workhouse orphan is larger than life Mr Bumble, a man who covets power and is seemingly without a heart, he too gets his comeuppance when he finishes his days in the workhouse a broken man.
Then we have to come to Fagin, 'The Jew', as Dickens constantly refers to him in Oliver Twist and I cannot help but think of, and draw a parallel to, the way in which the Nazi's portrayed Jewish people in their hateful propaganda which has often resulted in people chastising the writer for this racist depiction. Dickens describes Fagin as physically 'grotesque' and certainly he is all that and more in this Tommy Atkins miniature version, the big nose, the bulbous jutting bottom lip, the array of sharp predatory teeth, just as Dickens presumably envisaged him. Here we see Fagin teaching Oliver to pickpocket with silk hankies trailing for easy lifting. A well modelled figure as are the entire set.
Full marks to Tommy Atkins for this literary inspired range and how I wish there were more to accompany them from the other Dickens stories with such an abundance to choose from.
38 Gale Moor Avenue
Tel: 02392 602889
Coming of age - TSC 56
The new venue for London's premier toy soldier show came of age last December, pulling in higher visitor numbers than the final event at Royal National Hotel, and offering a brisk day's trading for the assembled dealers
I've made no secret of the fact that the December event is my favourite of the 'trinity' of London Toy Soldier Shows organised each year by Guideline Publications.
There's a different feel to the event and a distinct buzz, as old friends meet up, mince pies and seasonal chocolates are munched courtesy of the dealers and Christmas wish-lists slowly translate into large plastic bags stuffed with boxes.
The faith that Alan Corkhill and Regis Auckland of Guideline Publications placed in the modern new show venue in North London was repaid with interest on December 7, 2013 as almost 1,200 visitors flooded into the Business Design Centre in Islington.
This included 178 'early birds' who had first dibs on the goods for sale from 80-plus dealers, a fair number of whom had travelled from abroad to sell their wares. These are encouraging statistics, both for Guideline and anyone who has an interest in the future of the hobby.
My role at the show is to offer TSC readers a small insight into the incredible array of old and new military figures that were for sale. So, without further ado, I'll get cracking.
Knight to remember
Like most of us, I collect on a budget, so the London shows are one of the few opportunities available to me to get up close and personal with the top end of the hobby, namely the museum-quality outputs of the top Russian studios.
Tatyana Studios of St Petersburg had fulfilled a special request from Maison Militaire's Ken Jackson to produce and paint the figure of a 100 Years' War knight based on a striking illustration Ken had spotted in a historical reference book.
The picture of the figure that accompanies this report paints a thousand words about the skill levels of the Russian artists; not to mention those of the original sculptor. The rendering of the knight's surcoat is absolutely exquisite, the result of many hours of precise, highly disciplined brushwork. Ken said the figure was priced at around the £1,000 mark.
The name of Georg Heyde sits high on any list of toy soldier manufacturers whose outputs have spanned both the 19th and 20th centuries. Based in Dresden, Heyde's factory produced classic metal toy soldiers in a range of scales including 'Number three'. It was in this scale, roughly 45mm, that dealer Andy Morant was offering a boxed set of horse artillery, supply wagons and mounted outriders.
The pre-WWII set depicts units of the Danish or Germany army from just after the turn of the 20th Century. While delicate due to its age and relatively small scale, the Heyde horse artillery set would make an eye-catching addition to anyone's collection.
As many collectors will know, Heyde's contribution to the collecting world was cut violently short by the massed allied bombing raids on the city in which his production facilities were based in February, 1945. The same raid found disturbing expression in Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five.
Adrian Little can always be relied upon to offer a good selection of composition figures, including items from the Elastolin range produced by Hausser, one of the other big hitters from 1930s German toy soldier making.
Hausser are perhaps best known for their wide range of German army figures but the item that caught my eye on Adrian's tables was a Belgian army dispatch rider. Belgium capitulated to German aggression after just 18 days' fighting in May 1940 and I could not help but speculate that the ton-up Belgian rider may have been racing to deliver some bad news All the same, a great little item the first of which I've seen and was on sale for £165.
One of the joys of the London shows is the sheer variety of the figures on sale. Different periods in history, different materials, different scales and different decades or centuries in which the items were originally offered for sale.
A prime example of the eclectic nature of the items on offer was a pair of battling gladiators produced in 100mm white metal by Garrick Miniatures. Show regular Steve Dixon had assembled and expertly painted the figures which were armed with two of the most popular and well-known weapons systems of the Roman arena.
One slave warrior is depicted as a Retarius, the class of gladiator trained in the use of the net, trident and dagger. This bizarre combination was in fact an homage to the Roman sea-god Neptune and I can see both the advantages and disadvantages of these weapons.
The other figure represents the traditional opponent of the Retarius: the Murmillo. Armed with a helmet, a double-edged sword or 'gladius' the stem of the word gladiator a large, rectangular shield and various other elements of limb armour, the Murmillo would employ more of the fighting skills of the typical Roman legionary.
Only history knows the final score of the many thousands of match-ups between these two styles of gladiator, but for the interested collector, Steve's figures presented an attractive if brutal slice of the ancient world. I'm told they were snapped up for £110 the pair.
Vintage French Plastic
It's only in recent years that I've become aware of the number of European manufacturers producing plastic toy soldiers in the 1960s and1970s. Names such as Reamsa, Jecsan and Reisler are relatively new to me, so when trader Steve Viccars pulled out a rare boxed set of cowboys produced by Cofalu of France in the 1960s, my immediate response was: 'who?'
The figures looked like a Gallic version of some Cherilea products: the posing of the cowboys was a little hit and miss and they seemed to possess the same slightly manic sense of animation I associate with the mid-range British manufacturers. Steve said the boxed sets were marketed as bandits, but were in fact the firm's run-of-the-mill cowboys rendered in black, and with a mask painted over their faces to produce a greater sense of criminality. You can't knock Cofalu for attempting to expand its product portfolio without the burden of retooling costs. For the discerning plastics collector, the set was on sale for £35.
K&C provides scoop
It's rare that my humble show reports offer a scoop on an exciting new product release but for this issue, I'm delighted to say it does. I caught the eye of Tony Neville from King and Country (K&C) UK as I was moving through the crowds and he motioned to me that I should head over to the K&C stand, where some new products representing a first for the company were on display. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Andy Neilson from the K&C headquarters in Hong Kong was on hand to introduce the items to collectors.
The products in question were 1:30 scale painted plastic figures yes, plastic figures representing Mexican artillery units from the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Mike explained that the figures have been used to reinforce the metal K&C figures deployed in the world's largest known Alamo diorama that's been constructed at the Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio. Priced significantly lower than their metal counterparts though comparable in scale, posing and paintwork the figures are clearly designed to be compatible, enabling large-scale formations to be built at more affordable prices. This principle works just as well for the smaller-scale collector and diorama-builder. Which is the whole point of the exercise, of course. The gun and crew is expected to retail at around £60.
On a similar note, K&C launched their first plastic vehicles at the show in the form of specialist M4 Sherman tanks designed to 'wade' ashore from landing vessels on D-Day. The tanks were made watertight to enable them operate in a semi-submerged state, with intake and exhaust stacks protruding clear of the water to the allowed the engines to breath. While the detailing and paintwork is not quite on a par with the top-end K&C Sherman tanks, these are terrific new items that work well with other K&C figures and vehicles, and are supplied in attractive window boxes. The tanks are expected to retail at around £70, but speak to your local dealer for confirmation (see a full review of this new release by resident plastic expert Mike Blake, in his Fantastic Plastic section later in this issue).
The December show also presented me with the opportunity to meet Stefano Allorini representing Saimex Toy Soldiers of Italy. The company markets a number of big brands in the country, including King and Country and Kronprinz of Spain.
Stefano was showcasing an interesting selection of Kronprinz figures on his tables and we photographed some to give a sense of the quality and span of historical periods available. I particularly liked the German officer figure who forms the centre piece of our unusual tableaux.
Stefano was also keen to draw to my attention two figures manufactured by his company under the Allotoys brand. Presented in neat transparent packaging, I saw an 1859 Austrian Kaiserjager and French Imperial Zouave from the same period. I would describe the sculpting and paint jobs on these figures as fairly basic but for 16, they represent excellent value for money.
My poor linguistic skills prevented me from finding out what other figures Allotoys are planning to release, but Stefano remained charming and good-natured to the end!
The London Toy Soldier Show appears to be settling in nicely to its new venue. I saw plenty of money changing hands at the December event and heard anecdotally from a number of traders that they'd had a good day.
I've often said that the toy soldier hobby represents a broad spectrum of enthusiasts: collectors (both of 'rounds' and 'flats', kit-assemblers, painters, diorama-makers, scratch builders, and so forth. For the DIY contingent, I noticed a large stall selling paints, brushes, sculpting equipment, Milliput, modeling putty, etc, ample proof that all shades of the spectrum are being catered for.
And in the addition to the usual suspects you know who you are I also saw plenty of new collector faces in Islington, which I think bodes well for the future of the show.
The next event is on Saturday, March 29 2014. Put that in your calendars now.
My Leuthen journey - TSC 55
Roy Palmer tells of how a chance discovery at the London Show led him (and his wife) to a churchyard in Poland.
I guess you could say my journey to Leuthen really began last year at the March London Toy Soldier Show. I was browsing the JJD UK Stand when amongst all the fine products on display a single figure caught my eye. I think it was the colouring and the pose - striding purposely forward, a look of determination on his face. Whatever, there was just something about him..
He was a Prussian Grenadier, the first release in a new series by John Jenkins called 'Leuthen'. Based on the famous painting by German Artist Carl Rochling called 'Die Schlacht Von Leuthen' (The Battle of Leuthen). The series will evolve to eventually allow you to recreate the painting as a small diorama in 1:30 scale.
Two Into One Does Go! - TSC 54
Working With Two Part Modelling Putties
What Is This Stuff?
There are two kinds of ‘putty’ used for modelling, neither of which are actually putty in the original glazer’s sense. The kind of putty modellers use is more like modelling clay. The problems with clays are shrinkage, baking, and some, like Plasticine, don’t go hard at all. Don’t mistake tubes of air-drying ‘modeller’s putty’ for modelling putty either. This is for filling cracks and blemishes in model kits, not for creating new model figures.
Two-part epoxy putties are cold setting, non-shrinking, self-hardening once mixed, strong, durable, highly adhesive to most materials (eg stone, ceramic, metal, wood and many plastics, including vinyl) and once set, water, heat and chemical resistant. When hard, modelling putties are like metal and can be sanded and drilled.
Along came Milliput
In the UK Milliput first appeared in 1968 and is still made by the same family run company. It comes as two ‘sticks’ in five grades: Standard (Yellow/Grey), Terracotta, Silver Grey, Black and Superfine White. All are good for modelling; Standard and Silver Grey are the best.
Milliput differs from other putties by being cheaper, it can be thinned with water, and when cured sets very hard and inflexibly making carving and sanding easy. Handling Milliput takes a little getting used to. It can start a little crumbly and over-sticky. If water is used to smooth it, it can all get quite messy. IMHO handcream (I use Atrixo) is far better. Dip the tip of the knife or modelling tool into it frequently, use it to smooth with the finger too. What is needed is patience and plenty of practice at working with it.
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