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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to produce and paint the figure of a 100 Years' War knight based on a striking illustration Ken had spotted in a historical reference book.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.
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