In this edition of my series looking at common collectibles we’re going to take a look at Vintage Lead Toy Soldiers and a few basics of identifying them. Collecting vintage toy soldiers made primarily between 1930 and 1950 is an increasingly popular hobby. You can often find vintage lead toy soldiers at estate sales and auctions, storage garage auctions and even everyday yard sales. You can also find them online at eBay and elsewhere. Of course, the problem is identifying the exact vintage lead toy soldier you have found and how valuable it might be.
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When we begin looking at Vintage Lead Toy Soldiers we want to first look at the country of origin. Primarily these toys were made in the US and the UK since this was before Asian manufacturers captured a huge portion of the toy market.
In the US, most of these toy soldiers were made for Five and Dime stores, like Woolworth, or, in some cases, mail order catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Ward. US made lead soldiers from this time period were designed to be durable for hours of play by children. It seems odd today that someone would give an object made from toxic lead alloys to a child for them to play with but back then people didn’t know or didn’t care. Typically US made vintage toy soldiers will have thick gun barrels and minimal detail so that they would withstand rough play. The top US manufacturers of lead toy soldiers during this golden age were Barclay, Grey Iron and Manoil.
In the UK, the primary manufacturer of Lead Toy Soldiers was W. Britains Limited. Britains pioneered a technique for making toy soldiers call the hollowcast technique. This allowed them to make their products at a high quality level while maintaining lower manufacturing costs. Britains is still in business today, serving primarily the toy soldier collectors market. Vintage Britains toy soldiers are noted for their high level of detail as compared to their US made counterparts. Vintage pieces are also more fragile and will often have breaks, bends and other damage from age and wear. Also, since the production runs were smaller and hand finishing was common this introduced a number of variations that impact the value of these vintage toy soldiers.
When Identifying Vintage Lead Toy Soldiers you want to start by paying attention to how the details match the country of origin, the manufacturer and the time period. These basics will help you separate the vintage toy soldiers from modern replicas. After that, you can further narrow it down by looking into the specific production runs by the manufacturers of vintage toy soldiers.