by Richard O'Brien
I’ve loved toy soldiers virtually all my life. My mother believed I was fascinated by them before I was two. About the age of eleven or twelve I began wondering about the companies that made them; where they were located, how the figures were cast, how they were painted, and so on. I could find no information at all.
In the 1970s I worked on a project that required research in New York’s mammoth Fifth Avenue Library. While awaiting the articles I’d requested to arrive from the stacks, I began checking the index cards for books on toys, and started ordering them as well as additional information for my original project. Bare mentions of toy soldiers, and no real information at all.
I made a few more stabs, with little effect, until my literary agent landed me a contract with a publisher for a book that eventually was called “Collecting Toys”. The advance was small, but I used it as justification for pursuing my research with more intensity.
That was about 1977, I’ve been doing it ever since, and always with great joy, as one mystery after another fell away and inevitably other mysteries emerged that required solution. Eventually, all the major questions were answered, but the relatively minor remaining ones are intriguing enough, so I keep searching.
As the reader will find, I tried everything possible to get answers. The toy-trade magazines, bureaus of incorporation (tracking down the names found there), letters to the editors of newspapers where companies had been located to ask for information from former workers, even to stopping people in the streets in likely areas in the hope of finding further answers. I've spoken to former owners, former employees, to relatives and friends of both owners and sculptors, all of them helpful and gracious.
My original interest was just the dimestore toy soldiers of my childhood—all of them in the three-inch range—and basically bought by me between 1937 and 1942. But the late Hank Anton, a fellow collector, began pressing me to find out about all the companies that had produced toy soldiers in the United States, from the earliest days on. Those urgings eventually prevailed, and my subsequently-aroused curiosity about those firms kept me going. A huge help in this area was my finding a trove of Playthings Magazines in the offices of that ongoing publication, from its first issue in 1903. Toys & Novelties, a periodical that started about that early, was another rich source.
I don't know if this book will have many readers, but I know it will have one. As I’ve put these articles together for this book I’ve tried very hard to not get caught up in one piece after another that began to seize my interest, deciding to wait till I had this publication in hand. I love this stuff. Always have, and I assume I always will.