At this very moment, my daughter is sweltering in her Texas garage sorting through her Barbie doll collection. She is going through her storage containers, looking for ways to thin out years of memories.

ToySoldiersSome years back, a lady I knew was angry that my boys were playing with toy action figures.  I guess she was thinking something like “Boys don’t play with dolls.”  I don’t know.

So, I found an illustrated guide-book chock full of pictures of lead/toy soldiers from the past.  She wouldn’t read it.

If Wikipedia had been available then (early 90s), I would have shown her this run down:  “Military figures have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and have appeared in many cultures and eras. Tin soldiers were produced in Germany as early as the 1730s, by molding the metal between two pieces of slate. Toy soldiers became widespread during the 18th century, inspired by the military exploits of Frederick the Great. Miniature soldiers were also used in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries by military strategists to plan battle tactics by using the figures to show the locations of real soldiers. In 1893, William Britain revolutionized the production of toy soldiers by devising the method of hollow casting, making soldiers that were cheaper and lighter than their German counterparts.

“The first American plastic soldiers were made by Beton as early as 1937. The first plastic toy soldiers produced in Great Britain were made in 1946 by Airfix before they became known for their famous model kits range.  One large historical producer in plastic was Louis Marx and Company, which produced both realistic soldiers of great detail and also historical collections of plastic men and women . . .”

Then there was Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG) published in 1974.  War games would be set up on several tables at a time, so the participants wouldn’t have to put all the pieces away at the end of the day.  That way, they could resume the battle whenever they could next get together.

PrinceValiantCastle1955When I was a young boy of ten or so (1955), I was a great fan of Prince Valiant.  My mother bought me a Prince Valiant shield and sword. I also really wanted a castle set inspired by Price Valiant. The castle came complete with a drawbridge, and plenty of soldiers for two different armies. Mom hid it under her bed prior to Christmas, but that was no challenge for me to find! I carefully opened the sealed box and was in seventh heaven as I put it together! There is no way I could have sealed that box up as good as new, and the tin castle surely had some evidence of being put together, so she must have known.  (Click photo to see exactly what my set looked like.)


I’ve been reading a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson (MYSELF AND THE OTHER FELLOW by Claire Harman), that describes how Louis and his step-son Sam also played with toy soldiers in 1881.  “War games, that had been such  of his childhood, were again his obsession, and he found a willing accomplice in Sam, with whom he would spend whole days moving regiments of lead soldiers across an imaginary terrain, to be shot at by the opposition . . . Sam had accumulated (600 lead soldiers) . . . In the large attic, they set up a permanent war game site, complete with mountains, towns, rivers, (roads), bridges, etc.  These games could last for weeks, and became very complex. . . Stevenson even went as far as writing war reports for two separate imaginary newspapers. . . .”

Boys, where is that X-Men game I dearly loved to play with you?





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