BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History Of Toy Soldiers: Over 600 Firms Covered’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The History Of Toy Soldiers: Over 600 Firms Covered

Author: Luigi Toiati

Total Number of Printed Pages: 621

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author observes that it ‘First and foremost aims at investigating why a given kind of [toy] soldier was born in a given country in a given period and in a social-cultural environment’. He also notes that ‘Through the pages of this book I would like to convey the joy in collecting – and playing with-toy soldiers’, with the subsequent qualification that (according to the volume’s Forward), ‘…His focus is…on figures already part of history’. It is an unusual summation.

Within the volume itself, a Preface is placed immediately behind the Contents pages. This is followed by the previously-mentioned and multi-page Introduction. Within this the author provides personal background to his passion for toy soldiers. An Acknowledgements section follows. In it the author thanks those (human, electronic, floral and architectural), who assisted him in the creation of this work. It is followed by the volume’s Forward. This summarises what is to follow; the 17 Chapters which form the main part of the volume. Of these, Chapters 1-16 are specifically toy soldier related, while as its title (Some Useful Reading) suggests, Chapter 17 is a list of subject-related text and electronic sources which a reader might find useful. Curiously, and although  dealing with individual aspects of the toy soldier ethos, the author has chosen to use the phrase Toy and Model Soldiers History and Gossip as a title page for the entire section. Although perhaps an unfortunate choice of words, it is an accurate description of what is to follow; a mix of personal reminiscences, philosophical thoughts, comments on manufacturers and their products and, where necessary, an historical (non-model) narrative to give background to what is being discussed. It is an unusual combination. It should also be noted that although Luigi Toiati claims authorship of the volume, articles by other authors also appear within it. Termed Cameos, they appear at the end of several Chapters and although multi-paged and of similar format to the Chapters themselves, are not numbered. Although the authors of these sections evidently have some expertise in the toy soldier field, the articles carry no biographical details to indicate what this may be or why they have been included within the volume. Within the Chapters themselves, subheadings provide additional information on specific subjects and aspects of the larger narrative. These are not however placed in any logical or sequential order. To use the nations listed in Chapter 8 [The bee and the toy soldier…] as but one example, the sequence is France, Germany, USA, Mexico, Argentina, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Scandinavian Countries and Japan. Similar ‘discrepancies’ are also found within the ‘National’ subheadings themselves. Why this should be is not known. Notably, the Contents pages contain no indication of this situation, nor a listing of subsections within the individual Chapters. Where specific manufacturers are mentioned within such subsections, their names are highlighted.  While the volume doesn’t contain a dedicated Bibliography, per se’, end-of chapter Bibliographies do appear in several (but not all) of the Chapters. Although such sections list titles referred-to within their associated Chapters, magazines, although mentioned within the text, are not listed. The reasons for this omission are unknown. The volume’s final section (its Index) is placed after the previously-noted, Chapter 17.  Its Index of Makers title is self-explanatory. The book contains numerous illustrations in a variety of media, and in both monochrome and colour format. Captions, where given are minimal and item-specific and many images contain no source-citations. The Contents pages contain no reference to their existence. Numerous Quotes in a variety of languages (although with English translations) also appear. In the absence of supporting source-citations, their authenticity must inevitably be questioned.

For this reviewer, this volume was problematical in several areas. The Index lists only manufacturers, and by so-doing severely limits any usefulness it may have provided to a reader in respect of individuals, localities and events. A reader requiring such information is thus forced into a page-by-page search with no guarantee of success. Many will not bother. The previously-mentioned lack of any logical order with the individual Chapters only serves to compound the problem. There is however another difficulty; the fact that, for this reviewer at least, the volume cannot decide exactly what it is. The previously mentioned Toy and Model Soldiers History and Gossip phrase summarises the situation well. On one hand the volume is encyclopaedic in its coverage of its subject, yet conversely, it contains a large amount of extraneous material (the previously-mentioned reminiscences, philosophies etc.), which can best be described as being ‘gossip’, and of doubtful-value in a volume which has pretentions towards the authoritative. The latter was not unexpected but has resulted in a volume that is unable to make up its mind as to its intentions. Is it to be taken seriously as a definitive work on its subject, or…? It is neither fish nor fowl and suffers accordingly.

Despite the ‘Difficulties’ noted above, this book is undoubtedly a labour of love and written by an apparent expert in his field.  It is both encyclopaedic in function and specialised in its subject; a volume to ‘dip into’ rather than read in a conventional way. As a result, its likely-readership will be those with a specific interest in the subject. To such individuals the work may achieve ‘Standard Reference Work’ status. Its unusual subject may also have curiousity value to readers of a more generalist nature.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

It should have been far higher.

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Comments concerning this Review would be appreciated, Thank you.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History Of Toy Soldiers: Over 600 Firms Covered’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Early Railways: A Guide for the Modeller’

102. MODELLING EARLY RAILWAYS

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Early Railways: A Guide for the Modeller

Author: Peter Chatham, Stephen Weston

Total Number of Printed Pages: 120

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author states that ‘The aim of this book is to promote and assist the modelling of that formative period of railway history from the very earliest steam railways back to the reign of King George III, up to about 1880 or so, a period which, for modellers in Britain at least, has been covered scarcely, if at all, in book form’. As a precis of what to follow, it is excellent.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgements section placed behind the Contents page thanks those individuals and organisations which contributed to its content. This is followed by the previously-noted Introduction. The Introduction is in itself a multi-facetted beast, as aside from précising the contents of the volume, it also explains in great detail, such aspects of its subject as railway and social history, signalling, materials, sources and paints, the three latter written specifically with railway modellers in mind. Internet sources are given where appropriate. It is, in summary, very comprehensive. The six Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume now appear. As evidenced by its title (Mike Sharman – a Pioneer Modeller of Early Railways), the first pays tribute to a specific individual ‘… Who modelled the very early railways’ and ‘…Tells the story of how he set about modelling and promoting the early days [of railways]’. Included within this section are track plans and photographs of a variety of subjects relevant to the narrative. Curiously, the Chapter concludes with a ‘Mini Bibliography’ (titled Further Reading) which lists relevant literature specific to it subject. It is a detail not found anywhere else within the volume. Chapter 2 (Infrastructure) now appears and is followed in turn by three others. Their titles: Locomotives (Chapter 3), Carriages (Chapter 4) and Wagons (Chapter 5) are indicative of their content. As will be evident from its title (Layouts and Models), Chapter 6 is devoted to models of appropriate period locomotives and rolling stock and, by use of photographs shows how the previously-provided information can be recreated in model form in a variety of scales. The models and layouts are a delight and are accompanied by informative notes relevant to the specific items on display. A two-page Appendix follows. Titled Sources of supply for modellers, its content is self-evident, and is described as being a ‘…List of prominent manufacturers’ of period equipment from whom such items may be obtained. Notably (and in addition to the expected O and OO gauges), these include several who have equipment in the larger (‘Gauge 3’) and smaller (‘N’) gauges; thus widening the potential audience for this volume. A Bibliography follows.  While, as expected, this lists the printed texts alluded-to within the volume, its authors have added title-appropriate notes below each entry to assist modellers in search of specific information; an unusual and appreciated touch. A two-page Index completes the volume.  Although largely British-focussed, the book also contains references to both contemporary Continental European and American practices. It contains numerous monochrome and colour photographs and lithographs, as well as relevant locomotive, carriage and wagon plans. A layout diagram (that of one of Mike Sharman’s efforts) also appears, and where relevant to the narrative, technical diagrams showing the evolution of railway track are included. All are captioned and, with a small number of exceptions, contain appropriate citations indicating their sources.

While this reviewer could find little to fault with this volume, he did have issues with the book’s Index. Random searching found several entries within the book that were not supported by Index entries. Of these (and in view of its prominence on page 85 (Carriages), somewhat surprisingly), he could find no Index entries for PLM (Compagnie des Chermins de Fer de Paris `a Lyon et `a la Mediterranėe) under either PLM or the full company name. There were other, similar, ommissions; a small matter perhaps, but enough to raise questions about what else might also be missing.

That detail notwithstanding, it is very evident that this volume has been a labour of love for the authors. It is comprehensive, very informative and very well written. It is likely to appeal both to railway modellers who have a specific interest in its subject, and to those of a similar ilk who are just interested in ‘early’ railways, but with no inclination towards actually modelling the era. Transport Historians with an interest in early British, Continental and American railways may also find it of interest, while Social Historians seeking depictions and descriptions of early Nineteenth Century Britain may also find it worthy of their perusal.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I have given this volume a 9.

It is well deserved.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Early Railways: A Guide for the Modeller’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013

Author: James Opie

Total Number of Printed Pages: 480

Total Number of Photographs: 400

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent):  8

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The hobby of ‘collecting’ is widespread and can range from full-size machinery to very minute items. Almost anything can be ‘collected. If the interest is sufficient and the collecting fraternity large enough, eventually ‘learned tomes’ are written about the subject. Such works can cover all and any aspects of the hobby, and can themselves be worthy of collecting; if only for the sheer volume and detail of their contents.

It is this reviewer’s opinion that James Opie’s Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and handbook 1893-2013 falls into this latter category; it’s comprehensiveness and encyclopaedic detail ensuring that it is worthy of attention on its own merit.

As will be evident from the title, this volume is essentially a history of Britains Ltd., internationally-renowned makers of the small-scale figures known colloquially as ‘Toy’ soldiers.  Britains do however make other figures and objects and these (and the aforementioned soldiers) are covered within the eight chapters (and a separate sub-chapter) which comprise the majority of this work’s pages.   The author believes that there have been seven separate stages in the evolution of the Britains organisation and its models. He designates these stages ‘Ages’ and uses them to form the basis for the volume’s seven main chapters.  Within each chapter the company’s activities during that time are detailed and the models created during that period, critiqued. The previously mentioned sub-chapter (2a) investigates in detail the many variations of a specific series within the larger Britains range of models. In addition (and to quote the author) , Chapter 8 provides ‘…An encyclopaedic glossary of subjects…that are of interest to Britains collectors’. It is a fair summary.  The work also contains a Foreword, an Introduction, a Bibliography, an Appendix and an Index. Four hundred high-quality photographs are also provided.  Regrettably, the Foreword, although subtitled Auctioneering, does not detail the Auctioneering process, but rather describes the author’s experiences as an auctioneer of both toy collections and Britains figures. As it broadly outlines what the author’s activities consist of, some readers may find it of interest.

That the author knows his subject is very evident, yet it is precisely that knowledge which caused this reviewer difficulties. The work contains an incredible amount of detail, with the photographs acting as aid memoirs for the text. The information appears to be accurate and as noted, it is both comprehensive and encyclopaedic. However, the sheer volume of information tends to overwhelm the casual reader, to the extent that it is almost information  ‘overload’. This is very definitely not a volume for light reading; but is rather (as with many encyclopaedia-type books), a work which can be dipped-into when seeking specific information about a specific item. Used in that manner, this volume will be a work of great value.

This reviewer believes that this work is very-much in the ‘niche market’ category and as such will be invaluable to any specialist collector of Britain’s material. In that context, it may well become a classic, and perhaps even a ‘Collectable’ in its own right. To a lesser extent, researchers interested in toy-history and toy companies may also find it of use. The information it contains notwithstanding, it is probable that the average reader will however only read it for its curiosity value. This is unfortunate, but is a fate not unknown for similar works in other fields.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013’