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
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.
Comments concerning this Review would be appreciated, Thank you.