There are several different types of vintage toy soldiers that have been produced over the years. Often the deciding factor in what materials to use to cast the soldier depended upon availability of the materials as well as the available manufacturing technology.
Each material type of toy soldier has its fans and collectors. Let's look at a few of them, shall we?
Plastic Army Men have been around for decades. These inexpensive, unpainted, soft plastic figures were usually sold in Five and Dime stores back in the days before WalMart and dollar stores. Generally they were sold in bags along with vehicles and terrain pieces. The quality of these items was usually rather low although there are some very good examples around.
A cut above these mass produced consumer figures are Plastic Toy Soldiers. Unlike the cheaper variety they're made with better quality plastics, either hard or soft, and generally have more detailed castings. These figures are often painted, either at the factory or by the individual who purchases them.
Before plastic toys soldiers came into vogue in the late 1950's and early 1960's, Dime Store toy soldiers were often made of cast iron. Like their plastic descendants, these were cheaply made although you can find some excellent castings if you look. These toy solders were common in the United States.
In Europe, where cast iron was more costly, the material of choice was aluminum before the advent of plastics. Where metal was too expensive, such as in Germany, toy soldiers were made from a mixture of sawdust and glue.
Another type of tin soldier was made in slate molds. This type was a thin and two dimensional figurine.
Lead was commonly used in manufacturing toy soldiers as well. This inexpensive and soft metal was used for both hollow and solid toy soldier figurines. Unfortunately, lead is toxic, making it a poor choice for a child's toy and not a particularly good thing for adults to handle on a regular basis either.
Paper cut out toy soldiers or cardboard toy soldiers have also been around for a while too. Some of these were simple printings while others have been marvelously detailed. Sometimes these paper toy soldiers have been glued to wooden blocks, sort of like game pieces.
Lastly, there are made for the collector toy soldiers which were made with adult collectors in mind. These may be cast from metal or carved from wood. They feature a high level of detail both from the casting or carving and the professional quality hand painting of the figurine.
There you have it, the Common Vintage Toy Soldier Material Types.