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History of Toy Soldiers

As you begin to collect vintage toy soldiers you will discover the fascinating and interesting History of Toy Soldiers. Models and toys based on military forces have been around since the dawn of human civilization, having been found in archeological digs in Egypt and China. Production of tin soldiers for the toy market began in the 1700's in Europe. However, these military figurines did not become a popular child's toy until the late 1800's when mass production techniques made the cost of toy soldiers practical for the rising middle class.

William Britain of England developed a new method, called hollow casting, in 1893. This technique allowed his company to produce high quality toy soldiers faster and cheaper than his competitors in Germany. With the hollowcasting technique, the toy soldiers were lighter and more fun for kids to play with.

These early toy soldiers were made primarily from lead, a highly toxic element. However, people did not understand how dangerous it was at that time. Many other companies like John Hill & Company, Manoil, Barclays and others used lead alloy to manufacture their toy soldiers. Others, such as Elastolin and Lineol, used various non-metallic composites to create their lines of toy soldiers. These composites were usually some sort of sawdust and glue.

Plastic toy soldiers begin to enter the market in the late 1930's, however, WWII delayed their introduction on a mass scale until the 1950's. One of the first American companies to manufacture plastic toy soldiers was Beton. Plastic toy soldiers really took over the marketplace when the dangers of lead and lead alloys became clear to the public. This put many older toy manufacturers out of business when they couldn't adapt quickly enough to the change while it brought new opportunities to some.

One company that took great advantage of this shift was the Louis Marx and Company. Marx playsets were a staple of Christmas catalogs in the 1950's through 1970's. They made toy soldier playsets from many eras including the US Civil War, Indian Wars, Medieval times, the World Wars and others. They also made some collectible sets like US Presidents, Jesus and the Apostles and Queen Elizabeth.

W. Britain also made a successful transition by releasing plastic toy soldiers. Instead of selling these new figures under their established brand name they used new brand names, Herald and Deetail, to market these lines of toy soldiers. They retained the W. Britain name to produce collectible metal figurines for the collector market.

Another English company that did well in the plastic toy soldier market was Airfix. They produced a line of quality sets that were much admired by hobbyists. Their designs were often duplicated by Asian manufacturers as they entered the plastic toy soldier market in the early 1970's. These cheaply made bagged army men are still with us today.

Metal toy soldiers weren't completely abandoned in the 1970's though. Companies like Ral Partha and Grenadier made metal figurines for the table top wargaming and fantasy role playing gaming crowd. These highly detailed metal toy soldiers remain popular today. Collectors enjoy painting them to match their tastes.

In the 1990's collecting toy soldiers increased in popularity as a hobby. Companies like W. Britain started making higher end, highly detailed, toy soldiers for this growing market. These new toy soldiers, if you can still call them toys, are known for the fantastic details and historical accuracy.

It will be interesting to see where the history of toy soldiers goes from here.


Manoil Toy Soldiers

Manoil was one of the major makers of lead toy soliders in the 1930s through 1950s. The company was founded by Maurice Manoil and his brother Jack Manoil. The sculptor for Manoil was Walter Baetz. The company was founded in 1935. The first series of toy soldiers produced by Manoil were numbered from M1 through M128. Production was curtailed during WWII due to metal rationing but Manoil resumed production after the war was over. As plastics entered the market Manoil lost market share and went out of business in 1959.

Today Manoil toy soldiers are popular collectibles among vintage toy soldier enthusiasts.

Here are some of the M1 through M128 Manoil toy soldiers.

M1 through M3 are the Flag Bearer. M1 was a hollow base version.

M4 through M8 are the Parade soldier. M4 has a hollow base. M5 is the stocky version of this Manoil toy soldier. M6 is known for having a campaign hat. M7 has a number on the back. M8 is is final version of the Parade toy solider.

M9 and M10 are the Officer. The M9 version has the hollow base.

M11 and M12 are the Bugler, once again with the lower number having the hollow base.

M13 through M15 were the Drummer. Manoil made the M13 with a hollow base. M14 had a stocky build while M15 had a vertical drum.

M16 through M20 are the Prone Machine Gunner. M16 has grass on the base but for M17 Manoil used a flat base with no grass. In M18, you'll find spaces under the body. Both M19 and M20 don't have an opening between the hands and the gun and M20 has a pack on his back.

M21 and M22 are the Cadet. M21 has a hollow base with no belt buckle.

M23 and M24 are the Sailor. M23 is a bit unusual since there are two versions, a plain and a blue.

M25 and M26 are the Marine. As with other Manoil toy soldiers, the M25 has a hollow base.

M27 is the Ensign. Like the sailor, it was available in two different color schemes.

M28 and M29 are the Signal Man.

M30 through M33 were the cowboy. M32 and M33 featured the Cowboy with his hands up.

M34 through M35 are the Doctor. The doctor came in white, blue and khaki.

M36 is the Nurse. Manoil made two different versions under this number with the second version having no hem on the shorter skirt.

M37 is an Indian with a hatchet while M38 is an Indian with knives.

M39 through M41 is a seated Machine Gunner. The M39 Manoil toy soldier was made seated on 4 sandbags with a bullet feed from an ammo box. M40 looks similar although the sandbags are more square. M41 has markings under the base that are not present in the other toy soldiers.

M42 is a cannon loader toy soldier.

M43 through M48 are a sniper toy solider. M43 through M46 feature a kneeling figure with different rifle styles on each. M47 and 48 have the toy soldier standing with a folding rifle being held by M47. Manoil made two versions of the M48 with slightly different rifle configurations.

M49 and M50 are a Tommy gunner.

M51 is an Observer toy soldier, kneeling with binoculars.

M52 through M54 are Wounded soldiers. M52 is walking wounded while the other two are lying down.

M55 and M56 are grenade throwers. M55 is carrying 3 grenades while Manoil made M56 with only 2 grenades.

M57 and M58 are the stretcher carrier toy soldier. M57 doesn't have a medical kit while M58 does. Manoil made a more detailed version of M58 that has uniform details.

M59 is a seated soldier.

M60 is an Aviator with his hands in his pockets.

M61 is a Hostess and Manoil made her in white, green and Khaki.

M62 through M67 is a soldier in different poses. M62 is doing a bayonet charge. M63 is charging with a gun. M64 is jabbing with the butt of the gun. M65 is stabbing with a bayonet. M66 is kneeling and is welding a bayonet. M67 is in a crouch with a grenade.

M68 is a doctor in a crawling pose.

M69 is an officer in the prone position and shooting a revolver.

M70 and M71 are a toy soldier in a crawling pose.

M72 is a soldier lying down with a periscope.

M73 though M74 are an Anti-aircraft gunner

M75 is an anti-aircraft searchlight being operated by a soldier. Manoil made 3 versions of this figure.

M76 is a Sailor with a Navy Gun

M77 and M78 are a policeman.

M79 is a soldier riding a bicycle. There were two variations of this toy soldier made by Manoil.

M80 is a Motorized machine gunner

M81 and M82 are a solider riding a Motorcycle.

M83 through M85 is a seated unarmed soldier who is in different poses, such as eating or looking at a map.

M86 is a Paymaster handing out cash while standing on a safe.

M87 is a prone sniper wrapped in camouflage.

M88 is a paratrooper. There were two color variations, green and white.

M89 is a seated soldier writing a letter

M90 and M91 are a cook with a ladle.

M92 is a soldier taking a picture with a camera.

M93 and M94 are a soldier with a gas mask. M93 is carrying a rifle while M94 is holding a flare gun.

M95 is an African-American soldier playing a banjo. A little politically incorrect today but that's the way things were in the 1930's when Manoil was making toy soldiers.

M96 and M97 are deep sea divers.

M98 is a soldier carrying a gun in a parade formation with an overseas cap.

M99 is a soldier with a gun and pack who is marching.

M100 is a boxer.

M101 Is a lineman with a telephone pole. There were at least two variations of the base of the pole made by Manoil.

M102 through M104 is a soldier with an anti-tank gun.

M105 is a soldier marching with a gun slung at a jaunty angle.

M106 through M109 is an anti-aircraft machine gunner. M107 and M108 has a helper while M109 has a range finder.

M110 is a soldier with a mortar.

M111 is a soldier holding a mortar round.

M112 is an aviator holding a bomb. There are two variations of this figure that were made by Manoil.

M113 and M114 is an aircraft mechanic carrying a propeller. There are different colors available on the propeller.

M115 is a pilot carrying a bomb sight.

M116 is a standing radios operator while M117 is a radio operator lying down.

M118 Is a soldier digging a trench.

M119 and M120 feature a soldier carrying a roll of barbed wire.

M121 is a Fireman. Manoil made this toy in both white and gray.

M122 is a soldier walking guard duty.

M123 and M124 has a soldier pulling a small cannon.

M125 features a soldier on skis.

M126 has a soldier lying prone with a machine gun dress in winter gear.

M127 is a paratrooper in flight.

M128 is a machine gun paratrooper.

That's it for Manoil toy soldiers M1 through M128.

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