Toy soldiers trigger memories of childhood Prices at show strictly adult

July 12, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

The rooms full of hand-painted, miniature soldiers from wars as long ago as the Middle Ages and as recent as last year brought Edward "Ted" Gallagher back to 1926, when his fascination with the hobby began.

The 81-year-old Annapolis resident was a teen-ager then, and he remembers buying his first set of toy soldiers -- molded out of ground sawdust and glue -- for a few dollars from a newsstand on Long Island.

Saturday afternoon, Mr. Gallagher reached deeper into his wallet, paying more than $200 for five figurines that represent soldiers from 19th-century India -- complete with turbans, horses and weapons.

"This is it for this year," he said with a smile, explaining that he is captivated by the intricate artwork on the small, limited-edition die-cast models.

"They are beautiful," Mr. Gallagher said. "It's expensive, but you don't play with them."

That almost was an understatement, just looking at the prices of many of the pieces on display Saturday at the annual Toy Soldiers Show at Loews Annapolis Hotel.

Dealers from all over the country set up shop in the conference room, hawking mostly to men willing to pay to relive their past.

"We can go back to our childhood," said Richard Pollock, who runs a store called Battalion Miniatures in Mount Airy and boasts his own collection of 7,000 miniature soldiers worth $150,000. "We couldn't afford this when we were little."

Two conference rooms at the hotel were full of tables lined with toy soldiers, tanks, cars, jeeps, horses and even civilians trapped in cities that became war targets. There were troops from New Zealand, Rome, Turkey and Africa.

The more colorful the better, some buyers said, as they studied the detailed painting jobs with magnifying glasses and compared notes on authenticity.

Some people wanted German soldiers from a particular battle with only white helmets while others were concerned that a group of French soldiers lacked gold tassels.

For the most part, prices started about $35 per figure, though it could go much higher depending on the quality and the detail.

Ron Leh, who runs a mail-order miniature shop in Knoxville, Tenn., had an elephant with an Indian soldier on top, complete with a brightly colored blanket, that sold for $375.

It was part of an elaborate set-up that spanned about 20 feet and included lines of elephants and horses carrying soldiers and supplies, representing a battle involving India on its border with Afghanistan.

Mr. Leh also had what was one of the more popular battle-scenes -- Rorke's Drift -- from the Zulu wars against Britain, popularized in two 1960s movies, one starring Michael Caine and the other Burt Lancaster.

"Those movies stayed in a lot of people's minds," said Mr. Leh, who was joined by his wife, Sandy, in setting up and selling the pieces.

Most collectors have an interest in the military, like Chris Fonvielle, who has a doctorate and writes books about the Civil War from his home in North Carolina. His father served in the Army during World War II.

"I grew up with war stories," said Mr. Fonvielle, who is just starting his miniature collection. "These figures are not for kids. They are to be admired."

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