Tuesday, May 16, 2006

toy story - 2006

Of the many interesting items I observed in the garden this past week (dozens of newly hatched praying mantids, the first ripening strawberries of the season, my apparent conquering of three hills of vicious ants I’ve been battling for more than a year, loofa sponge seedlings poking up through the ground in the morning glory patch), none are as intriguing as this curious little find…

After brushing off enough dirt to realize that the tiny horseman was made from lead (and not stone), the first thing that popped into my brain was the late 1960s tune “One Tin Soldier.” Then I flipped the toy over to count the rider’s legs in order to determine if he was the resurrected nameless character from Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” (1838).

He isn’t.

I haven’t decided if this guy is really a soldier, some sort of knight or royalty, or just a dandy out for a Sunday ride. Perhaps it represents Paul Revere? Only the most brilliant scholars will scoff at my notion that the figurine is actually of the famously unknown Hessian trooper who would later become legendary by haunting Sleepy Hollow, rushing off to enlist in the Revolutionary War.

What I do know is that the figurine is hollow and was mass produced. It measures 35 mm from nose to tail by 27 mm hoof to head, and is approximately 8 mm thick. The bottom portion of the horse’s right rear leg is missing- possibly having broken off when separated from the base (assuming, of course, that it once had a base). No evidence of paint remains on the item.

A few Google searches revealed that there are TONS of websites dedicated to toy soldiering, lead miniatures, plastic army men, and scale modeling of famous and imaginary battle scenes. Although one or more of these sites potentially might lead to information about my historic artifact, truth be told, the shear number of them is practically overwhelming (at least during baseball season). Thus, I have emailed photos to a few historians I know, and forwarded my request to other archaeologists who hopefully will pass along the inquiry to historical specialists they work with. Perhaps this will result in a better starting point to determine the origin of this object.

Given that the toy lacks an obvious maker’s mark, I may never figure out who manufactured it, or when. Still, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it is one countless toys produced by Louis Marx and Company, an American company that made millions of dollars selling toys, including inexpensive ones through dime stores (such as Woolworth’s for example) since opening for business in 1919.

Your comments are encouraged. As improbable as it seems, it would be very interesting to be able to associate this item with one of the previous homeowners.

On a side note, while researching this lead figurine I tripped over a line of long-unremembered toys from my youth that caused me to laugh like Syd Barrett. Do any of you still have one or more plastic Nutty Mads figurines in your toy box?


Anonymous said...

It's a cast iron children's toy that was probably made in the 1920s. The character it represents may be Paul R, or it could be from a larger toy, such as a horse-drawn fire-pumper wagon (that's my guess) that came in several pieces. Other types of compound toys with this effigy are circus wagons and mail men. (if there is a hole near the muzzle for a bridle or carriage, then this might be depicting a livery man on a wagon).


Anonymous said...

It is a lead toy revolutionary soldier. The hole in the center of the horse and rider once had an attachment for a rod of some type to hold it to a merry go round, track or some type or wind-up diorama display. The fact that the figure is more or less hollow precludes it from being a hand-held toy, since lead is soft and will easily bend with use. This was intended to be looked at and as a part of a greater piece. The size also indicates that it was not a used as hand toy as lead military figures were. Think of the ones used by Mel Gibsons son in the Patriot. During the turn of the century such toys were very popular and made of lead and tin.

- Bryan

Anonymous said...

Not Paul Revere. I think it is Thomas Jefferson. You can tell because there is a picture of Montecello on the converse side.

In all seriousness, this is a lead solder. These were pretty common in kid's toy boxes up through the 1930s. Many were melted down for the war efforts of WWI and WWII. Yours looks kind of like the sets from the American Revolution or Napoleonic War series. Both were popular. Believe it or not, there are experts and whole societies dedicated to lead or "tin" soldiers. Not surprisingly, many are Brits. I'm guessing you can find their web pages with chat rooms to send in pictures of your little soldier.