Regular commenter David Corbett has asked so nicely to see more of my one guilty pleasure that I could hardly refuse. Here, then, are some of the toy American Civil War soldiers in my personal collection. I add to their ranks when I can and most recently acquired 9 figures from the "Brooklyn 14th" that have just been issued by The Collectors Showcase. Like the rest of my collection, these are matte finished metal figures in 1:32 scale (54mm), but I have just started collecting from this manufacturer. These particular pieces are extremely well done, historically accurate right down to the double row of brass buttons on their chasseur jackets.
I found a central location for them on a shelf with other figures compatible with a depiction of the Battle of 1st Manassas (or Bull Run, if you prefer). I've condensed the action considerably, but there are two Zouave units represented here: Company K of the 69th N.Y.S.M.by the discontinued Troiani Historical Miniatures company, and a recreation of a Don Troiani painting by Conte Collectibles depicting the 11th NY "Fire Zouaves" breaking under a charge by the 1st Virginia Cavalry, lead by a blue clad J.E.B. Stuart. The 2nd Rhode Island in their light blue blouses also makes an appearance in two sets by Forward March, while an ordinance wagon pulled by a mule team from the venerable William Britain company withdraws from the line. I understand that Zouaves don't sell particularly well in this hobby, which I cannot understand as I am always looking for some of these colorful units done well by one or another manufacturer. I had Abbott and Livingston ancestors in the 5th, 9th and 146th New York Zouaves, so it's personal.
In the late 1990s there was a renaissance in realistic, as opposed to "toy soldier" styles, which prior to then had been largely the domain of ultra expensive Russian manufacturers who did museum quality matte finished pieces and a few smaller operators. W. Britains and Conte developed extensive Civil War lines during this period and I collected them heavily. When lead sculptor Ken Osen left Britains for Conte, I followed, and when he moved on to Troiani and then helped launch Old Northwest Trading Company I collected those as well. Now back with Britains, the quality and detail continues to excel. You would think it might not be so difficult to get this historical period right, but many manufactures and sculptors fail to pull it off. Conte has gotten almost cartoonish and grotesque in recent years and had trouble getting the paint right or staying in scale. Britains went through a long dry spell before Richard Walker took over the reins and Ken Osen came back on board.
Collectors of high end Civil War toy soldiers tend to be found in US markets East of the Mississippi. There are a disproportionate number of figures representing the armies of the Eastern Theater of the war than those who fought in the West. I am still hoping that Britians will issue a couple of Army of Tennessee flag bearers with the Hardee and Polk pattern flags. I pulled together the scene at right using Iron brigade figures by Britains, Conte and Troiani with some additions figures by these manufacturers to represent Grant with some of his westerners. I tried to hide them from view, but you can just make out the red circle badge of the 1st Division, 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac on the kepi of one of the officers.
Some genres lend themselves to uniform ranks or duplicate poses. For the kind of money these cost, I have no desire to pay for the same figure twice. Conte ill-advisedly released a Union and Confederate marching set of 6 figures in three poses, and I bought a split confederate set on eBay and passed on the Yanks. Even if the same sculpts are used, a different paint job and a different head is all it would take to diversify the offerings, as some manufacturers have found. Recycled poses are fine except when union cap badges end up on confederate heads. I've got a lot of these now, feel entitled to be picky about what I add to the collection.
Of course, I have a wish list. Besides the Zouaves and flag bearers already mentioned, the cavalry units in my collection are quite thin. I'd like to see some of the Heavy Artillery regiments like the 1st ME or Litchfield's own 2nd CT that Grant converted to Infantry and fed into the furnace at Cold Harbor and Petersburg. It is probably too much to ask for any of Gracie's Alabama Brigade, which would cover the confederate side of the family tree rather nicely. There seem to be very few offerings of confederate NCOs who are doing something other than carrying flags. The Civil War doesn't offer collectors the range of vehicles of all that WWII armor, but I'd like a caisson to go with the six horse team and limber that Britains put out early this decade, and maybe a sanitary commission ambulance and sutler's wagon. Heck, I'd even go for a stampeding Congressman and his lady overtaken in their chaise after the rout at Bull Run. Just not all at once. I have to space out my purchases and stay on budget to keep my finances and my marriage afloat. Here are a few more shots of what is on my top shelves that you may click to enlarge.
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