About Me

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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 51-year-old Aspergic CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play. I will 'bite the hand that feeds' to remind it why it feeds.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Product Reviews

Continuing the new feature of 'Product Reviews' with a couple more books from Pen & Sword, both of which are easy to say nice things about, not because I've been given them but because they are very good!

And it's worth having a word about Pen & Sword; they are quite clearly a very discerning publisher, not so long ago they took over the Leo Cooper imprint, a publisher that some of you will know has - itself - only ever published at the top end of military history, memoir and military fiction, quality wise.  P&S are of the same mould and with so many people forecasting the 'end' of books (because commuters are reading text-based - mostly fiction - on a limited-use 'device'), it's nice to know that firms like P&S are continuing to produce high-quality research-aiding books that are image heavy, with colour on top-grade paper-stock.

Today we're looking at two books which couldn't be more different but are at the same time similar, one on - specifically - girls toys and playthings through the ages, the other being James Opie's recent complete updating of his original book on collecting toy soldiers. One dealing with the pastimes of the 'fairer sex', the other covering the full gamut of the war-machine in boys foot-lockers! But...both dealing with the history of toys, their collecting, archiving and what they meant to us as kids, often covering different products - in each book - from the same companies.

The first is a first; a book entirely devoted to looking at the history of toys from the feminine angle, although the early history is quite unisex, certainly in the last century the division into 'boy's toys' and 'girly pink stuff' (my words!) was quite rapid and the author tells us the tale of how we got from hoops, paper theatres and wooden arks to the vast pinky-purple-mauve section of Toys-R-Us!

While there have been many books on general or 'antique' toys and their history and as many devoted to dolls or teddy-bears (or; dolls and teddy-bears!) this is the first time I know of where a study of all the other toys girls have enjoyed has been published. Although the book does cover both bears and dolls it also looks at things like 'pocket toys', TV and movie characters that appealed to female children (Muffin, Sootie, Noddy, Bagpuss et al...), 1970's and '80's favourites like Cabbage Patch and My Little Pony, games, puzzles and other pastimes, bricks, blocks and other constructional or craft toys, and all sorts of things I'd forgotten friends sisters having like Strawberry Shortcake, Victoria Plum and Holly Hobbie.

Divided into thematic chapters by toy type, research is easy either from the index or by browsing, and tables are included for the more desirable members of a given collectable's 'cast', such as the colours and motifs of Care Bears or the hair colour and preferred pets of the aforementioned Strawberry Shortcake dolls. While for someone like me it will always remain a reference work to be consulted from time-to-time, it is also a good read from first page to last.

There are lovely little surprises as well, peppered with little nuggets of information and anecdote, who knew there was a board-game called "Lively Polly the Fascinating Wash Day Game"! Or that Monday was traditionally the nation's wash-day. Who remembers French knitting, Fuzzy Felt or Furbies?...I loved Fuzzy Felt, although I put the ballet dancers on tractors and had them engage in a bit of demolition-derby!

If I have one criticism of the book it is the author's own words at the start; In the introduction she makes it clear she expects the reader to be a female, and I quote "...it's odds on you are, or once were, a girl...". Well, I beg to differ, although I've been given my copy, I would have bought it if I'd known about it earlier, if you are remotely interested in toys and their social history or the commercial histories of the companies that made them, you should add this book to your library.

The other title is real tour-de-force, and by an author who should need no introduction if you're a regular to this blog. There are only a handful of people who can be said to have been a major influence on or, made a major contribution to the world of toy soldier and model figure collecting; JG Garratt (company histories and personalities), Norman Joplin (British civil, farm and zoo) and Richard O'Brien (US and dime-store) are the names that spring to mind along with the author of the work here reviewed; James Opie, the foremost writer on Britains and wider British and world makes of military figurines.

This book is a companion to his earlier work; Collecting Toy Soldiers, first published in 1987, but reprinted several times since, and is a truly wonderful read. For me the real delight is the eclectic nature of it, James goes from hollow-casts to solids, from plastic to composition, from flats through semi-flats to fully round in all sizes and from all over the world - sometimes on the same page! Written in an easy to read style and full of detail without resorting to endless lists of colour variations or box types!

The enthusiasm the author has for his subject flows through the work and is backed up by some of the best photographs I've ever seen, clearly culled from a lifetimes collecting and this is one of the major differences between this work and its ancestor, there are so many images here, all with full narrative captions it is hard to take it all in and several reads will reward. I know for a fact that this book calls upon one of the most comprehensive reference libraries of catalogues and ephemera ever assembled.

There are chapters on general collecting, thematic collecting, small or cameo collections or displays, and looking after toy soldiers, other chapters are more anecdotal and recall a lifetime of studying the subject and all points along the way, casting back to Jame's previous works, the exhibition held at the London Toy and Model Museum in 1985 and his work for Bonhams, and looking forwards through 'new metal' and new trends.

Each chapter or section has clearly headed sub-sections; there are a few tables or lists of things like makes and marks, famous collectors, historical highlights etc...I personally found parts of the Chapter on values a bit...(hummm!), but then I've never done this collecting malarkey for money (or with much!) but do appreciate that some do, particularly the 'high-end' metal collectors, and if it's your 'thing' the chapter has a lot of interesting points on the subject.

It's very easy to wax lyrical on a book by someone I know (and who has been kind to me), about I subject I have more than a passing interest in, and - indeed - I could happily write the same again without feeling I'd fully covered either the book or my thoughts on it, but I'll stop before I get too sycophantic! I can't recommend this book highly enough, it is so full of useful information and stunning images it will stand the test of time and to not have this on your shelves is to deny yourself a real treat.

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