Lords of the Nursery wait in a row,
Five on the high wall, and four on the low;
Big Kings and Little Kings, Brown Bears and Black,
All of them waiting till John comes back.
from "Forgotten" - Now We are Six - AA Milne
This post follows from a couple of recent discussions with friends – my apologies if you recognise extracts from a personal email in here – especially if you wrote it…
I’m not feeling particularly unhealthy or anything – in fact it is my intention to live forever – but I’ve had a number of involvements recently with the unmentionable issue of what happens to our toy soldiers when we are finished with them. I mean really finished with them – as in dead or demented. It is a matter worth thinking about, I think.
This is not unique to toy soldier collections – there must be countless model railways, record collections, radio-controlled model aircraft, motor-cycles-in-bits etc etc (make up your own list) which will be a source of puzzlement to our survivors. To some extent this is a time-of-life thing. There is a very large cohort of fellows who were young and enthusiastic (and usually penniless) some 30 to 50 years ago, who have persevered with (or come back to) their hobbies when spare time and money became less of a problem, and when there was a fresh need for something to stimulate their interest. I shall gloss over the social trends which may have influenced this, but the garden shed and the garage and the painting room have become icons of our time distinctive enough to feature in jokes and TV sitcoms.
We might hope that when the time comes our prize collections will be rare and valuable, but it is likely that supply will rapidly outstrip the demand. The nerds are dying out, my friends.
I recently bought a load of secondhand ECW figures - they had belonged to some chap who, sadly, died quite young, and he left an enormous collection of figures - all sorts of periods. You might say he was a dabbler, except that the numbers of soldiers were very large. He clearly had both sides for all the conflicts he was interested in, so - like me - he probably was a solitary kind of fellow - not a club member. After his death, his wife had no interest in, nor understanding of, his hobbies, and the problem of getting some money for them was tricky, so she just gave them all to a charity shop, who stuck them on eBay at cheap prices.
Should he – should I, should any of us – have done a little succession planning?
I also had the sobering experience a couple of years ago of helping a widow make sense of her late husband's vast collection of models and militaria (including a mass of Historex, which I put on eBay) and try to find someone who could help her get rid of it.
The world must be full of elderly guys with attics and cupboards full of painted lead which - ultimately - is just scrap. Collections come on the market occasionally, but it will become more and more common as time passes. An insightful (if irreverent) friend of mine once told me that Hinton Hunt figures may be hard to get and very expensive nowadays, but if you hang around a while there will be more of them than anyone wants; the regulars that buy old figures from each other on eBay are all getting old together. He then went on to point out that I would be long gone by the time this happened (bless him). It is a thought, though – since our toys are likely to be around longer than we are, what will become of them?
Another friend of mine (I must have two, then) was recently at East Fortune Sunday Market, not far from here - a traditional flea-market, where you can get everything from secondhand reading glasses to oak dining tables - and there was a fellow selling hundreds and hundreds of painted metal 54mm knights out of cardboard boxes - I didn't see them, but apparently they were beautiful. The seller knew nothing about them - where did he get them? - he found them in a skip – they were scrap - no-one was interested in them. I wonder how many cherished collections just get thrown out if no-one can be bothered getting expert help to sell them, and how this will develop over the next few years.
I think that is probably quite enough of that.