Talking about Toy Soldiers and Militaria
We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to talk with Roger and Jan Garfield
Roger was raised and attended school in the Chicago area. He taught high school, and was an administrator at the same suburban Chicago high school for 35 years. In the mid-1970s, Roger and four friends started the Old Toy Soldier Newsletter, dedicated solely to collecting military toys. In 1980, the partners started the Chicago Toy Soldier Show, currently in its 37th year. Simultaneously, Roger collected militaria and toy soldiers, and formed his Illinois retail business in 1991. Faded Glories Military Antiques retails both militaria and vintage military toys.
Roger retired to central Virginia in 2005. He and his wife Jan live there with their three standard poodles. Jan was raised in the Chicago area. She earned a PhD from Northwestern. Jan has been a college administrator for most of her professional career. Jan and Roger met as neighbors and were married in 2000. Jan currently teaches business administration in an online doctoral program. Jan shares Roger’s two children – Graham (Chicago) and Gillian (Los Angeles) – both of whom you will meet at the Chicago Toy Soldier Show, along with other members of the Garfield clan.
Though many recognize Roger and Jan’s business, Faded Glories Military Antiques, from their frequent show displays, what some may not know is that the couple obtained ownership of the Chicago Toy Soldier Show (CTSS) in 2016. CTSS is one of the oldest and largest, international toy soldier shows in the world.
We wanted to find out how this melding of militaria and toy soldiers affects the hobby, so we are delighted to have this opportunity to pose our “10 Questions about Toy Soldiers and Militaria” to Roger and Jan.
Military Trader: Thank you for taking time to talk with us. For those who aren’t familiar with your business, Faded Glories Military Antiques, tell us about how you have risen to specialize in Victorian to WWII militaria.
Roger and Jan Garfield: First, thank you for the opportunity to speak to Military Trader, our favorite militaria publication.
Like many dealers, I deal in what I collect, which makes sense from the standpoint that I deal in the area of merchandise in which I have the most expertise. The era between the end of the American Civil War and the beginning of WWI has always been fascinating to me. It is an era that transcends 19th-century conflicts to the beginnings of modern warfare – a fantastic metamorphosis in uniforms, equipment, weapons, and strategy.
As my collection began to outgrow my display area, I needed to focus. Rather than collect all nations, I chose to focus on pre-1914 British and Commonwealth militaria. The merchandise on my table, however, goes through WWII. My heritage is not British, though Jan’s is Scottish.
My decision to focus on British militaria harkens back to wonderful memories of watching old black-and-white movies with my father and older brother. I know that my fellow collectors also appreciate those same movies, such as “Four Feathers,” “The Drum,” “Gunga Din,” and “Lives of a Bengal Lancer.” As I got older, I also discovered authors such as Rudyard Kipling and A.E.W. Mason.
Military Trader: Faded Glories seems to buck the trends in our hobby: The business doesn’t have a web site, doesn’t advertise widely in print, and doesn’t print or email catalog. And yet, you maintain a very specific inventory of high-level pre-WWII military antiques? How do you reach your customers?
Roger and Jan Garfield: Thank you for the compliment on the quality of my merchandise! This actually leads into why I have not advertised widely. My attitude toward Faded Glories has always been the role of a “gentleman hobbyist,” and fortunately, I have not had to depend on the income from Faded Glories.
I spend a lot of time looking for the items that you see on my table. It is hard to replenish my stock, and I find that it gets more difficult all the time to do so. Often, we will return from a trip to the UK and sell our entire new inventory at the next show.
The direct answer to your question is that we advertise by word of mouth of my fellow collectors who know my specialty. When people refer to me as “the British guy,” they are not referring to my heritage, but to my merchandise.
Although my militaria friends know Faded Glories and its militaria merchandise from events such as the Show of Shows (SOS), we also sell military toys. We set up regularly at toy soldier shows. We also have a booth at the Williamsburg Antique Mall in Virginia, where we display both militaria and military toys.
Our advertising attitude toward the Chicago Toy Soldier Show is the opposite. It is a very big financial commitment – not only for us, but also for our vendors. Many dealers and collectors depend on our business acumen. Therefore, you will find that the CTSS has a web site, is heavily advertised, and is present in social media and other various media formats.
Military Trader: Having visited your tables at the Show of Shows a number of times over the years, I have noticed a distinct absence of Third Reich material. What are your feelings on this aspect of the hobby?
Roger and Jan Garfield: Many eras and nations are not represented on my table. Third Reich is not an area of my expertise.
WWII German militaria is well-represented at militaria shows by expert collectors and dealers. There is no need for me, an untrained novice, to enter an area where there is so much expertise.
Military Trader: This leads us to the next aspect of your business ventures. First, allow us to congratulate you on assuming the management of the Chicago Toy Soldier Show. Toy soldiers are something with which each traditional militaria collector is familiar, but many don’t know the intricacies of the hobby. Provide us with a brief overview of the main categories of toy soldier collecting.
Roger and Jan Garfield: When you come to the Chicago Toy Soldier Show, you will see antique and vintage toy soldiers made of metal, plastic, and composition; current-production soldiers made in the manner of old toy soldiers (some figures actually cast from original molds); and highly detailed model figures that are not intended to be played with. Over the years, these categories have become distinct areas of collecting and, in the case of the latter, areas of manufacture and production.
Interestingly, during the 1930s and 1940s, the distinction between toys and models was not so obvious. Modelers who wanted more authentic/detailed representations, or wanted nations or regiments not commercially produced, resorted to converting and enhancing toy soldiers.
The reproductions and figures made in the manner of old toy soldiers are collected by people who want large numbers of figures for dioramas or battle representations.
Military Trader: Tell us about how the traditional militaria hobby overlaps with toy soldier collecting.
Roger and Jan Garfield: A collector friend once said to me, “It doesn’t matter what someone collects – collectors are fanatically enthusiastic about the object of their collections and experts in the subject of collection. If you met a paperclip collector and spent time talking with him and admiring his collection, I guarantee you would never look at a paperclip the same way again.” Collecting, in itself, is infectious.
In addition, toy soldiers and militaria collectors share a common interest in history. You will discover that people who collect toy soldiers and people who collect miliaria are both researchers. They love the history represented by the items they collect, and they enjoy discussing their research with other enthusiasts.
Military Trader: Tell us about The Chicago Toy Soldier Show. How many vendors and what kind of material? The question most readers will want answered is, “Are there military relics for sale at the show?”
Roger and Jan Garfield: The Sunday Show has more than 400 tables. What makes the Chicago Toy Soldier Show unique, and this is something that has evolved over the years, is the room sales. Dealers open their hotel rooms for sales starting on the Wednesday prior to the Show. Therefore, the Chicago Toy Soldier Show becomes a multi-day Show. In 2016, we had over 135 rooms open for sales.
Dealers come to the Show to sell antique and vintage toy soldiers, newly manufactured toy soldiers, and model figures. Because of its longevity and size, the Chicago Toy Soldier Show has also become a trade show. Many manufacturers will debut new lines and products.
There is some militaria to be found at the Chicago Toy Soldier Show. Jan and I are anxious to expand the show to include more militaria and related hobbies. Several well-known toy soldier dealers are also militaria dealers who, like me, display at both types of shows. We have seen many dealers and collectors who attend both the SOS and the Chicago Toy Soldier Show. We want to encourage more to consider both markets.
Military Trader: Are toy soldiers a gateway to collecting militaria, or the opposite, is militaria an entry point for collecting toy soldiers? What advice would you offer to a militaria collector who is considering entering the toy soldier hobby?
Roger and Jan Garfield: It works both ways. One is not a gateway to the other, because military history is the foundation for both.
Military Trader: Fakes and forgeries plague the traditional militaria hobby. While this malady has likely infected the antique toy soldier hobby, it would seem the modern toy soldiers are impervious—at least, for now. What threats to the toy soldier hobby to you currently see or worry will evolve?
Roger and Jan Garfield: You are right. The more recently manufactured toy soldiers and model figures are not yet likely to be faked. As far as the vintage and antique toys, toy soldier collectors need to be just as knowledgeable about repairs and repaints as militaria dealers are about fakes.
Military Trader: I admit it, I took the plunge into toy soldiers a couple of years ago when artist John Jenkins released several WWI Tanks in 1/30 scale. Now, scattered among my collection of original Tank Corps uniforms, helmets, accouterments are examples of model Mark V and FT tanks—something that provides a visual context for my collection. Tell us what attracted you to toy soldiers, and how this led to you acquiring the Chicago Toy Soldier Show.
Roger and Jan Garfield: John, I could not have given a better example of the interplay between militaria and toy soldiers/model figures. I have visited many toy soldier collections in which a helmet or uniform is displayed to enhance the collection. What could be more interesting than to see the actual item represented in miniature?
On the other hand, your example is perfect. Let’s say that a collector had a beautiful example of a Panzergrenadier uniform. Imagine how effective it would be to have detailed models of Panzergrenadier in action, or with a model of the tank that the Grenadiers supported.
Jan and I do not believe that steadfast militaria collectors will suddenly switch over to toy soldier collecting, or vice versa, but think how meaningful it would be for a militaria collector to display his artifacts in context. What better way to do this than in miniature?
To answer your question, my interest in toy soldiers and militaria has always been simultaneous. As many of us grown-up boys of “a certain age,” toy soldiers were my favorite plaything. In addition, like many baby boomers, an overzealous parent needing to clean out the house, disposed of my childhood toys.
I purchased my first set of vintage toy soldiers at age 22. They were a set of Britains Ltd. hollow-cast lead Arabs. I paid the phenomenal amount of $8.00 for eight figures in 1972. Remember, that the same set of figures cost $2.25 only eight years previously.
I bought my first items of militaria when I was in junior high school. You will wince here: It was a complete WWI Saxon Picklehaube for $25.
I kept both areas of collecting going, as finances would allow. In the mid-1970s, four toy-soldier-collector friends and I started a hobby publication called the Old Toy Soldier Newsletter. In 1980, we started the Chicago Toy Soldier Show, and it has grown continuously for these past 36 years. When I retired, my partners purchased my share of the newsletter and Show. My former partners and I continued to be good friends and always stayed in touch. They always offered me a table at the Show.
In 2015, our partners let us know that they wanted to retire from show promotion. They asked if we would be interested in purchasing the Show. We jumped at the opportunity!
Ironically, I have owned the Chicago Toy Soldier Show twice in my life … so far!
Military Trader: How do you see the two hobbies, traditional militaria and toy soldier collecting, evolving over the next 10 years? What advice—or warnings—do you want to share with participants in either field?
Roger and Jan Garfield: What strikes me about both of our hobbies is the fact that collectors are aging and at the point in their lives when they are downsizing. The younger collectors are not swarming to the hobbies as we knew and defined them.
In both cases, either we can become a smaller and smaller exclusive club of collectors who trade with one another and lament the good old days, or we can do something about it. We need to infuse the hobby with younger collectors by embracing and including elements of what they are nostalgic about while, at the same time, exposing them to the hobby as we knew it.
Young adults with disposable income did not play with lead soldiers as children. They played with 6” GI Joes. Their dads and their heroes didn’t fight in WWII or Korea. They fought in Viet Nam and Desert Storm. We need to respect the areas of interest of these young collectors.
For those of us in both collecting areas, I would like to see a look at parallel areas of interest. Militaria and toy soldiers are a natural with their common root in history.
My suggestion to my fellow militaria collectors is to come to the Chicago Toy Soldier Show – or a smaller regional show – and look at the militaria that you collect represented in miniature, be it a toy or a model figure. If you leave the show without buying an item, I guarantee that you will have an enjoyable time visiting with the dealers who share your area of interest in military history.
Remember, enthusiasm for collecting is infectious. For the toy soldier collectors, I would recommend the same. It would be an exciting experience for a toy soldier collector to share common military history interests with a militaria enthusiast.
Jan and I would love to see more militaria dealers display quality items at the Chicago Toy Soldier Show. Please come and visit our booth at the upcoming Show of Shows. We would love to tell you more about our Show and the toy soldier hobby.
The 37th Annual Chicago Toy Soldier Show will occur on September 24, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg (1800 East Golf Road, Schaumburg, IL). For more information about the Show, Log onto www.ChicagoToySoldierShow.com or contact Roger and Jan Garfield by phone at (847) 567-5355 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org