Ben Franklin, not Daniel Boone, first popularized the coonskin cap during his exploits in France while there rallying support for the American colonists’ revolt.
They number more than 10,000 strong. That makes the Toy Soldier Collection at the Frazier History Museum one of the largest public displays of toy soldiers in the United States. There are soldiers that depict real people and historical events. Soldiers that focus on uniforms, such as different tartans for Highland regiments. Soldiers that serve as historically accurate marching and mounted bands. They celebrate notable weddings and festivals. They represent people from Ancient Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, South Africa, India, Europe and the Americas. There is even an exhibition of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation procession in breathtaking miniature. You’ve got to experience it all.
One of the largest in the country
The Frazier boasts one of the largest St. Petersburg® groupings in the country, as well as those of Heyde, Haffner, M.I.M., Lucotte, Courtenay and W.M. Britain. Fifty different manufacturers from six continents are represented, not to mention some prized rarities once owned by publisher Malcom Forbes. While some of the collection’s earliest items date from the mid- 19th century, the finest examples of 20th and 21st century figures are also on display.
More than 10,000 tiny works of art
It’s extraordinary to consider that most of the pieces on view are hand-painted. Artists like Madame Metayer have their own distinctive style, highly prized by collectors and well represented at the Frazier. Interestingly, women—who sometimes had a hard time sustaining themselves as professional fine artists—often found their livelihoods as toy soldier painters. One can’t help wondering if the touch of whimsy on a little figure’s face does not reflect a brother, boyfriend, or fellow art student.
A small window to a bigger historical picture
The exhibition includes large tableaux as well as shelves of toy soldiers, alongside with genuine artifacts from the periods depicted. Bronze Age arrowheads, French Royalist swords, a Russian woman tank commander’s medals—all reveal the real lives behind the stories that the toys tell. Soldiers have been favorite toys since ancient times, but in the 18th century, mass production allowed for new possibilities. No longer limited to single, hand-made pieces, whole opposing armies could be assembled and these toys even provided insights into soldier’s more personal lives. From peeling potatoes to wrestling alligators, these little men did it all and— once World War II took place—women entered the fray.
A small world. A very large gift.
The collection was founded with a gift of 10,000 soldiers from Charles W. Stewart, a Frankfort, Ky. native. Mr. Stewart describes playing with plastic figures in his childhood and then forgetting about them. Roughly 20 years ago his interest was piqued again and he began to consider himself a serious collector. As the Frazier Museum’s toy soldier “world” continues to expand thanks to other donors, including Orson Munn of Long Island, N.Y., we invite you to march in and enjoy this nostalgic, playful and permanent part of our collection.