- Historic Sites
Fifty years ago these rough-and-ready tin soldiers were sold from bins cheap and by the handful. Today collectors are seeking them for their bright, simple vitality.
December 1986 | Volume 38, Issue 1
Manoil’s operations were suspended during World War II, after a brief, unsuccessful effort to produce composition figures. The company reopened in 1945 with a new line of GIs, in World War II battle dress, but never regained its pre-war popularity. The firm hobbled along until the mid-1950s, finally closing shortly after the death of Jack Manoil, in 1955.
The third of the triumvirate of major dime-store makers was Grey Iron of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, which has been in operation under various names since 1840. In 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I, the firm brought out its “Greyklip Armies,” a series of nickel-plated troops that cost a modest ten cents for a carded set of ten infantry or five cavalry. Grey Iron began issuing three-inch cast-iron dimestore soldiers in 1933; the roster included American Revolutionary War troops, West Point cadets, and doughboys. By mid-1936 the firm was distributing its “Iron Men” series, which were better designed than earlier models and stood a full 3¼ inches, bringing them into line with those of Barclay and Manoil. Simple in design, Grey Iron’s soldiers were perhaps the least imaginative of all the dime-store figures.
However, the company did produce an interesting civilian range called “The American Family” that featured 2¼-inch figures scaled to 0-gauge trains. One set, “The American Family on the Beach,” enjoyed such props as a lifeboat, a cabana, and a section of boardwalk.
Although Grey Iron survived the postwar doldrums that finished off most of its competitors—and even produced a new group, American Continental soldiers, in the 1950s—the toysoldier part of the business never really revived after the war. But the company remains in business today (a division of the Donsco Corporation), producing mechanical banks and other cast-iron toys.
Throughout the fifties and sixties, rising production costs, competition from cheaper plastic figures, and laws against the use of lead in toys forced one after another of the dimestore companies to close its doors. When Barclay cooled its molds for the last time in 1971, the era of the American metal toy soldier came to an end. Like their British, French, and German cousins, the Barclay, Manoil, and Grey Iron troops have gone to the Valhalla reserved for toys that have faithfully performed their playtime duties. Now they are valued by collectors and remembered with pleasure by former fiveand-dime customers who, as youngsters, would pluck them out of bins at five cents apiece.