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Original Issue

Playing with toy soldiers can run into money if their uniforms are authentic

The Civil War is dying out," said Richard Riehn of The Soldier Shop at 1013 Madison Avenue in New York. About time, one would suppose, but Mr. Riehn was speaking of the collectors' waning interest in memorabilia and hand-painted miniatures of the combatants. The Soldier Shop deals in every sort of decorative military material, from ladies' scarves designed by France's leading military artists to medieval helmets and crossbows. The supply of medieval helmets is erratic (though the demand is constant), but the shop's dealings in miniatures is steady. If Riehn does not have a figure on hand from a given regiment and a given war he will have it made by a sculptor in London, Paris or the United States. Peter Blum, the shop's owner, estimates that he has figures from some 300 regiments. As for wars, "Is there anything we don't have?" he asked Riehn. Riehn thought not. "When our mounted Assyrian archer and our Roman legionnaire come out we'll go back to Biblical times," he added with satisfaction.

Prices for painted miniatures range from $11 to $120, depending on the workmanship, and the market for them is not among 5-year-old boys. "Parents aren't really too interested in buying an $11 soldier for children to play with," Mr. Blum points out, "and boys are about 14 before they become interested collectors and paint their own." Impoverished 14-year-olds and real collectors are in the market for unpainted figures, the former because some of them sell for $2 and the latter because they prefer to pay for sculpturing and are knowledgeable enough to do their own authentic painting. Collectors usually collect by wars, and the ultimate challenge is the 1813 Battle of the Nations, since it involved virtually every European country.

The Soldier Shop also carries books—out-of-print, research and current military works—and military prints and paintings. Framed prints are priced from $20 to $75, with rare ones running as high as $150. A small painting by the famous military artist, Edouard Detaille, costs $1,100. Other, unclassifiable, Soldier Shop offerings include a cast brass rooster, which is the finial from a French infantry standard (1820), for $200 and some Cromwellian armor from the English Civil War for $450. There is also a collection of medals and decorations. Exquisite little Legion of Honor medals can be purchased for only $15 and $20; for $110 you can have a Prussian Star, First Class. Order of the Red Eagle. And some wife with a deserving husband should part with $45 to present him with a handsome enameled star, the French Order of Fidelity.