Norman Joplin, a Brit living in Fredonia, is an international authority on little soldiers that to serious collectors are nothing to play with
When it comes to toy soldiers, Norman Joplin, a British citizen living in Fredonia, is the man to consult.
Joplin’s fascination with the toys started when he was a young boy who was too sick to play sports, but spent many hours playing with his small lead soldiers. He is now considered the foremost international expert on the toys that are much more than playthings to serious collectors.
On Saturday, Oct. 18, Joplin will share his expertise during an appraisal fundraiser for First Congregational Church in Port Washington. He will appraise toy soldiers, miniature figures and children’s toys, while experts in other fields value everything from household items to antique weapons (see related article). The event will be similar to “Antiques Roadshow” on public television.
Joplin, who appraised antique toy soldiers and figures for Christies International Auction Houses in London and New York for 16 years, now helps sell toy soldiers through Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA. He’s a partner of the auction company with Ray Haradin of Pittsburgh, Penn., who specializes in antique toys.
“It is the largest auction company in the world selling just the one commodity,” Joplin said. “We’ll take one piece or 100,000 pieces as long as we can justify the cost to get the right price.”
In September, a mounted knight holding a battle axe that was made prior to World War I by Courtenay sold for $3,100 during an auction. It was part of a 250-piece collection with many items selling for more than $1,000 but some for as little as $10.
Joplin is also the editor of Old Toy Soldier Magazine and is working on his 11th resource book on toy soldiers. Each book is devoted to a specific type of toy soldier.
In October 2012, Joplin was an adviser to public television’s “History Detectives.”
Joplin owned a valuable collection that started with his childhood toys and he added to it through the years.
Collecting the toys he loved inspired him to research them, which led to appraising toy soldiers that were made from 1893 to 1966.
“I wanted to know who made them and how,” Joplin said. “Most of them were made from before World War II until the 1950s. German toy soldiers were the most popular until England invented a way to make hollow soldiers that were cheaper to make.”
During Hitler’s rise in power, German toy soldiers were made larger — 65 millimeters, or about 2.6 inches, of solid lead to show superiority over the standard 54 millimeter soldiers, Joplin said. Those are very valuable, he added.
Toy soldiers came to the United States during World War II when American soldiers stationed overseas traded cigarettes, gum and candy for them and sent the toys to their children back home.
Joplin was the first toy soldier appraiser hired by Christie’s Auction House in 1991, a job he created for himself.
“I told them they needed someone because they were selling toy soldiers too cheap,” Joplin said. “I offered to work for free for one year and told them if they were happy, they should hire me.”
He worked for them as an appraiser or consultant from 1991 to 2007. One of the most valuable collections he appraised during that time was a 100,000-piece set owned by Malcolm Forbes that sold for $700,000 in 1997.
“It was the most amazing, but for the wrong reasons,” Joplin said. “It was very well organized, but the quality didn’t match the quantity. He wanted a toy soldier collection and had a broker buy them for him. It broke all records when it was sold because people wanted a piece of Malcolm Forbes.”
While collecting and researching toy soldiers, Joplin was an academic administrator for Newcastle University’s business school in England.
In 1989, he attended a toy soldier show in Schamburg, Ill., with dealers and collectors from throughout the world that changed his career.
There weren’t shows like that in Europe, so Joplin returned to England and put on the first British Toy Soldier and Figure Show in London in 1991. He soon quit his university job to organize three toy soldier shows a year for the next nine years.
In 1999, he sold the business and his prized toy soldier collection for an undisclosed amount to a buyer who approached him.
“I got an offer, as they say, that I couldn’t refuse,” Joplin said. “I retired for three or four years and realized it wasn’t for me.”
He lived in Arizona and Mequon before moving to Fredonia in 2003.
Joplin wrote books and became editor of Toy Soldier Magazine after Haradin bought it.
That led the men to become partners in the auction company.
People interested in selling toy soldiers send them to Joplin, who appraises them, photographs them and describes them for an online catalog.
Live and online auctions are held several times a year in Pittsburgh. During live auctions, bids are accepted prior to the event as well as from the floor and by phone from buyers around the world.
“The majority of our customers are collectors getting to a certain age who realize they don’t have much time left to enjoy their collection. They either want to sell or have them appraised for their heirs,” Joplin said. “We also deal with people who inherited collections.
“We’re cognizant of the fact that people are left with these things and want them to go to a good home, to collectors who will treasure them as they did.”
Image information: TOY SOLDIER EXPERT Norman Joplin, a British citizen who lives in Fredonia, posed with several collections and resource books he’s written on his favorite subject. He and his wife Sue will appraise children’s toys, including toy soldiers, during the Appraisal Day fundraiser Saturday, Oct. 18, at First Congregational Church in Port Washington. Photo by Sam Arendt