In 1999 Conte Collectibles began operation. They raised the bar in both plastics, painted metal sets and playsets. Recently Conte announced they were planning to release new sets to the existing ranges and then expand to new ones. I got to ask Richard some questions.
Hi, Richard. I have been a big fan of your work for a while. You produced some amazing figures and sets over the years. It is good to see that you have returned with a new website. I know that you have been planning on releasing new sets for a while.
Warhorse Miniatures: I would like to ask you to tell us a little about yourself and how did Conte Collectibles start?
Richard Conte: I think I am a typical collector and history buff (with the exception that I’ve tried to produce my own sets). Like many, I had Marx play sets, Lido, MPC and Ideal figures as a kid. Later I had a few plastic Britains, Herald and Timpo figures. My favorites were the Marx Boonsboro & Vikings figures and Timpo Romans & Vikings. I still have some of my childhood toys.
I also love old movies , especially those with historical themes. Some of my favorites are Kirk Douglas’ The Vikings and Spartacus, Zulu, Beau Geste, The War Lord , The Longest Day , Gunga Din, Captain Blood, El CID , 300 Spartans , etc., Plus all the Alamo and Robin Hood movies. Long time Conte Collectors know that we’ve been privileged to obtain the licenses to most of these films and have made products based upon most of them.
I’ve got a wonderful wife who is very tolerant of my “ toy soldier hobby” and is well known as the model for our pirate woman with two pistols. ( I think she’s gotten over being angry about her toy soldier debut!!). Also am the old boy to a bunch of adult kids and an ever growing troop of grandchildren.
My career was in the health care field. It involved designing, building and operating hospitals and other medical facilities. For 20 years I worked part time in the United Kingdom. I visited just about every castle, museum and battlefield I could find time to see. One of the many special memories or highlights from my time in Britain was being invited to dinner with the Governor General of The Tower of London. One of the hospitals I designed and opened is Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Centre in Antigua. My work in the USA is far more boring …
While working in England I became friends with John Jeffries, the wonderfully creative man who owned Accurate Figures and created all of their standout soldiers . John’s excitement and enthusiasm for the hobby was infectious and sparked my interest in producing a few of my own soldiers. Years later, when I was put out to pasture I decided to see what I might be able to create…
Warhorse Miniatures: What are some of your favorite sets or themes that your have produced?
Richard Conte: This is a tough one. Certain sets are special to me for different reasons. I love all of the periods or themes we’ve attempted over the years. I’ve put something of me into almost all of our figures, sets, buildings and playsets.
I’m proud of the Roman War Galley because of the degree of difficulties in sculpting, producing and even figuring out the packaging for a beast that large. When we started making figures, I never could have imagined making a warship like that in 1/32 scale…and with 48 rowers below decks. I have similar feelings for our Viking Ships.
Our LCVP and LCM3 landing craft are really special because the majority of the these went to the National WW2 museum where they were sold and made $$ to help support the wonderful work they do commemorating America’s role in saving the world. The same with our ACW plastic sales; some $$$ from those was donated to the Museum of the Confederacy and other Civil War sites.
The Vikings is my favorite movie and Spartacus is the film that means the most to me. Getting to produce sets based on these with the permission and enthusiasm of my number 1 childhood hero, Mr. Kirk Douglas, has been a real honor and privilege. Our corporate logo is based upon ‘The Great Snake’ design used in The Vikings. The first piece of our stationery (with the logo) was sent to Mr. D as a thank you. I’m hoping to get some additional poses done.
Sets based upon The Vikings, Zulu, The War Lord, Beau Geste and the Alamo are special because of private memories involving my grandfather. With regard to Zulu, Sir Stanley Baker was very kind to me starting when I was about 10 years old and cemented my love for Zulu & Colonial Wars in general. In adult life I had the privilege of being able to discuss The War Lord with Mr. Charlton Heston and really enjoyed his stories about the film.
All of our character figures (both historical and film)have been attempts to pay tribute to the actual historical person and/or actor who made an impression upon me. I’m glad we had the opportunity and I think we’ve generally succeeded.
Casualty sets, sets with a lot of action or emotion , hand to hand sets are ALL amongst the favorites because they were our attempt to pay tribute to the common soldiers, the enlisted men , the patriots and the conscripts of history. Showing or depicting the horror and misery of war was important to me. The sacrifices of Those who’ve come before us needs to be remembered.
Warhorse Miniatures: Why after all these years of being absent have you returned?
Richard Conte: Hi Michael, it is nice to hear from you. Thank you for the kind words. Yes, we are back and doing our best to ‘gear up again’. By the way, the new website you mentioned is a work in progress and is by no means complete. Lots of sets are not posted yet; we hope to add a little each day as time permits.
I’ve ‘returned’ for a number of reasons : (a) because I love the toy soldier hobby and want to continue trying to contribute to it; (b) there are several ranges or series that I was in the ‘middle of’ when the various distractions sidetracked me..unfinished business if you like; (c) there are several projects which I am very fond of which were in their infancy or had not even been announced which I’d like to attempt. A couple of these are special to me personally (and I hope they will be to other collectors).; (d) I feel as though I let down many collectors of the Conte product who were awaiting the arrival of sets which we had shown photos of; and (e) because I enjoy bringing to life figures and sets for fellow collectors who have been so supportive of our Labor of Love all these years….
Many people don’t realize that sculpting continued , unabated, during my hiatus and that we have around 300 sculpts complete which have not yet been produced. Even when things looked darkest, I wanted to believe that I’d one day be making soldiers again. Besides, I felt obligated to keep my best sculptor working.
Warhorse Miniatures: It looks like your restocking old sets and have previews of new sets to come. Any timeline on when the new products will arrive?
Richard Conte: Production of new sets is my #1 priority. I’d also like to do new production runs of some of our older, sold out sets which collectors continually ask for. Since I’ve been sidelined from production, we have quite a backlog of new product and we have a lot of decisions to make regarding what sets we work on first. Just a day or so ago, I posted on Facebook the names and numbers of 11 new sets which were sent to the factory for production. These were Zulu War and North West Frontier. The second wave heading to the factory are primarily Vikings, Normans and some Civil War. And I’m at last sending the Robin Hood ‘duel’ in.
As to timing, I’m reluctant to post dates because there are so many factors that can affect when new sets can actually be in the hands of collectors. It usually takes 4 months or longer from the moment a factory receives our paint and mold masters. Sometimes painting errors happen and delays result. Decades ago I sent a Kirk Douglas as Spartacus figure for production. It took almost 7 months to be able to sell him because the factory kept filling in his trademark chin cleft!!!!!!!!
The other factor which will affect delivery schedule is that of collector response to and interest in our offerings. I know that the ‘market’ has declined in the past 5 years as collectors have aged and prices of figures have gone up. One needs only to look at the many companies who have either ceased to exist or have otherwise slowed release of new product.
The initial response to our new website and to the announcement that we are back in action has been very positive with a few exceptions. I very much appreciate the response and the kind words received from many and we will try to not disappoint them. Time will tell how collectors react to our new offerings. The better the response, the more quickly we can make other sets….
Warhorse Miniatures: The new sculpts are impressive, can you tell us more about them?
Richard Conte: Thank you . I actually think (immodestly) that our new & as of yet unproduced figures are probably the best we’ve attempted thus far. I’ve been blessed to have some of the most gifted sculptors working with me. I am very proud of all sorts of the hand to hand sets. These are especially complex to sculpt and produce.
We also have quite a few multiple figure sets where the figures are part of a diorama terrain base like our upcoming Roman catapult which is something like 9 figures on 2 separate bases plus catapult, tree, accessories, etc….. As simple as it seems, getting the figure bases to exactly match the spaces for them on the terrain base is an ongoing quality control issue.
Warhorse Miniatures: So I noticed that most of your items for sale are painted metal sets, plans for plastics sets?
Richard Conte: I have posted an update about plastic figures on our web page in the blog section which I think gives the most honest assessment of where my thinking is at as of today. Summarized, we are looking into costs of new molds and new production & also researching what new production runs of already existing plastic sets might cost. I’ve also started considering different types of materials for the actual soldiers themselves. It’s too early to be able to give any firm answers on whether the plastic will be like that we used on our American Airborne or more like what was used on our GI’s..
Prices and methods have changed dramatically since I made my Spartans and I need to reeducate myself before coming to any conclusions. I’m also evaluating what sorts of ‘dumbing down’ of our sculpts will be necessary in order to realize a mold making cost which we can afford. Said another way, I don’t see us making any 12-14 separate part figures like our poseable Spartans because the market just won’t support the costs. I hate sacrificing any of the detail or implied motion/action of our sculpts but realize that trade offs will need to be made.
I love plastic figures(as well as painted metal) like many others do. There is something visually or artistically beautiful about a single colored toy soldier where the detail can really be seen as it is. The best I can say is that I’d like and hope to make new plastic. I encourage all plastics guys to support the folks who are making plastic like LOD, TSSD, Paragon, Plastic Platoon, etc……Most collectors have no idea what goes into producing a completed set of plastic figures. It’s an expensive, time consuming and sometimes worrying & thankless project.
Warhorse Miniatures: If you have plans for the plastic sets. Are you going to use the same material or something new?
Richard Conte: The jury is out on this one. I don’t know. Some collectors love the ‘rubbery’ plastic we used on the Zulu War, Alamo defenders, Foreign Legion, Germans, Brit Paras, Us Airborne and Medieval. Others who paint the figs, don’t like and complain of bendable bayonets and swords being a problem with paint flaking…
The harder plastic we used on the Mexican Army, Civil War, WW2 GI/s and the Spartans has it’s fans and detractors. It seems there are two schools of thought on which type of plastic we should use. Can’t please everyone…
New materials (new to our product) will be considered and only time will tell .
Warhorse Miniatures: I see some new product themes in the pipeline. Do you have any information on these?
Richard Conte: Several new ranges or series are in the pipeline. The Tombstone figures , the French Foreign Legion, medieval Scots, Woodland Indians , etc. are all in varying stages. As excited as I am by some of the new ranges, first efforts are being directed towards major additions to our Zulu War, NWF, ACW, Roman and Viking ranges. I was mid stream on a number of these themes when things got interrupted. I also have some Revolutionary War, WW2 and Spartan sets which I’d like to add to those ranges in due course.
Warhorse Miniatures: Thanks Richard, this is going to be my last question. What are your future plans and would you like to share anything else with us?
Richard Conte: Thank you for the interest and in spreading the word that we are back in action. Jokingly, I’d like to share the expense of the sculpting, the mold making, the product itself with you!
Future plans are to gradually gear back up and to release some toy soldiers which hopefully do us proud and more importantly, please our fellow collectors. Most people seem to think we are some large toy soldier company with endless resources and loads of employees and they don’t understand the delays or why a phone call is not answered immediately . We are trying to keep costs down so that we can keep prices as low as we can to collectors. People often don’t know that I started Conteco as a frustrated collector who could not find what he wanted from the big corporate soldier makers; namely, hand to hand action, casualties, poses that showed raw emotion and tremendous implied motion/action, and character likenesses which actually looked like the characters they were supposed to portray.
Lastly, I’d ask people to take the vile & specious negative attacks directed against me personally or the company with a grain of salt. Sadly, there are a number of disgruntled collectors, dealers we’ve parted with, competing companies (who would rather see us out of the market and not pulling collector money away from them) and a few others who for whatever reason have an ‘axe to grind’ who perpetually criticize anything we ever announce or post. A number of the usual ‘naysayers’ and Conte bashers have gone extremely far ‘out on a limb’ and are telling people that I am a liar, a huckster and that no new product will ever be released …..
Toy soldiers should be a positive thing. A source of enjoyment. I’m doing my best to return and to unleash some exciting new designs. Thanks to all the collectors for their past and current support.
Hail Einar !