Well it is almost September and the Chicago Toy Soldier Show. One of the biggest plastic makers will not be there this year. If you have been collecting plastic toy soldiers over the last 20 years you probably heard of Toy Soldiers of San Diego or TSSD. When I first started looking for toy soldiers on the internet Nick was one of the first dealers that I found. I remember chatting with him about some hobby related topics and getting few things. He was very helpful.
I had stopped collecting for a bunch of years and TSSD started producing their own plastic figures. A bunch of years later I started collecting again. This was around the time their Plains Indian Sets were being produced. The have always been a favorite of mine.
Last year I was planning on setting up to do an interview with Nick & DeAnna, but waited when I heard that they were talking about selling their company. Recently after purchasing some items from them we set up an interview.
Hi. Nick & DeAnna. It has been a pleasure to purchase your products over the years. I hope that both of your a doing well.
Warhorse Miniatures: I remember purchasing some things from you before you started producing your own products. Can you tell us how you got started?
TSSD: Hello Mike.
I started collecting again, perhaps 25 plus years ago after seeing an ad in a civil war history magazine from “The Toy Soldier Company”. Then Conte Collectibles arrived on the scene. I had visited with Richard when he was still in Las Vegas. I was very impressed with what he had already done in the hobby and what he had planned to do.
I wished to design & manufacture figures at least as good as Conte Collectibles had already released. The two keys to our manufacturing success was the sculptor David Lea and Bill McMaster of BMC Toys. He introduced us to his Hong Kong connection for the manufacturing.
Warhorse Miniatures: You started producing plastic figures in the 1990’s. Your first sets were American Civil War figures. What was the main reason you started with this theme?
TSSD: DeAnna and I could not afford to “Lay an Egg” on our first attempt. So we went with something safe, the American Civil War. At the time, it seemed that the most popular historical period was the Civil War.
Warhorse Miniatures: You have produced figures from the Alamo, American Civil War, Cowboys & Indians, Romans & Barbarians, Vietnam War and World War II themes. If you were going to start making figures in new theme, what would that be?
TSSD: Perhaps World War One. There are so many different ways to go. WWI had everything from Cavalry to Tanks!
Warhorse Miniatures: It seems that the cost of producing plastic figures these days has really increased since when you first started. Can you give us your insight into this?
TSSD: It has been years since we first started manufacturing. I think it is logical to assume that all costs to produce new figure set would have increased by now. That being said, it still seems very reasonable to me. The key to keeping the costs down is to manufacture enough sets the first time out.
Warhorse Miniatures: My favorite sets that you produced were the American Indian sets. They are really great to paint too. What are some of your most favorite sets and why?
TSSD: I agree, David did a great job with the American Indians. I have always like the long coat winter Union Civil War Infantry. They are different from most other Civil War sets made by anyone. They came out very well and they also look great when painted.
Also our very first set the Civil War Confederates have always been some of my favorite figures. I remember when we first released set # 1 they were very well received. Collectors had really not seen anything like them at the time.
Warhorse Miniatures: Along the way you worked with Barzso Playsets and Paragon Scenics. Was there any other companies that you worked with or wanted to work with?
TSSD: It was really great teaming up with Ron Barzso on “The Road to Stalingrad” playset. It was a big hit!! Today if we were to make something new, I would like to team up with Ken Ciak the owner of LOD Enterprises. I like what he is doing and what he plans to do.
Warhorse Miniatures: What are some of your favorite things in your collection? And are you still collecting?
TSSD: My favorite TSSD set is Set # 1, the Civil War Confederates. The sculptor did an amazing job. I also named each figure pose, which people really enjoyed. To this day they still are a hit with collectors. Over 10,000 sets sold world wide!
I also really like some of our foam pieces. Most made by Gary Fournier in SoCal. The 12 pieces that we added to the “Conte Collectibles” Alamo are some of my favorites too. With the Conte pieces and the TSSD Alamo pieces & TSSD Chapel building. You can easily make a great looking Alamo diorama.
Today I mostly collect “King & Country” metal figures. Years ago we were also a metal dealer. I have some metal figure sets from K & C, Frontline, Conte, W. Britain and other older companies.
Warhorse Miniatures: If there was one more set of toys soldiers or a foam piece that you could make what would it be?
TSSD: I would like to do something different. Like “The Charge of the Light Brigade” or If money was no object a Massive “Picketts Charge” type of playset or similar!
Warhorse Miniatures: One of the reasons you retired was because of your health. How are you feeling these days?
TSSD: I’m doing ok. I had a stroke several years ago. Plus several other heath issues since then. I feel lucky to still be here and still a part of the hobby. My Amazing wife DeAnna has been through all of this with me as well, Unfortunately! DeAnna ran TSSD while I still had my real job and she learned the business. She has done a Great job.
Warhorse Miniatures: Your journey in this business has been an inspiration to me, the Cooks and to others. What advise would you give to any one thinking about trying start there own toy soldier company?
TSSD: I would say “Go For It!!” Make a good business plan and follow it. Find the best sculptor that you can. It all starts there. Visit with other toy soldier companies as well. I wish everyone working in the hobby and anyone wanting to manufacture all the Best & Good Luck.
Warhorse Miniatures: Thanks again for taken your time in answering the questions. Would you like to share anything with the collectors?
TSSD: I would like to Thank Everyone in this Great Hobby that helped us and supported us all these years. And I want to Thank my business partner & Wife who made all this possible! DeAnna has been the perfect “Toy Soldier Wife” and business partner!
Thank you everyone and keep on collecting!!
FORMERLY ‘TOY SOLDIERS OF SAN DIEGO
Well that concludes the interview. Thank you Nick & DeAnna for all everything you have done for the hobby. Now we will start with some news.
Ed Borris has acquired these original Barzso sculpts that were never made. He has plans to have them cast for a limited run mini set. These were supposed to go with the Bushy Run set Ed says.
I read on Stad’s page that X-Force is getting ready to release a medieval set again. Here are what look like some peasant militia. You can read more over here, Stad’s Stuff.
I recently got these Mars World War II Japanese Paratrooper from Kent of Toy Soldier HQ. You can check out his page over here, http://toysoldierhq.com/. He also sells on eBay, Kent on eBay. Mars is getting better with there sets. I would give them a B for this set. The grade of B is mainly for a missed opportunity of this set being so much better.
I like the subject matter and most of the poses they did chose. The main thing that I dislike is the scale of these figures. If they were just a little thicker, it would have been a great set. They do look good when you mix them in with Marx & MPC Japanese figures. MPC is there best match. Some of the Marx figures look ok mixed, some not that good. TSSD are bigger that these figures and Airfix are thicker. Like the Marx figures, the Airfix figures look ok with some poses and not that good with others.
Some of the figures look clean and some less. You can see what I am talking about by looking at the pictures. The weapons look better than the earlier Japanese set. For the price it is worth getting to add these figures to you vintage Banzai!!!
It has been a busy summer with work. I have picked up a few more figure sets and playsets the last couple of months. While writing this article I purchased the TSSD/Barzso “The Road To Stalingrad” playset, lol. In my next post I hope to have some pictures of the things that I have been getting. Plus a few more reviews of new or older products. That is it for now. Thank you for reading.
Around 2015 I started becoming more active in collecting toy soldiers again. I joined a few of the facebook groups and started this blog page. I also started attending the toy shows on a regular basis. After a while you start building some connections & friendships with other collectors. One of those collectors is named Ed Borris. He reminds me of Boris Todbringer from Warhammer. The Grizzly Leader of Middenheim who gave his eye defending his realm also known as Elector Count Boris Todbringer, Graf of Middenheim, Grand Duke of Middenland, Prince of Carroburg, Protector of the Drakwald, Warden of the Middle Mountains, Beloved of Ulric. They must have used Ed as inspiration.
Today I got a chance to sit down with the Infamous Ed Borris. If you have been collecting for a while you most likely have either heard of him, met him at a show or seen some of his custom conversions on the internet. He is famous for his Alamo conversions. He also has a some limited run figure sets made. Plus a custom designed figure of himself set in the Alamo theme. Which I am proud to say I own.
Hi Ed, I hope you are feeling better soon.
Warhorse Miniatures: I know that you are a collector of a lot of the Marx figures. Can you tell us about yourself and when did you start collecting?
Ed Borris:Well, I was born and raised in Chicago. I was hooked at an early age (with toy soldiers). What got me me hooked was my Alamo playset that I got for Christmas one year when I was 5. It was the large Alamo with 5 cannons, the cream and metallic blue Mexicans and the 45mm defender. I’ve been collecting off and on since then. I really got back into it in 2000 and slowly became a dealer/collector.
Warhorse Miniatures:I have seen some of your great conversions over the years. When did you start doing this?
Ed Borris:Back in 2000 I started gathering Alamo figures off of E-Bay. At first I bought all my conversions from Roger Ross and Gary Dutko. While I like their figures they didn’t necessarily cover the poses I wanted. So examined what they did and decided to try it myself. I made poses I felt I needed. One day a buddy came over and he saw my Alamo that I had set up in my basement at the time and some of my conversions. Well he really liked them and asked if he could buy some of them from me. I was reluctant, but I said why not and he bought 25 or 30 of my conversions. I thought if he liked them maybe other people would too. So I started making them, most of them unique. Unlike others I don’t do too many guys over and over or just do a lot of head swaps. The first time I went to a show and tried to sell my conversions I brought about 140 or so of them. Four or five guys bought 5 or 10 at a time. Then suddenly Craig Remington walked in took one look at them and said how much. I gave him the price and he said he’ll take them all. I’ve been churning them out ever since.
Warhorse Miniatures:I would think that you must have done thousands of conversions. Can you tell us about the process?
Ed Borris: There are few standard conversions that whoever converts does and I do them too. My process is, I think a pose up in my head or look at a picture from some book or magazine what pose I think I want to do. I then try to find the parts from my rather large pile of figures & parts to make the pose come alive so to speak. My actual process is fairly simple I don’t have a drill or a saw, I cut everything with an X-acto knife and use brush on crazy glue with straight pins to attach all the parts. I do use filler now and then, but often the glue and the paint can obscure the seam lines. Often when I’m trying to put together one of my visions I discover my idea won’t work, however the guy I end up with is better than my vision. (At the end of the interview we have a tutorial that Ed provided.)
Warhorse Miniatures:Last year you had a limited run set of Mexicans based from original Barzso sculpts. Do you have any other sets planned that you want to make?
Ed Borris:I do have one figure in the works that I found in a junk box, I made a couple slight changes and suggested a couple of more to Jason Pope who is going to make him up for me. It will be small run, very small.
Warhorse Miniatures:Besides your Alamo collection. What are some of your favorite things to collect?
Ed Borris:My only other real interest is Custer’s Last Stand. I also collect single figures that I find interesting, they can be from any era. Generally they are odd figures that you don’t often see or take notice of. The pose is what usually strikes me.
Warhorse Miniatures:Any funny stories that you would like to share with us from some of the shows?
Ed Borris:John Stengel and I were at a dealer party at Mad Dawgs in San Antonio. I got there late because my original flight got cancelled. By the time I got there most of the people were half in the bag. So I had some catching up to do. Anyway gradually everyone else cleared out except John and me. We were pretty toasted. We finally decided it was time to go and we suddenly realized we didn’t really know how to get back to the motel. I somehow managed to remember part of the way I walked there and we staggered back together to the motel.
Medieval figures by Valdemar Miniatures
Warhorse Miniatures: What do you think of the hobby these days? There was Marx and then nothing. Then companies like Barzso & Conte popped up. Do you have any insight about the hobby from the past to the present?
Ed Borris: Unfortunately I didn’t get involved at the height of the Marx heydays. I got back around 2000. I say the tail end of the higher prices, but the height of Conte & Barzso and the emergence of TSSD & Paragon. When I got interested again those newer companies were already in action. I think they were great for the hobby, they breathed new life into it and got more people involved. Not just old Marx collectors. The more the merrier I say. If the hobby was just old Marx items the hobby would had pretty much died out. Many people involved now have no interest in old Marx items and collect newer items.
Ed Borris’s Ron Barzso tribute figure made by Jason Pope
Conversions by Ed Borris
What is a conversion?
My definition would be the transformation of a figure into a new and different pose.
Why would someone convert a figure or figures?
No matter how many figures are produced on a subject or era, one can always imagine a pose or poses that are lacking for their needs. Most manufacturers of plastic figures and even metal figures generally only cover the most basic of poses even if it is a specialized set. Like perhaps a cannon crew. Someone may want a dead cannoneer draped over the cannon which may not have been produced. If someone truly desires that pose for their diorama, they would either need to make one themselves or pay someone to make one for them. While I convert different era’s my specialty is the Alamo. I find that casualty figures are lacking. It seems that when manufacturers are making figures that they shy away from these poses. They have a limited number of poses that they can produce in one set and they fill them standard poses. That’s what got me started in converting in the first place, trying to fill that void.
What process is involved in converting a figure?
⦁ Visualize the pose you want to end up with, this really the most important step,. You have to know what you want in the end before you can start. Do you want to produce someone being shot, dead, firing, charging, fighting hand to hand etc etc.
⦁ Consider what parts would be needed to transform the figure to the desired pose.
⦁ Locate the parts needed from other figures or other sources.
⦁ Verify that those parts from other figures are compatible with the original figure. There is often a difference in sizes in various figures even if produced by the same manufacturer. The parts could be too large or too small. There are differences in the way they are dressed to make them not compatible. For instance a figure in long sleeves cannot easily be matched with a figure with short sleeves or a figure from the Revolutionary War may not match up well with WWII Marine.
What tools are needed to convert a figure?
There are many tools that can be used, some people use small hand held saws, Dremels, drills, and soldering irons. These all have their uses and over time you can decide for your self what you need. I however believe in the KISS philosophy ( keep it simple stupid), I use the flowing tools:
X-acto knifes ( I use a large one for cutting and a smaller one for fine tuning)
Straight pins (they reinforce any parts you may add to the base figure)
A push pin (use to make the hole in which you insert the straight pin)
Glue (choose your favorite, I use brush on crazy glue)
Combination wire cutters/pliers (to push in the straight pin and cut the inserted pin down to size)
Bic Lighter (I use BIC you can use whatever you like if you choose to go this route. I use the lighter to heat up one of the X-actos to smooth out rough seams where you are attaching parts from different figures)
Paint (often the parts you may use may be different colors than the figure you are merging them with) I try to paint all figures to fit into the typical play set theme, where different armies are one color.
I will now go through a step by step of a simple conversion.
I use simple tools. Once you get comfortable making conversions you may find other tools not pictured will help you in your task. I have two X-acto knifes, glue, straight pins, push pin, combo pliers/wire cutter and a BIC lighter. The push pin is hidden by the glue.
I selected these two figures as I have done them many times before, instead of standing firing pose and an advancing pose, we will have a shooting pose advancing.
Cutting the figures
I am going to cut each of these figures at the waist. There is a clear division between the torso and the legs, it’s hard to make out in this photo, but I am going to make my cuts at this division.
Preparing the figure for pin insertion
When combining figures from different makers, you will often find that the plastic from one figure is of a harder type then the other. I always insert the pin in the harder plastic figure so it makes it easier to combine the figures later on. Since these figures are from the same maker, I selected the upper torso as there is more room to insert the pin without worrying about the pin protruding from the legs when I combine them. It is not necessary to completely insert the push pin, just insert if far enough so you will get a firm connection.
Inserting straight pin and cutting off the pins head
Use the combo pliers/wire cutter to push the pin into the figure, again don’t push the pin all the way in as you will want to use the pin to connect to the other part of the figure you are trying to make. Just push it in far enough so you will have a firm platform to combine the figures. After you have inserted the pin to your satisfaction, cut the head off the straight pin, you will want to leave enough pin sticking out so you can combine it with the other part or parts. The length you will leave protruding will vary depending on the parts you are combining. For example you would leave more pin when combing upper and lower torsos then you would for a hand or head.
Combining the parts
You are now ready to combine the two parts. Line up the parts and try to center them so they will combine as evenly as possible.
Now that you have it lined up, put some glue in between the two parts. I use a brush on Crazy Glue as this makes it easy to apply the glue where I want it. Once you have applied the glue push the parts together.
Hold the two parts together firmly and give the glue a chance to set up. You now have a new figure.
The only thing left to do is try to smooth out the seams between the two parts, I heat up the smaller X-acto knife and smooth out the junctions.
Now that you have a finished figure you can paint it if you wish, note the figures used in this conversion were the same color, that is not always the case. I paint all my Mexicans one color and the defenders another, so I have that clear distinction between opposing forces.
I would also advise to save your extra parts as they may come in handy later for making additional conversions.
Ed Borris & Plastic Toy Soldiers
I sometimes find myself asking why I collect plastic unpainted toy Soldiers. This requires me to take a close sometimes scary look at myself. So, I’m going to take you on a journey to my early years.
I grew up in Chicago in a predominately white lower to middle class neighborhood as an only child. We lived in the basement of a house owned by my grandparents. The dominant religion in my neighborhood was Catholic. The ethnic makeup was predominantly of Eastern European descent with a sprinkling of Irish and Italians. Although Chicago is a vast city our street only extended for one block,but that one block housed a lot of children.
One of the interesting facts about Chicago is that it averages about 84 days of sunshine a year and the winters can be rather snowy and cold. You may ask yourself what does this have to do with unpainted plastic toy soldiers? Well, due to the weather a lot of days are spent indoors.
What does a young child do to occupy himself on these days spent indoors? Different children do different things, some watch TV, but in those days we only had four channels to choose from, you can read, or the most popular, play with toys. Different kids had different tastes, so many would color, play with cars or build things with building blocks. My personal choice was generally unpainted plastic toy soldiers.
Why unpainted plastic toy soldiers? Well, they were readily available, almost every drugs tore or variety store carried them back then from one maker or another, they were cheap and for me they held my attention. I could set them up and have battles for hours at a time. There was a cool little variety store located a couple of blocks from where I lived called Darby’s. It was an old-fashioned store with wooden floors that sold just about everything. They had a candy counter and one half of an entire aisle devoted to toys with a counter made of wood portioned with glass forming bins containing all sorts of toy soldiers, plus rack bags galore. This store was a favorite of mine, so when my mother would announce she was going there I tried to always tag along and con her into buying me some toy soldiers as they were always my first choice. Back then there many different toy soldiers to choose from in the many bins in the toy aisle. Some contained painted metal, mostly Barclay pod feet type guys or unpainted plastic Marx 60mm figures, the ones that later became Warriors of the World. On most trips my con game was successful, I would choose the plastic figures that you got the most bang for your nickel or dime. Sometimes my dad would accompany us and he would usually buy me a Barclay metal figure. I guess he identified with metal toy soldiers and he probably thought they were more of a collectible item. I preferred the plastic guys, but who was I to complain?
Why do I prefer unpainted plastic? To me there is something simple yet elegant in an unpainted plastic figure, you can see the facial expressions of each figure. The lines in the clothing, the details of the weapon they hold plus the were usually advertised as unbreakable. Always a plus with rowdy young child.
Once I returned home, always an anxious time for me because I could hardly wait to tear open that bag and incorporate these newly purchase figures into one of my many battles. I had a sandbox in my yard and on those sunny days my toy soldiers would accompany me to the sandbox where I could dig trenches, make fox holes and give my battlefield a more realistic feel.
In my early days, I didn’t get boxed play sets, but rather just bagged or loose figures. That all changed with my 5th Christmas. On Christmas morning there was a rather large box under the tree. When I opened it there was a box that said Alamo on it. I waited anxiously as my father removed the large staples from the box so I could see what was inside. Inside there was a tin Alamo, bags of Mexicans & defenders, horses, cannons accessories and everything a kid could need to fight his own battle of the Alamo. My set had two bags of metallic blue Mexicans one bag of cream defenders. Then I had two bags of silver and one of tan defenders, there were 5 cannons , bags of accessories and horses. I was in awe and couldn’t wait to start my battle. Of course I had to wait for my dad to read the instructions and assemble all the tin pieces before I could begin the carnage. Funny thing after 67 years on this planet I can still remember that day as if it was yesterday, it was the first Christmas I remember and one I will never forget.
For the next four or five Christmases or birthdays I would receive a Marx play set every year and each one was greatly appreciated, some more than others. I would put a set on my want list every year, Battleground, The Artic Explorer and Cape Canaveral. But instead of the Marx sets I requested I’d get a substitute and although grateful, there was always a tinge of disappointment. Although in some instances I probably got more enjoyment out of some of these replacement sets than I would have from the Marx set I wanted.
Anyway, from the age of 5 to perhaps 14 unpainted plastic toy soldiers were a part of my life, when I wasn’t outside doing whatever it was that kids did back then I was inside playing with my toy soldiers. Of all the things that occupied my time, I enjoyed those times the best. I remember with sadness when my parents started commenting that I was getting to be too old for toy soldiers and maybe I should pass them on younger kids. I guess they could never grasp how I felt about my toy soldiers and all those things they meant to me, they were like friends to me. The day my mother finally made me give them away almost broke my heart, it was another one of those days I will remember forever. However, that day was a day of sadness and not joy.
Gradually I accepted that perhaps I was too old and maybe I should move on to other things. Whenever I would go over to a friends house and if he had a little brother playing with toy soldiers, I would always check them out. If I was at some store that sold toys, I would make it a point to sneak into that aisle to see what was being sold in the way of toy soldiers.
As I grew older, I moved on to other things and for the most part I was occupied with girls, sports , school and working. Toy soldiers were pretty much on that back burner, but I never fully forgot those good times I had with them. If I would go to some store that carried them I would always make it a point to check out what was new. While I would refrain from purchasing any it was more out of a sense I was too embarrassed to buy them, not that I didn’t want them.
Eventually I got married at a young age, too young really and I found myself disenchanted with my wife and basically bored with her. At this point I decided that I was of the age that I could become a hobbyist and build dioramas. That would be like playing with toy soldiers again, but not actually crawling on the floor and having battles. So I began buying them with the intent of making a diorama that depicted Waterloo. I would run off to the local hobby shop and buy boxes of Airfix 25mm figures, terrain pieces and other items to complete my diorama. When I wasn’t playing ball, working or out chasing women (yes, I was still married), I got to work on my diorama. I should point out that at this time I ventured into making conversions, they were somewhat crude. But conversions none the less. I would spend hours when not otherwise occupied setting up and gluing figure to my diorama base, then viewing the battlefield and rearranging them.
One day I got divorce. About a year later I got remarried. This event caused me to put my hobby on hold again as I now had what I thought was new purpose. This hiatus lasted 19 years. Once again I found myself getting a divorce after 17 years of marriage, I got custody of my two young daughters so after two years of learning to be a proper parent I discovered E-Bay. The first thing I searched for on E-Bay was you guessed it, unpainted plastic toy soldiers. My first purchase was a home made Alamo compound. Once again I was back in the hobby, now that I had an Alamo compound I needed figures to occupy it. I was off and running and haven’t looked back since.
Since that initial purchase I have bought many unpainted plastic toy soldiers and even revived my making of conversions. Eventually, I graduated into becoming a dealer and have remained one to the present time. What do I sell? Why of course unpainted plastic toy soldiers.