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Wednesday, December 17, 1997 Published at 11:32 GMT


Last Post for the Forbes Collection
image: [ La Garde Imperial (Lucotte) ]
La Garde Imperial (Lucotte)

Once they marched triumphantly across the battlefields of Gettysburg, Waterloo, Flanders and Normandy. Now the Last Post is sounding and they are being sold off to the highest bidder.

One of the world's biggest collections of toy soldiers, the Forbes Collection, is being auctioned by Christie's - half has already been sold in New York on December 11 and the remainder is going under the hammer in London on December 18.

All the New York regiments were sold, most at well above their expected price, for a total of nearly $600,000 which was triple the pre-sale estimate. The most valuable lot proved to be a British First World War Territorial Battalion of some 600 pieces by Britains, which went for $14,950 (9,061).

[ image: Malcolm Forbes]
Malcolm Forbes
The collection of some 60,000 figures belonged to multi-millionaire Malcolm Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, who died in 1990. He started buying toy soldiers on a whim when at an auction in the 1970s.

"A box of worse for wear US First World War Doughboys and another of sailors were offered," he once explained, "Back came fond recollections of the hours my brother and I spent parading and knocking down each other's toy troops ... and up went my hand."

A few days later, he found a market stall selling more soldiers and started talking to the owners about the possibilities. He eventually recruited the stallholders - Peter and Anne Johnson - to be the curators of his collection.

[ image: The Palais Mendoub]
The Palais Mendoub
From those small beginnings, a vast army was recruited. The collection was housed in Forbes magazine's Palais Mendoub in Tangier, Morocco, where it swiftly took over all the available space. In recent times, more than 100,000 people visited the collection every year.

[ image: 16th Lancers charge (Britains)]
16th Lancers charge (Britains)
It seems strange to break up such a collection, but that was a particular wish of Mr Forbes. He told his children that he wanted other people to have as much fun with the figures as he did, rather than have them tucked away in a museum for ever.

Some 10,000 figures, however, will remain permanently in barracks at the Forbes Galleries in New York.

[ image: Napoleonic Voltigeur (Mignot)]
Napoleonic Voltigeur (Mignot)
The collection includes figures from most of the world's great toy soldier makers - Britains; Heyde, Elastolin, Lineol and Haffner from Germany; Minot from France; Aymer and Castresana from Spain.

There are also more modern makers such as Blenheim, Potsdamer and Edward Suren.

The figures are mainly made from lead or a composite, and vary in scale from 8mm to 90mm. Those wishing to buy, however, must have reasonably deep pockets as the lots are expected to fetch between £80 and £7,000,

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