In 2008 the Lynchburg Museum acquired a large collection of toy soldiers from Mr. Buddy Schmidt. These are not the typical tin soldiers associated with the Christmas tale; these soldiers are made of lead. Likely, the toy soldiers were produced by the Barclay Manufacturing Company, which was located in West Hoboken, New Jersey. Barclay became famous for its line of “Dimestore Doughboys,” several of which are pictured here. Reproductions may still be purchased from the Barclay website.[i]
The term “Dimestore” comes from the most common place a little boy could buy his toy soldiers – the “Five and Dime” store. The average price of the items in their bins was either a nickel or a dime. At its height, Barclay was manufacturing half a million toys a WEEK! [ii]
Signal Corpsmen with flags, carrier pigeons, radio, and antenna
Artilleryman with anti-aircraft gun
Artilleryman about to load a cannon shell
The name “Doughboy” is a nickname for American soldiers dating back to the nineteenth century and was used predominantly during World War I. The exact origin of the nickname is unknown. Several possibilities include: the American soldier's love of British "fried flour dumplings" while overseas in World War I, a slang term for their pale skin, and a name for a cook's apprentice.[iii]
Post-WWI replicas of the famous sculpture, The Spirit of the American Doughboy, by V.M. Viquesney, were purchased or commissioned by cities around the United States. [iv] Of course, Lynchburg has its own beloved Doughboy at the base of Monument Terrace.
Lynchburg's own Doughboy at "The Listening Post"
The first ‘five and dime’ was F.W. Woolworth’s, originally called the “Great Five Cent Store.” Children could buy marbles, embroidery kits, magnets, toy soldiers, and potato guns while mom could get notions and other cheap household items. Woolworth’s was also one of the first stores to allow customers to shop without the assistance of a sale clerk. [v] Other ‘five and dime’ chains included Ben Franklin, S.S. Kresge (K-Mart), and Walton’s Five and Dime (Wal-Mart). Lynchburg had a variety of five and dimes scattered throughout the downtown area. Other local stores such as Leggett’s, Guggenheimer’s, and Bragassa’s would have offered a selection of dimestore toys.
Gunner with machine gun
A selection of dimestore doughboys are currently on display, along with other vintage toys, on the third floor of the Lynchburg Museum at the Old Court House in Gifford Gallery. The Museum also has numerous issues of “Old Toy Soldier,” a collector’s magazine, generously donated to us by Mr. Roger Garfield.
Mess Hall potato peeler, cook, and food server
Eventually, the lead soldiers disappeared from the five and dimes, but not due to any health risks. By the 1960s, plastic toy soldiers were a cheaper, lighter alternative and soon filled the bins at variety stores.
Two litter bearers take a wounded comrade to a homemade hospital
[ii] Young, William H. and Young, Nancy K. 2007. The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing.
[v] http://www.woolworthsmuseum.co.uk/aboutwoolies.html, accessed 12/17/2013.