last update: 08.01.2017, 16:35
Composition FiguresLead soldiers are well known all over the world. Together with composition figures they were one of the favourite toys for boys in the 1920's and 30's. Christmas without some of these figures was nearly impossible. Nowadays Batman, He-Man & Co have replaced them in our kids' rooms (and I don't know which type of figures are more cruel). But these older figures are not forgotten. They just became old together with their owners and they became valuable collectable items. The picture on the right was taken around 1912 and the note on the backside says in German: "For your review, I just got these".
As much as tin soldiers are a well known item for most people, composition figures are mainly unknown and often lead to astonishing questions: "What kind of composition? Is it plastic?" Well, plastic is definitely wrong. The composition material is totally different from any kind of plastic we know today.
Manufacturing toys from composition was an already known technique in Germany around 1850. At this time dolls' heads were produced out of this materiel. The main ingredients of the composition were sawdust and glue made from animals. This was mixed together and the sticky material was pressed into forms. During the drying process the composition started deforming as an effect of the escaping water, which made up a high percentage of the composition material. This was a major disadvantage of the early composition material. Around 1900 the first manufacturers started experimenting with the recipes of the composition material in order to make toy soldiers. Some new chemicals (Kaolin, etc.) were mixed with the composition and finally the deforming could be reduced enough, so it was possible to mass produce figures out of composition.
During the production process the composition material was pressed into forms. In order to make the figures more stable pieces of wire were used in extended parts, like arms and legs. After the drying process the figure was taken out of its form and any surplus composition material was cut away. This procedure was followed by the detailed painting of each individual figure by hand.
The exact details of the composition recipes were kept secret during the 1920's and 30's by the individual manufacturers. This is the reason why most of these recipes are unknown in detail even today. However, it is well know that nearly all of the manufacturers had their own composition recipe which also changed over the years due to further development and to a shortage of basic materials during the world wars.
In the late 30's two of these many manufacturers became known world wide for their high quality figures: Hausser and Lineol. Hausser named its composition material Elastolin probably in order to distinguish them more from the well known and collected tin soldiers. Nowadays composition figures are quite often referred to as Elastolin figures, which is really only correct for figures produced by Hausser.
Die kleine Figur
Leinweber, Die Kleine Figur, p. 169ff.