A Honeymoon In London Ends With Toy Soldiers
May 10th, 1992 seemed like an ordinary day for Alan McGhee and his new bride. They had just completed their two week honeymoon in London and Scotland, and now were preparing to fly home. They’d arrived ten hours before their departing flight so they weren’t sure what to do. The newlyweds were tired and checked into a hotel to rest, but decided they couldn’t spend their last hours overseas in a tiny hotel room. They took one final walk toward town which proved to be life changing for Alan. “We were walking down the sidewalk and off to our right we spotted a small flea market so we decided to stop to take a look around.” said Alan. “My eyes were immediately drawn to something that I just felt I needed to buy.” Little did he know that small purchase would turn his last day in London into the first day of a bigger journey. A journey that would guide him through the world of a brand new passion, learning every aspect of it, and building a collection of more than 10,000 pieces.
“I always had a high interest in military history and when I saw three small Made-in-England toy soldiers sitting in the middle of a table at that flea market, I immediately bought them and brought them back to my suitcase.” said McGhee. Just weeks later after returning home to Florida, Alan stumbled across an ad in his local newspaper inviting people to an event hosted by the South Florida Toy Soldiers Club. Alan assuredly attended that event and today is in his 22nd year as a member of a club that shares in his passions of painting and collecting toy soldiers. His collection has become a source of pride as he’s learned valuable lessons every step of the way in building it.
McGhee, who’s now retired after a career in law enforcement, spends many days sitting in his office painting toy soldiers. “The first thing I learned when I joined our club was how to paint,” Alan said. He took classes from other painters and learned to develop his own unique style. “I paint all of their faces a pale-peach and all of their hair black or brown which saves me a lot of time. I use my own creative style to make my own pieces. I really enjoy the art of creating something out of nothing,” said Alan. “To take a little chunk of melted and molded tin and create this tiny little 2 ½ inch toy soldier is pretty neat.” McGhee’s been able to add his own touch to his collection while developing a great reputation as a toy soldier painter. Often times, he’ll do paint jobs for other area collectors, many of which have had him completing up to 100 figures in only a couple days.
Learning to paint was a great starting point for Alan, but ultimately building his collection came from interacting with others and knowing what he’s looking for. Like many collectors who are first starting out, McGhee admits that shortly after he returned home from his honeymoon he started buying everything he could find relating to toy soldiers. His fellow club members stressed to him that he needed to narrow his search. “My collection had no theme and I was left with too many things that weren’t really connected so I learned to start focusing on certain periods and certain makers,” said Alan, “It really helped me put together a more concentrated collection. I turned my attention mostly to the American Civil War, American Revolutionary War and any Scottish military figures.”
While finding a theme for his collection finally gave Alan a direction, he also learned to be thorough with his research when it comes to buying collectibles. “There are a lot of toy soldiers that were made in a certain time period and then painted over which would decrease their value.” continued McGhee. “You have to do your homework, beware of replicas and try to buy from reputable collectors and companies.” Today Alan continues to add to his collection and quite often pays a little more for items if they’re being sold by reputable collectors.
Twenty three years have passed since that day in 1992 when Alan McGhee and his wife decided to take one last walk through the streets of London before catching their flight home. What they found at that flea market felt like an ordinary gift at the time but in actuality, like their marriage, it was the start of a new bond between a man and his love. A love that has since taught him how to paint and how to build a massive collection of more than two decades worth of toy soldiers from around the world.