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A Few Small Men

Collectors Mount Furious Assaults to Accumulate Rare and Intricately Detailed Toy Miniatures
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99

(continued from page 4)

Though these chases were as exhilarating as any battlefield triumph, there was always an "enemy" that loomed on the horizon: lead rot. The collector's equivalent of Legionnaires' disease, lead rot is a scourge that inexplicably spreads from one soldier to another, leaving devastation in its wake. The rot becomes a dust that usually settles on the bases of pieces, making them decompose. Infected items generally give off a musty odor.

To defend against this contagion, Dubin has adopted a two-pronged strategy of sealing his carefully positioned soldiers in plexiglass cases. "I don't put my men too close together," he says. "That way it becomes more difficult for the oxidizing agent to spread."

Critical of Dubin's approach, Ehrlich feels "the best preventive medicine" is to keep soldiers in dry places where the air is continually circulating, because the rot runs rampant in damp climates. "Sealing soldiers behind glass or plastic only increases the chances of lead rot," he insists. "I never dusted them, or did anything else to protect my collection. Soldiers have to breathe, and besides, they are meant to be touched, to stand there, and to be themselves."

Moisture is not the only possible cause of lead rot, other collectors contend. James Hillestad, a Pennsylvania collector, dealer and founder of a toy soldier museum, warns, "Don't display figures in untreated oak cabinets, as tannic acids in the oak causes lead rot."

And, he adds, beware of "light figures with daylight fluores-cent bulbs, not halogen and incandescent bulbs, which give off damaging heat."

Whether it was Churchill lying on the floor with his beloved combatants, Czar Peter III relishing "baked" delights, or Louis Dubin gazing at Mignots to relieve the strain of his high-pressured world, enthusiasts are comrades-in-arms, ever bewitched by the evocative power of these miniatures. Here they're able to discover, if not the fountain of youth, at least a timelessness that keeps them far from childhood's end.

Edward Kiersh is a Florida-based writer who is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.

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