THE solid cast metal figures produced by Georg Heyde in Dresden from 1872 until the Second World War can lack the detail and proportion of the best lead miniatures, but they are celebrated for the imaginative and animated uses to which Heyde put them.
In his hands, ordinary marching and firing figures became
ceremonial parades of Roman soldiers, armies of mounted elephants,
galloping foxhunts and teams of sportsmen.
While he made only modest inroads in his own country - in Germany
the 'flat' soldier was king - he had great success in the
international market, particularly Britain and the USA.
Likely among his UK exports was the rare group of figures
depicting a team of polar explorers offered for sale by Lewes toy
and militaria auctioneers Wallis & Wallis on August 31.
This unboxed set comprised a ship, the Nimrod, three tents, three
sleds containing provisions, nine huskies, three
icebergs/snowhills, two Union flags, a team of ponies and nine
penguins. The exact number of components as sold by Heyde is
unknown, but here there were also 11 figures including the
exhibition leader modelled with his arm raised aloft.
While the auctioneers were under the impression that this rare
group represented the protagonists of Scott's Antarctic Expedition
of 1912, the name of the ship will have suggested otherwise to
those familiar with the history of Polar exploration.
Some time before his ill-fated, but heroic, Endurance expedition
to Antarctica in 1914-1917, and following the Discovery expedition
he undertook under Robert Scott in 1902, Ernest Shackleton had led
his first expedition to the continent in 1907-1909. His ship was
the aging sealer Nimrod.
In addition to a motor car especially adapted for Polar
conditions, Shackleton had brought ponies for transport, but - in
addition to the injury to meteorologist Jameson Adams on the first
day - they became weak in temperatures consistently below minus 20
degrees centigrade. The weakest pony was shot on November 21 to aid
the short rations and two more had to be sacrificed soon after the
party passed the point (480 miles from the Pole) reached by Scott
and Shackleton in 1902.
Christmas was celebrated with plum pudding, brandy, cigars and a
spoonful of crème de menthe, but on January 9, with the blizzards
against them on a polar plateau at an altitude of 10,200 feet, they
reached their furthest south point just 97 miles from the Pole. A
flag was planted and photographs taken, they turned around and
began to head for home. "I thought, dear, that you would rather
have a live ass than a dead lion," Sir Ernest Shackleton wrote to
his wife Emily. In total they walked 1700 miles.
Such a story made the Nimrod Expedition a more than suitable topic
for a young boy's playroom, but evidently very few of the sets were
Knowledgeable clients viewing the sale at the West Street Auction
Rooms guessed it was worth in the region of £1500 (the estimate was
£600-1000), but no one could remember the last time a set of this
magnitude (and in this all-original condition) had come up for
auction. A bidding battle ensued between a postal bidder and room
bidders before a new paddle (a dealer possibly acting for a German
collector) came in at the last moment with a winning £4100 (plus 15
per cent buyer's premium).
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