One of the highlights of James Opie’s last major auction at C&T was this Britains set 72, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee souvenir set of Life Guards 1837 and 1897 in original compartmented un-numbered illustrated box. Estimated at £400-600, it hammered at £3800.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

For the first time since 2019, a hard copy catalogue was produced for a toy soldier sale by the Kent auction house. 

Not only that, however: this was the last auction major auction to be staged by James Opie, the world-renowned expert on the collecting field.


Toy soldier specialist James Opie.

Opie joined C&T as toy soldier specialist eight years ago from Bonhams (when it closed the Oxford collecting department), sourcing and cataloguing sales. After the March 2024 Toy Sale, which has now closed for toy soldier entries, he will be continuing to consult at C&T for toy soldiers and figures but will no longer be accepting consignments in London.

He said: “It is now 44 years since I started to catalogue toy soldiers. Not long after that, it was my privilege to present the collection of pioneer collector Len Richards for sale at Phillips. In those days all I had to do was to sort the soldiers into suitable lots, write out a description and estimate on NCR paper, put aside the highlight lots for photography and stack the rest, stickered in sequence, neatly in the storage space provided.

“Times have changed. Since the availability of computers and the internet, and the strictures of the Covid lockdown, international auctioneering has largely migrated online. This requires ever more detailed descriptions and photography for every lot.”

However, Opie added that it gave him “great pleasure” on the occasion of the sale of the John Ruddle Collection, “comparable in many respects to that of Len Richards”, to provide a “full colour ‘real’ catalogue with over a hundred illustrations”.


Also guided at £400-600 at C&T, a Britains set 1514 Corporation type ambulance in cream finish, square nose, white rubber tyres with driver, in original illustrated box, sold at £3100.

Experts signed up

C&T started auctions in 2013 and the recruitment of Opie – and his colleague Leigh Gotch – two years later was a major coup for the fledgling firm.

At the time Glen Chapman, who runs C&T with fellow dealer and militaria specialist Matthew Tredwen, said: “When it comes to toy soldiers, he is like a god really.”

Opie has nine books on the subject in publication. He trained as a military historian, and for many years was known to the 40,000 members of the Military and Aviation Book Society as their editor. After starting with Phillips he worked at Christie’s before moving to Bonhams.

He estimates that over his career he has examined “some three million toy soldiers and figures in preparing them to go under the hammer, and in every sale, especially in this one [John Ruddle], there have been examples I have never seen before. I feel I have perhaps had enough of the preparation work by now, but I shall never have had enough of the pleasure of setting out, admiring and sharing the toys themselves.”

Following the C&T March auction, for toy soldier enquiries the new contact will be the firm’s toy specialists Leigh Gotch and Glen Chapman.