|These figures suffer from metal oxidation (lead rot), a condition exacerbated by high humidity and poor air circulation.|
Toy soldiers prefer an environment just like that preferred by those who collect them – an environment that is clean, of moderate temperature and humidity. Even though they are made of seemingly durable metal, they can be damaged by excessive humidity, high temperatures, and chemical reactions.
Unlike those who collect them, however, toy soldiers are subject to lead oxidization, more commonly referred to as “lead rot.” Impure metal mixes and the absence of a sealing primer sow the seed of the problem, which blossoms in a humid atmosphere. Lead rot is readily detected: the figures are pockmarked, with white flakes at their base. The flakes are actually metal residue – a figure with lead rot is literally decomposing before your eyes.
What can you do? First and foremost, reduce humidity. A dehumidifier will help and a humidity gauge will measure success – the optimum range is 40 to 60 percent.
The good news is that lead rot is seldom found in figures made after 1960. Better quality control of the metal mix and lower quantities of lead in the mix have contributed to this happy state of affairs. Another piece of good news – lead rot is not contagious. It will not spread from figure to figure.
Other dangers lurk, however.
If you need to keep your figures in storage, wrap them in lightweight paper, such as facial tissue, and place them in cardboard boxes in a dry area. Do not use plastic wrap, and do not put them in airtight containers – any trace of moisture will be sealed in with your figures.
In addition, do not put your figures directly into the foam cutouts that they may have arrived in.
Paint and foam both can contain petroleum products, and these can interact over time.
In fact, paint can transfer to the foam, and a once glossy figure can mysteriously develop a matte finish.
If you wish to use the original packaging, wrap the figure with a layer of tissue before inserting into the cavity.
You wil note that all the new Britains figures come wrapped in tissue.
Keep your collection as dust-free as possible.
Figures covered with dust look neglected, not attractive.
But cosmetics aside, dust is in itself harmful.
It is made up of many microscopic components, including pollutants such as sulfur and carbon.
Also, dust is hygroscopic – it absorbs and holds moisture from the air.
A dust-coated figure is therefore wrapped in a mantle of dampness, which can encourage corrosion.
For displaying your figures, avoid cases that hermetically seal in your figures. Lucite boxes, glass domes, and cases with tight-sealing hinged doors are not recommended for the same reasons you should not store your figures in airtight boxes. Choose a case with sliding glass doors. The small space between the doors where they meet and overlap allows good air circulation. You’ll never have to guess what the environment is within the case, since you’re sharing it.
Further, steer clear of cases made of unvarnished oak. Oak exudes tannic acid, which can cause lead rot. Oak is a popular wood for the so-called barrister bookcases – glass-fronted bookcases which were popular at the turn of the last century as well as in reproductions today. Many old figures have been lost this way.
If you can’t see your figures, you’re missing a great deal of enjoyment. If you display your figures in a case (thus reducing dust and unwelcome handling!), there is only one choice for an interior light source – fluorescent tubes. Because they are cool, they will not damage the paint on your figures. Do everything possible to avoid halogen and incandescent bulbs. The heat they generate can damage the paint on figures, while simultaneously drying out the wood frame of your case, loosening glue joints and glass. For every 10 watts of energy halogen lamps consume, for example, they produce just one watt of visible light and nine watts of pure heat.
In selecting fluorescent bulbs, instead of the garden-variety “cool white,” try to obtain “daylight color spectrum” sometimes referred to as “designer lights.” These more closely duplicate the colors of sunlight and enhance reds and blues instead of subduing them.
Two final thoughts on preserving and caring for your figures. Never leave figures in the trunk of your car on a sunny day. When you get home, you may find that they bear little resemblance to the ones you put in there after you left the show or shop. Finally, don’t worry about handling your figures. The oils on your hands are good for them. And handling your figures is good for you. Have fun!