Tradition of London History

Tradtition of London Ltd.

For over 60 years, the name Tradition of London has been synonymous with everything to do with toy soldiers. Even today the little shop in the heart of London's exclusive Mayfair district, a stone's throw from the luxury hotels of Piccadilly and Park Lane, is still a magnet for collectors from around the world.

One man who has witnessed the changes, the shop was not always in Mayfair, the ups and downs, the changes of direction from manufacturer of toy soldiers and supplier of militaria, and fine prints to supplier and retailer of relatively inexpensive toy soldiers, exquisitely painted collectors pieces, and books is manager Steve Hare.

Steve has worked for the firm for over 30 years and he is a veritable mine of information, if he doesn't know about a given figure, print or old book, no matter the manufacturer or publisher, nobody does. Even before joining the firm, Steve was a collector of militaria, mostly Napoleonic, and today he has a fine, but diminishing collection as he judiciously parts with a piece now and then as he nears retirement.

Steve has overseen the shop and its contents, first under the original owner, the incomparable, but sadly deceased Roy Belmont-Maitland, and since 1988, under the new Swedish owners, Anders and Gunnar Lindström. Originally going under the name of Norman-Newton Ltd, in the 1960s Belmont-Maitland began publishing a new, for its day but still being copied today it was that groundbreaking, magazine under the title Tradition.

This was so successful that eventually it was decided to change the name of the business and the toy soldier range to Tradition as well. Over the years a veritable honours list of well-known names in the miniature figure sculpting and painting world has, at one time or another worked for Tradition, including the likes of Charles Stadden, his son Andrew Stadden, Edward Suren, Alan Caton, Marcus Hinton, David Grieve, Ian McKenzie, and many others.

Even yours truly spent some time painting toy soldiers for Tradition! However, two master makers stand out, first Charles Stadden and later David Scheinmann. It was David who introduced the toy soldier range that became the bedrock of the company’s success since the 1980’s. David recently retired but his figures soldier on and his legacy can be seen on the crowded shelves of the shop in Mayfair.

Over the years, the business has expanded and contracted. At one time there were two shops in Mayfair, one selling militaria and prints managed by David Johnson, the world-renowned expert and author on Napoleonic cavalry, and the other being the miniature figure outlet managed by Steve Hare. However, by the mid-80s the militaria business had become just about dried up says Steve Hare, In the sixties, militaria could be picked up relatively cheaply but as time went on it became increasingly difficult to find, especially at the prices we were prepared to pay so that we could make a profit while also allowing us to sell it on at prices our customers could afford. On top of that, large collections did not come on to the market that often and it was usually the case of having to wait until the owner died. Roy, as always, was astute enough to quit while he was ahead and concentrate on the growing miniature figure market.

That was Roy's strength, he instinctively knew when to get into the market and when to get out. Meanwhile, the little shop in Mayfair continues as before. Today, Tradition sells not only their products but also those of King & Country, the French CBG, and, of course, Britains, along with books from Osprey and Histoire & Collections.

A recent addition to the shop’s range is the hand-carved mahogany aircraft from Delta Bravo Models. These says Steve Hare, was surprisingly successful. After all, being known as a toy soldier shop, moving into aircraft was a calculated risk, but so far, so good.

Steve is not alone in the shop as there is another Steve working with him. Steve Taylor joined the firm around 16 years ago after working in the toy soldier department of the famous Regent Street toyshop, Hamleys. I asked him what periods were most popular among collectors. As always, he says, Napoleonics, both French and British! (It will be remembered that it was Tradition that pulled off the coup of landing the commission to produce toy soldier-style sets of Bernard Cornwell’s famous Sharpe series featuring all the well-known characters from the TV programmes. These have, and continue to be best sellers as the TV series has been shown around the world). However, added Steve, that said, British Colonial soldiers are very popular as well knights.

Turning to Steve Hare, I asked him if the recession had affected the business, especially as the American market, both as mail order and as visitors to the shop, has been particularly hit by the economic turndown. I cannot, in all honesty, say that we haven’t been affected. The Americans certainly haven’t been visiting Europe and London like they used to and so our takings from that area are certainly down, However, on the other hand, with the strength of the Euro, our neighbours on the Continent have been buying so, to a certain extent, they have taken up some of the slack.

It is times like this that I realise that being part of an old established company has its advantages because we have such a wide customer base that when one area goes down, invariably another area rises.

While I was thinking about a question to ask about how they both saw the future, as luck would have it the shop door opened and a gentleman and a young boy came in. It appeared that the lad wanted to start a collection of toy soldiers and was unsure what period he wanted to collect.

Anyway, after much discussion, opening of different bright red boxes, more discussion, he opted for a set of 17th Lancers from the Crimean War. The lad’s name, what a coincidence, was David Scheinmann! I couldn¹t believe it, he was no relation to David of Tradition fame. Then, I thought, what does a young boy want with toy soldiers? Well! Let’s face it, you lay a computer game out on a table and feel them, play with them, wonder about the history behind them. When it all comes down to basics, there’s nothing like a set of toy soldiers. There was the future of the toy soldier industry before me. What first held the attention of boys in the time of the pharaohs still holds the attention of bright young boys in today’s society. Long may it remain so.

On July 12, 2017