Second Shot Toy Soldier Shop is owned and operated by Dimestore Artist John Greene. John has made a toy soldier company out of repairing, repainting and the conversion of original Dimestore toy soldiers and figures. His figures are destine to become some of the most sought after figures in the Dimestore hobby. The preparation, repairing and repainting is done to the highest standards and only the best quality materials are used. Although working with original castings, when John is finished, the figure is an original Second Shot.
Country Roads Magazine
"Toy Soldiers Never Die" by Ruth Laney, published May, 2010, in Country Roads Magazine, Baton Rouge, LA. www.countryroadsmag.com
Growing up in Watertown, Massachusetts, in the late 1950s, John Greene often engaged in sibling warfare with his younger brother. But no blood was spilled. They waged war with toy soldiers.
“Instead of beating each other up, we’d beat each other’s soldiers up,” recalls Greene, who now lives in Baton Rouge. “We shared a room, with beds on opposite sides. We’d make shoebox forts and throw the soldiers across the room.”
Greene and his brother saved their allowances to buy the lead soldiers, known as “dimestores” because they were sold at five-and-dime stores. “They cost ten cents apiece at Woolworth’s,” recalls Greene. “You’d take your allowance on Saturday morning and look through the bin of soldiers. Most weeks, you could only afford to buy one. It’s something every kid did.”
The soldiers they collected were known as “podfoots” because the stands were round discs, one per foot, instead of a continuous stand that encompassed both feet.
“They were all World War Two soldiers,” says Greene, noting that there wasn’t a lot of variety in the toys. “They had people who shot guns and people who marched. They had grenade throwers. There was one nurse and one soldier with his arm in a sling and maybe a bandage on his head.”
Greene, who moved to Baton Rouge in the early 1970s, forgot all about the soldiers until he went home for his mother’s funeral in 2002. He discovered that his brother had begun collecting toy soldiers, picking them up at garage sales.
“He had some dimestore podfoot soldiers like we used to play with as kids,” says Greene. “When I got home, I went on eBay to look for podfoot. I wanted to recapture a sense of the fun we had as children.”
Checking out the Lead Toy Soldiers category on eBay, Greene discovered that the dimestores now sold for much higher prices. “Back then, they sold for a nickel or dime apiece,” he says. “Today they can go for as much as five hundred dollars, depending on scarcity.”
As he bid on the tiny warriors, he soon found that it was not the World War II soldiers of his childhood he craved but those from World War I, which showed more variety and imagination.
“Those World War One soldiers put the podfoots to shame,” says Greene. “The World War Two soldiers, we played with were almost all shooters. There was maybe one nurse and one guy with his arm in a sling. But the World War One soldiers were eating, cooking food, digging ditches, taking photographs, writing letters. They had a pilot walking with a navigation instrument on his back, another with a spool of barbed wire on his back, another setting out phone lines. It was a broad variety of occupations. I just fell in love with them and started to collect them.”
Greene focused on three brands—Barclay, Grey Iron, and Manoil. “Some other brands are high priced because they are scarce,” says Greene.
The Barclay Manufacturing Company, founded in West Hoboken, New Jersey, was the biggest toy-soldier manufacturer in the country in the 1930s and early ‘40s. In 1942, the company halted production in order to begin defense work for the war.
Toy soldiers were generally made of lead or other alloys, but Grey Iron of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, made them of cast iron. Production began in 1933 and continued until the start of World War II, when the factory began to produce munitions.
Over time, Greene settled his focus on Manoil soldiers, made by a Manhattan company in the 1930s and 1940s. “Right from the start they looked fantastic,” he says. “I just prefer the look. The others seem too simplistic and stiff.
“They have a sculptural quality that I’m attracted to,” adds Greene, who studied painting and sculpture at LSU. “If they were life-size, people would be awed by their detail and craftsmanship.”
“The [prototypes for] Manoil soldiers were sculpted by Walter Baetz, a Mennonite from Canada. He refused to do enemy soldiers. No Japanese or German soldiers. He’d only do American soldiers.”
After collecting for about two years, Greene began buying imperfect soldiers, usually in lots, and putting them back together in different poses, a category he calls “conversions.” Then he would sell them on eBay, making sure to explain that they were recreations and not originals. He called his repaired and repainted figures Second Shot Toy Soldier Shop. “I tried to give these old soldiers a second shot at life, to make each one better than it was originally.”
Many soldiers came without their tin helmets, originally glued on or attached with a metal pin. So Greene created a category he called “magnetic-headed soldiers” to sell on eBay. “I put a little pill-shaped magnet into the head in a bed of epoxy,” he explains. “Then I added a new helmet. I bought these on eBay, too. Sometimes a guy would sell a lot consisting only of tin helmets.”
Greene, who has a woodworking shop at his Southdowns house, created a display case for his collection of about 1,100 lead soldiers by removing two windows in a former bedroom-cum-studio and creating two shallow cases with glass doors.
A skilled woodworker, he has done extensive remodeling on the 1952 house he shares with his wife Gwen. He filled in a floor-furnace space, added decorative moldings, built a woodworking shop and studio, and is currently adding a sunroom off the kitchen.
As he ripped off siding made of western red cedar, Greene saved it and is now making birdhouses with the wood. “This was a nice secondary use for it,” he says. Designed to look like churches, the birdhouses have an added touch—small soldiers standing sentry in the doorways to “protect” the churches.
Greene’s journey from Massachusetts to Louisiana is very much a story of the era. He laughs as he describes his pivotal year. “In August 1969, when I was nineteen, I went to Woodstock. By December, I was in the army. I enlisted, went in with a buddy.”
After one tour in Vietnam, he was discharged in 1972 and headed south with a friend from Alexandria, Louisiana. “I rode down with him in his VW bus painted with daisies,” he says. “That was my first introduction to love bugs.”
After working offshore for a couple of months, Greene went to Baton Rouge for a visit and met his future wife Gwen. “Our first date was to a Jeff Beck concert in New Orleans. She was going to LSU. I was twenty-two and had never gone to college. In 1974, I enrolled at LSU on the GI Bill.”
While studying painting, sculpture, and metal-working, Greene decided to switch to advertising design as a more practical major. After graduating he did a brief stint with Lamar Advertising then went to work as an illustrator at Root and Associates advertising firm. Within a year, he was made an art director there. In 1993, he left the firm to freelance, doing advertising work and also making custom furniture.
He also makes wooden boxes from such exotic woods as imbuya and Australian lacewood. “An interior designer asked me to make some for clients of his. He kept me busy for years. I also made cabinets and dresser drawers for him.”
With many outlets for his creativity, Greene still gets enthused over the humble toy soldier. “Mine are not high end, not in mint condition,” he says. “But they were in some child’s hand. That child is dead now. You pick up a soldier and you wonder, ‘Who was that child?’”
A writer based in Baton Rouge, Ruth Laney has written for national magazines. She can be reached at www.countryroadsmag.com