FRONTLINE FIGURES, a Hong Kong based and registered company was founded and is run by two English professional architectural model makers, is well known world wide as a producer of first class toy figures of the highest quality and detail, which for the first ten years of its existence had the majority of its output absorbed into the American collecting scene.
Started in 1983, FRONTLINE FIGURES is the result of an intense interest by the two partners, Gerard Prime and Howard Swales in all things connected with the historic influences, and design of military uniforms, insignia, vehicles and equipment. All FRONTLINE FIGURES are 54mm high or 1/32rd scale. This is the standard scale for "toy soldiers"
From the early years of plastic kit construction that most enthusiast collectors experience, modification of standard boxed "bits" into one off individual models and scratch built items, the first tentative steps were taken into producing single specialist figures for entry into Society shows and the like.
Considerable success at this level, both in the UK and the Far East in the case of Howard, and for Gerard a change of life style and environment from the workshop of a major architectural practice in London, to the frenetic world of Hong Kong, lead to the possibility of producing, if only in small numbers and at odd free times from the main product of a new architectural model workshop, certain individual figures on a commercial basis. These figures supplied the needs of a small but avid band of collectors that existed in the Colony.
At first, the manufacturing capability was limited by the amount of time that could be spared from running the more important business of survival, and creating a successful and commercial architectural model making workshop and studio, no mean feat in the tough and competitive world of Hong Kong based professionals and traders.
A growing and expanding client base moved the workshop into the arena of design and prototype making resulting in models leaving the shop as diverse as steel ball bearing "Malteasers" for TV promotions to commercial presentations of an eight foot long banana, or a six foot long rugby boot!
Gradually, however, the "Soldiers advanced", and the purchase of a centrifuge casting system replaced hand drop casting, and a series of skilled painters replaced the enthusiastic but amateur painting of "Ex Pat" wives of friends brought the realisation that what had started out as a personal interest and hobby was fast turning into a "Hot Property" on the local scene in Hong Kong. Visiting UK and American friends were spreading the word about this little goldmine of excellence in the field of Toy Soldiers and figures, and it was realised by the two partners that the situation needed to be seriously thought about.
Some ten years ago, therefore, the first American agent was appointed, American toy and trade fairs attended, quantity production, casting, painting and quality control problems were addressed, and links into China with all its traditional craft skills, established.
FRONTLINE FIGURES was placed on an independent footing within the architectural and design studio and workshop company. Today, FRONTLINE FIGURES is a Company in its own right and is a company which is well known and proud of its reputation as a responsible and commercially sound concern, producing high quality products , run and wholly owned by "those Two Brits"
Production has now been centred in China for some eight years, drawing on the centuries old skills and knowledge of metal casting and creative porcelain and other painting at the smallest scale. Quality control, which is the hallmark of the company is carried out in China, Hong Kong and again in the UK, and the strict standards set by the Partners has to be seen to be appreciated, and even then hardly believed.
These standards are now recognised as to be a mark of such excellence that at the World Expo '93 Model Soldier Exposition held in Washington DC in the USA in July of that year, FRONTLINE FIGURES were judged to be such that they received overall first prize for commercially produced figures. Not bad for any Company, but an English run, Hong Kong based Company showing in America, WOW!!
In recognition of the now excellence of the product, the Partners felt that the time had come to "Go for it", and to make the range available to the UK and European collectors and therefore Mum and Dad Prime agreed to become the UK sole agents. To this end it was agreed that the venue for the launch of FRONTLINE FIGURES UK and the whole range of figures would be foe sale at the 4th December 1993 British Toy Soldier and Figure Show.
Subsequent to the launch of the range, it was soon realised that retail outlets and showrooms in the UK would be advantageous, and after much searching for suitable locations, in 1995, The Armoury of St James's in Piccadilly, London was appointed as the sole retail outlet for Southern England, an appointment that has proved to be mutually beneficial to both parties for the sale of the range.
`further Agents were subsequently appointed in the USA, to give a greater penetration into what has proved to be a huge market in what is, after all, the premier collecting country in the world. Agents in Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Spain were also appointed.
The FRONTLINE FIGURES range is continually being expanded, a typical example being the decision to concentrate on the Crimean War period, and to model the whole of the "Charge of the Light Brigade" and "The Thin Red Line" based on the classic painting by Gibbs, both ranges to include British, French and Russian Regiments, together with the Russian guns.
The increasing production runs required by the company has enabled the Partners to become more insistent on the quality of the product with the Chinese factory, and a new and more detailed casting and finely painted range of figures were produced for the introduction of the Connoisseur Range of Napoleonic mounted French Cavalry and English Infantry Regiments. These figures now show the detail of a shadowed 110 mm figurine in a 54mm toy soldier figure!
Another new breakthrough range employing the Connoisseur painting technique resulted in the launch of the Colonial Classics sets, the first in the series being 18th century Colonial Americans, concentrating on the Eastern seaboard These figures include for Architecturally correct coloured backgrounds to scale, with environmental accessories. These sets appeal to a wider audience than just the military enthusiast, something for the ladies to get interested in!
To summarise, in some 15 years or so FRONTLINE FIGURES has become a world renowned name, enthusiastically collected by people in many countries, and justly proud of the standards it has achieved and the acclaim it has received of "Probably the best commercial product of its type available". as has been stated by a number of well know authorities.
What will the next 15 years bring we wonder?
To date, Frontline Figures have produced in their 54mm range the following subjects:
In keeping with my 'occasional' reports on toy soldier producers, this time the spotlight turns on the Hong Kong based company, Frontline Figures.
There are two partners in Frontline Figures, Gerard E. Prime and Howard T. Swales, both British-born expatriates running Prime Models, an industnal model making compa- ny in Hong Kong. The company was started in 1982 and ranges from television commercials to engineering and architectural models. The first floor office is in Kennedy Street, a back street off a main road in Wanchai, located over a sheet metal shop and Tin Lung Motors, a very well known local car repair shop.
The office doubles as a model workshop, so there's often some- thing interesting to see such as a four-foot high model of a container crane, a six-foot long pea pod, or a seven-foot square model of a new airport terminal.
In 1984 Frontline Figures was started in a very small way with WWI air aces and generals being the first two sets of figures. With a first order of 150 sets of each from what has since turned into the company's US agent, it was thought that there might be something in the toy soldier industry.
The name Frontline Figures came from the fact that the company started with the 1914 parade dress range of figures and these were to be followed by WWI combat sets, but which have yet to be produced!
Following a slow start, contacts in China proved the possibility of fulfilling orders at a better rate. The Chinese operation had a history of making high quality plastic toys and then Gerard and Howard introduced them to metal casting and painting.
Currently there are up to 70 Chinese girls with better painting skills who have moved from the plastic toys to the soldier painting. The girls get better pay for the more complex work. All the girls have their own uniforms and the factory where they work is very airy and clean, apart from the casting area which, not unexpectedly, is hot and sticky.
Figures arrive from China on a weekly basis and are unpacked from their transit cartons, quality controlled and repacked into the now well-known Frontline Fig res green boxes. This operation is now carried out by Noemi and Emily, the wives of the two partners, indeed, customers and agents have passed comment on the new 'feminine touch' to the packing over the past few months.
TNC Enterprises, the company's American agent was appointed in 1985 with Mum and dad Prime as UK agents (Frontline Figures UK, 1 Holmsdale Close, Westcliff-on- Sea, Essex SS0 0QW, Tel: 01702 352060, Fax: 01702 431797) in 1993, then Prescott's Miniatures (USA) and the Armoury of St James's in 1994.
Frontline Figures 'flagship' range has to be The Crimean War series, which, with The Thin red Line and The Charge of The Light Brigade is progressing to the completion of the Battle of balaclava.
This series is followed by the Air Wars range, Colonials and Parade Dress Scottish. In the pipeline are the first of the Napoleonic figures, in the form of French heavy cavalry.
Certainly Frontline Figures, in the relativelv short time they have been producing figules with their often almost unbelievably high standards of sculpting, animation and painting, have made a dramatic impact on the toy soldier market. The future bodes well for them and as a result, for their many devotees and toy soldier collectors the world over.