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I also recall from that late 90s HaT conversation(s), someone who had a "know" about that industry in the 60s and 70s. There was supposedly some experiments in the plastic formula during a certain time. I do find it odd that many sets of the same plastic color, of the same sets, were fine, while some became brittle (Old west and Ancient Britons in rust, Romans in grey, animals in cream). If you could attribute it to age that is one thing, but many of these sets were in "blue boxes" while the older "1st issue Litho" boxes were fine. And later ones were fine too. I feel there is no single "smoking gun" here. As I said, I have some ESCI ones that went brittle, they were the early flat plastic, not the shinier plastic in the mid 80s and beyond. So the formula may be a thing, as possibly exposure to light and/or storage. Although, all my figs are kept in the same space, but only some went brittle.
Looking in hind-sight our generation of toy soldiers collectors were lucky to have benfitted simply by chance from a couple of technological advances.
First, after WWII plastics became a manufacturing rage.. "Unbreakable" soft plastic toy soldiers appeared everywhere. Britains created the Swoppets ranges of unbreakables and swoppables in 1/32. Then Giant Plastics, Corp via Hong Kong copied them and everything else under the sun in 1/72 HO scale. Like Arlin says, those Giant figures simply don't ever break. And if you look hard enough, many of the original copies are very highly detailed copies. But unfortunately as a kid I wasn't independently wealthy and couldn't travel the world looking for them, so, ...
The next innovation was eBay and the internet. The parents of those kids who bought Giant figures and other toys I was unaware of at that time stored them in their attics until their kids left the nest. When eBay blossomed and those houses got sold, these figures showed up on eBay. Compared to today, the prices then were reasonable. And they were pretty plentiful. Again, how lucky could we be? I think I've got all I really care to have of those rare, hard to find figures.
And now, here we are today. Strelets is carrying on the tradition of "unbreakable" plastic toy soldiers, and in nice colors, too. And for us! Again, how lucky can we be? "Thank you, Strelets Team!"
First my sympathy to Mike . Well here are my thoughts on the armies to dust. Twice in the 70s there was an oil shortages this led not only to the cost of plastic rising but also great shortages. Plastic was recycled but as the company I was working for found out the plastic had to be washed to remove the release agent also some "cheap plastic pellets" we bought were low grade and full of impurities, The "oil" used had not been refined to a high standard. We also sold some very old waste plastic that we had classed as not to be recycled This I think could be part of the reason we now have these problems.
Thats very interesting JAH. That would indeed probably have had an impact as you say.
My experience was with a companys figures made in a rather soft, rubbery sort of plastic. At the time I used enamel paint, & they started to crumble barely a year after I painted them!! These figures were "modern day" so not involved in the 70s issues you mention. Whether or not something similar involving the oil content was at fault, I have no idea.
However, since painting some more of these same sets with the rubbery plastic, this time using acrylics, I have had no problems......not yet anyway!!!!