Toy soldier company ships items around the world
BLACKMAN TOWNSHIP — Frank Nefzger was given his first toy solider at 5 years old — a gift from his grandfather.
He would cast the miniatures himself, giving the final product to his grandkids. None of them showed much interest after the novelty wore off. None, except for Nefzger.
Toy soldiers combined Nefzger’s passion for history and craftsmanship, and the hobby was passed to a new generation. He now has 150,000 pieces in his personal collection, the Jackson Citizen Patriot reported.
“He loved the manufacturing portion of it — the casting, he liked that,” Nefzger said of his grandfather. “He did paint some, himself. But mostly, he liked to make other people happy. Like a regular granddad.”
Nefzger, 51, now owns Battleguard Ready and New Hope Design, making and selling toy soldiers. He casts the figures in a shed outside his Blackman Township home and ships them all over the world.
Nefzger started painting as a kid, building toy soldier dioramas for customers by the time he hit high school.
“I liked to spend more time painting than doing homework,” Frank Nefzger said.
He won’t admit it, but Frank Nefzger still has a knack for the precise painting needed to color the 54-millimeter figures, his wife Ellen Nefzger said.
The passion first ballooned into Battleguard Ready, a side business for painting and selling toy soldiers Frank Nefzger started when living in western Illinois. The Nefzgers bought the toy soldier business New Hope Design in 2017, moving the operation from England to Blackman Township.
Frank Nefzger grew up in eastern Iowa and has hopped around the country, moving to Michigan for a job in 2017. He spent his career as an IT engineer, although his most recent project has ended.
With molds from New Hope Design, Nefzger has more than 1,350 castings for toy soldiers with details about each figure. Some are specific people, like Gen. George Patton. Others are based on the country and time period, like a Philistine heavy infantryman from the 20th dynasty of Egypt.
Nefzger makes the pieces and ships them off to customers — most cost $29.99 without a base, $39.99 with a base. The customers put them together and paint them before displaying.
To make the soldiers, Nefzger ladles 700-degree liquid metal into a spin caster for 30 to 120 seconds. The centrifugal force of the spinning pushes the liquid out into the mold, where it hardens.
He often spends eight to 12 hours a day in the shed, methodically crafting the miniatures — tossing the imperfect ones without a second thought back into the hot liquid metal and starting over.
Collectors often set up vignettes, showing historically-accurate soldiers together in battle, Nefzger said. He has molds for toy soldiers from 3000 B.C. to pieces from the war in Afghanistan.
“So pretty much everything in the scope of human history that’s military,” Nefzger said.
The most popular piece isn’t a soldier, however — it’s an already-put-together astronaut. Another popular piece is the miniature of Adolf Hitler.
“I think the thing is, they love to hate him. That’s the thing, right?” Nefzger said. “You have to have the guy you love the most and you hate the most. You put them together.”
Customers can buy Nefzger’s toy soldiers online, there’s no retail space for the business. He sells about 100 per month, although sales are improving, he said.
Nefzger is building an office so the operation can be moved out of his living room. He also wants a place to display his personal collection. The Civil War toy soldiers given to him from his grandpa are still the most prized.
“This is really where my heart is at,” Nefzger said. “I’d just like to get up in the morning and cast some miniatures.”