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This box of toy soldiers and scenery props made of pewter in Germany in 1906, by Georg Spenkuch, portrays the Russian Japanese war, the first war won by an Asian power, Japan, against a European power, Russia, in the modern period. In their original box, and still in excellent condition, the toys travelled with their owner all his life, mostly spent in the Pacific and Indonesia, surviving both World Wars (the donor spent part of the Second World War in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia)...
Toy soldiers with packaging, Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), hand painted pewter / cardboard, made by Georg Spenkuch, Nuremberg, Germany, 1906
Box containing a sheet of cardboard, pasted with a blue-grey paper covering, and small slits to hold 33 flat model soldiers, 12 scenery items and 3 battleships. The Russian soldiers are attached to the left hand side of the sheet and the Japanese are on the right in action positions. The soldiers are painted appropriately on both sides, while the larger pieces of scenery are painted only on one side. There are three battle ships, one Russian and two Japanese, with one mounted officer, one flag bearer and one stretcher case per army. At the centre of the sheet is a cottage flanked by two fruit trees, and other assorted props. The figures are designed to be positioned on a flat surface in play.
The box is cardboard and is covered in brown wrapping paper with a large coloured label in the centre of the lid which reads: 'Extrafeine massive Zinnfiguren' (in German); 'Figures d'etain superfine' (in French); and 'Superfine solid Pewter Figures'. The manufacturer's logo, featuring a 'bursting bomb', is at the lower centre of the label. The box is complete except for two missing edges and still contains the original straw packing material on which the soldiers rest, now coloured brown with age.
Inscribed on base of box, in biro, 'GEKOCHT IN ZUTPHEN OMSTREEKS 1906 / VOOR / ANDRIES ten PAS [name underlined] (1893-1957) / (BOUGHT IN ZUTPHEN, HOLLAND, 1906 FOR)'. Manufacturer's trademark, printed at lower centre of label on lid, 'Schutzmarke Trademark', 'GS', and a 'bursting bomb' within in a diamond.
Made by Georg Spenkuch in Nuremberg, Germany in 1906.
The Georg Spenkuch company was founded in 1854 as Nuremberg Compositionsfigurenfabrik, and became known as Georg Spenkuch from 1880. Georg died in 1891 and the company was sold to Wilhelm Schwartz, who continued to use the name and label. In 1882 and 1883 the company won medals at exhibitions and won more in the 1890s. In 1894 Schwartz developed the trademark 'bursting bomb' which, along with the letters 'G S', is featured on this box, with reproductions of the medals won at exhibitions. The company made well over ten thousand different figures, 'soldiers of all armies of all military states, historical battles, and figures such as farms, hunting, circuses, fairs,' etc. In the 1930s the company made figures of German soldiers, the SS, and other Nazi figures. It ceased operation in 1953.
Information taken from the website run by Bernhard J Schwarz, www.zinnfiguren-bleifiguren.com
Andries ten Pas was born in 1893 in the city of Zutphen in eastern Holland. The family owned a small haberdashery in Zutphen, living above the shop. Money was always short and his mother saved for some time to buy her son this box of pewter soldiers which became his greatest treasure. Having graduated from high school in 1912 and trained as a telegrapher in Germany in 1912 and 1913, he was sent to Micronesia as a telegraph operator in the Niederlaendische-Deutsche Telegraphgesellschaft. His first posting was at the major cable station that the company had built on the island of Yap as a transfer and relay station between Asia, the Americas and the Dutch East Indies. Following the Japanese occupation of Yap in 1914, ten Pas moved to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) for several years before returning to Holland and joining a Dutch trading company 'Internationale Handels en Crediet Vereniging Internatio' as a salesman.
In his new job, ten Pas worked in Japan, China, and again in the Dutch East Indies where he met Elisabeth de Lange, whom he married in 1925. In 1931, ten Pas lost his job due to the Great Depression and returned to Holland, but returned to the Dutch East Indies and the trading company the following year. In 1940 he retired and planned to move to Holland, but this proved unwise in the face of German invasion; he therefore remained in what seemed to be the much safer Dutch East Indies, but the Japanese invaded and occupied the territory in 1942. Andries spent the rest of the war in a Japanese concentration camp until 1945. Andrew tells of the traumatic period following his freedom and the miraculous survival of the soldiers:
"After Japan capitulated in August 1945 the camps were opened and many of the POW's returned home. In the beginning the Japanese kept control but before the first British and Dutch troops arrived the Indonesian Nationalists turned the country into utter chaos. Law and order completely broke down. Bands of young Indonesians (the 'Pemuda's' and 'Peloppors' roamed the country looting and killing all Blanda's (Europeans) were they could (The 'bersiap' period). We were forced to flee with what we could carry to a relatively safe area in Bandung were a small detachment of Gurkhas under British command protected an enclave in the city. When finally Dutch troops arrived in December law and order was restored and we could return to our house to find it rampaged and looted. In the debris inside the house we found this box of soldiers more or less intact which obviously had no interest for the looters."
Andries ten Pas worked for the Dutch colonial government until 1949 when he returned to Holland. After a brief return to Jakarta to work for the trading company, he finally retired to Holland in 1953 where he died in 1957. Andries took this box of toys with him in all his moves and they even survived the enforced separation during his incarceration. After his death the soldiers passed to his son Andrew.
The Russian Japanese war 1904-5 developed through the rivalry between Russia and Japan for dominance in Korea and Manchuria. Russian leadership was poor, its naval power old and decrepit and the Japanese were victorious on land and sea, forcing Russia to abandon its Far East dreams of expansion. Japan became the first Asian power of modern times to defeat a European power. The surprise Japanese attack on February 8 1904, which began the war, on the Russian naval squadron at Port Arthur (now Lu-shun) seems to foreshadow the attack on Pearl Harbour. The Japanese over-ran Korea, and finally defeated the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Tsushima Strait, near Pusan. This box of toys with its battle ship and two faster Japanese ships presumably in part represents that battle.
Vanessa Mack, curatorial volunteer. Taken in part from notes provided by the donor. Information on the manufacturer provided by Bernhard Schwarz on his website.