Solid & Hollowcast lead ( and other metals )
The production of toy soldiers and figures probably dates to the ancient world and our knowledge of Egyptian cultures suggests that they made toy figures. Commercially though it was far more recent that they became prominent usually being made of lead or tin in central europe . Flats , Semi Flats and solid figures.
Solid metal often used . Lead was the most common material used to make toy soldiers and figures. Germany and other european neighbours became productive during the 19th and early 20th Century but the earliest known commercial figures were produced in France around 1800 by Lucotte.
It was the English that really transformed things . In England prior to 1893 most toy soldiers were imported from mainland Europe then William Britain developed a method called Slush casting. Slush casting, a variant of permanent molding casting was used to create a hollow casting or hollowcast figure. In the process the material was poured into the mold and allowed to cool until a shell of material forms in the mold around the figure.
The remaining hot liquid was then poured out to leave a hollow shell. A number of techniques were used to achieve the final figure which was lighter and cheaper to make due to using less material than solid casting. Hollowcast figures are easy to identify as generally they have a small hole where the excess liquid was poured out and are of course much lighter. ( very light figures are probabably aluminium )
So this became the primary method used to make lead soldiers until its eventual demise in the 1960’s due to the concern about possible health issues with using lead for toys. Of course this was compounded by the arrival shortly after WW2 of major plastic figure production which was far cheaper and had completely eroded lead production by this time both in terms of popularity and cost. Plastic has been around since the 20’s but the innovations in machine tooling now made plastic production the material of choice.