The Museo de los Soldaditos de Plomo in Valencia, Spain holds the world's largest collection of toy soldiers and miniature figures. There are more than 85,000 of them on display in intricate dioramas and displays, and more than an million more in storage. Smithsonian's Derek Workman paid a visit and took beautiful photos inside. (Above, Brutus about to murder Julius Caesar. Below, British soldiers battle the French.) From Smithsonian:
(Museum director Alejandro) Noguera tells me that in 1941, his father received a set of toy Spanish soldiers from his father for his second birthday. That was the beginning of a vast private collection.
"I don't remember a holiday as a boy that didn't involve searching through shops and flea markets looking for toy soldiers," says Noguera. "But as well as my father's collection being a hobby, he also used it as instruction for myself and my brother and sister." Noguera remembers using the metal soldiers in war games on the tennis court and in the gardens of the family's country house as a small boy. "It was great fun," he says, "and we used Second World War armies, with rules about diplomacy and economy, but it was also my father's way to teach us about business, because if you know how to organize an army, you know how to organize a business, a library, almost anything."
Noguera takes me into the museum, where I admire displays of marching soldiers that bring back fond memories of sitting in front of the living room fire as a small boy, organizing battles and bombings, through which most of my soldiers ended up headless and armless within weeks. He says the original idea for the museum was simply to display his father's collection, but as he became more involved in the research behind both the making of the miniatures themselves and the stories they represented, he decided to take a different approach, thinking of a historic scene he'd like to present and then buying or commissioning the figures to create it. "My father thought that everything should be put on display, but apart from that being physically impossible because of the size of the collection, I thought it would be better to leave much more open space, and present the collection in a series of dioramas and large spectacular scenes, particularly the major battles."