“I get to feel like a magician at work every day!”

People of all ages get to experience the joy of toy making at Prince August Toy Soldier Factory.
People of all ages get to experience the joy of toy making at Prince August Toy Soldier Factory.

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This month, we chat to Michael O’Brien, who helps make magic happen every day while working in Europe’s only toy soldier factory.

The notion that if you find a job you love doing, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life is an ideal worth aspiring to many of us; an end goal somewhere far off in the distance.

It becomes a downright necessity, however, when your job is one that happens to take up six days of the week!

Such is the case for the dedicated team at Prince August Toy Soldier Factory, which is open for business Monday to Saturday year-round, with the exception of Christmas holidays and St Patrick’s Day.

Since 1976, the Cork-based factory has been making a name for itself amongst ‘hobby casters’ and toymaking enthusiasts of all ages nationwide. Not only do Prince August manufacture and sell their own beautiful signature range of miniature figures, but they also offer customers the chance to create their own entirely unique toys from scratch, either at home by using one of the company’s custom moulds, or under expert guidance at one of the toy factory’s workshops.

Media manager Michael O’Brien is one of the small team of eight people that keeps the Toy Soldier Factory up and running. He’s been working there for over two decades, and says one of his favourite parts of the job is how much joy their work can bring to people.

Michael O’Brien pictured in full toy soldier uniform ready to welcome eager visitors to the factory.

“When we do the workshops here at the factory, you can just see the happiness on people’s faces and the delight that they get from creating their own miniatures from scratch, or from painting and decorating miniatures after they’ve watched us making them.

“We’ve previously attended showcases such as Toys 4 Big Boys in Dublin, and people’s eyes would just light up when they’d watch what we were doing. I suppose people love it because it is just such a different experience from anything else you might see – we prepare the metal to create the toys right there in front of them, and the way the metal bar melts down before their eyes is like something out of the Terminator films! Then we pour it all into a mould and a few minutes later it’s set and you have your own beautiful miniature figure, like magic. I feel like I’m David Copperfield in a way!

“It’s almost like when you see someone whittling down a piece of wood, and they’re able to create amazing sculptures and figures just from that raw material. There’s something very impactful about those pieces – they’re not digitally composed or designed by an algorithm somewhere, it’s a human hand making these amazing creations.”

The sheer scale of what those human hands can create has blown Michael away time and time again, with some of Prince August’s own customers really pushing the boat out through their hobby casting. One creation that’s really stood out to him over the years is a depiction of the Battle of Waterloo, consisting entirely of hand-crafted toy soldiers.

The Battle of Waterloo, consisting of over 15,000 toy soldiers, is just one of the many amazing sights at the factory.

“For many years in our hall here we had a huge diorama of the Battle of Waterloo. It was a really impressive 8×4 meter diorama made by one of our customers, who’d built it up over eight years until it consisted of more than 15,000 figures! Those figures each had incredibly detailed and historically accurate uniforms hand-painted on to them too, so it was just unbelievable. So many people came to see it for themselves. It brought all sorts of groups to us, including kids, and some of them had never even heard of the Battle. It brought history to life in a way for those younger visitors, it was really great to see their fascination growing and to give them an understanding of the impact and the humanity of such wars, the fact that back then there’d be 12 year old boys being pulled into battle. It gives them an appreciation of the differences between then and now, and the ways that society has changed.”

While Michael and the wider team at the Toy Soldier Factory are all about embracing that change – they’d have to be, after all, having navigated the business through the Covid-19 pandemic, trading issues in the wake of Brexit, and multiple recessions – they’re also huge believers that some things should remain forever. The toy soldiers and moulds that they sell are so long-lasting, in fact, that they can be passed down from one generation to the next.

The factory’s miniature figures are all made from durable, eco-friendly materials.

“The figures people make at our workshops, or that they buy ready-made from us, are something that they can keep with them for the rest of their lives,” Michael shares. “I’ve often gotten in contact with people who are still using their grandparents’ moulds! For people who do generational mould making, they get to teach their kids something that they held precious when they were young. That’s very special.

“All our products are very eco-friendly. The rubber we use is mostly recycled rubber, which lasts a long time, and the metal we use can be remelted over and over again with minimal loss. So even if you make a mistake, you can just melt your figure down and start again! Or if you’ve painted a figure and then decided you don’t like the end result, you can just strip the paint off and try again. Not only is it more sustainable, as you can keep recreating figures that will never go out of style, but it allows a great degree of flexibility and helps with the creativity of people’s dioramas that they send in to us. The modifications that they make are just astounding. They’re not just replicating what we produce, they’re using our models as a starting point to create something special to them that they’ll always cherish.”

The joy of hobby casting can be passed down from generation to generation. Here’ Macroom Men’s Shed are captured making their own figures.

It’s not just customers who get huge variety from the factory either – Michael has managed to make a career out of working with toys there, one where no two days are ever the same!

“I’ve been working here for over 20 years. We’re a very close knit family here because we have all known each other for a very long time. We get on very well and it’s a very comfortable environment to work in. Everyone knows everybody’s little quirks.

“A typical day working here could involve anything from order processing to photography or any product redesign, I take care of that. I also look after our social media, so I’m regularly updating our TikTok and Facebook in addition to our Amazon and eBay and Etsy accounts, so we’re kept quite busy in all our various branches of retail!

“Then there are our customers who need special handling with their orders, who I’ve built a relationship with at this stage – perhaps they prefer to order over the phone or through email rather than through our website if they are retailers, so as we can facilitate special requests that don’t fit into the website’s normal B2C layout.

“I’m also regularly working with various legal teams regarding our copyright compliance – depending on the type of product, it could be The Lord of the Rings models, for example, I’d have to get those approved by Middle-earth Enterprises who own the rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. We try and get clearance for lots of other fun figures like those.

“We also try to supply to anywhere that An Post will legally go! There are countries we can’t get to unfortunately, due to the alloy nature of the material of our metal products, it can be difficult to scan those and pass through security, but we supply to America, Canada, much of Europe and Australia.”

To see if the Toy Soldier Factory can get order to you, or to learn more about their products, visit their website.


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