Military figures have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and have appeared in many cultures and eras. Tin soldiers were produced in Germany as early as the 1730s, by molding the metal between two pieces of slate. Toy soldiers became widespread during the 18th century, inspired by the military exploits of Frederick the Great. In 1893, William Britain revolutionized the production of toy soldiers by devising the method of hollow casting, making soldiers that were cheaper and lighter than their German counterparts.
In addition to Britains, there have been many other manufacturers of toy soldiers over the years. For example, John Hill and Company produced hollow cast lead figures in the same style and scale. Companies such as Elastolin and Lineol were well known for their composite figures made of glue and sawdust that included both military and civilian subjects. After 1950, rising production costs and concerns about lead poisoning led to the development of plastic toy soldiers.
One large historical producer in plastic was Louis Marx and Company, which produced both realistic soldiers but also historical collections of plastic men and women, including the "Presidents of the United States" collection, "Warriors of the World", "Generals of World War II", "Jesus and the Apostles", and figures from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Britains produced plastic figures under the brand names of Herald and Deetail. Also in England, the scale model company, Airfix produced a variety of high quality plastic sets, which were frequently painted by hobbyists. Many Airfix figures were imitated by other companies and reproduced as inexpensive, bagged plastic army men.
What's it worth? Take a look at this Lead Soldiers price guide: sold listings for a value indication.