As federal cannon boom from the smoky ridge to the west, a rebel foot soldier darts through underbrush, scrambles over a fence and crouches warily behind a tree. Raising his rifle to fire, he takes a volley of grape-shot in the chest. Tumbling, tragically, from the coffee table, he lands on the floor among the pirate Legos and Play mobile knights.

Retrieved to fight another day, the otherwise admirable Southern infantryman is found to possess an unsettling flaw. His face has been gnawed away (by a farm dog last petted in 1961), a hideous abnormality which lowers him in the esteem of four-year-old Ned who has inherited the small gray infantryman from his dad.

Still worse (cynical papa notes with sarcasm), the Confederate rifleman will not command a tidy sum if put on the open market at one of the so-called toy shows now conducted at fairgrounds and convention centers. Evidently, the plastic Civil War soldiers of my boyhood have become—horrid word—”collectibles.” So, apparently, are figures of Davy Crockett, Johnny Tremain, and just about anybody who, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, had his own television show. (This cast of immortals, so help me, includes Fred Flintstone.)

There is something unsettling, perhaps unsettled, about a society that so readily turns the playthings of its immediate past into objects of unwarranted reverence—or, worse yet, campy condescension. It cannot speak well for the maturity of our adult males that they feel such need to revisit the outward and visible signs of their own innocence and amass them in collections.

Collecting, we have it on good authority, is a hobby. Hobbies are forms of recreation, and regular engagement in recreation has become one of the most solemn duties of what credentialed experts in such matters consider a healthy, well-adjusted life. As our society has taken recreation more and more seriously, however, it is rapidly losing all sense of play—and an appreciation for the proper role of playthings.

Children, happily, have not suffered such a loss, and grownups should leave well enough alone, for the good of the children as well as our society. Children only start “collections” at the encouragement of well-meaning, but perhaps misguided, adults, as evidence of baseball cards suggests. The baseball cards of true baseball fans are never in “mint condition” and have absolutely no market value. They are wrinkled and worn from heedless play and—to the adult way of thinking—worthless.

So it is with toy soldiers, which are now traded in like cattle futures. The speculators in such commodities are men in their 40’s, many of whom have children of their own. These tykes are no doubt forbidden to go anywhere near Daddy’s little treasures, lest they defile the sacred objects by unsupervised handling. Surely other children are shooed away simply to protect resale value.

Glenn Garvin in the Miami Herald reports that a 35-year-old Alamo playset goes for $1,000 these days. Comedian Robin Williams is said to have stockpiled 20,000 toy figures, some of which could easily be worth $75 a piece.

I hope I am not alone in my dismay at seeing Davy Crockett and his trusty sidekick Georgie Russell bought and sold like so many junk bonds. These are not, mind you, finely crafted metal soldiers of the sort cherished by sherry-saturated Lord Emsworths who live in musty English country houses and gabble endlessly about their exploits in the Crimea. Crudely crafted, mass-merchandised gobs of low-density polyethylene, they often were not even thoughtfully designed.

In the late 1950’s, Marx and Co., the leader in the field, “was so desperate to get an Alamo playset into stores that it didn’t even wait for its factories to start spitting out Mexican soldiers,” Garvin writes. “In an unparalleled act of historical revisionism, the first Alamo sets featured Texas against Indians.”

Marx practiced recycling well before the rest of us took up that noble cause. Pioneers who defended Fort Apache from the Indians “fought the Mexicans at the Alamo,” Garvin reports. “And the gray plastic Confederates in the Marx Civil War sets, when recast in blue, became George Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn.”

Such figures litter the battlefields of my own son’s room, where they are allowed to mix it up as their inheritor wishes, in a sort of military monster rally or Strong Man Contest. Dinosaurs from the Eisenhower Epoch (which followed the Cretaceous Period) are not barred from the competition—by meddlesome adults, anyway.

Ned, on his own, referees their dustups with a greater sense of historical nicety than the marketing department of Marx and Co. exhibited in its zeal to push product. Dinosaurs prey only on each other and never charge into the frozen wastes of the Pleistocene, much less attempt to breathe the mists of Avalon.

Father and son have recently added one competitor to these contests, a knight whose services are secured for $1.75 from an old-toy bazaar at the exhibition hall at our local fairgrounds. We wander about the hanger-like building, inspecting the tiny covered wagons, castles and other oddments until Ned asks, “Daddy, when does the toy show start?”

No doubt expecting a curtain to rise and Chuck E. Cheese-like robots to lipsync “Teddy Bear,” he seems not especially disappointed to learn that this gussied-up garage sale is the toy show. After a long last look in the cardboard box of mismatched figures in which we had found the knight, we make our way to the exit.

Before we leave, a tattooed refugee from a Biker Club in a stall displaying World Wrestling Federation “action figures,” calls Ned over and hands him a free trading card bearing the likeness of Randy “Macho Man” Savage. To Dad’s immense relief, Ned has no idea who “Macho Man” is and shows no interest in him whatsoever. Tonight, to celebrate, we watch “Swamp Fox.”