Though his father never liked to talk about his battlefield experiences, the Tiffin television set often screened cinema’s great war classics, affording the growing boy ample opportunity to brush up on military basics. “[My father] loved his war movies and I got to know a lot about the history that way,” Mr. Tiffin says.
But after a decade of careful collecting, the teenager had to give up his miniature army when the family moved back to his father’s native Canada in 1967.
A five-year stint with the Royal Canadian Navy straight out of high school took him through Vietnam. When he returned home to Windsor, Ont., the newly minted veteran found himself drawn once again to his former passion, but he would never recapture the nostalgia of those first soldiers. “The stuff I got as a kid was definitely the most memorable,” he admits.
In his mid-20s and with a bit of cash to burn, Mr. Tiffin started afresh. He began collecting Japanese-manufactured Tamiya kits, at the time considered top-of-the-line plastic figurines. “I fell in love with Tamiya kits because they were unlike anything I’d grown up with. They’re the top armour company in the world. I started making dioramas” with them, he says.
By the mid-’90s, the military history buff started visiting all the major Civil War and revolutionary battlefields in the United States and frequented their shops in search of high-quality Trophy of Wales kits. “They’re the first animated (mobile) figures made out of lead and they’ve got all the historical ones: Egyptian, Crimean War, Napoleonic. Really bright colours and solid figures and I fell in love with them. I bought everything out there,” says Mr. Tiffin, who spent many years in Kincardine, Ont., where he still keeps a home, before setting up shop in the Toronto area.
As his interest increased, so did his splurge.
“I got really crazy by the mid-’90s,” he explains. “I went to a place that I heard about, this toy soldier show in Chicago. I was used to spending $200 to $300 per week on toy soldiers and that was it. Then I went to Valley Forge. The first time there, I spent $6,000. Second time $10,000. Third time $15,000.”
When seeking out a new toy, Mr. Tiffin’s criteria are simple. “I’m searching for the best there is,” he says. “The best painted, closest to history, these things make [items] go up in value.”
Despite his preference for the best, the collector often purchases on a whim. “I’m not looking for anything, I just go to these places and they pop out,” he explains. “I’m very impulsive. Extremely impulsive.”
This accelerated spending pace was aided early on by his success as a financial planner for companies such as Prudential Insurance and London Life. A sharp mind for statistics coupled with an ability to predict how demographic trends would affect the stock market earned Mr. Tiffin a pile of “agent of the month” plaques and allowed him to average a 24-per-cent rate of return on client investments throughout the ’90s.
By 1999, Mr. Tiffin had grown tired of the culture and branched out on his own. He amped up the demographic portion of his practice and added a research and forecasting component.
“Because I’m a financial planner, I use demographics to tell people where to invest,” he explains. “We take the blinders off for our clients and we tell them, ‘Japan’s where you want to invest right now, China’s where you want to invest right now, and down the road, gold, because these are the things you should be looking at. Stay away from the U.S., stay away from Europe.’
“No one else does what I do,” Mr. Tiffin adds.
And in between clients, he loves to interact with his treasures, a far cry from the collectors who keep their goods tucked away in boxes, never to be touched again.
Without prompting, he will pull out a Zulu spear or place a replica of a gladiator helmet used by Ancient Roman centurion generals on his head. Though he prefers the real deal, Mr. Tiffin has had numerous replicas of famous gear made for his own enjoyment. Highlights include an elven helmet and sword wielded by a pointy-eared Orlando Bloom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the crusader chain-mail armour worn by Mr. Bloom in the 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven.
He’s also been known to walk around the building wearing the iconic black hat of the Queen’s Buckingham Palace Guards.