Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday 4 September 2010

Figures & Figure Scales - take what you can get

Here's a recent picture of my Allied army - that's Anglo/Portuguese/Spanish/Hanoverian etc. They are not quite all present, but it gives an idea of where I've got to. However, I'm getting ahead of myself...
So - as I was saying - I plumped for Les Higgins miniatures. I was introduced to them by Archie Alexander, who had The Toytub in Raeburn Place in Edinburgh. The speciality of the shop was really dolls' houses, but he stocked a vast range of wargames figures, which was just as well, since he was all we had locally. I spent many happy Saturday mornings trawling through huge boxes of mixed spares - I would usually go away with two buglers and a horse, or something. Sometimes Archie would get fed up and throw us all out. 
The 20mm size was kind of a standard then; the history of this hobby and the figures is documented excellently elsewhere, but I suspect that it was no coincidence that Airfix figures were about this size. Naturally there were things that Higgins did not do, so I used Hinton Hunt for staff figures, for highlanders and Portuguese, for example. I also used the old Garrison 20mm figures, which were pleasing though the range was limited. And the "intermediate" Minifigs (the ones which followed the S-range) were useful, though I didn't care for the oversized hats on the French troops (and still don't) - I used to graft Higgins heads onto Minifigs eaglebearers and gunners with good results. And - maybe best of all - I used Hinchliffe's wonderful 20mm artillery. 
Which brings us to a consideration of what the scales mean. I like my armies to be pretty homogeneous in this respect, but it's a hard thing to define. 1/72 scale makes an average man without a hat a little less than an inch tall - 22 to 24 mm is fine for me. This works out well for Higgins, and is OK for Hintons, though they are toward the shorter end of this range. This is a tricky subject - you'd think that, since it's numeric, it would be straightforward, but some figures just look wrong, even though in theory they are the right size. I've read numerous times over the years that it is perfectly acceptable to have figures of different sizes, since men are different sizes anyway. Well, I can't argue with that, but it's also evident that big men don't normally get supplied with big hats and big muskets, and that is the area where the mismatches are noticeable. I regularly see plastic figures which are exactly the right height, but the figures are slender and the hats are small and they just don't fit well with my metal troops.  
Which, in turn, brings us to Foy's Third Law: Never mind the millimetres, two figures are the same scale if their hats match. 
My armies grew nicely until something fell off the rails in the late 70s or so. For a start, the world was suddenly full of Ents and Wood Elves, but the other thing that happened was that Hinchliffe suddenly started making big skinny 28mm figures, and Minifigs started making big fat chaps like garden gnomes - and, of course, they did very well out of it - the market never looked back. The bad news for me was that some makers I relied on suddenly started making figures which were too big (notably Garrison, though if I'd been familiar with Lamming I would have noticed the same effect), while others (specifically Higgins/PMD) went out of business. 
Disaster. The Plan went on hold, I rationalised what I had, fought battles with the armies I had, but the collection was dead, and I was really rather bitter about the whole thing. I spent many years wishing I had just bought in loads of the figures I needed while they were still available - a strategy which is still tempting if you can stand the mountains of unpainted troops - in fact this came very close to getting put forward as another of Foy's Laws, but it would not always be a practical approach. Then came the years from 2005 to now - early retirement, eBay, a sudden (and brief) flowering of new 20mm manufacturers, and I was suddenly in business again. 
The armies are shaping up nicely, thank you very much. Over the next few weeks I'll do a short feature on each of the makers I have used. This is not going to be any kind of quality reference job - there are a good number of such things out there already, and some of them are excellent. What I shall do is give my own view of what the figures are like, their strengths and weaknesses (i.e. the things I like about them!), and illustrate them with examples from my collection. There will be some things that you don't see very much, and I'll include a few oddities such as conversions here and there.  
To end, here's a picture of part of The Cupboard, which really speaks for itself.


  1. I remember The Toytub - or at least i remember seeing occassional ads in Mil Mod, etc. by the time i moved to Ed. it was long gone. Mercenary Miniatures didn't seem to hang around long either, and Macs soon turned into an over-priced tourist trap. I find myself (temporarily) back in Ed. at the moment so i must see if Harburn Hobbies is still there (my old 'local').

    I am admiring 'The Cupboard' - that you have one, and that it's so well stocked and tidy....

    Great blog, carry on....

  2. Hi there - bienvenue!

    The Toytub was a strange sight on a Saturday - respectable middle-class parents with nice little daughters would come in to inspect the dolls' houses and furniture, and there was a definite "worlds collide" aspect to things when they laid eyes on all the bearded guys in filthy tee-shirts picking through the soldier boxes...

    Harburn Hobbies are alive and well in Elm Row, just down from Valvona & Crolla. Harburn's are quite big time now, since they have a very good business selling their own brand railway scenery on the Internet.

    The Cupboard is just an old glazed bookcase I was given, with extra glass shelves. If my soldiers are in good nick, it has a lot to do with keeping them away from the dust and in the shade, I think. I'll maybe do a quick feature on the Cupboard some time!

    Thanks for getting in touch - good to hear from you


  3. I love the cupboard. A mate of mine displays in glazed bookcases and that looks good, though some figures on the bottom shelf are rather overshadowed. you're right sunshine kills olds varnish and bleaches paint. Best to fight in the gloom, especially given the inflated price of HH.

  4. Roy - quite right - I can always reprint a flag, but if I keep em in the dark I don't have to bother. The bookcase once belonged to an elderly neighbour in a former life. I found I could put 2 armoured glass shelves between each pair of wooden shelves - works a treat. I also got my wife to make me some black curtains to put behind the glazed doors, so the troops are not even on display!

    A friend saw the Cupboard, and invented a story that I keep coming downstairs during the night to open the door and see if they are still staring at me. He is mad, of course.

    They do keep staring, mind you.