A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Hinton Hunt

Deep breath. I haven't really been looking forward to this posting - I could easily get into a lot of trouble here. There's something oddly sacred about Hinton Hunt figures - open criticism could earn me a lot of hostility, or an excommunication - I might at the very least get my windows broken.

Yet this is the right time to talk about HH. Once I started putting together armies using Higgins as the principle maker, I had to source all the things which Higgins did not make, which at that time meant drummers, staff officers, highlanders, Portuguese and - well, cavalry, since Higgins had not started their cavalry yet. Hinton Hunt were an obvious supplier. They had a vast range, they were very highly regarded, and some of the figures were very attractive indeed.

Since then I have bought and fettled and painted and fought and sold a great many Hintons over some 30-odd years. I do not regard myself as an expert, but I am certainly well acquainted with them, and the pounds and the hours I have invested over this time must surely earn me the right to express myself honestly. So I shall attempt to be fair but realistic.

My problems almost certainly stem from the fact that, though 1973 does seem like the Dark Ages now, I suppose I was actually fairly late on the scene as an HH customer. Many of the moulds - especially rank and file of popular nations - were knackered by this time. Further, since no shops (at least no shops near me) stocked the things, you couldn't sift through a tray and choose good ones. This was mail order of an extremely risky nature - orders came back incomplete, or incorrect, they might be months late, quality control was negligible, and the castings and the flash content were often really poor. Also they were expensive. If I hadn't somehow felt it was a privelege to be dealing with them at all, I would have been sufficiently impressed by all this to have given up on them.

They were ground breakers in customer service. I once phoned up to ask about an order which was a month overdue, and was given a lecture about how busy they were. While on my way to a holiday in Austria (in 1974) I took advantage of a 2-hour delay before my connecting train to Dover left London and I dashed along to Camden Passage in order to genuflect at the Shrine. I was met at the door by a man with a bunch of keys, who asked me was I thinking of coming into the shop. I admitted that he had identified my purpose with breathtaking precision.

"Nah - sorry - I have to go out for a while - can you come back later?"

This was 11am on a Thursday, and I couldn't.

I once treated myself to some factory-painted general staff figures which were even dearer, took even longer to arrive and were so badly done that I still get angry when I think about them. I repainted them.

And yet - and yet....

I have seen some of the ex-Peter Gilder cavalry OPC figures which Clive has. Beautiful. Heavily tweaked (wire harness, sheet metal bases, flat wire sword blades, etc), individually animated and superbly painted, I can easily see why such things would inspire devotion. I can even see why they might now change hands for high prices, though some of the prices have become obscene rather than high, in my very humble opinion.

So I have some HHs in my armies - I very much like the OPC French general - I have a number of these - it is a simple, elegant, useful little figure. I have a unit of highlanders (though it does have Art Miniaturen command figures) which I like - they have been with me for a long time. I have a unit of Brunswick hussars - again OPC. I have a unit of Portuguese cacadores - they are OK - if I could get something better I would replace them, but they are fine for now; since I cannot get HH command figures, these cacadores are led by Kennington Rifles figures, which appeals to the inverted snob in me. I have HH eagle bearers in my Higgins French Guard units, though I have provided them with paper flags. One or two (dismountable) generals. That may be about it now.

I had a brigade of Portuguese infantry, but I replaced them. Broadly speaking, the infantry are a little small for me, and I do not care for their weasel faces or their awkward posture. As for the dismountable cavalry, I really do not like the stumpy little legs, so have gradually sold and replaced what I had. True enthusiasts distinguish between original HH and later, David Clayton reissues - I accept that this may be significant, but I am unmoved. Clayton owned the rights and was the licensed manufacturer, so I am not sure why his figures should be regarded as in any way inferior. I am sure someone will put me straight!

Righto - the shutters are in position.


  1. I am very much on your side here, and am taping my windows as I write! Another - lorded (in certain circles) as the Guru of Gurus - is Scruby but some of his stuff is appallingly awful, SAE/Ericsonn is also open to re-appraisal, he could turn out a beautiful figure one day and then put it in a boxed set with some zombies, thinking of the ACW camp sets here!

    It doesn't hurt to bust the odd bubble...

  2. Tony - all seems perfectly reasonable to me. There are two Clayton issues - one, that when he was producing them the moulds were older and even more shot. It is very nice to find clear early original Hinton Hunt figures. Second, he produced some extra figures to fill in gaps, eg Russian standard bearers; Russian light infantry from Swedish infantry with Rusian heads; and marching British Marines made from French infantry with British marine heads. These last are unusable; some of the others are not pretty but fill a gap.


  3. Hi Clive

    If the implication of "early" is that the moulds were still in good shape then I agree - absolutely. Do you (or does anyone) have a feel for when the moulds started to deteriorate? I reckon I first ordered HH figures in 1973 - I got parcels of ACW zouaves, charging highlanders and Napoleonic Portuguese infantry which were all pretty bad - no holes under the arms (drill them out), lumps of solid flash where the mould had broken away behind the musket (grind it away). On reflection, I don't think I ever received rank-and-file infantry from the HH which were in a condition that I would have accepted over a shop counter.


  4. Perhaps the joy is in the pain ? I fell for the 20mm Pax Britannica figures in the 80's...first order never came. Then Vandrad took over, orders arrived "whenever".
    But I still have a soft spot for them, with all the gaps in the ranges...and the near impossible ordering procedure for someone based in the UK.


  5. Matt - there is definitely something in that - I believe you may be right. I had an old HH catalogue - stapled, roneo-ed - yellow cover. It was worn ragged with my constantly reading it - gosh, look at that - Bavarians - Hesse Darmstadt chevauxlegers - Saxon grenadiers charging - oooh oooh. Yet the reality was that every time I ordered something I was driven to despair. How is this reality-disconnect possible? Why was a I such a slow learner?

    I've been expecting a rush of comments along the lines of "Yes, yes (yawn) - we know that the figures were overpriced and ugly and badly made, and that the customers were treated like vermin, but surely that's part of the charm - that's why we love them so".

    Yeah, right.



  6. Hi Tony - I've only just caught up with your blog and this post in particular. You may be surprised to hear that I actually agree with you. Although I obviously have a soft spot for the HH range the reason is mostly because the catalogue caught my young teenage imagination with its promise of all sorts of exotic troop types. I could never convince my wargaming school friends at the time to buy any HH and we rapidly moved on to Minifigs ECW. I probably had my first HH order in 1969 and the flash was pretty bad even then. I guess my last order was about 1973 and the flash was very bad (I never actually painted any of that last lot). Most of the Clayton produced stuff is inferior to the orginal castings not because of flash (which it seems to lack) but because the figures are thinner and weedy with smaller bases. Nice to see pics of your HH stuff!


  7. Bless you, Ian.

    I was a little nervous that the true devotees might take exception to my tuppenceworth!

    I had very little experience in 1973, and really knew no better. It didn't seem right that I should have to recarve figures to such an extent (I had a mate who was a dentist, and we used to use an old dental drill as a dremel), but I was led to accept that these figures were the business. Proper wargame figures, so I felt I should just shut up and get on with it.

    If I'd been older and cheekier I'd have sent the parcels back with some surgical suggestions!

    I do admit that quality paint jobs on early HH castings are a completely different proposition to anything I ever saw at the time.



  8. Whilst your comments are accurate they are only a partial take on the truth. HH's production was a disorganised disaster and their customer service very poor. However, the figures themselves are great for a number of reasons:
    1) They were oproduced at a time when pretty well all wargames figures were of poor quality. Douglas are very rough and sketchy, Alberken were filed down Hintons, Jacklex had very little detail, Rose absolutely wooden. Minifigs , when not Hinton copies were ugly, innaccurate and large headed. Hinton were a cut above the others in detail, in human proportion and certainly in accuracy.
    2) Hinton got it right with those positions, they look just like the troops look in engravings of the time. A GHinton fires his musket just like men fire muskets in Dighton paintings, not like extras in Hollywood films.
    3) Higgins produced nice figures, but they are very wooden and smooth and the range is tiny. Compared to a Hinton they have flimsy bayonets and rifles that soon break as do the early Garrison figures. S range Minifigs don't break easily because they made the weapons thick and used a good metal, but boy did they look thick.

    So judged against their time the HH are generally fine figures. I could excuse the poor castings a little by saying that Hinton saw wargaming as a sideline to his 54mm business and never set up to do it properly. His methods suited low run production of larger figures. Actually the guy lived in a dream and left his wife to run the business.However, I too have the scars on my hands from carving out the large chunks of infill on HH figures, particularly between horses legs. I'd still say though that looking at my Hh compared to most of the other 20mm figures they still look fine.
    Good point about the animation work of Peter Gilder. In those days gamers were much more willing to convert officers, trumpeters etc and to animate and personalise figures. nowadays we have it all rather easy:-))


  9. Roy

    Delighted to hear from you - thanks very much indeed for commenting.

    Without apology, this blog is nothing more than my take on things, based on my own experience. I deeply regret that I did not get involved with HH early enough to see the best of them - if eBay had been around in the 1970s and I had been able to buy older figures, rather than buying direct (pigs in newspaper pokes), I'm sure my view of them would have been more cheerful.

    I have spent a long time now, preferring to collect Higgins figures rather than HH because (1) I could actually find them from time to time (2) I was already substantially committed to the style and the slightly larger figure size (3) they did not have the cachet (imagined or otherwise), and thus I stood a better chance of being able to afford them when they did appear (4) oh yes - nearly forgot - and I liked them!

    It is quite right that you should put the balance straight, and your input is informed and valuable - thank you very much for that. As I mentioned in the post, I have seen HHs which are just breathtaking - among the finest wargame figures I could imagine in this scale. On the other hand, I have to judge figures in terms of how useful and suitable they have been to me (personally, like...) over an extended and sometimes difficult collecting period, and any kind of points-scoring comparison between makes is always going to be very subjective.

    Overall, I am not actually hostile to any wargames figures - they are all part of the great scheme of things - and I certainly have great respect for Hinton figures and their fans, and the fact that they are an important part of the pre-Wargame Foundry tradition. However, I have got a bit tired of the recent over-inflation of the whole HH legend, and particularly of the snobbery which appears to have grown up around it. Emperor's Clothes time. A good proportion of the HH stuff which is traded on eBay at present is actually - well, crap, actually. Speaking of it in hushed tones does not justify the unseemly prices, and the unseemly prices in themselves do not add to the standing of the figures - that is cyclic logic created by a few collectors with long memories and a lot of money.

    To those that love and collect the figures, I say, God bless you. The world needs enthusiasts, and HH troops can indeed be lovely things.

    Thanks again, very much


    PS - Dighton illustrations? - quite so, but that charging infantryman is drunk, isn't he? ;-)