Sunday, 26 September 2010
Miniature Figurines. As long as I’ve been involved in wargaming, they’ve been around. Trying to say anything about Miniature Figurines Ltd is a bit like trying to say something significant about the Ford Motor Co – mostly, it’s been said before. They have frequently been on the receiving end of criticism, their products are not usually regarded as shining examples of anything in particular, and they are generally an easy target for abuse.
The one thing they certainly do not get is a fair show of respect. MF have, in their unspectacular way, put miniatures wargaming within the grasp of anyone who became interested during the last 40-something years. Whatever your likes and dislikes, they are a major part of the history of the hobby. If you take a look at the current movement of wargame figures on eBay, you get a feel for how they have dominated the market for years. In the periods and scales which interest me, I reckon that some 75% of current eBay listings are for Minifigs, and more than half of those are from the current ranges of figures, which have survived pretty much unchanged for 30 years.
My start in the hobby was too late for the early 20mm figures; S-Range was what they were selling at that time. They were readily available in local model shops, the range was vast, the quality of the castings, somehow, was always pretty good, and - if you liked them - they represented good value for money. Unusually, in a hobby full of suppliers who were enthusiasts and well-intentioned dreamers, they were always commercially sound - good marketing, good supply to the retailers, and constantly aware (and supportive) of trends and fashions in wargaming.
I confess that I really cannot understand the early history of the marque - which figures were Alberken, which were the figures which got them into trouble with Hinton Hunt - all that stuff - too complicated for me. You can get good background from VINTAGE20MIL, from the Old Metal Detector and related blogs, and from Lazey-Limey - there are areas of debate, but that is where to look. I prefer to group them under the general heading of “20mm”. The earliest such figures appear to have been a bit crude , but they very quickly became very similar in style and quality to Hintons. I am especially taken by their OPC 20mm generals and personalities.
By the time I started wargaming, this was all in the past, and they had moved onto the famous S-Range. These are regarded with a deal of affection by collectors. They have a style of their own, deliberately different from HH. The proportions of the figures are distinctive – slightly-built men with rather short, slim legs, and a tendency for oversized hats, plumes, swords, bayonets. The French troops in particular have coal-scuttle sized shakos. The S-Range generals are nice figures - I have a few. I also have a good number of French infantry officers, eagle bearers and drummers, with Higgins heads grafted on. I even still have in my collection a throwback to the days when no-one made French Line Horse Artillery (well, HH did, but I'd given up on them some time earlier) - I made up a crew from MF French infantry officers, gave them Higgins heads and PMD artillery implements - you may shed a gentle tear at the thought of my cutting up PMD horse artillery figures to provide parts for MF hybrids... Whatever, I still have them - I'm fond of them, and have kept them long after I cleared out some of their contemporaries.
Recently, I developed a considerable appetite for Spanish infantry, SN1s – no-one else apart from Hinton Hunt (undersize) and Warrior (oversize) makes 1812-style Spaniards in British-type uniforms. I have a number of units of S-Range Spaniards now, but am always keeping a wary eye open for more.
After the S-Range came what I call “Intermediates”. Some of these are very nice – I have a number of British infantry units, and most of my British artillery are from this range. I still had a problem with the big hats on the French troops, so always avoided them or re-headed them. I also have a unit of British dragoons with saddles attached to the riders – they are still with me after all these years, ao I guess I must like them.
And then, as lamented elsewhere, in 1978 or so the figures became bigger, fatter, and mostly I lost interest. Still nicely manufactured, and they were always friendly and helpful people to deal with – I have no personal experience of the new owners, but have heard good reports of them, too, so that tradition appears to have been maintained.
The real parting of the ways occurred for me when I was putting together a Brunswick-Oels battalion in polrock coats, suitable for 1808-9. I had seen a very nice Minifigs unit of exactly the sort I was looking for, and ordered them up from my hobby shop. When they arrived, the officer and the drummer were lovely, but the rank and file had been remastered in the then new “chunky” style, and I was really very shaken by their appearance. These guys were as wide as they were high – nicely engineered and manufactured, but grotesque. Gnomes. If I had had a firm making miniature soldiers, and my master-maker had approached me with prototype figures like these, I think I would have asked him to go back and try again – and to drink less coffee.
Whatever, I choose not to use MF’s current ranges – they do not match my armies, which is really the only thing that matters. I know for a fact that there are huge numbers of wargamers out there whose armies consist entirely of exactly this range, and I’m certain they look marvellous, but for me you can’t mix them.
Respect, though. Fair enough.