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

Monday, 21 February 2011

Provenance and Vandalism

One of my other interests, apart from wargaming, is motor racing - especially the history of Grand Prix racing, and I maintain a casual interest in the actual examples of old cars which still survive. There is always a lively debate about what constitutes a genuine specimen and what doesn't. For example, if someone now builds a perfect 1955 Lancia D50, entirely from genuine 1955 factory spare parts, that does not constitute an authentic historic car, since the entity (and chassis number) did not exist in 1955. Now - just suppose that, back in 1955, Alberto Ascari had written off his works Lancia in practice at Monaco, and the mechanics had worked all night to create an entirely new car for the actual race, using exactly the same heap of spare parts - that would now be a genuine historic car, if it were still around.

Lancia D50 - genuine

Next case: suppose someone wishes to buy, say, one of the 1954 works Maserati 250F cars - the chassis number being identifiable as the one in which Fangio won the Belgian GP (say). If genuine, this is going to be worth an absolute fortune. However, if the car has really had a full life as a competitive car, and then has subsequently been maintained and raced in Historic racing, then it will have been fettled, patched, repaired, and renovated for 50-odd years, and it is possible that there is not a single part of that vehicle which is original - except maybe the chassis plate! The actual entity, however, is regarded as genuine if it has existed continuously since manufacture. You may recognise the celebrated Executioner's Axe conundrum. This is not entirely a straightforward matter - yes, this is the actual axe which has been used to execute traitors since the 15th Century, though, naturally, it has had many replacement handles and at least one new head over the years.

Move on. A long time ago, I was sitting in the National Library of Scotland, reading an old, leather-bound copy of the English translation of Maximilien Foy's history of the Peninsular War, and was horrified to find that the book was defaced - someone had obviously taken exception to the bold Maximilien's views, and had expressed his patriotic outrage, in pencil, in the margins of several dozen pages. Shaking, white with indignation, I reported this to the girl at the lending desk (not least for fear that she might think I had done it!). She checked the records, and reported back that the book had come to the library from the estate of the 5th Earl of Rosebery around 1930, and that the annotations were almost certainly the work of the Earl, or possibly of his father. In short, the pencil scribbles were part of the provenance of the book.

So much for the ramble around the subject - now to the point. Today I noted that 10 unpainted Hinton Hunt Line Chasseurs a Cheval have been purchased on eBay for some £260. You may do the conversion into your currency of choice, but that is a great deal of money. I am aware that the value of these miniatures is also influenced by whether they are original issue or the later Clayton products, so there is a definite thread of provenance and authenticity in there, whatever you or I may think of the actual sums involved. Someone has been prepared to pay a certain amount to obtain the genuine article.

Now it gets a little complicated. I have seen, at first hand, some of Clive's ex-Peter Gilder Hinton Hunt Napoleonic cavalry. They are breathtaking - individually animated, some with bases replaced with sheet brass, wire harness and flat wire sword blades added and so on. My personal favourite was a trumpeter of chevauxleger-lanciers, converted from a trooper, with the cord of his trumpet made from plaited wire. So what are these things worth? I know that some of them have been bought and sold within living memory, so a value must have been placed on them. I guess that the fact that Gilder converted them adds greatly to their worth and, like the ex-Rosebery book, the mods were carried out so long ago that they have become an important and essential part of the character of these models. I also guess that, if I had hacked them about myself, the value would be approximately zero. Hmmm.

What brought all this to mind, if you will kindly excuse the jump from the sublime to the agricultural, is that I am currently working on some Minifigs s-range Spaniards. As ever with s-range, I rather like the figures but I really don't like their enormous bayonets. They are very robust, and they are part of the tradition of s-range, but they do look a bit silly alongside figures from other manufacturers. And, as ever with s-range, I find it is Groundhog Day. Once again I have given serious thought to shortening and slimming down the bayonets to improve them, and once again I have chickened out, primarily because these are very old figures, they are expected to be like that, and it would feel wrong to change them.

So - just as on every previous occasion - I'll leave them unaltered, and I suppose that this is the correct thing to do, even though I shall continue not to like their bayonets very much. I'm also pretty sure that Peter Gilder would have just changed them, without a second thought, and he would have been right, too.



  1. I found myself in a similar position regarding a book a few years ago. The book itself was a first edition written in 1897 about the Greek war against the Turks in 1837. However, while reading it, I discovered that the folios had not been cut.

    This presented me with a dilemma, should I cut the folios and finish reading the book? Or should simply leave the pages concealed and carry on?

    It's a question I haven't answered yet - I'm still in two minds.

  2. Another interesting and wide ranging post! This kind of thing really sets your blog apart from many others, and I mean that in the best possible way. Keep it up!

    Best Regards,


  3. The book thing is interesting. You could argue, I suppose, that the book was always intended to be read, and later is better than never. On the other hand, the same logic doesn't necessarily apply to everything - for example, very old bottles of wine, though I suppose wine has an implied sell-by date, even if we don't know what it is.

    Stokes - thank you - I find that I have opinions on a surprising number of things, very few of which are backed up (or otherwise constrained) by actual facts or knowledge. This is a tendency which becomes more marked when the nurse forgets to give me my medication.

    On the general subject of provenance, my wife and I were discussing the fact that every cell in the human body replaces itself within a surprisingly small number of years. So, when you look in the mirror, who the hell is that? It is not the same person that was there 10 years ago, that's for sure. It's the Executioner's Body, that's who it is. Which reminds me, I'm not altogether happy with the general standard of some of my own replacement cells recently - you just can't get the quality nowadays.



  4. Hi Tony

    Interesting what you say about the Gilder painted/converted figures and their value. To me they are actually of less value than the unpainted figures because my aim in collecting Hinton Hunt was always to repaint the castings and I would feel like a vandal stripping the paint from nicely finished ones. If you remember, I had a bit of a concern about stripping those “factory painted” personality figures for that very reason. So I can understand someone maybe wanting to pay £26 per figure for those Chasseurs (I think I paid £4 for mine – seems like a bargain now!) but I wouldn’t be tempted to part with money for the Gilder ones even though I think they look great. However, I’m willing to bet that they would go for a fair few bob on eBay now.

    With regard to your S-range Spaniards – well you just have to keep those bayonets, they don’t look right I know but it would be wrong to change them!


  5. Hi Ian - I think your view is perfectly reasonable. When the last of the ex-Gilder figures were on sale from the Wargames Holiday Centre, I was studying the photos, and noticed that some of them were showing quite bad handling wear to the paint - which is entirely understandable, given their age and history. I was thinking that my instinct would be to repaint them, which just shows what a good job it was that I couldn't afford them anyway!