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

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Scales of Injustice? – figure sizes, yet again

This is going to get me dangerously close to obscure worlds such as railway modelling, of which I know nothing, and where I am likely to get slapped down mightily if I use the wrong terminology, or offend the international standards (whether they are universally obeyed or not).

I’ve always been puzzled by the mapping of modelling scales like 20mm, 25mm, 28mm, 40mm and so on against  the more intuitively scientific (and understandable) concepts like 1/72, 1/64, 1/300 and similar. I have moaned on about this at some length before, so will try not to waste too much time going over the same ground.

Basic problem is that figure manufacturers call visibly unequal figure scales by the same name. If we discount the possibility of different sized millimetres being in use simultaneously (although it might happen), the matter boils down to

(a) which bit of the man do you measure? – there are disciples of soles-to-scalp (i.e. how high is a figure), sole-to-eye (which sounds like a convention, but which generates a lot of passionate support – most of the lectures I get from the bearers of wisdom seem to follow this doctrine) and even bottom-of-base-to-eye (which just seems plain daft).

(b) (and this makes a bit of a nonsense of (a)) how tall is this man anyway?  

In response to a previous post, I was directed to this diagram from Jack Scruby, no less, which would appear to be authoritative unless you happen to disagree with it.

What has brought this to mind of late is that I have been involved in purchasing and studying some of the old Hinchliffe 20mm equipment range – the non-WW2 bits of which vanished without trace many years ago. It says on the packet that these are manufactured to a scale of 4mm to the foot, which is near enough 1/76 scale, which is the OO model railway scale. I’m not sure, but I think this scale is widely used for WW2 models. 4mm to the foot would make a 6-foot man 24mm tall, and a 5-foot man 20mm, so where does the “20mm” nomenclature come in?

As far as Hinchliffe are/were concerned, I also have some of their 25mm artillery range, and in there is an information sheet, which explains that their 25mm range uses a scale of 4.75mm to a foot (which I reckon is 1/64), and goes on to state that the human figures in this range are designed to represent men 5 foot 8 inches tall, which means that (assuming Hinchliffe’s manufacturing standards complied with their own house rules), those strange ectomorphic soldiers that turned the wargaming market upside down in the early 1970s must have been 27mm from sole to scalp. Does this mean 25mm to the eye? – whatever it means, this is the official lowdown on how Hinchliffe interpreted “25mm”, and we know for a fact that this is different from what Miniature Figurines and Les Higgins were doing. The information sheet I have, by the way, appears to date from September 1971 – I’m not sure if it is still the same sheet which goes out with the 25mm equipment today – this range, of course, is still in production.

OK – back to Hinchliffe’s 1/76 “20mm” men – assuming the same logic applied, a 5 foot 8 man would be around 22.5mm tall – which is consistent with Hinton Hunt and current Kennington figures – would he be 20mm to the eye? Could it be that the eye-measurers have been right all along?

I don’t buy many plastics – I’m not at all hostile to them, but I have grown accustomed to not buying them, to being concerned about paint-shedding, and discouraged by the proportion of useable wargame poses in a box, considering these are no longer the pocket-money option they once were. At this point someone may feel urged to miss the point of my post, and put me straight about the merits of plastics – please don’t bother – I’ll take your word for it. Honestly, I will.

The relevance of plastic figures here is that 1/72 is the universal standard – how well it is observed and how the manufacturers compare is not the point. No-one can argue about what 1/72 means in mathematical terms, and thus, over the years, I have got used to regarding my Napoleonic collection as being “approximately 1/72” – some  of my figures are described by the makers as 20mm (Hinton Hunt, Kennington, early Lammings, early Garrison, very early Minifigs), some of them are old 25mm (Higgins, Scruby, some S-Range), from before the world got bigger, and some of them are explicitly 1/72 (NapoleoN, Falcata and Art Miniaturen). My in-house rule is that if the hats match, they are the same size. Ideally, my chaps should be around 22-23mm tall (without headgear), though a taller man might be OK if his hat looks right!

25mm Soldiers, as purveyed by Hinchliffe (L) and Scruby
I have now confirmed that the much sought-after 1/76 Hinchliffe artillery are a tad underscale for plastic figures, while their 1/64 cousins are visibly too big. Confusingly, considering the precision which went into the research and sculpting, Hinton Hunt artillery appear to be even smaller than the Hinch 20s, so maybe there was an internal inconsistency there too.

I’ve always tended to avoid Newline 20mm figures – too small for me, though they are lovely – I have no idea what the official scale is, but I have it on good authority that some of their artillery pieces are a good fit with Hinton Hunt, for example, which is useful, but, again, a bit confusing. RSM and Irregular have an even smaller interpretation of 20mm, but at this point I am getting well outside my area of knowledge.

It looks as though my target Napoleonic recruit is somewhere in a ball park between 1/72 and 1/76, with guns and wagons to match. And the devil take the decimal places.


  1. I wish, and it'll never happen in a million years, that all wargame figure makers would get their heads together and work from 1 scale per figure size. I does get on my nerves when 2 25mm ranges are massively different, like in your pic......why????
    My plan is no matter what scale, if it looks ok, it'll do!!

    1. Agree completely. In the back to back photo, we know that Hinchliffe seem to claim that it is 25mm to the eye of their 5'8" man, and we know that Scruby reckons that 25mm means that the man is 25mm to the top of his head (sans chapeau) - in which case, the big man's eyes should be level with the top of the little man's head. But it isn't, is it? Not even close. Whatever the theory, and however sacred the guidelines, bad workmanship and pretentious bollocks will always shine through.

  2. Well, an old Minifigs catalogue I have states that 25mm = 6'.

    Personally, my outdated rule of thumb was always to call 1/76th as 20mm and 1/72nd as 25mm.


    1. Rob - I thank you for this. I realise you have might possibly have a personal position to defend here, but it does rather seem that the manufacturers have always just pleased themselves, doesn't it?

      There must be an advantage in forcing collectors' hands because no other range matches, but it is a bit of a liberty, isn't it? This is beginning to remind me of how in 1980 or so I felt sufficiently upset about the demise of my preferred manufacturers (either because Hinchliffe's grip on the market forced them to shut down, e.g. Higgins, or forced then to change scales - e.g. Minifigs, later Lammings and - erm - Garrison) to pack in wargaming for the next 20 years.

      Cheers - this is (with hindsight) a very heavy issue


  3. Scale is an alien concept to wargame companies. Sculptors and company owners can't agree on size at all. Is it 25mm to the eyes, to the top of the head or what? I always supported the 'eye' lobby. It's not always just the height, but also the heft of the figure that causes problems. I can't say I support the 'people are different sizes' school because some of these people would range from 4'6" to 8' in height and 6 to 28 stones in weight!

    The only person I know who insisted on a range of figures made to scale is Frank Hammond whose Minden Miniatures (now sold to Jim Purkey, married to his Fife & Drum range) were all made to 1/56.

    1. These days, since a great many masters (greens?) are made by fiddling around with conversions of existing 1/72 scale plastic figures, there may be a back-door reason for things to stabilise around 1/72 (4.25mm to the foot). I reckon your 1/56 scale Mindens work out at 30.8mm for the Eurostandard 5'8" man. They must be 28mm to the eye then? 28mm scale? - are we getting close?

      I'm not sure what Minifigs think they make now, but their current range of war-game figures, well sculpted though they might be, are mostly of garden gnomes rather than humans. I admit that a complete army of garden gnomes, well painted, can look very fine, but this is not an attractive idea for those of us who got our knees brown in the days before we evolved this far. It is impressive that Minifigs anticipated the obesity epidemic by some 25 years, but that in itself provides no comfort to anyone who laments the passing of their earlier figures.

  4. My understanding (quite possibly based on spurious speculation by others passed on as fact) on the eye vs top of eye thing is that it originated because one can generally see where the eyes are but have to guess at just where the top of the head is.

    I seem to recall Nuremburg being blamed for the 30mm designation (toy soldier makers not the court). The old Britain's were just called standard size since they were made to match railway figures in the days before railways became scale models. Hence the HO/OO designation of the early Airfix though one would think they would have had to be one or the other.

    1. As from this very day (after about 40 years thinking about it) I think I may have joined sole-to-eyes camp. Yesterday I would have laughed at the idea, but hey. It's a fine line.

      The HO/OO grouping is wider and more fudgy than I had realised - it certainly covers a multitude of possible sizes if your sculptor has a liking for strong drink.

    2. AFAIK the "eye" thing came from an article in The Courier by Toby Barrett in order to make the magazine's figure reviews work to a consistent standard. It was from sole to eye because no soldier will cover his eyes, but most wear hats/helmets. There was also a Light/Medium/Heavy descriptor to indicate "bulk" of the figure.

    3. Mr Rat - thanks for this - interesting. I think I am now a (rather surprised) convert to the Eye Brigade. My view previously was that it was a viable convention as long as it was generally used, but my own experience and measurement suggested that it might not be generally accepted and that figure sizes were poorly calibrated anyway. If I had any actual resistance to the idea, it was simply because a large proportion of the people who tried to put me straight on this started off the dialogue with expressions like "I thought everyone in the world knew that…" or "Anyone with half a brain must realise…" or similar. Maybe this reflected the editorial style of the journals of the Inner Sanctum - whatever, since I have now joined the Eye Brigade I can continue where they left off, spreading the message!

      Many thanks - Tony

  5. A frustrating issue for sure. But. Fairness to the many sculptors, Is one of the difficulties in the shrinkage of the mould from the sculpt-master-production process?

    1. Interesting - this may well be an issue - I hadn't thought of this. On the other hand, you would think the sculptors (or the manufacturers) would get the hang of this after a few dozen instances?

  6. Don't blame Hinchliffe for anything Minifigs did - MF always seemed to consider themselves top dogs, and certainly always claimed to sell more figures (which was backed up by what i saw at shows and the local club). Why MF changed sculpting style to those little rotund chaps remains one of those mysteries....

    Getting back to Hinchliffe - their figures could vary wildly in size, you'd almost imagine there were multiple Peter Gilders who couldn't agree amongst themselves......;-)

    BTW, those supposedly 1/56th scale figures are the same height as the average Hinchliffe '25', and to cloud the issue further i've recently discovered that 1/72 equipment (by IMEX specifically) fits perfectly with the average Hinchliffe, whatever size that is......

    1. To be completely honest, I am not sure whether Minifigs moved to elephants before Hinchliffe moved to 28mm Filifers or vice versa, though i've always believed that Hinchliffe blinked first, but it doesn't matter - it spoiled the game irreparably for me, either way.

      The exact scale approach (i.e. measuring things, which doesn't go down well with the devotees) also shows that Finescale Factory's 1/72 scale 18 pdr British siege gun is exactly (exactly, to the mm) the same size as the Hinchliffe 25mm model of the same gun, which, as we know, is impossible (though gratefully accepted by the collector). There are other examples of this sort of thing, which may suggest to the heretically-inclined that some Hinch 20 prototypes found their way into the 25mm range unchanged, or it may just reinforce what you say about multiple scales within Hinchliffe's own product range.

      By approx 1980 I was so disenchanted with the combined efforts of Minifigs and Hinchliffe that i had dropped the whole subject, given up on wargaming altogether, and could no longer care less who was more responsible for the destruction of what I had had cared about in the hobby.

      I can laugh about it now, but it took a long time :-)

    2. Indeed. Frank Hinchliffe cut corners by using some of his existing 30mm pieces as the basis of his new 25mm range - so where does that leave his definition of scale....probably in his wallet where it belonged... If i think about this stuff for more than 5 minutes my head hurts - i think the moral must be 'find what you like and stick with it'. Cheers (and good catch re. those Hinchliffe 20s).

    3. Doug - I'll email you on this…

      Cheers - Tony