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


Monday, 7 April 2014

Hooptedoodle #127 - The Loft Legacy


Lords of the Nursery wait in a row,
Five on the high wall, and four on the low;
Big Kings and Little Kings, Brown Bears and Black,
All of them waiting till John comes back.

from "Forgotten" - Now We are Six - AA Milne

This post follows from a couple of recent discussions with friends – my apologies if you recognise extracts from a personal email in here – especially if you wrote it…

I’m not feeling particularly unhealthy or anything – in fact it is my intention to live forever – but I’ve had a number of involvements recently with the unmentionable issue of what happens to our toy soldiers when we are finished with them. I mean really finished with them – as in dead or demented. It is a matter worth thinking about, I think.

This is not unique to toy soldier collections – there must be countless model railways, record collections, radio-controlled model aircraft, motor-cycles-in-bits etc etc (make up your own list) which will be a source of puzzlement to our survivors. To some extent this is a time-of-life thing. There is a very large cohort of fellows who were young and enthusiastic (and usually penniless) some 30 to 50 years ago, who have persevered with (or come back to) their hobbies when spare time and money became less of a problem, and when there was a fresh need for something to stimulate their interest. I shall gloss over the social trends which may have influenced this, but the garden shed and the garage and the painting room have become icons of our time distinctive enough to feature in jokes and TV sitcoms.


We might hope that when the time comes our prize collections will be rare and valuable, but it is likely that supply will rapidly outstrip the demand. The nerds are dying out, my friends.

I recently bought a load of secondhand ECW figures - they had belonged to some chap who, sadly, died quite young, and he left an enormous collection of figures - all sorts of periods. You might say he was a dabbler, except that the numbers of soldiers were very large. He clearly had both sides for all the conflicts he was interested in, so - like me - he probably was a solitary kind of fellow - not a club member. After his death, his wife had no interest in, nor understanding of, his hobbies, and the problem of getting some money for them was tricky, so she just gave them all to a charity shop, who stuck them on eBay at cheap prices.

Should he – should I, should any of us – have done a little succession planning?

I also had the sobering experience a couple of years ago of helping a widow make sense of her late husband's vast collection of models and militaria (including a mass of Historex, which I put on eBay) and try to find someone who could help her get rid of it.

The world must be full of elderly guys with attics and cupboards full of painted lead which - ultimately - is just scrap. Collections come on the market occasionally, but it will become more and more common as time passes. An insightful (if irreverent) friend of mine once told me that Hinton Hunt figures may be hard to get and very expensive nowadays, but if you hang around a while there will be more of them than anyone wants; the regulars that buy old figures from each other on eBay are all getting old together. He then went on to point out that I would be long gone by the time this happened (bless him). It is a thought, though – since our toys are likely to be around longer than we are, what will become of them?

Another friend of mine (I must have two, then) was recently at East Fortune Sunday Market, not far from here - a traditional flea-market, where you can get everything from secondhand reading glasses to oak dining tables - and there was a fellow selling hundreds and hundreds of painted metal 54mm knights out of cardboard boxes - I didn't see them, but apparently they were beautiful. The seller knew nothing about them - where did he get them? - he found them in a skip – they were scrap - no-one was interested in them. I wonder how many cherished collections just get thrown out if no-one can be bothered getting expert help to sell them, and how this will develop over the next few years.

I think that is probably quite enough of that.


20 comments:

  1. A decade ago I was approached at work by a colleague whose elderly neighbor needed help with her late husband's toy soldiers. He wasn't a collector, these were his cherished toys from the 1920's, well played with. She was afraid an antique dealer would rip her off and then sell them off piecemeal to people who neither knew nor cared about them or where they came from. I was out of my league trying to assess the condition and rarity or otherwise of the figures but ended up offering probably as much or more as a dealer, less possibly than the retail value but more than I should have afforded. She appeared vastly relieved to see pictures of my games and to talk to me, and feel assured that I would not only appreciate them but would actually play with them and of course that she did not have to deal with them farther. I did all of that but can no longer remember the gentleman's name and since I have pretty much given up 54mm gaming due to space constraints, I have started reselling buts where I can but at least her mind was at ease.

    It did start me thinking about the whole matter, something a heart attack only stressed. Efforts to downsize have been woefully inadequate and organization so alien to me that thoughts of little labels saying this lot goes to Rob, these ones to...... are futile. In the end I don't think it'll matter to me and they'll probably just be left on the shell for some one else to deal with. I am slowly grow less sentimental about their fate. I am however rather more worried about not going first since my wife collects dogs, live ones.

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    1. Ross - Thanks for that - it sums up the position very nicely. I don't think I am quite demented yet, but I have no idea where many of my figures came from, so can't specifically protect them for special treatment - I'm weird enough to keep notes on this, as well! My attempted point is that we would like to think that our collections would go to be loved in turn by new owners, but I fear the reality is that they eventually just form part of someone else's estate, and the ball rolls on. Apart, of course, from the ones that fall by the wayside, and end up in skips.

      Dogs are a serious consideration, but I guess that in the last resort there are charitable organisations that will care for them.

      Maybe we should get them all buried with us, like ancient chieftains? Nah - environmental issues loom. The only answer is to live forever, but it would make sense to slow the collecting down at some point. The fellow who left the house of full of Historex was in some kind of denial about his illness (possible about all his illnesses) and kept buying Tamiya kits for years after he no longer had the time or the ability to build them.

      I don't like that idea at all.

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  2. I propose a Society of Military Executors to take in and dispose of collections in accordance with the owners' wishes....

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    1. Seriously, someone with such a role would seem a good idea - even a firm which specialised in such a service (apart from the auction houses, which traditionally are a bit of a rip-off anyway). Tricky - who would you trust? The sort of people who might usefully contribute to such a thing are themselves mostly collectors - not to mention that they are mostly dying off at the same rate…

      It is a nice idea, even in jest. Perhaps the hobby, in some way, could identify some approaches, or approve some selling agents. Hmmm. Need coffee...

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    2. Ian Hinds (http://www.hindsfiguresltd.com/home.htm) perhaps?? I take your point though - I have found myself reminding my wife more in recent years that the "stuff in the loft" is worth something and that when I shuffle off this mortal coil she may be able to make a penny.... having said that I subscribe to the Don Featherstone approach move it on before you pass... you can then make sure they go to good homes yourself. In my case 70 is the magic date - as of then I start moving stuff on so that I leave the very minimum for the rellies to argue over...

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    3. The person chosen to help out would have to be trusted to be organised as well as honest. Thousands of indistinguishable out-of-focus pictures of soldiers without descriptions might not be the way to go…

      Thinking about it is worthwhile, I believe, but watch out for "shut off" dates - it's amazing how you change your mind when you get there. I once had decided that I had better do everything i wanted to achieve before I was 50. When i got to 50 I was in a terrible state, since I'd talked myself out of having a life. I got over it - easy mistake to make!

      Maybe all we have to do is direct our respective families to contact some knowledgeable friend who will help with disposing of the toys. I think my only guideline for myself will be to avoid collecting masses of stuff I'll never get to use!

      Cheers - Tony

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  3. It's a matter I've given some thought too. Mrs Kinch has said that she would rather not hang on to things with the exception of a few key pieces after I'm gone. Things being what they are and women of her family living forever, I'm hardly likely to have to dispose of her music books. Though I suspect if I was put on the spot, I wouldn't.

    There's a short list of pals in my will, who are requested to either take the collection (or those parts of it that interest them) off her hands or organise its sale. Several of them are younger than I, so we shall see.

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    1. Sounds good to me - you're just a slip of a lad - you will probably get to buy up all our collections for next to nothing...

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  4. In 1991 I found a Britains 54mm French Army figure in Camden Passage antiques market, Islington. Over the next 20 years I filled 2 display cabinets with French Army figures. When I retired in 2011 I decided to sell the figures, slowly, a few figures at a time, through EBay, to pay for my travelling. So they are paying for my visits to Vauban forts.

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    1. Excellent - that's the way to do it. Mind, it does help if someone actually wants the stuff you have!

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  5. Mine are being left to a couple of my mates in my will .

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    1. Good man - don't tell them, or they may try to poison you.

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  6. Hmmm . . .it's a sobering thought. I like the executor idea very much, but I think, given the likely tsunami of figures which could appear in the not all that distant future, it might just become a disposal operation. So, I think it's unlikely that any collections are likely to turn up on Antiques Roadshow for many, many years and even then they're likely to be of only curio value. In any case, an object of desire only really becomes an object of desire because if its rarity and wargames figures aren't all that rare.

    None of my family have much idea of what they're looking at and the only likely beneficiary is my grandson who's only just approaching three so who knows where his interest will lie come the great day? However, at least they're savvy enough to deal with eBay and the like.

    My real problem with this issue is that I'm not particularly materialistic (nor am I suggesting that anyone else here is) so I'm not really all that bothered what happens to my leads. However, disposal of an estate (such as it might be) is a tortuous task and I think we owe it to our families to make some sort of effort to guide them.

    Another sobering thought: what do you do if someone bequeaths you their collection? Lots of, say, indifferently painted figures you'll never use and don't actually want. There's a test of character ;O)

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    1. I think just naming a suitable mate (or choice of mates) who will be able to help is probably all we need to do. Your test of character bit is familiar - I have already failed that one. A good friend left me his Spanish classical guitar in his will - it was a good one, but so covered in beer and snotters that I just got rid of it, and donated the proceeds to Cancer Research. There are limits to what you can treasure!

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  7. Of course my experience was that my younger friend whom I had identified to dispose of my way to large collection unfortunately shed his mortal coil last year. - The result I now have two over large collections which I am slowly working through and trying to dispose of a) his collection and b) those metal chaps in my collection I really can't justify keeping.
    Of course I am now of a mind not to worry about my figures once I'm departed.

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    1. Maybe not worrying is the correct approach - unless they are definitely valuable, and could provide useful funds. Otherwise, your favourite soldiers are a bit like your favourite pyjamas - who would want them?

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  8. I'm hoping that all my stuff will be snapped up by Chinese investors!

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    1. Good man. I hear some disquieting rumours that the new Chinese wealthy middle classes are having second thoughts about heavy involvement in all this Western culture and travel and stuff, since they find a lot of it mystifying.

      For example, there are amusing stories of Chinese school children being taken to the Beamish museum (in County Durham) - which, I'm sure you know, is a remarkable place which includes, for example, a fake town centre, frozen in 1913, with genuine buildings shifted brick by brick from Gateshead, Hartlepool, Consett etc. Fascinating to see a dentist's surgery circa WW1, but what on earth the Chinese kids made of it all is beyond me. It is a nostalgic glimpse of a society of which they have no experience and of which they are likely to have no comprehension whatsoever. No wonder they think we are backward!

      We'll have to get some books published in Chinese - now - explaining how any self-respecting young executive has to have shelves lined with European toy soldiers - especially ours!

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  9. The big six-zero a disappearing speck in the rear-view mirror, I am also finding looming mortality leading to thoughts about the disposal of my stuff. I have told Karen to sell it as she can, with help from a war games buddy much younger than I (though he's moving out of town, which may be a problem). I really must organise the stuff into easily managed 'packages'.

    At that, I have suggested she not try to sell collections as a whole, but by the box or by the unit - by lots, if you like - that people are more likely to buy.

    It is sad to think of their diaspora into several other collections and the local tip. But, since I won't be around to deal with them, I don't allow myself to worry overmuch about it.

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  10. I received a splendid email from Iain, which very clearly states his views on this matter:

    I have given the matter of ‘what happens to the troops’ quite some thought over the years. I mean, in my case we are talking about the results of a lifetime’s enjoyment of the hobby – several thousand figures, some of which are painted superbly well (false modesty my arse, it’s true!). The monetary value is not insignificant, even for bare-metal replacements. What they’d fetch on Ebay is anyone’s guess, but we are talking a substantial sum for what is after all a non-essential item.

    Then there is the thing that surpasses the monetary value – the worth they are to me. When did I paint that unit? How did I manage to do that knight’s livery? Figures long out of production, conversions, etc.......and of course the intangible....favourite units or armies......one example, my medieval Scots : every spearman (about 300 of them) has a steel pin spear and is individually painted, no two identical. So much quiet pleasure in collecting and painting them, and also in merely looking at the finished product. And then the pleasure of battles past and campaigns remembered. Worth a great deal to me.......

    ......but not necessarily to anyone else! When I am gone, it’s only the monetary value that remains. I am buggered if any of them are going to be binned in some post-mortal disposal of my effects. Having three daughters, there is a reasonable chance of a grandson at some point, but unless said grandson is genuinely interested? I do not want my treasured figures to go to some spotty teenage oik who’ll end up swopping them for the latest iPhone or something similar....

    An obvious choice would be to leave them to my good friend and long-time wargaming opponent, the problem is that he is of a similar age to me.

    I think, if I have any warning of impending demise, or merely reach an age when the inevitable cannot be too far off, I would put them up for sale. I’d want a good price, from someone who would appreciate the nature of the purchase, and who would then take the boys forward to new glories on the table. Proceeds of any such sale to go to any grand-children, with my blessings.......

    I know the late Donald Featherstone got rid of his figures a few years before he died, and I’m sure somewhere out there someone is mightily pleased at having those figures in his posession. I think that is the way to do it.

    Regards,

    Iain

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