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


Saturday, 16 January 2016

Hooptedoodle #208 - Collecting, and the Schlumpfs

A line of 1920s GP Bugattis in the original Schlumpf building
Still no time for hobbies here, so again I’ve fallen back on the Hooptedoodle Theme to keep my blogging eye sharp. This morning my lady wife and I were pondering the general topic of collections, including the delicate grey area where enthusiasm crosses over into obsession and (whisper it) monomania.

I had been comforting myself recently, in the absence of any wargaming time, by having the occasional quick review of my troops – in The Cupboard and also in The Boxes. I enjoy them – I am pleased that I have them, they represent the fruits of a lengthy interest in military history and its supporting toys, and they mean a great deal to me, though – as we have discussed – their financial worth is miniscule, and in truth there are very few people who would cross the street to see them.

That’s all fine – that is probably what hobby collections amount to. The Contesse and I spoke of a theme which features in much crime fiction: the potential theft of (for example) the Mona Lisa. There are a number of good yarns around this – the fiendishly cunning plan to achieve the theft is obviously a key element in the story, but I always get distracted by just why someone would wish to steal it. What could he do with it? Where could he keep it? Whom could he tell about it, or show it to? What pleasure could he possibly gain from it? What would it be worth, in fact? Would this be a collection too far?

Maybe the answers to all of these are obvious and intuitive – I don’t know – for myself, I even get to worrying about how the thief could insure it…

I know of a man in the USA who has one of George Harrison's guitars - it is priceless - he keeps it in a bank vault. He rarely sees it. It may appreciate in value, but why does it have a value, anyway? What good is it? Is he simply depriving others of the chance of owning it? Hmmm.

This is all idle daydreaming, but I have always been fascinated, in particular, by the tale of the Schlumpf brothers – you may well be familiar with it, but it is remarkable in many ways. The Schlumpfs were Swiss by birth, they owned a textile manufacturing firm in Mulhouse, in Alsace, and they were extremely successful. Their story is told well and entertainingly in The Schlumpf Obsession, by Denis Jenkinson (a book which I once owned – the subject of obsessive book collecting is a completely separate theme, of course). In brief, the firm eventually went bust during the 1970s, and the brothers disappeared, owing money to everyone in sight – especially their own workers. There was a mysterious locked building on the factory site, and when it was opened it was found to contain the most astounding collection of veteran and vintage automobiles – mostly restored and in perfect working order.

Fritz Schlumpf with his personal Bugatti Type 41 Royale "Coupe Napoleon"
The lists are staggering – they had an unbelievable collection of Bugattis, but they also had classic vehicles from all the great marques. As a random, and unlikely, example…

In 1956 the Bugatti firm had one last go at re-entering Grand Prix racing – they commissioned a very advanced design for a rear-engined car, the Type 251, and were bullied (by the French government and the Automobile Club de France) into entering it for the French GP of that year, long before it was properly tested and sorted. The car was entered to be driven by Trintignant, ran very slowly and eventually retired with carburation problems. It was never seen again – it was scrapped when the Bugatti organisation was wound up.

Well, in fact it wasn’t – it was in the Schlumpf collection all the time, as was an additional, spare car which the team had built as a back-up.

The mysterious Type 251 of 1956 - not dead at all - you can go and tap on the
bodywork if you want - well, maybe best not to...
The locked garage was fitted out in sumptuous luxury – the cars were laid out in grand style, in a gravelled showroom setting, with super-expensive custom-built Belgian cast-iron lamps to show them off – the building also featured at least two restaurants. The Schlumpfs used to entertain ladies from time to time, apparently. Well, you know what they say about ladies and expensive cars. [What do they say, anyway? – I haven’t the faintest idea…]




It is an ambition of mine to visit the collection at some time, but I’ve never managed it. It was taken over by a workers’ co-operative and ultimately sold, and now forms part of the augmented and rehoused Cité de l’Automobile attraction in Mulhouse – I am less sure of the recent history. If anyone has visited it, I’d be delighted to hear about it.

So there you have it – the Schlumpf Collection – discuss. Were they truly happy with their priceless secret hoard of motoring exotica? Was it worth the investment, and the eventual, disastrous loss? Were they really so desperate to gain female companionship?

[In passing, I should add that it never occurred to me that ladies might be interested in my Napoleonic armies, so my conscience is completely clear on this count. I quite like the idea of a couple of restaurants in the games room, mind you.]

13 comments:

  1. I'm not sure the majority of wargamers fall into the 'collector' category in the true sense or whether they just accumulate stuff. We gather lead and other requirements for a project, but many simply squirrel this away when the project ends, for whatever reason, although I seem to collect projects!

    Collectors seem to be a different animal: they set out in pursuit of a particular thing or things which they take pleasure in owning in their own right or as part of a set or representative type. Stamp or coin collectors are a good example of this and, as seems common to all collectors, value and cost can often be a secondary consideration. It's all a question of scale and available wealth, but sometimes it becomes an obsession. You're very unlikely to find a collector of Faberge eggs in a terraced house in Openshawe - unless he's pinched them, of course. I wonder when a 'collection' becomes a 'museum'?

    Many people accumulate stuff over the years, maybe thematically, but it's usually a by-product of some other activity and it survives because they've never got round to disposing of it or it has sentimental value or a linked sense of achievement. Collectors have a different agenda. Course, you can be a wargamer and a collector, but I think it depends on how you define your 'collection'. Most gamers seem to follow a disposal routine once the active life of an army/force or whatever is ended, often to fund the next or next-but-one project. Others never get round to this, but I bet a very small percentage actually 'collect'. I think we're more likely simply materialistic animals and the sense of acquisition is too attractive, but that's more akin to hoarding than collecting. However, what about record collectors or book collectors who have establilshed collections of themes or writers/composers because they like their work? In this case they've gathered the resource for a different end to simply 'collecting'.

    Nope, far too much to think about for a Sunday morning, but I'll stick to my old axiom that "Come up and see my toy soldiers" isn't high on the list of successful chat up lines and I bet when substituting 'Bugatti' for 'toy soldiers' only demonstrates female interest in potential wealth rather than in the items per se, but that's not a hard and fast rule, I suppose.

    My, how time flies when you're ruminating at someone else's expense ;O)

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    1. Hi Gary - many thanks for your deliberations! I am a bit hazy on where squirreling stops and collecting starts - maybe this whole topic begs a few heavyweight definitions. I agree with just about everything you wrote - wargamers do not consciously set out to be collectors, for the most part, though there was a famous example recently of an individual who inflated the value of used 20mm castings of a certain brand - almost singlehandedly - as a result of his determination to own (apparently) every casting ever produced by this maker. There are degrees of all these things - for example, I do not need to put together an 1809 Spanish army to enable me to fight Napoleonic games, and that army certainly doesn't need to be so large, nor to replicate such a stupidly large proportion of a historic OOB - it's just that it appeals to me as a nice thing to have, and I seem to have an instinct for doing such things to excess. I don't think I'm exactly ill, but there are many people who would regard such behaviour as profligate and without much in the way of a useful end. I can't even justify it on the grounds of acquiring wealth (cf. Bugattis).

      We accumulate stuff - when the storage becomes problematic - even life-threatening - it might start to be regarded as a collection of some sort. There are a number of areas where I admit that I collect things - usually not out of some daft completist drive, but because I take a fancy to new things and I somehow can't bring myself (or never get round) to getting rid of the old ones which they supposedly replace. This is definitely true of my guitars, which I never mean to hoard, and I do work at selling these from time to time, but it is very rare for me to get rid of books or CDs, even when I have grown out of them or otherwise lost interest.

      Maybe a legacy of being brought up in an age when there wasn't much money around for self-indulgence? I wish I hadn't thought of that - it makes it seem even less worthy than it did before! I know in my heart I should sell all my collections of useless tat, downsize my house and give all my money to the cats' home - it may just take me a while to get round to it.

      Oh well. In the meantime, we should recognise the Brothers Schlumpf as icons of some (undesirable?) sort - they are remarkable examples of - erm - something or other; we might even secretly admire them in some perverse way - maybe not. As someone once said of Adolf Hitler, they were probably outstanding in their own field.

      Admit it, though - it would be nice to see the change on the bank manager's face when you showed him you had half the vintage Bugattis in the world stashed in a lock-up, wouldn't it?

      Nah - contemptible...

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    2. Very interesting - the question I am left with - what happened to the Brothers Schlumpf, were they ever seen again?

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    3. I think they just went to Basel, and never returned to France - it's actually a jolly good story (if complicated in places) - good narrative at http://citedelautomobile.com/en/bit-history/history-museum

      A couple of things I hadn't realised previously were (1) the family's business involvement at Mulhouse (mother's birthplace) dated from 1908, at which time Mulhouse was in Germany, and (2) a lot of their postwar acquisitions of prize specimens seems to have been a bit dodgy - cars which were owned by people who needed the money in a hurry, cars which had been stored away during the war and the owners had disappeared in some way, and cars which were extracted from their owners at special prices in return for non-disclosure of dubious or collaborative WW2 situations. There was a lot of this sort of activity - bargain-hunting - during and after WW2. The British racer, Reg Parnell, is alleged to have approached the family of Johnny Wakefield, after he had been killed in the RAF in 1942, to see if they would sell his GP Maserati to Parnell at a knock-down price...

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  2. I've always been more of a Jackdaw than a Collector or a Hoarder. There is little consistency and even less method to my pile of Shiny Stuff. I might have been slowly learning to horde but lack of space and funds ended accumulation and encouraged disbursement. The initial letting go was nearly painful but now I wonder if I'll know when to stop.

    Pity there's no lucrative black market for Ross's rare junk.

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    1. It's tricky to apply sound judgement to objects which you love - I have had a couple of daft experiences of buying replacements for things I sold and regretted.

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    2. I did, of course, once buy a book online, to replace one I had sold some 10 years earlier, and found it was the same copy...

      It features in a blog post at

      http://prometheusinaspic.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/funny-thing-happened-on-my-way-to.html

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  3. I used to be a 'normal' wargamer in that I could and did part with my toy soldiers from time to time. My current project has definitely turned me more into a collector and I'm not so sure that's a good thing. I would find it very hard to part with any of my Hinton Hunts although I was able to let go enough to allow others to use them at the recent Vintage Waterloo game (only one breakage but I managed to get over it).

    I'm glad that my funds were limited during the collecting phase of my project (also glad that others pushed the prices so ludicrously high). Now I seem to be entering a game playing phase which seems a bit healthier.

    I think that as long as the collection can be enjoyed and used (not stuck in a bank vault) then all is well. However I really do like the idea of a restaurant in the gaming area...

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    1. Agreed - absolutely - you had a breakage at Waterloo? - I am prepared to go and lie down on your behalf, in a darkened room, to recover from this news. This is a role not unlike that of the public mourners who hire out their services in Iraq and similar places. I've always been touchy about stuff getting broken - when the comedian in the seaside show got his violin broken over his head, I was the only child in the theatre who was actually in tears...

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    2. It was a broken bayonet which I have since repaired (although I will carry the mental scars forever) not bad really considering there were nine of us milling about the table. I can't really complain as I managed to drop one stand of Roy's troops on the floor myself but I don't think he saw...

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    3. Stout fellow - that's the ticket. I can see a claim for a case of Post-Waterloo Stress Syndrome coming, though. If I have to repair muskets, I usually try to re-arrange the bases so the repaired one is in the middle of the back row of one of my 2-rows-of-3 infantry stands - that probably makes no difference really, but it feels as though it's more protected!

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  4. I'm not a collector, either, but I think many wargamers do have the collector's completist drive. It is often expressed not in terms of every example of X toy ever produced, but often in being able to field a complete something, the whole OOB of the X division at Y battle, or (a case from my own mania) a complete Table of Organisation from a WWII unit, with all possible options and variations, even though it is too large ever to be used in a game. (One day I will field in 6mm a complete American Armoured Division, with a battalion in 15mm, a company in 1/72, and a platoon in 28mm. All with the same insignia and vehicle markings for the same fictitious force.)
    However, my hoarding is largely prudential. A gaming acquaintance once told me that if a wargamer owns no unpainted lead (or plastic) s/he dies. I'm taking no chances.

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    1. Agree there's something very satisfying about a full OOB - I guess that may be completism - maybe it's the last echo of realism.

      I find that my attitude has changed perceptibly as I have become older. If something didn't get finished, or got put back in the cupboard for another year, it was OK - there was plenty of time, and there was so much other stuff to be getting on with. Not so true now - my hobbies rank higher in my life, and every year the painting of the Spanish army drags on is another whole year I will not get to play with them.

      Hmmm.

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