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

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Carlo's Army

Refurbing again. This is a constant theme on this blog, and I am always moaning gently here about how some current job of restoring a batch of pre-owned figures is turning out to be more work than I had expected. Yes - that is a little odd, I agree. Every time, it seems this comes as a surprise to me - just a slow learner, I guess.

As supplied - a bit jaded, and those turnbacks and shako decorations will have to go,
but otherwise not bad at all for vintage 1973. Thank you, Carlo.
I think this running thread may give a bit of a false impression - not least to myself. Maybe it's deliberate, if unconscious. There is an implication that somehow or other these refurbing exercises are an interruption in the serious work of building my armies. Not so. I haven't carried out a proper analysis of my army catalogue, but the refurbed acquisitions are really a very substantial portion of the available forces. The truth, then, is that they are not merely an occasional inconvenience, but may actually be the backbone of the collection. Hmmm.

Having said which, it is probably worth giving the subject a little more respect, and discussing it as a process and a skill in its own right.

Since I use a rather old-fashioned scale of metal figures, and am very partial to certain old makers - notably Les Higgins/PMD - I am always interested in other people's old soldiers. I've bought loads on eBay, of course, so all sorts of anonymous contributions from unknown collectors are present in my armies. With much of this stuff I just stripped them and started again, but I've also managed to preserve quite a bit of the painting efforts of others.

I've been the recipient of some very kind donations from some very good friends over the years - Ian, Charles, Iain, Clive, Martin, Matthew, Andy and many others - you know who you are, and you know how much it is appreciated. I've also (not often, but it is an important element of my armies) bought collections or parts of collections which were no longer wanted. The most notable of these have been from Pete Welsh, Harry Pearson, Danny (and Dominic) Heggie, Steve C, the infamous "Mike and Whiskers" ECW collection which came from some poor chap's estate, courtesy of a Belfast charity shop, and so on.

I'm currently nagging an old friend to de-clutter his cupboard by selling me his remaining Napoleonics, since, by his own admission, he doesn't know why he is hanging on to them. I hope that is not as menacing as it looks, now I re-read it...

Most recently, I bought a pile of old Napoleonic Higginses from Carlo.

Carlo's figures were in unusually good shape, and nicely painted, and I have to admit that this was an important part of the appeal when I decided to buy them. The idea is that it should really not take much effort to fit them in. When they arrive, of course, such figures are always rather more worn and faded than I might have wished - not that there's anything wrong with them, but if I'm proposing to freshen faded paint and repair chips and - of course - rebase to the house standard, then it seems sensible to keep the brushes out and make the new arrivals blend in with the veterans. This means: stylistically; paint shades; organisation; basing; the lot. I like my figures to be "mine", and an important part of this is that new arrivals should not look silly compared with the existing armies and - even more critical - should not make the existing collection look silly either(!).

Carlo and his brother painted up a French Napoleonic army of Les Higgins and PMD figures a long time ago. They must just have been teenagers. Since a number of the figure poses in their collection are ones which were discontinued when the Higgins range was rationalised after Les died, I guess the painting was done about 45 years ago. They did a nice job - it's possible to find some faults with the way they went about it (since I am now sitting in forensic mode, with bright lights and the magnifying jeweller's loop - which is not how one appraises the initial photos), and there were a few clangers in the uniform department, but they did a nice job, no mistake.

I've already restored some of their cavalry, which really only needed a good clean-up, some retouching and varnish. They are already in The Cupboard, as an inspiration to get on with the remainder.

Now I'm working on the Line Infantry. By the time I've added figures to make up my standard unit organisation, I should get 4 or 5 battalions out of this lot. Because Carlo's units were not made up like mine, I'll have to add mounted colonels (Art Miniaturen figures are here, ready to paint) and - since there is a shortage of flankers and command - I shall add drummers, eagle-bearers and voltigeurs recruited from Schilling Miniaturen - I am delighted to discover that they are a very good match for Higgins, by size and style. The first job is to get Carlo's boys cleaned up and based, ready for the extras to be added. Apart from anything else, the figures when based will take up a lot less space and will store a lot more safely than the heap I have at present.

Line Infantry - work in progress (there are a couple of trial Schillings in the foreground)
More of the same - some Swiss chaps in this box
Righto. Gave them a soak in a mild detergent bath for a couple of days. Got rid of the cardboard bases and washed them carefully with a soft brush. Stuck them on the green bottletops. First thing I don't like is that the line infantry all have red turnbacks. Easily fixed, except that it will take two coats to cover the red with white, there are a lot of them and - as soon as I try one - I realise that the overall trousers are very yellow next to the fresh white. OK - I'll paint the trousers as well.

So the painting job list becomes:

* White turnbacks and trousers - two coats.
* Blue touch-up on worn bits, and clean up lines for turnbacks. Also add blue to (red) shoulder straps so they look like blue-piped-red.
* The faces have faded to a slightly pink off-white shade, so paint faces and hands for everyone - at present I use Vallejo's "Parasite Brown" for a base shade, with Foundry's "Mediterranean Flesh" as a highlight.
* Black - the shakos are not great - repaint, and also paint moustaches and cover up Carlo's powdered white hair - touch up worn cartridge pouches, sort the boots out and rescue the bayonet scabbards from the white trouser paint.
* Red - retouch worn cuffs and grenadier distinctions - not much. The red hasn't faded as much as I thought it might, so these soldiers must have been kept in a box somewhere.
* Gold - shako plates, re-do chinstraps; officer's shako trim and fancy work. Buttons will do as they are.
* Silver - bayonets.
* The packs and the rest of the kit are fine as-is.
* Cockades; company pom-poms.
* Varnish; tabletop green on figure bases; mount on MDF bases, leaving gaps for the extra command and voltigeurs.

That's one battalion's worth done - I'll do a bigger batch for the next one, now I know what I'm doing. One fairly relaxed evening listening to music - no sweat at all.

First lot based - just waiting for the missing figures - easy job, really
Not a red turnback in sight, and those hats are nearer to the regulations. More
importantly, they look like my French army now.
Apart from the extra figures for the Line (which I've bought in and are here, ready to go), there is also a hefty contingent of the Old Guard in this purchase. They are also nicely painted, the red turnbacks are not a problem for the Guard, so I guess that will be an easier job - lose the white hair and the delicate faces, general touch-up, varnish, base. Fine. Anyway, they are behind the Line in the queue (as it should be). One slight issue with the Guard is that some broken bayonets will need attention - maybe the Guard castings have weaker bayonets, but some work with the pin-vice and some staples will sort that lot out.

Somewhere down the queue - Imperial Guard - Grenadiers and Red Lancers
Beyond the Guard Infantry I am rather surprised to find that I have also set myself up to restore the Red Lancers - not quite sure when that will get done.

So - there is a pause in the Bavarian Project for a little while, as I get some more figures sorted out for painting. I can fill in odd evening sessions with the French refurb work. Let me be clear in my own mind, though - it's not an interruption - I do want to get it done!


  1. Superb work. I love this style of figure and the history behind them helps make them special too.
    They have turned out well, and I do take your point on 'a little work' becoming a labour of love.
    I bought some painted Marlburians a while back on ebay, thinking it would save me a lot of work, but touching up faces, highlights, re-basing...all takes time of course.

    (I'm sure you've mentioned this, but yes, those bases are perfect for Field of Battle :) )

    1. The old 50mm x 45mm bases are as near 2" square as you like - just a fluke, really! I think I maybe like to adopt a slightly grumbling attitude when I'm doing this kind of work, so that no-one can accuse me of enjoying myself too much. If I do this job right, i should end up with units which are indistinguishable from the rest of my army, which is hardly a spectacular outcome, really, but is what I'm aiming for!

      The laugh is that if a bunch of my existing units were to arrive in the post tomorrow, I would have the brushes out, improving them, tut-tutting faintly about the rough finish!

    2. Tony, your last sentence is hilarious! I wager many of us would respond similarly.

  2. Replies
    1. Keeps me humble - in fact, in this case, the careful paint job that Carlo did on them back in another century makes the job far easier, even if he got it wrong in places, he was painstakingly consistent. Of course, this is going to encourage me to be too optimistic about future refurb jobs...

  3. Refurbishment is surprisingly difficult..... About 10-15 years ago i acquired much of what i call the Hull ECW collection (by Messrs Gilder, Tilson, Robinson, etc.) - it wasn't in bad shape, but the figures were filthy... i did literally nothing with it til i sold it 4 years ago to help fund the purchase of a big chunk of Peter Gilder's old AWI collection. In the last 4 years i have managed to refurbish about 150 figures (out of c. 800)... for some reason i find it a real struggle - it's much more fun creating new units from scratch.

    Good luck with the project - i bet you'll finish a long time before i do.

    1. Best of luck with the Gilder figures. Some of the most difficult choices I've had have been with old figures which were obviously beautifully painted once upon a time, but are now worn beyond rescuing. Nothing valuable, of course, but it is hard to put nice old figures in the stripper - just have to have a couple of beers first.

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, Hans - old figures are the devil's playthings.

  5. I would of course advise anyone sending you painted figures to liberally spray them with Plastidip first...

    1. Ah yes - Plastidip. This is covered by the advanced diploma course at nightschool - that's the bit where you learn to soak the figures in Nitromors, rescue the Plastidip skins from the brew, wash and press them carefully and keep them for refitting on the figures after the repaint. That's tricky stuff.

      Someone suggested to me recently that - in addition to its other properties - clear PD is also good for filtering out UV light. It certainly cures ingrowing toenails and rising damp, so I'm prepared to believe it.

  6. Great stuff, I find that a wash with water with a little detergent, if necessary, a light scrub with a toothbrush, dry and then a spray with matt varnish gives a good base for touching up paint.

    1. Hi Roy - agreed - this batch was a bit unusual since I think that the surface was original Humbrol matt enamel - no varnish at all. Dead flat finish!

  7. Interesting post for me; the only refurb job I've ever encountered was some figures of mine that got damaged by basement flooding and then, not having discovered it until months later, some mold. It wouldn't take much at all to restore them... but there has been no progress after at least 6 years, despite painting plenty of new stuff!

    1. I find my own relationship with my figures is sometimes a bit fragile - sort of love/hate thing. A couple of times I've been disappointed with a paint job, and it takes a huge effort to start work to fix it - enthusiasm killer!

  8. Those LH figures have come up a treat. I have a few French and British LH infantry in my to paint pile as well.

    The officer pointing pose is one of those rather odd figures and looks kind off out of place with the infantry advancing with levelled musket.

    1. Hi Mark - yes the officer is a bit of an oddity - he's telling the lads where they'll find the enemy, since he has to stay here and stand on this little hillock. All the LH French officers have hillocks - even the guards and the foot dragoon. Must have been regulation. The British officers don't have these - I guess there must have been a different master figure!

    2. Mark I have used Rose officers, which are more animated and brandishing swords, to add variety to LH units

    3. Thats a good idea. I have some spare Rose officers somewhere.