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The World of Model Soldiers

Part 7 (cont'd.) : The 54 mm Range in the Rest of the World

Hinchliffe Models, one of the leading manufacturers of model soldiers in England during the last few years, advertise that their figures are made under licence in the United States by Heritage Models of Dallas, Texas. Among their offerings are British and Sudanese warriors of the Khartoum period which include a number of Dervish tribesmen and British line infantry men, all in action positions.

From San Sebastian, in Spain, come a series of 54 mm metal figures by the firm of Labayen. These are mainly Napoleonic figures, but do include some soldiers from the period of the American Revolution.

Among the standard-size figures must be included those that are made in plastic to the scale of 1/32, about 57 mm high by Aurora, Monogram, and Revel.

Most of the plastic figures that are available are made in the scale of 1/35, about 51 mm high. This is considerably smaller than the standard size of a model soldier, but it is the traditional size for armoured fighting vehicles and, because the model-soldier manufacturers never got together with the plastic kit manufacturers, there are now two distinct scales in operation, both similar but far enough apart from them not to be used in the same diorama. There are in fact relatively few figures in plastic on the market that conform with the 54 mm size. One set that is still available in France is made by the Starlux Company, who produce a very good range of plastic Napoleonic figures normally sold individually packed and hand painted to a reasonable standard.

Quite apart from the model soldiers that are advertised widely in magazines and newsletters, there are many producers who manufacture mainly for their own interest and only occasionally sell their figures to friends or to the local hobby shop or, in some cases, toyshop. These people are not listed in any reference work giving names and addresses of model-soldier manufacturers and they have no catalogues. One cannot therefore find out very much about them except by a personal visit and can only hope to stumble across such a manufacturer, perhaps tucked away in a backstreet in some city, by chance. The soldiers they make, the product of many hours of intensive work and research, are often as good as or better than the commercially produced figures, yet their makers are content with a small local distribution. They obviously do not want the fuss and bother of big business and feel they cannot cope with large-scale production with all the concomitant problems. Their enjoyment comes from the making and playing with what are often magnificent toy soldiers.

One such craftsman is Jaime Hiriart, who lives in Montevideo, in Uruguay. With a few friends, he has recently formed a model soldier society and in his spare time he produces model and toy soldiers for sale to friends and through one or two local shops. And in London a man who prefers anonymity makes solid copies of early Britains lead soldiers, which he then paints for his own collection. As he requires regiments of 100 figures, he usually casts about 110 to allow for breakages, miscasts, and bad painting, and sells the surplus to local soldier shops. These figures are always limited to about a dozen of any one kind and are never repeated.

The hobby of collecting standard-size model soldiers is still growing at a fast pace. New manufacturers are springing up almost every week and despite the strong attacks on standard-size figures by the manufacturers of larger figures, there will always be a great number of people who for various reasons prefer the 54 mm soldier. He fits into an existing collection very easily; the size is large enough to include the most minute detail, but at the same time, if one is restricted for space, an array of 54 mm figures in a bookcase or on a shelf does not take up too much room. Also they are priced at the cheaper end of the market in comparison with the much more expensive larger figures, and they are still available in more styles, postures, periods, and uniforms, than any of the other figures that are made to be collected on an individual basis.

In recent years the range of figures has enlarged from those merely depicting military subjects to those from a wide range of civilian walks of life. No longer does a collector of 54 mm figures have to be restricted to soldiers; as we see in Chapter 9 he can vary his collection by adding girl friends, pirate scenes, fantasy figures, and all the attractive sets of indoor and outdoor civilian life that are currently available.