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Military Miniatures - Collecting Military Miniatures

( Originally Published Mid 1950's )



There is more truth than poetry in the popular song, "There is Something About a Soldier that is Grand, Grand, Grand," and who can deny the fascination of miniature models. The combination of these two inherent characteristics in most people accounts in no small way for the ever increasing number who turn to the making and collecting of military miniatures as a hobby.

Modern living conditions have made possible many more hours for relaxation and play, but offices and factories are filled with frustrated artists, sculptors, and historians who have been caught in the web of earning a living in the work-a-day world, rather than following their desires. Increasing pressure built up day after day from constant monotonous work must have a release or something is going to blow up. A hobby is the perfect safety valve for such pent up emotion because the hobbyist creates a world all his own where worries and problems are shut out; the few hours spent in pursuing his avocation release pressures and give him a clearer head and more relaxed nerves to tackle again the problems of earning a living.

Making and collecting military miniatures is an excellent Father and Son hobby. John Barnes and his son Mike, derive many hours of fun and companionship through their hobby.

Making and collecting military miniatures has much to offer as a hobby because it incorporates history, geography and biography along with an opportunity to use one's hands. Smoldering in the breast of almost every human being is a desire to create things with his hands, and no hobby can afford greater opportunity to fulfill this desire. Unlike most creative hobbies, the collecting of military miniatures does not require any specific amount of space to accommodate its activities. Making and collecting military miniatures can be enjoyed just as much in a boarding house room as it can in the most spacious mansion. Individual figures or small groups can be blended into the decor of any room and are welcomed spots of color and interest.

A group of military figures in porcelain, which for centuries has been a medium for making figurines. Old pieces may be found in antique shops. Modern porcelain manufacturers are making military figures, some of them being cast from old molds. Porcelain produces a delicacy in both material and color which can't be duplicated in any other medium.

Although much of this book is devoted to the making of military miniatures, there is a great deal to be said for the pure collector who assembles collections of antique miniatures and the finished models of the professional figure maker. Old figures are still to be found in attics, second hand stores and antique shops. Where they are found and how much the owner thinks you want them, will have much to do with the value placed on them. On rare occasions, sets of old lead soldiers have been found in the general stores of small out-of-the-way towns, but needless to say, this is becoming rarer every day. But when it does happen, there is much gloating by both parties; the store keeper tells his cronies how he hung an item on a city slicker, and the collector beams as he exhibits his find to envious hobbyists, explaining how he bought them for less than the original list price.

Antique porcelain figures of soldiers, military suits of armor, wood carvings and many other items of interest to the military collector can still be found in antique stores and in the shops of dealers in art objects, arms and related subjects. Material of this type has a more or less set value, and if the shopkeeper is known to be reputable you may depend on his asking price. Auction sales on occasion include figures of this type and now and then some lead soldiers.

Collectors of antique model soldiers make up only a very small portion of the military miniature collecting fraternity, because the collector is generally more interested in authenticity and workmanship than he is in age. The collector is also a historian and usually is interested in one period or in the soldiers of one country. To set out to collect the soldiers of all countries would prove a monumental task, involving considerable problems in housing and financing. Hence, most collectors follow one of these methods in building his collection. First, he may buy from miniature or hobby dealers the finished models of the period that interests him. These are available in very fine detailed models and also in inexpensive sets. Second, he may search out the details in his own or the public library and commission a professional to create the model for him. Third, he may buy figures that are similar to the uniforms he desires and convert them to his particular interest. Fourth, he may purchase from his miniature or hobby dealer unfinished castings of a great number of periods and countries which he may assemble and paint. Finally, he can create the original figure himself.

Regardless of the type of figures collected, one of the greatest joys of the hobby is showing them off and there are many pleasing methods of doing this no matter how much or how little space is available. The miniature collector, being by nature a bibliophile, will have book cases or shelves about the room, and these are excellent places to display small dioramas or individual figures.

Sectional bookcases having glass doors are exception-ally good for display, because one or more sections can be devoted to miniatures, while the other sections can house books and reference material. Sectional cases also have the advantage of growing with your collection and the glass doors protect your miniatures and books. Decorative material may be draped or tacked around the back and sides of the section and individual figures displayed, or the section may be set up as a small stage with painted backdrop and scenery and an action group of figures. Interior lighting of the display section can be accomplished very easily and inexpensively, adding a great deal to the overall effect.

China closets, hanging curio cabinets, what-not shelves, breakfronts and many other types of furniture may be used to display miniatures and can be found at most furniture stores. Should the purchase of special cabinets place too much strain on the hobbyist's budget, there is always his ingenuity to fall back upon and the inventiveness of many collectors has produced very exciting methods of display.

Probably the simplest display case is the open front shadow box. These may be purchased at many furniture stores or the collector may make his own with very little effort. The back may be mirrored or plain; the mirror, however, adds little cost, and being able to see both the back and front of figures without touching them adds greatly to the charm of the display. To make a mirrored shadow box you will need a mirror, a picture frame and some wood Vs to 1/4 inch thick and about 2 inches wide. Buy a framed mirror and a picture frame that are the same size; these may be purchased at department stores, picture stores or the local ten-cent store. With the wood, build a box with the mirror as the bottom or back. The picture frame, without the glass, is then put on the front of the box to trim it. Depending on the size of box you make, you may add one or two shelves inside the box from the wood. Place two strong rings or hangers on the back of the box; be sure they are even so that the box will hang level. Strategically placed shadow boxes of this type will add charm to any room and the selection of frame types will have much to do in matching modern or period room furnishings.

Hanging wall cases with glass fronts can be made in a great variety of sizes; in fact, the open front shadow box is converted into a glass front wall case by just placing plain glass tightly in the picture frame and hinging the frame to the box instead of fastening it permanently. One collector of flats, whose collection far exceeds his display space, has designed an ingenious wall case which permits him to change displays frequently and easily so that he can enjoy all his miniatures. The case can be built from wood 3/a to 1 inch thick and 3 to 4 inches wide and a practical size case is about 24 inches tall and 12 inches wide inside. After the side and end pieces are cut, slots are cut into the upright pieces to accommodate the shelves. These slots should be about 3 inches apart and perfectly level and straight so that the shelves will slide in and out easily. Assemble the ends and sides with screws, or nails and glue, making a back from plywood or any other sturdy material. The front is made from a picture frame of proper size with the glass firmly in place, the frame may be permanently hinged to the top of the box or hooks and eye bolts may be used so that the front may be lifted entirely off the box. Shelves are then cut of proper width and length to slide into the slots cut in the sides. Dioramas are then set up on the shelves and slid into the case.

Three dimensional pictures are always fascinating and decorative, and military miniatures lend themselves admirably to this type of display. The difference between shadow boxes and three dimensional pictures is that displays may be changed in the shadow box, but in the picture the display is set up permanently and sealed in the frame. In the shadow box, no effort usually is made to tell a story; in the three dimensional picture, however, the figures are surrounded with props and scenery and placed in such a manner that they depict a particular event or scene. The background, or backdrop, may be painted by the collector, or a suitable picture may be found in a magazine. The important thing, in either painting or selecting a background picture, is to be sure the scene follows through in proper perspective with the foreground scenery and figures as explained in the chapter on "Dioramas and Scenery."

The bottom or floor of the rural or battleground scene should not meet the background directly, because the illusion of depth will be lost. This point where actual depth meets the illusion of depth should be camouflaged with shrubbery or a wall of some other scenery. In the case of a street scene, where buildings are involved, the structures may be painted flat on the backdrop and additional depth added by building balconies, steps, or window frames out from the painting. The high relief of the added detail will blend the three dimensions of the front into the two dimensions of the back with realistic effect. With proper planning and strict adherence to the rules of perspective, entire buildings may be built out from the background. By following carefully the angles to the vanishing points and skillfully decreasing the depth of color and distinctiveness of detail in the back-ground, a most life-like scene can be created.

To avoid sharp corners at the top, the background may curve into the sky which is painted on the inside top of the frame box. Sharp corners at the sides may either be covered with scenic materials or the sides of the back-ground may be curved into the sides of the frame. The most effective pictures are made by depicting the story with as few figures as possible, because a great clutter of figures will only add confusion and many times lose the point of the story being told.

The frames to house three-dimension pictures may be constructed the same as shadow boxes; then seal the decorative frame and glass permanently when the scene is completed. Effective 3-D pictures can also be made by selecting a frame with a very deep molding and building the little diorama within what would normally surround the picture. This is done by attaching a cover of plywood or other material across what would normally be the front edge of the deep frame; the figures and back-ground are then placed within the box and the glass sealed in place upon completion. Frame boxes may also be made by placing two deep frames together in order to gain depth. These may be frames of the same type molding, or interesting and decorative effects may be obtained by combining molds of different types.

The military miniature collector, being by nature a lover of military history, naturally has a love for maps. Many collectors gain their greatest delight in tracing and mentally refighting decisive campaigns on maps while admiring their military miniature collections. Some collectors combine these two interests by framing colorful campaign maps, which they have purchased or made themselves, in deep frames such as those used in three dimension pictures. The map forms the backdrop and the figures in front depict a particular incident of the campaign, or in some cases the figures signify the opposing leaders in the particular campaign mapped.

One well known collector of miniatures and scenes from military history has devised an unusual and decorative method of displaying not only items from his hobby but his personal war decorations as well. Using a piece of pegboard, which may be purchased from any lumber dealer, the hobbyist created a color spot that would be the envy of any interior decorator. The pegboard, measuring four by six feet, was carefully sanded and then painted to blend into the decor of the room where it appears. The outstanding feature of the pegboard is its adaptability to change. With little effort arid no damage to the surface, the small wire pegs which hold the shelves may be fitted into any of the many holes in the board. The board was hung on the wall behind a server and small shelves were placed in a carefully Thought out pattern on the board. Individual figures and small groups of military miniatures were placed on these shelves. The balance of the board is devoted to framed military prints, medals and other trophies collected during years in the service. This type of display never becomes monotonous, because re-arrangement can be made at any time. Experimenting with various arrangements adds a great deal of pleasure to the collector's hobby.

Methods and effects in displaying military miniatures are unlimited and depend upon the imagination of the collector. Displays worked into the bases of lamps and on bookends or on valances over windows and doors, are only a few of the many ingenious methods used by enthusiasts and decorators. Tasteful and effective display need not be hampered by a low budget, because the collector may build or convert many inexpensive materials into shelves, cases and display props.

For example, ordinary small boxes, such as cigar boxes, may be transformed into interesting display shelves by cementing or nailing several together and then painting or covering them with decorative material. The boxes may be arranged in any number of patterns to be hung on the wall or they may be fastened permanently and painted the color of the walls. Even light easily-worked wood such as balsa, which may be obtained in any model shop in a great variety of sizes, can be used to make satisfactory boxes and shelves for display.

Collectors who are not budget conscious may call upon carpenters and cabinet makers to create display cases for their collections. Some collectors have had even libraries, hobby rooms and club cellars built around their collections, with specially lighted cases built into the walls. Many professional men who are collectors bring a spot of color and interest into their offices with small shadow boxes or lamps displaying miniature soldiers. The love for soldiers and miniatures is no respecter of social or financial position. It is one of the few hobbies so wide in scope and flexible in application that everyone may enjoy collecting military miniatures, no matter what his station in life.

To exhibit small groups or types in cabinets, it is necessary, in order to obtain the best display value, to use display props to raise figures in the rear above those in the foreground. This may be done by building sets of steps from wood or cardboard and finishing in harmonious colors. A very pleasing and rich effect may also be obtained by placing a variety of small boxes in strategic spots in the case and then draping cloth over the boxes and the floor of the case. An unlimited number of ways to bring out the best in each individual figure may be found by studying the many ways your local jewelry, drug and department stores display small articles in their windows and show cases.

The props or display stands must be solid and set level so that they won't tip over with your prize figures. Beside small boxes, ordinary tin cans can be converted into very professional looking and practical display props. Used in combination with boxes or by themselves, the round cans avoid too many sharp corners and give your display a more pleasing effect. Cans of all heights and diameters may be utilized. After being thoroughly cleaned and one end cut out with a can opener, they may be painted and used as pedestals for figures. Although the painted cans will serve the purpose in a practical manner, very little effort can turn the lowly cans into expensive looking fixtures.

After selecting a variety of sizes to suit your display space, and cutting out the bottom of each, give the cans a coat of shellac, laquer or paint. Paint the tops as well as the sides of the cans. Select colored paper, light weight cover stock (cardboard), or wall paper that has a pleasing neutral shade. Measure the distance between the beading around the top and bottom of the cans very carefully, cut strips of paper or card this width; be sur to make clean straight cuts. With any good glue or cement, secure the paper around the can; either string or rubber bands may be wrapped around the cans to hold the paper until the cement dries. Many cans have embossed numbers and circles or other indentations on their tops which prevent objects from sitting level on them. This is overcome in one or two ways. First, a disc of cardboard may be cut and cemented on the top of the can. The second, and far more effective way, is to use plaster of paris. Set the cans, after wrappers have been cemented in place, on a level table. Mix plaster of paris to the consistency of heavy cream and carefully pour on the top of the can. The plaster will level itself and form a snowy white top that will make an exciting pedestal for your finest figures. Various sizes and heights can be arranged into an unlimited number of settings to accommodate as many figures as desired.

Military miniatures are not only models of soldiers, but include models of all the tools and transportation methods used in warfare. Model airplanes, model ships and railroads as well as wagons, chariots, and models of the many other war vehicles and equipment should not be overlooked when making and collecting military miniatures. The ballista, catapult and trebuchet were just as effective and feared by the enemy in their day as the atomic cannon and guided missile today. Most certainly, Hannibal and his war elephants of the ancient world and the mangonels and espringales of the middle ages were forerunners of our modern tanks, and who can resist the thrilling history and development of warfare in the air. It takes no great stretch of imagination to compare the heraldry of the knight with the insigna, slogans and pictures painted on aircraft and tanks of modern war. Much of medieval heraldry was based on the rebus or pun, the same as the modern fighting man enjoys a little humor to lighten the seriousness of war.

Railroads, since their beginning, have played an important part in warfare not alone as carriers for troops and supplies, but as actual combatants. The great railway guns of the World Wars, the railroad battery of the American Civil War, and many others are well known. One of the most audacious exploits of the War Between the States was the daring theft of the "General" loco-motive and train by James Andrews and a party of twenty-one Union enlisted men. The resulting chase and recapture of the locomotive by Confederate Captain W. A. Fuller has been woven into many tales of fact and fiction. History records many events that the modeler, who likes railroads as well as soldiers, can incorporate into operating or display models. Manufacturers of model railroad equipment produce a number of kits for old and modern equipment that can be utilized in creating dioramas. By the same token, hobby stores have many varieties of airplane and ship model kits that are worthy of consideration in creating a collection of military history in miniature.

So varied are the phases of the military miniature hobby that it is truly the omnibus of creative and collecting hobbies. No matter whether your interests run to stamps, coins, model railroads, model airplanes, ships, arms, or any of the other avocations that bring relaxation to thousands of people around the globe, the miniature soldier and his weapons will add additional color and spark to your collection. The photography fan will find military miniatures willing and patient subjects, adding a whole new exciting field for his endeavors. As a hobby in itself or as a segment of another pastime, it is indeed ideal. It permits full enjoyment in large or small space and with little or much money, and the avenues of research and interest are endless.



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