Thursday, 9 April 2009

15mm Figure Review - Part I - Overview

This is an interesting project for many reasons. It reintroduced me to some ranges I was already familiar with and made me look at them in a new, more critical light. It introduced me to some newer makers and ranges that I wasn’t familiar with and made me temper the “gee wiz” factor usually present when viewing a new product. It also introduced me to some new figures from manufacturers I was already familiar with, but didn’t know they did figures for this period.

As much as I intended to enter this project with an open, objective mindset, I admit that I did have some preconceptions about certain ranges. Some of those opinions were changed by this review and some were reinforced. However, even some of the opinions that were reinforced were modified when I looked at every figure in the “light of day” and beside their competitors. I will withhold my final opinions until I have examined every figure in the raw metal, cleaned up with an ink wash, and cleaned up and painted. I will then offer my evaluations in the “by maker” articles.

So, before we begin to examine the wares of each individual maker, let’s take a brief look at the whole. First of all, “scale creep” is very much evident here, as well as the classic “realistic” versus “heroic” sculpting styles. Pictured below are some sample figures in the same or similar pose from each maker with a slight twist. I have added a similar figure from Les Higgins exquisite vintage 20mm Marlburian range, circa 1970, for comparison in the musketeer and officer lineups. These were once called “the most elegant range of wargaming figures available” and thankfully have been returned to production, with new figures added, by John Cunningham and Harry Pearson. The comparison is very interesting to say the least! If a couple of today’s “15mm” ranges had been produced 39 years ago, they would have been called 20mm.

NOTE: All pictures used in this series of articles will use this same gridded background. Each square on the grid is 4mm X 4mm and the incremental reference marks are at 2mm intervals. While most figure reviews use measurements from sole to eye, or sole to top of head, I believe that, at least in 15mm, the overall height is much more important from a visual standpoint. However, with the grid marks, you can calculate “scales” for yourself.

A comparison of the available musketeers, with the Les Higgins figure for fun.

A comparison of the available drummers.

And now some officers, again with a “visitor” from Les Higgins Marlburian range.

Just to give you a "taste" for how the reviews might go, take a close look at the middle picture above of the drummers. Several of these are advertised specifically as "French Drummer", yet only the Editions Brokaw and the Donnington drummers have their drum in the correct position for a French drummer. The French drummers of this period held and played their instruments with the drum head almost vertical to the ground, not parallel as so many makers choose to sculpt it. Also notice the relative size of the various drums; obviously the poor fellow from Irregular lost his own drum and had to borrow the toy drum from his child's Christmas set! Am I picky? Yes. I'm not saying I wouldn't own or paint any of the figures above (I might say that later though), but I want to be completely critical and honest about them. Then you can decide what you want to buy and paint.

Our next part will begin to examine the individual makers and discuss their relative merits and shortcomings, if any, in detail. It will also include some shots of painted troops to show you what is possible with each range. If you have any questions about specific ranges or poses or whatever, just leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.



Anonymous said...


You wrote:

" The French drummers of this period held and played their instruments with the drum head almost vertical to the ground, not parallel as so many makers choose to sculpt it."

How do you know this? What is or are your sources for this statement? It seems a bit dogmatic. How do you know that every drummer in every French infantry regiment carried his drum this way all of the time?

Sir William the Aged said...

Good questions. I'm looking for my original source in French, may have been Susane but I'm not positive. However, this item is repeated by Bill Boyle in his article "Uniforms of the Thirty Years War" (p4), which actually goes beyond the TYW into the 1660's and later, and again in the general instructions for French musician's of the Ancien Regime written by Eugene de Leliepvre for Historex. It is also supported by numerous period engravings and plates from the Vinkhuijzen Collection and the Anne S.K. Brown Collection, and individual plates by Alfred de Marbot, René Humbert, Eugene de Leliepvre, Jocelyn Chevanelle and others. Is is also featured in photography of French reenactors on various sites, notably that of Patrice Menguy. The French infantry drum was held at approximately a 45 degree angle when at parade rest and a more acute angle when marching.

To address your last statement and question: Obviously, without a "way back machine" and a good camera, we'll never "know" with certainty that even the majority of French drummers followed this practice. It is probably a fair assumption though that if they didn't, and if it was part of the drill manual, then a helpful sergeant, drum major or junior officer would be thumping them soundly at some point. That was, after all, the general method of enforcing discipline in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Am I being "dogmatic", or perhaps hyper-critical in my review and comments? Yes, I am. I pre-qualified this by stating that I would offer my comments as honestly and as critically as possible, but that this would not prevent me from buying a particular figure. In fact, I own and am painting several of the "incorrect" drummers shown for my own use. I just wish they were sculpted differently.


Ginzio & ILVJ said...

On My blog there are pictures of my Savoyard army using Venexia miniatures I hope it might help for the review.



Sir William the Aged said...

Thank you Giovanni! I will, of course, be painting some sample figures for the review, but may use a few of yours to show the appearance of finished units. Your Savoyards are very well done.


Lyall Simmons said...

Really looking forward to your figure review results, as I'm just setting up a DBR army for the same period and am agonising over Donnington vs Venexia figures. Your pics of the Donnington figures are the only ones I can find, and they certainly compare well initially. Any initial comments as to detail etc between these two ranges ?
Cheers, Lyall

Sir William the Aged said...


Without giving away too much of the follow-up articles, here goes:

Donnington has 2 ranges that fit the period; "Late 17th Century" and the "Wars of Louis XIV", avoid the former and look at the latter. However, they only offer 4 musketeers, the loading one I've shown so far, a really excellent standing firing that is slimmer and a wonderful sculpt, one they call "advancing" that looks like he's running bent halfway over (think many plastic figures that you've seen), and one marching holding his musket back over his shoulder like he's on campaign (good, but not everyone's cup of tea). Their command figures are universally excellent, as I hope my photos show.

I would also consider mixing in a battalion or 3 of Irregular's, as these may be the best sculpts Ian Kay has ever done in 15mm. They are anatomically correct, well-detailed, in classic poses, and mix fairly well with the Donnington.

Venexia do an excellent range, my problem with them is that they are very large, are what we've come to call "heroic" in sculpting style (i.e., very exagerated), and the muskets are not in proportion to the figures, appearing over-large and short. They do, however, paint up extremely well and quick, as most "heroic" style figures do. Their range is also, at least for the moment, still incomplete and the only range they really mix with are Lancashire's. If they complete the range so that mixing isn't necessary, then they are very viable, if a trifle expensive.

I address this issue of cost in a later article in detail, but right now Lancashire and Editions Brokaw are the "bargains" of the period, closely followed by Irregular and Donnington. One thing that I also like about both Irregular and Donnington are that their figures are sold individually, allowing you to tailor a unit to your whims. Want to depict sergeants with the ranks? You can. Want a different officer or mixed pikes, they are there as well. Stay tuned for the full detail, but this gives you a taste.


Lyall Simmons said...

Thanks for that Bill. Just the sort of useful, objective information I needed. Cheers, Lyall

Anonymous said...

A late 17th century engraving by Huchtenburgh (click to enlarge):

after van der Meulen's original dating from the 3rd quarter of the 17th century:

Amassed French drummers playing their rather voluminous instruments can be seen at the right of the image.

Sir William the Aged said...


Wonderful engravings! The detail on the French drummers is exactly what I (personally) am looking for in a drummer figure. At present, only the two I indicated match this, with the Essex coming a close second simply by having the correct size of drum. And I'm not that put off by a figure standing at rest holding the drum in this position. Thank you again.