10 July 2007

Figure Review: 30mm Spencer Smith Dragoons

About a week ago, you’ll recall, my wife Sonja (the Grand Duchess of Stollen) presented me with a regiment of 30+ Spencer Smith cavalry (in the classic charge pose, seen at left above) plus two Holger Eriksson figure (the trumpeter and guidon bearer at right), following her return from two months in Berlin. After several days of admiring these beauties set up over on my painting/radio desk, it seems like a good idea to provide at least some review commentary on these figures. So, here we go.

To begin with, the Spencer Smith 18th century cavalry range is not entirely complete in that it generally lacks musicians and standard bearers. One can easily remedy this, though, by purchasing/using figures from the Great Northern War range of Holger Eriksson figures to plug the gap. Purists may balk, but it’s really not as bad as it might seem. In fact, there is little to no difference between the two ranges other than that the HE figures are somewhat more finely sculpted. But once your entire unit of cavalry is painted, these discrepancies will become virtually invisible to the uninitiated eye.

There is also a fair amount of flash to file or trim away from each Spencer Smith casting before base coating and painting can begin in earnest. That might put some people off, but it’s not that big a deal. Since I’ve worked extensively with plastic 1/72 figures in the last year, I can tell you that it’s much easier and faster to remove flash from the metal figures by comparison.

Next, if you are a detail freak, Spencer Smith figures are not for you. Unlike more modern ranges of wargaming figures -- for example Foundry, Perry, Eureka, et al -- Spencer Smiths have little in the way belts/straps, pouches, buttons, lace, wrinkles on their garments, or fringe actually modeled on the figures. It’s up to each painter to decide how much detail he wants to paint in, or leave out. This also means that Spencer Smith figures do not suffer from detail that is over scale either. After all, would most of us really be able to see small brass buttons on the cuffs of a coat at 100 yards through clouds of black powder smoke?

This lack of minute detail might be frustrating to someone who likes to impart a Kevin Dallimore "layered" style of painting to his figures, complete with several shades of flesh of the face and hands. However, just think how rapidly you can get your figures to the table when there is no obligation to paint all of those buttons and buckles. The Spencer Smith figures lend themselves admirably to a simpler “block painting” style, which one can generally complete much more quickly than a more complex, layered type of paint job.

Black lining can help provide definition to Spencer Smiths, and it’s fairly easy to achieve this look if one undercoats in black and carefully leaves that color showing between the brighter colors painted on top. If you worry about a black undercoat dulling the brilliance of brighter colors that follow, damp brushing with white beforehand is one way around the problem. Many modern lines of hobby paints, for example the Games Workshop brand, will, however cover a black undercoat well with little to no dulling of the later reds, yellows, or light blues.

Still doubtful? Just have a look at Henry Hyde's von Eintopf regiment of Spencer Smith infantry, via his Battlegames website, or Rob Grace's cavalry and infantry at the Spencer Smith website, to get an idea of how wonderfully these figures paint up.

Another point of contention concerns the bases of Spencer Smith cavalry, which are on the narrow side (much like the old Airfix plastic figures), leading to the figures falling over every time the table is bumped. It is, therefore, a good idea to provide additional stability to your figures by adding your own slightly wider bases. That way, your cavalry will not tip over again and again, damaging your paint work in the process. You can carefully cut bases from thin card or, like Henry Hyde and Phil Olley have done for their Spencer Smith and Holger Eriksson cavalry, use pre-cut plywood bases, which are then painted the same green as the figure bases.

Finally, the swords of metal Spencer Smith cavalry are a bit on the fragile side, so it pays to handle your figures carefully. Adding bases that are about 50mm x 20mm will help in this regard, preventing sabers and tails from colliding with the next rank of figures, and bending or breaking off due to heavy use. Of course, it’s always a good idea to handle your Spencer Smith cavalry by picking each horse/trooper figure up by the latter’s head and torso. On that note, the two are cast as a single piece, which is a plus for cavalry figures in my book.

While one cannot mix Spencer Smiths with figures from other manufactures in the same unit, they will work well on the table with figures like RSM95, MiniFigs, Stadden, Willie, and even the plastic Revell 1/72 SYW figures. Now, before you sneer at the idea of using plastic figures and metal figures in the same armies, don’t forget that Peter Young and James Lawford fielded then plastic Spencer Smiths along side metal Stadden and Willies! And I 'm pretty sure another group of British guys did something similar fairly recently too. ;-)

Despite these apparent shortcomings, let me say that I absolutely love these figures. Their human and equine proportions are spot on. Remember that many modern lines of figures ignore realistic proportions, much to their detriment. And who wants to use a bunch of pumpkin-headed gnomes astride somewhat odd looking dogs in a charge against an enemy gun line? This particular malady is not a problem with Spencer Smiths!

In addition, Spencer Smith figures are “old school” in appearance, attitude, and pose, and I can’t wait to paint ‘em up once I finish the infantry regiment currently in progress. They’ll help to impart just the feel and “look”, to appropriate Charles Grant’s term, that I want for my two fictitious 18th century armies. Plus the Spencer Smith cavalry will work well with figures I've collected previously,albeit organized within separate units. The former is similar in size to the other mounted figures painted already, a feature that's apparent in photos posted here last week.

So, for those of you who are enamored with the idea of “old school” wargame figures, I cannot recommend Spencer Smith miniatures highly enough. They’ll go a long way toward helping you achieve the look and feel of those classic wargame battles as seen in books like Charge! and The War Game. Long may Spencer Smith Miniatures prosper!


Bluebear Jeff said...

Let me add, by the way, that from a distance, "block painted figures" look just as good as the heavily layered figures.

Up close, it is a different story -- but would you rather have a brigade of block painted figs or a company of highly detailed figures?

I'll take the brigade, thank you.

-- Jeff

Grimsby Mariner said...

Living in the UK of course one of the attractions of SS is the price. You can get three SS figures for the price of one Front Rank/Foundry figure (or very nearly anyway). And neat painting with black lining attracted a lot of admiring looks at Partizan at both the Wargamers presentations.

Oscar1986 said...

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Les Princes du Lichtenbourg said...

Good description BUT i Must say you are lucky to have Lady Sonia...

My Minister of internal affairs Lady Pascale never offered me fig's !

Chris Gregg said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this. I don't think I learned anything new but your enthusiastic style is infectious as well as nostalgic. I had a batch of Spencer Smith Napoleonics in the 1960s and remember outlining belts etc, it seemed hard work. Nowadays I'm into 28mm and use Army Painter Quickshade on those heavily detailed "new school" figures to achieve a similar effect. That doesn't stop me being in awe of you and others who capture the old school look that recreates what got us started. Thanks again.


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