Hinton Hunt
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Designer Marcus Hinton of Hinton Hunt became one of the first manufacturers to mass produce model, as opposed to toy, soldiers when he launched a range of 54mm figures around 1957. “The business probably began properly around that date,” John Fabb a long-time friend of Hinton recalls, “But Marcus had been dabbling in making figures for quite a while before that”.

The mysterious Hunt, rarely mentioned and never with an attached first name, was Simon Hunt, a designer himself, who had previously worked with R. Briton-Riviere designing larger figures for Sentry Box. According to Garratt, Hunt left the company to “devote his energies to music”.

“Simon was only really involved with the business in the first few years,” Mr Fabb says, “Certainly the connection with Sentry Box may have been relevant, because Miss Edmunds who ran that company originally made all the moulds for Marcus”.

Hinton had no formal training in sculpture or indeed anything else for that matter. “He just sort of drifted along until he found this thing he turned out to be terribly good at.” John Fabb’s wife, Penny told us. Mrs Fabb, a figure animator with Tradition, worked for Hinton for a number of years first at his boutique in Islington and later as caster of the 20mm range.

“Marcus had always been interested in military uniforms,” John Fabb says, “He collected militaria, particularly French Napoleonic items and armour”. In 1962 the two men had helped found the UK branch of the Confederate High Command, Britain’s first re-enactment society. A few years later they were both instrumental in the formation of the Sealed Knot with Brigadier Peter Young and Edward Suren.

Some sources state that the Hinton Hunt range of 20mm figures first appeared in 1964, a year in which the company also sponsored one of Britain’s first major wargames shows. However circumstantial evidence suggests an earlier starting point. The 1965 catalogue lists a vast number of figures amongst which is one very unusual range, a series of English Restoration soldiers. As Hinton tended to launch ranges to tie in with anniversaries it seems entirely probable that these were inspired by the tri-centenary of The Restoration, in 1960.

When they first appeared Hinton’s 20mm were considered “big” and were seen by many, including the late US designer and wargamer, Jack Scruby, as the catalyst for the gradual change to 25mm figures (Scruby’s 25mm range – available from Ultimate Miniatures – was designed to blend in with the Hinton Hunt range and does so rather well).

Certainly Hinton Hunt figures are, in most cases, roughly half a head taller than those of Jacklex (though the fact that they are similarly proportioned means the two ranges are compatible) and dwarf the 20mm efforts of Greenwood and Niblett that had appeared some years earlier.

Hinton’s figures were also expensive for their day, “about one shilling and ninepence”, Jack Alexander recalls, “when most other figures were a shilling” (Old adverts bear out Jack’s assessment – Hinton Hunt figures costing over twice as much as those of Miniature Figurines and Garrison).

Foot figures are mounted on square bases with rounded corners and often have the feet position so that a corner of the base faces forwards. Code numbers and the initials H H are stamped on the bottom of the base but in used figures these can be hard to detect. The casting process left two protruding plugs and cutting or filing these off tends to remove the markings.

The Hinton Hunt 20mm range began in earnest with Napoleonics and American Civil War and eventually grew to encompass a large number of periods including Ancients (Parthians, Romans, Britons, Greeks and Persians – issued in Spring 1972); Norman Conquest (added in 1965 for the forthcoming 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings); Hundred Years War; English Civil War (launched in 1971); Restoration Period; Crimean War (1968); and Colonial (Zulu War and Sudan Campaigns. 1968). In The War Game Charles Grant notes, “Excellent figures, the English Civil War figures are particularly fine, as indeed are the Napoleonics”.

Hinton Hunt figures reigned supreme in the wargames world for several years, until Miniature Figurines challenged the company’s hegemony. Questions over the provenance of Minifigs HO/OO range – which some believed bore more than a passing resemblance to those of Hinton Hunt - lead Hinton, along with Edward Suren of Willie Figures and Roy Belmont-Maitland of Tradition to found The Guild of Model Soldier Manufacturers in 1966. The stated aim of The Guild was “To protect the integrity and interests of manufacturers of high quality military miniatures” and other members included Sentry Box and the Spanish maker Almirall.

According to Garratt “Hinton’s wargame figures have suffered more than many others from the indignity of piracy, especially in the United States, where even his name and the serial number remains on some castings”. In the USA during the 1970s Der Kriegspieler of Bedford, Massachusetts produced what are sometimes euphemistically referred to as “modified” Hinton Hunt figures. Der Kriegspieler made only a portion of the Napoleonic range – which it styled “Napleoniques” - including some converted figures.

Whatever the situation on the other side of the Atlantic there seemed little doubt in many people’s minds that the Guild’s real target was closer to home – Miniature Figurines. The result was a long-running and bitter feud between the two manufacturers, one that drew in various other wargaming personalities of the day (see the article on Minifigs for more details).

As with many older figures Hinton’s creations lack the fine detail of their latter day counterparts. They are also noticeably flat (a consequence of the early mould-making process which had to be done at high temperature and high pressure and tended to compress the master figure). They make up for these deficiencies with what might be described as period feel. As a reviewer in Slingshot has written the Greeks look like they have stepped straight of an Athenian vase, while the Normans could have leapt from The Bayeux Tapestry. In the Colonial range the Eygptian infantry are suitable slender while the Zulus bristle with vigorous menace. The induna in the latter range is particularly fine.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Brian Marlow, co-founder of Les Higgins Miniatures dismisses Hinton’s efforts as “absolute rubbish”! A common nickname for the figures amongst detractors was “Squint and Grunt”. “The rather cruel joke that went around at the time was that God made man in his own image and Marcus made his figures in his” John Tunstill says.

Nor did Hinton’s somewhat eccentric approach to business endear him to everyone. Mail order was hardly his strong suit. Months would pass and reminder letters go unacknowledged before a parcel turned up. When it did there was no guarantee on what it would contain. “I once sent off for artillery horses and got a load of wheels instead,” Pete Bateman recalls. 

Marcus Hinton’s 54mm figures and their smaller brethren were sold initially from his house, “Rowsley” in Taplow. Then in the winter of 1966-67 he opened a small lock-up shop in Islington Antiques Market. In the early 1970s the shop moved to larger premises just around the corner in Pierrepoint Arcade, Camden Passage. The shop in Camden Passage closed down in 1974 (the premises were taken over by Military Heritage who continued to stock the figures). From then on the business was run exclusively from Taplow.

All work on designing and casting the figures was also done at “Rowsley”, Hinton’s house on the banks of the Thames. “ Most of it was done at night. “Marcus was practically nocturnal, “ John Fabb says, “If you wanted to speak to him you had to call round after 5pm otherwise he would still be asleep”.

“The house itself was a rambling Edwardian place,” John Fabb told us, “With balconies overlooking the river. When Marcus married he and his wife Cynthia, an artist’s model, moved in there and lived with his mother who owned it and ran it as a boarding house”.

It was an interesting street with a raffish reputation. “Locally it was known as Gaiety Row because at one time a lot of the houses in it had been rented out to chorus girls from the Gaiety Theatre in London Lily Langtree, the actress and mistress of Edward VII lived there”.

Whether influenced by this fact, Hinton seems to have modelled himself after “Beastly Bertie”. “In terms of looks Marcus was practically Edward VII’s double,” John Fabb recalls (another less kind comparison we have heard is with Colonel Sanders of KFC fame), “He was always slightly corpulent and he dressed in frock coats and wore a bowler hat. He liked good food and wine, and the ladies”.

Hinton suffered from a weak heart all his life and was exempted from National Service because of it. “Marcus couldn’t carry anything because of his condition,” John Tunstill recalls, “So his wife Cynthia used to have to cart all the figures around for him. She was a plump woman who wore very tight, velvet clothing. I recall her arrival at BMSS meetings carrying boxes of figures was quite an event”.

Garratt comments wryly, “Hinton is one of the characters of the trade and in this his whimsies are aided and abetted by his wife”.

Marcus Hinton died in 1988. He was in his mid fifties. Neither Cynthia Hinton nor his two daughters showed any interest in continuing the business, which was sold off shortly afterwards.

What happened to the original moulds has long been a source of debate amongst

Hinton Hunt aficionados, a persistent rumour has it that they were destroyed in a house fire, another that the moulds went to Sweden or were sold to somebody in the Thames Valley.

Steve Thompson (who lives in the Thames Valley) told us, “My Dad and I were interested in buying the Hinton Hunt figure range. So we went round to Hinton’s home in Taplow one afternoon. His house was like a strange museum. He collected militaria and his wife loved cats. The whole place was full of cats and suits of armour. You lifted up the visor on a 30 Years War cuirassier’s helmet and a cat jumped out. 

“We were ushered through into the sitting room and Marcus came in dressed in a pinstriped suit and bowler hat. He told us all about the company and showed us lots of moulds. I asked him about the masters. He said, “Oh you don’t need those. These moulds are what you want”. Well, to me, the moulds looked burned out. He then named the money he wanted for these old moulds, which was a huge sum, far more than we had, and that was that”.

Is it possible that nothing more dramatic than simple neglect was responsible for the demise of this famous range?

After extensive research we feel we can now reveal what really happened. Penny Fabb told us, “There was a fire, but it wasn’t at the shop. Marcus kept all the moulds and master figures in a wooden shed at the bottom of his garden in Taplow. We all tried to tell him that this wasn’t a sensible place to store them. But Marcus was just Marcus. He wasn’t very practical.”

Inevitably the shed caught fire. “This was about five years before Marcus died” Mrs Fabb recalls. “All the 54mm masters and moulds were destroyed and he had to build the business up again from scratch”.  It is believed that around 25% of the 20mm masters and moulds were also damaged beyond repair.

By the time Hinton died Mrs Fabb was working for Tradition of London. Roy Belmont-Maitland the owner of Tradition was interested in buying Hinton’s collection of militaria (through presumably not the cats that lived in it) and persuaded a business partner, Colonel Anders Lindstrom of Stockholm to buy the 20mm range of figures. Mrs Fabb helped organize the sale.

The 54mm figures –remade by Hinton in a more “toy soldier” style after the fire – were sold through an auction house in Kent that specialised in military items. “We tried to find out who bought them, “ John Fabb says, “But they wouldn’t disclose who it was. As far as I know the figures have never been made again which is a real pity. Marcus was an expert on medieval armour and the knights in particular were wonderful”.

Colonel Lindstrom, meanwhile, shipped the figures back to Sweden. “But I quickly lost my enthusiasm for the task,” he told us, “There were simply too many figures and too much to sort out”. So in the late 1980s Colonel Lindstrom sold the figures to David A. Clayton of Elan Enterprises in Florida. David Clayton is still producing the figures (though he is now based in Georgia) and can be contacted via his web site (see links page).

The American figures can easily be distinguished from the British produced versions - they don’t have serial numbers on the underside of the bases, have only one moulding plug instead of two and are of shinier metal. Quality tends to be poorer too.

“Marcus Hinton was terrifically good company” John Fabb recalls,  “An eccentric, certainly, but a very, very affable one. You would have liked him”.

Notes:

1)  In 1973 Hinton Hunt Figures changed its trade name to Hinton Hunt Figures Marketing Ltd.

2)  Marcus Hinton was secretary of the Battle Commemoration Unit. The BCU organized special commemorative displays on the anniversaries of great battles. These included large wargames. In 1973 Leipzig was staged at the National Army Museum, Chelsea.

3)  The first 20mm figure issued by Hinton Hunt were:-

Napoleonic British: Infantry of the Line 1812-1815, Rifle Regiments 1812-1815, Royal Horse Artillery 1812-1815 Gun Team (figures BN1 to BN25 inclusive), field gun and limber.

Napoleonic Dutch-Belgians: Infantry 1815 (DN1 to DN3 inclusive)

Napoleonic French: Infantry of the Line 1812-1815 (FN1 to FN10 inclusive)

American Civil War: Union Infantry and gun team (US1 to US14 inclusive)

Confederate infantry (CS1 to CS7 inclusive and CS10) 12-pound Napoleon field gun and limber.

English Restoration Period: Foot figures (ER1 to ER3 inclusive)

4) Der Kriegspieler‚€™s range of ‚€œmodified‚€Ě Hinton Hunt figures was sold quite openly in the US in gaming stores and at conventions despite protests from the manufacturer and from various British wargames worthies such as Don Featherstone who denounced the situation in characteristically forthright style in Wargamer‚€™s Newsletter in 1974. As one American correspondent to WN complained that not only were the pirated figures being brazenly offered for sale they also cost more than the originals!

5) Der Kriegspeiler‚€™s range included a number of converted figures that did not appear on the Hinton Hunt lists. These included (figure codes are Der Kriegspieler):-

169/1 Neapolitan Legere infantry, assaulting

170/1 Westphalian infantry, repelling

176/1 Swiss Neuchatel battalion, on guard

177/1 Wurtenburg Jaeger, charging

180/1 Joseph Napoleon Spanish infantry

232/1 Hannover landwehr, advancing

242/1 Dutch-Belgian Militia

6) Der Kriegspieler Napoleonic artillery crews and command figures were sold in groups of 8 and 4 respectively and cannons came in sets with limber and horses. However, the cannon may not have been Hinton Hunt in origin (see next note)

7) On the subject of US piracy Donald A. Wolff of Columbus, Ohio wrote in the Wargamer‚€™s Newsletter of January 1974: ‚€œTwo ‚€œproducers‚€Ě of figures are making copies of the Hinton Hunt figures. However, both are rather marginal and sometimes very poor copies. These copies do make alterations which Hinton Hunt does not carry: Brunswick Light Infantry, Swedish Guard Infantry, Croat/Dalmatian Infantry, Russian Infantry in greatcoat and kiwer, Austrian/Prussian/Russian standard bearers and Smolensk militia with pikes. I am still trying to figure out whose artillery they are copying (I suspect Hinchliffe).‚€Ě

8) Another US company that pirated Hinton’s figures in the early 1970s was The Replacement Depot of Rockaway Park, New York.

9) Garratt reports that Marcus Hinton celebrated Gettysburg Day each year by raising the Southern flag in his garden and donning Confederate uniform.

 
 
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