Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Curating the Collection

Every time I bring home a new miniature, my wife sighs and looks around the house at all of the miniatures adorning every available shelf and asks if I don't have enough already.  Silly question, really, you can never have enough.  Perhaps she fears the cautionary tale of Gideon Mantell, a 19th century physician and palaeontologist, who is famous for his description of the dinosaur Iguanodon.  Mantell's fossil collection became so extensive that he had to move his family into a hotel because there was no longer room for them in the house.

A while back, she asked me what was to become of all of my miniatures when I die.  This is actually an excellent question, assuming that it was not, in fact, a thinly-veiled threat.  I've been collecting miniatures for more than thirty years and I've amassed a collection that reflects the changes in technique, style and casting materials over the decades and, taken as a whole, provides a snapshot of the gaming hobby as well.

The problem is that I've never bothered to seriously organize and document my miniatures, which makes them less of a serious collection than a bunch of knick-knacks on the shelf that may end up going the way of grandma's porcelain figures.  My hope is that my collection will eventually be passed on to my daughter, but failing that I want it to go to someone who will appreciate it, and that can only happen if it is properly organized with contextual documentation.

All journeys begin with a single step, and my incentive to get started on this large project was a dwarf miniature that I bought sometime in 1982 whose origin has been puzzling me for some time.  I've loved this miniature from the moment I laid eyes on it, but all I recall is that it was not sold in a package or bag; it was loose on the shelf at the game store, and was very expensive because it came from the UK.

Asgard Miniatures DA-04 Dwarven Cleric

I've been spending a lot of time, lately, working on my Warhammer dwarf army, and I dug this old miniature out of a box in the basement and finally got around to painting him up.  While I had no idea about its origins, I though it might be an old pre-Warhammer Citadel miniature.  After spending a lot of time making inquiries, someone pointed me to an old Asgard Miniatures advertisement, which confirmed this figure's identity as from Asgard's Dungeon Adventurers line: DA-04 Dwarven Cleric.  It felt great to finally have a positive I.D., and it also explained why I, and many others, thought it looked like a Citadel.  Asgard Miniatures was started by Bryan Ansell, who went on to found Citadel Miniatures and eventually purchased Games Workshop from Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.  Several of Citadel's sculptors started out at Asgard, so the resemblance is not surprising.

After that bit of success, I've spent the last few weeks doing some online detective work to garner as much information as possible about many of my other out-of-production miniatures.  I now wish that I had recorded all of this information back when I bought them, but in my teens I cared very little about such things; I regarded miniatures as just a play-aid.  Consequently, a lot of information was lost, especially after I mounted many of them on bases, obscuring many of the valuable clues inscribed on the bottoms of the miniatures, such as product number, year of production, and the sculptor's initials.

I've begun officially accessioning my miniatures into the collection by giving each one a unique collection number, which is recorded on the miniature, and on its entry in the specimen catalogue.  I've started a binder to catalogue my collection with data sheets to record as much information as I can get, including a photograph of each one.

Catalogue sheet

At the front of the binder is an index to the catalogue, which contains a list of all specimens and where they are currently stored, so that they can be easily located (unlike my current method of hunting all over the house).

Specimen Index

Finally, I've created specimen labels that go with each miniature in its storage box.

Specimen labels

So, when this project is finally complete, my miniatures will be much easier to find when I need them at the game table.  All of the research and organization will add to their intrinsic value, making them easier to dispose of when I do pass on, and will hopefully save the collection that I love from being relegated to the trash bin along with all my other junk.

In case anyone is interested in cataloguing their own collections, you can download copies of my catalogue sheet, index, and specimen labels from the links below:

The Index Sheet and Specimen Labels are in PDF format, but I've left the Catalogue Sheet as a Word document so that specimen photographs can be easily imported.  To do so, select the portrait box on the form then click on the 'Insert Picture' icon in Word and the photo will be imported inside the portrait box as shown in the example above.

Here are some online resources that I have found useful for identifying my miniatures:
MiniMag hosts a collection of old miniatures catalogues, including The Armory's Buyers Guide to Fantasy Miniatures, which as a been an invaluable resource and can be downloaded as PDF.
Lost Minis Wiki which includes images of miniatures from over 170 manufacturers.
The Stuff of Legends contains product lists from many manufactures with images for many of them.

Happy curating!


Trey said...

Too bad they don't make cataloging software for minis like they do books, movies, and comics. The program I use for my movies can even support a barcode reader (which I do have, but still a cool feature).

Sean Robson said...

Barcoding would be sweet, indeed, but luddite that I am, I kind of like doing it all by hand. But, I do confess, putting all this information in a data base would be dead handy for variable search terms.

Lasgunpacker said...

Wow, that will be quite a project. How will you handle regiments? Single tag for the whole thing, or individual tags, or something inbetween?

Sean Robson said...

Hi Lasgun,

I plan to assign a single collection number to a whole unit so long as the unit consists of the same type of miniatures. So a unit of Dwarf warriors will all get one collection number for the lot, except for any characters that are different miniatures.