Strange New Worlds Issue 9 - Jun/Jul 1993
Fantasy Miniature Collecting
by Scott E. Green
You go into any toy or game store and there you see them: figures out of Tolkein,
Lovecraft, and other fantasy writers captured in white metal and neatly confined in
plastic blister packs. They range in size from 25mm to 54mm and are intended to be used in
Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy role-playing games.
What do these tiny metal warriors, wizards, dragons, and maidens in distress represent
to collectors? Are they an unusual element of the toy field or a fascinating extension of
military miniature collecting? They could be an all new area of collecting.
Roger Besaw is the Associate Publisher of Stroke and Dagger, a magazine that
covers the field of fantasy miniature collecting. He spoke to me about the immediate
origins of fantasy miniature collecting.
"In the early 1970s fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons
started to become commercially popular. The way that these games rules are written
is similar to the rules for table-top games involving military miniatures. While you did
not actually need figures to play, their use certainly helped a role-playing game come
alive. An old shoe from a Monopoly set could be used, but it would not be the same thing.
The rise of role-playing games created a need for fantasy miniatures," said Besaw.
The first white metal fantasy miniatures became commercially available in 1974 and
1975. Three different companies started to release lead fantasy miniatures. Minifig, a
leading British maker of military and historical miniatures came out with a line of 25mm
fantasy figures loosely based on Tolkiens novels. These were clearly intended for
In this country, Squadron Shop, a mail-order retailer of gaming and modeling supplies
released a line of 70-90mm tall figures also based on Tolkiens work. These were
initially released under the imprimatur of Squadron-Rubin -- "Rubin" being Ray
Rubin, a designer and maker of military miniatures at that time.
Because of their size, the Squadron miniatures were for collecting and display. At the
same time, Superior, a company better known for its pirate miniatures, also came out with
a line of fantasy miniatures for collectors.
Most of the designers, sculptors, and makers of white metal fantasy figures had their
roots in the military and fantasy miniature industry. Tom Meier, a leading sculptor and
manufacturer of fantasy miniatures commented on this element of the field. "The
people who started to make fantasy figures were those who already had careers in military
miniatures. For example, my first work in 1975, when I was a teenager, was simply
modifying existing medieval miniatures. However, it would be an overstatement to infer
that interest in fantasy miniatures was an outgrowth of military miniatures. All during
the 1950s and 1960s there was interest in fantasy figures. Mattel and other
toy companies were making plastic action figures based on television, movies, and comic
books. Aurora had their famous model kits based on the Universal Studio monsters. The
interest was there, but it took the rise of fantasy role-playing and military miniature
makers response to it in order to create fantasy miniature making as we know it
today," said Meier.
Meier also noted that through the seventies and eighties, fantasy miniatures were
mass-produced primarily for gaming. However, collecting interest was developing at the
same time. The average collector was not a bad market for miniature makers.
"A collector buys three examples of each fantasy miniature that he or she wants.
One would be kept in its package for the collection. One would be painted and used for
gaming; most collectors would also be gamers. The third would be kept for swapping with
other collectors," Besaw noted.
Many gamers paint their miniatures in order to personalize them. Normally this might
reduce their value to collectors. However, there are now professional artists who paint
fantasy miniatures for their owners. Their work enhances rather than diminishes the
miniature value. It is rather like a pristine 1950 Mercury being worth more if it was
customized by George Barris.
For many years the only principal exception to the mass-production of miniatures was
the occasional large piece in finished pewter (usually over 70mm) made for the gift shop
market. These were frequently dragons or unicorns.
In the last years several fantasy miniature makers have started to make fantasy
miniatures specifically for the collector. These miniatures have several things in common.
They are of limited production (usually a thousand pieces or less); there is documentation
for each piece; they are generally large (54mm or greater) and are either designed by
leading miniature sculptors or are based on the work of major fantasy/science fiction
Besaw also stated, "The quality of the artwork in these pieces is fantastic. For
example, New England Pewter produced 1,000 foot-high statues called War Against the
Gods, copied from a Frank Frazetta< painting. The manufacturers list price was $400
and dealers have received offers of $1,000 or more from collectors for them. One company,
Thunderbolt Mountain Studio, the personal studio of Tom Meier, was formed in 1988 for
sales to the collectors market. Their very first item was a set of six figures
called Series A The Adventurers. One thousand were made. They retailed for $9.50. The set
is now going for $75-$150."
An interesting point is the attitude of collectors towards who did the work. Certain
sculptors, such as Tom Meier, have a strong reputation among collectors. His work, and
that of his peers, is always going to be among the most expensive for collectors to buy.
There is a dispute among experts, however, concerning the value of work that is based
upon the output of artists not associated with fantasy gaming. Andy Chernakis, a co-owner
of Grenadier, a major manufacturer of fantasy miniatures, noted that "...collectors
are going to look for artists whose work has been closely identified with heroic fantasy
gaming, especially those who do covers and other artwork for TSR, this countrys
major publisher of role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons." On the
other hand, Tom Meier said, "...an artist who has a well-established reputation such
as Frank Frazetta is going to do well with collectors. Pieces based on
his work have already attracted considerable collector attention. I am sure that other
major fantasy/science fiction artists such as the Brothers Hilderbrandt and Michael Whelan
should do well with collectors though their work has not been associated with fantasy
The future of fantasy miniatures is unclear. There are debates over which medium to use
(white metals vs. resin), what sculptors are going to be collectible, and whose designs
are desirable for translation into three-dimensional form.
One thing is clear, fantasy miniature collecting is developing into a strong field of
collecting and is just not a passing fad.
(Printed with permission from the Antique Trader Weekly, Dubuque, Iowa.
PHOTO ON ADJOINING PAGE: Miniature figures made from tin based alloy.
Produced by Heartbreaker Hobbies & Games, Inc.)