Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Wargamer's Demise

Hand-me downs
You're gone but your collection lives on.  Once this realization sinks in, what is a fella to do?

A number of recent events have hit me in rapid succession.  With this barrage of reality checks, my usual thoughts on wargaming turn towards reflection and introspection rather than project planning, painting, reading on military history, and gaming.  Is it a coincidence that four independent events converged within a matter of a few days?  Is someone, somewhere trying to tell me something?  Is this a conspiracy against my wargaming psyche?  So many unanswered questions.

All of the four incidents considered seem to relate to the life cycle of a hobby.  Not just any hobby; no, my wargaming hobby.  As with most activities or processes, a definite life cycle is in action.  Three of the incidents in the following discussion will bring me to the fourth and most puzzling of the incidents.  

The first incident was marked by the recent passing of a wargaming acquaintance.  D. was not the first wargame acquaintance to pass over to the other side.  He certainly will not be the last.  Left to the survivors was the task of liquidating his wargame collection.  As for many of us, his widow did not know what to do with his lifetime passion of collecting wargaming detritus.  "Detritus," that is, to those unfamiliar or uninterested in the hobby.  To those in the know, estates sales can be a gold mine as well as a time for mourning.

The task of liquidating D's main gaming project, a large 15mm Napoleonic Peninsular War collection, fell upon another gaming friend.  From memory, the collection consisted of at least 1,000 15mm old Heritage Napoleonics; all nicely painted.  The figures were all based similarly but no one knew the rules D. used to game.  I wish I would have snapped a photo or two of the collection before it marched off to a new owner.  Had I not already possessed a Napoleonic Peninsular War project in 15mm, this collection would have been given much consideration.  After some consternation, the entire collection was sold to the great relief of the executor.  Not relegated to the waste bin of history for those fine soldiers!

Note to self:  Annotate for which rules a collection is based.

  
The second incident was a recent post by blogger Robbie on his The Independent Wargames Group blog.  A very fine blog to add to a Reading List if not already discovered.
The topic of Robbie's recent post (see: Durham Wargames  Show Makes One Depressed), was the sight of an estate sale at the show's Bring & Buy.  What concerned the author was the observation that a lifetime's amassing of a collection was consigned to an impersonal liquidation.  The feeling of melancholy which overcame the author is likely one felt by many given a similar reflective situation.  What will become of my lifelong wargaming passion once I am gone?  Will the recipient realize what a treasure and windfall has just been captured?  Will the hours and effort needed to field such a collection be fully appreciated?  Of course, beauty is in the eyes of a beholder and a sentimental connection to a collection usually does not pass on to a new owner.  In this state of mind, thoughts may focus on the purpose and pursuit of our hobby goals.  Is the effort worth the result?  How can this melancholy and remorse be overcome so that one may forge ahead with the joys of the hobby?  

As I shared with Robbie,
it is not the ultimate destination (we all know where that ends!) but the journey that is important. If the hobby provides enjoyment and friendship along this path, that counts even when all aspirations have not been reached and we are pulled away too soon.    
The third incident was a recent discussion thread on The Miniatures Page soliciting opinions on when to stop collecting (see: TMP: When to Stop Collecting).  The gist of the original post was determining the point at which one stops buying and fielding new armies and switches to solely enjoying the gaming aspect of the hobby.  Does that regime switch ever materialize?  For some, it must.  If it does come to pass, how does one identify and make the switch from buying/painting to gaming?  Is this a gradual transition or does one make the change "cold turkey?"  As expected, the responses vary but many seem to hold that buying new armies late in the life cycle (and life) is quite acceptable.

While I have entertained thoughts of downsizing the number of periods and figure sizes I collect, those thoughts do not survive contact with reality.  When I do reluctantly jettison one project, two or three step in to fill the gap, cheerfully.  For me, downsizing seems not possible.

Finally, the incident that really prompted this reflection is, to me, the most puzzling and difficult with which to come to grips.

Our one-time painting and gaming comrade moved away several years ago.  Since then, very little painting, modeling, or game reports have come out from his part of the world.  Through second-hand reports, he has thrown in the towel on the hobby and wiped the slate clean.  He indeed has gone "cold turkey" and discarded the hobby that he once enjoyed.  Oh, he did often remark that "this would be a great hobby if not for the people in it" but I always took that as a tongue in cheek statement.  A by-product of his decision to abandon the hobby is that Scott was the happy recipient of 73 pounds of lead.  Wow!  He really is wiping the slate clean with no plans to return to either miniatures, modeling, or gaming.  Seems a drastic step but everyone makes their choice.  

Lucky for me, Scott is a generous bloke and passed along a bit of this windfall to yours truly.  What benefit did I get out of A.'s lifestyle change-up?  As seen in the leading photo, a small stack of books (one of which was a book I gave to A. years ago), several packets of Battle Honors Austrian Napoleonics, a bag of Langton Anglo-Dutch Wars ships, and about two-dozen packs of TAG TYW figures.  I am quite grateful to receive such a handsome windfall.  No doubt they will see action on the painting desk one day. 

Whoops. I digress from topic by the joy of new lead!  

Could I change direction so abruptly and put an end to my nearly 50 year relationship with toy soldiers, gaming, and the study of military history?  I doubt it!  I have always been drawn to these activities long before I knew there was such a formal hobby.  This hobby, while certainly still a hobby, has become a part of what defines me.  I am a wargamer.  For now, I continue to plan projects, paint figures, study military history, and game.

Enough for the introspection.  Attention must now turn towards thoughts of how to employ the newly acquired TYW lead.  Should these be additions to the existing ECW project or will these figures become the seed to a new, TYW project?  I am not too old to begin a new project.  Back to project planning, painting, reading on military history, and gaming for me.

49 comments:

  1. Unlike looking at posts that specifically match an interest is subject and scale etc - the end point of our hobby whether by death or abandonment is a post that by a measure of fact does touch every gamer.

    as to abandoning the hobby, this might be forced by health / age issues, or as in the case of your buddy, a simple decision to leave the hobby. I suspect I am like you, at a very early age, some kind of spark was ignited that created what I believe will be an unbreakable passion. I simply can't imagine abandoning the hobby ... with what would I replace, with what will your friend replace it. So I think there are two levels of wargamer, the passionate and the flirter and then all shades of grey between them, which makes abandonment easier or harder.

    I have always seen those as lucky who can (simply) passionately obey just one period and one scale, for them the collecting aspect is somewhat finite.

    For me, ever the butterfly, I delight in allsorts of things and so can never 'get there', but I don't see this as a weakness, rather collecting, admiring the new, buying and painting are in themselves pleasure.

    everytime we go for a coffee (and perhaps cake), which is a daily thing I spend around £6 to £8 (a box of Perry plastics are around £20). My son goes out with mates and would never leave the house with less than £100. Going to a football match with your son can cost around £80. All these things give instant pleasure to those that do it, but it is of course dead money as soon as it is spent, while my figure stuff should give lifetime service.

    What I am saying is that although a collection does have physical value, you can change your mindset to see the real value as it simply being available to you while you live. it has done its job, it has been consumed, it has given better value to me than the football game (but granted not to others), so why should I worry about value etc at the point of death - I don't really care, it has done its job, just as the single visit to the football match did several years previous.

    the fact that the collection does have value is a bonus and for those that want to pursue that value, well that is a personal thing, but for me, it is just like the hundreds of coffees .... it is spent money.

    You can of course only spend your money once, and I have had friends and family look shocked when I show them something for say £50, they see it as over priced waste of money, yet there they are with 4 bottles of wine in their shopping trolley, enjoying their consumable money in a different way.

    Also to consider is that our consumerism is a blessing and not something to be treated as a curse, hobby and an internet is a global thing and there are many who browse and can only look on in wonderment that others actually have the spare money in the first place to make these purchases - so maybe worrying about collections etc is an arrogance in a sense, since their are probably may who wished they actually had that worry.

    I feel in writing mood and could go on and on, but Mrs. Smith has just shouted that she is now dressed and it is time for us to go out for a shop and of course a coffee stop ..... wish I was buying figures instead :-)

    P.S. I am certain that most of my stuff will go to the tip or be gifted, I am comfortable with both.

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    1. Jonathan FreitagJune 14, 2017 at 3:52 PM
      Very comprehensive and insightful reply, Norm! On this topic, I believe we are of one mind. With similar background and hobby drive, you would make a worthy gaming comrade in arms.

      As for your note about consumerism, do you view blogs touting our hobby as a demonstration of conspicuous consumption? I realize that our hobby is tilted towards a First World problem and may seem a luxury. Is maintaining a blog that displays a parade of painted figures recently completed, a signal of arrogance? I hope not. For me, it is simply a means of logging my productivity at the painting desk.

      Very much enjoyed your thoughtful response!

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    2. Overall, I would have to say no, bloggers are not generally demonstrating conspicuous consumption. We don't really see thoughtless posts that are a blatant reflection of wealth or elitism. Rather blogs have at their heart creativity, a true sense of wanting to share and by their nature, tend to raise the standards of how we game.

      Most bloggers that show their wares have started with a raw material, done a ton of research and then invested many hours of their own time in painting and basing, so I think it turns out to be more a labour of love with a genuine interest in sharing rather than a grand parading of wealth or worth.

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    3. Norm thank you for expressing so clearly the willingness to share that comes from us in the blog-o-sphere.

      Not all are so blessed as to have a large and active club to share live games with, so we make do until we connect with some more local players via the web.

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  2. Sorry for the spelling mistakes, it was banged out and not checked due to the need to get out!

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    1. No worries regarding spelling/grammar mistakes. With auto correct and often replying via iPad, I am bound to make many myself. I sometimes wonder if fellow bloggers think me a borderline illiterate when I re-read some of the typos introduced in my replies on their blog.

      Too bad, Blogger does not have an edit function. That would be handy.

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    2. I would certainly be the last one to quibble over typos. I really *do* know how to spell, but my typing is another matter altogether!

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  3. Ive had a bit micky take since posting my thoughts regarding, when a wargamers moves on to the big battlefield in the sky, I think because wargamers thought I was become a tad depressed, as happens from time to time. But although partly true, I look at my collections, built up over the years, and that includes countless books, magazines, paints and figures, and I wonder how does my wife shift them. Its a quandary. And then I go and buy a new book, or some new figures and I seem happy. Wargamers are funny, I suppose.

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    1. Robbie, despite your state of mind at the time of your lamentation, I drew inspiration from it.

      A wargaming purchase always cheers me up too!

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  4. I heartily concur with your reflection that life is a journey, Jonathan. When I go, what happens to my collection is really of no concern to me. It is there for me to enjoy now, and my revolving door policy of projects which I finish and then sell in order to fund the next interest is all part of that. I'm hopeful that I've now got a couple of collections in the cabinet that will never go anywhere, but we never know what tomorrow will bring...

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    1. Quite right, Nathan! Enjoy the hobby and your collections while you can. I marvel at the ease with which you jettison one project and begin anew. I tend to become attached to the collections since I know the effort I put into them.

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  5. A couple of years ago my wife and I re-wrote our wills, and mine now has specific instructions as to what is to happen to my collection of figures and books. I just want them to give others as much fun and enjoyment as they have given me.

    All the best,

    Bob

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    1. That is a wise policy, Bob. When I depart, my wife will rely on my gaming buddies to help her sort through the mess I leave. It is well documented and organized, though.

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    2. Robert, this was exactly the verbal final instructions I had from my friend Jeff. He said what forces to give away to myself and the other active game player in our group. Then to raise funds for his widow with the rest, in the process to keep the troops as much together as possible and to see that they go to willing and active game players.

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  6. A wargaming friend of mine recently passed, at the unexpectedly young age of 54. Some of his friends are involved in the sale of his massive collection of miniatures and games for the estate. In this case, the expertise of friends is a major help, as they have a very good feel for the value items should achieve and how to enhance that value. I am considering a move abroad in the next few years which will likely lead to the rationalisation of my own collection before I croak. At least I hope so! I think such exercises are useful. Gaming for me has been a great way to meet new people in a town where I knew nobody when I first moved here 15 years ago. In some ways, choice of period is guided by what people play more than anything else.

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    1. Having a group of friends to help settle the estate is a wise solution. Who better to know the value than those familiar with the deceased and his collection?

      You make good points regarding gaming and friendship. Many of those I consider my best friends are gamers.

      Thanks, Stuart!

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  7. I have to admit that I'm already (having reached the decision previously, last year, during a time of ill health) working at clearing away my hobby loose ends and tidying up projects with a view to completing and then stopping further collecting. I'm in my mid-30s.

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    1. I wish you the best, Roy! Years ago, I read an editorial in MWAN magazine wherein Hal contemplated wrapping up all painting by age 55 with an eye towards gaming with the collection from there on.

      At the time, I thought that made great sense. Now on the far side of 55, I think 55 was a bit premature considering the interesting projects started post-55. I will likely paint until my eyes fail.

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    2. Thanks Jonathan.

      I'm lucky in that I also enjoy playing pen and paper campaign games, played through email or the post. Fair enough, there all you get for your time playing such PBM or PBeM games are fond memories and any diaries you keep, but it scratches my itch for player interaction (in the form of in-game diplomacy) and long-term campaigning.

      I've also started playing the buy-and-play spaceship games (there are other such games, based on land or sea) that don't require any painting. I have to admit that these are a tremendous boon to me. To be able to simply pick up and play with little to no preparation has allowed me to get in quite the number of games recently.

      The only thing that both of the above don't provide for me, however, is the ability to express myself creatively. And that is where I'll need to keep painting little toy soldiers and making tabletop layout that look nice.

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  8. Nothing wrong in moving to a new period now and then, but I do have difficulty understanding the desire to immediately buy large amounts of unpainted figures which languish for months or years. Build your new collection slowly and steadily and start gaming small actions as soon as possible. And avoid more than 1 new project at a time!

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    1. Keith, you show more restraint than I! My Lead Pile is large but the earth is slow. Occasionally one must strike while the iron is hot. How many manufacturers have stopped production before you could finish a project? It has happened to me.

      By the way, your Honours of War will be seeing action on the game table within a fortnight.

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  9. Stimulating post and responses. I have slowly started to organize my collections and rid myself of the odd parts. When starting something new I try to have an endgame so there's a preset limit on what I'll buy and nothing will be added until the first goal is complete.

    Hopefully a decent catalouge of the collections will help my heirs deal with them efficiently.

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    1. Thank you, Dan. You are clearly a pragmatist when it comes to working a wargame project. You show great restraint and effective planning. Congratulations!

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  10. Estate sales in general and the toys of wargamers in particular among those always give me pause. Thanks for sharing these ruminations, which I can say for myself are shared. I actually did break completely from the hobby for about 10+ years and then came back (I might post about that myself on my blog), so I know something of the other side of this story. However, advancing age makes the stakes and considerations different now--back then, I took care of my affairs when I jettisoned the hobby.

    I think your response to receiving the windfall of lead from your friend's collection speaks for itself: enjoy!

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    1. Ed, please do recount your hobby diversion when you can. I am sure many will find it interesting. I, for one, am happy to see that you have returned. Your mid-19th Century project is a good one!

      I will enjoy my windfall!

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  11. Points that all bear consideration, Jonathan. As a 42 year old I hope I still have a few years left of wandering into and out of hobby dead ends, but we shall see!

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    1. Aaron! Thank you for providing a terrific visual that explains our hobby wanderings and diversions so well. We all ought to be given a long life to allow full exploration and wanderings of these hobby dead ends. They all will not be dead ends. Some will hold pleasant surprises and opportunity!

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  12. It is said that there is a fine line between a hobby and madness. I have yet to locate that line. This means that I will stop painting and collecting when they pry the brush with dried paint on the tip from my hands.

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    1. Bill, I have yet to reveal that line either. It must be a folktale of which legends are made.

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  13. Thought provoking post, and everyone will have a different take on your ruminations, but in answer to your last question...new TYW project!

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    1. Thank you, Rory! Glad you enjoyed my rambling. A TYW project does make sense. I certainly have a good start.

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  14. Having received a severe slapping from Reality in the recent past, I fully recognize the points of your post, Jon. Fortunately, my sons are also enthusiasts of miniatures, gaming, and books. Even so, I am in the process of planning a detailed will so their burden will be lessened when my time comes.

    Robbie's point is one I share also. I receive e-mails from one of the largest used game stores in the US, and every time I see some rare game for sale listed as 'Mint condition, still in shrinkwrap', I cringe just a bit with the thought of a hobbyist that has either passed away or needed to dump their collection for one reason or another.


    Oh yes, TYW of course!

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    1. Hi Greg! Another vote for TYW.

      I have followed your journey through your difficult situation and understand fully. Having experienced the same loss, I know what you have faced. Very good to see your hobby continuing to get attention during this difficult time.

      When you mention cringing at seeing shrinkwrapped boardgames for second hand sale, I cringed too. Looking over at my bookshelf are a number of shrinkwrapped wargames. One day, I plan to have the time to play them. Really, I do.

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  15. Food for thought indeed. I must catalogue my own stuff at some point and point out to my wife who to pass stuff onto if something were to happen.

    I gave up the hobby for 10 years myself selling off nearly all that I own and replacing it with online PC Gaming. I still enjoyed reading about the hobby and still bought White Dwarf and Wargames Illustrated to read as well as browsing online about it.

    Then my children came along and my PC gaming time took a hit and was no longer able to afford the costs of it. Turning back to just painting a few figures for relaxation turned into a full scale return to the hobby.

    I hope to continue it but you never know what life is going to hand to you and whether a change in circumstances will dictate the hobby changes.

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    1. Thanks for relating your ten year hiatus from the hobby, Simon. We certainly cannot predict what life will throw our way but I find the relaxation provided by painting little figures eases the anxiety and provides relaxating decompression from daily stress.

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  16. Interesting and thought provoking post. My nephews and grand nephews will I guess end up with my kit, maybe my daughter might like to hold onto a bit, I know my wife wants to be buried with one of my little men as they are important to me, a return to grave goods! To me it's more the painting and making than the playing, to me that is often a distant pleasurable bonus! I can't imagine giving up the collecting and painting, I did for about 10 years and I think that time means I enjoy it now more. I don't spend excessively on my hobby, it's certainly as Norm says cheaper than live sport and as I understand it a small craft based hobby is probably pretty good for you, I know it stops me spending ages in the bar when I'm working away from home so it's saved my liver too!
    Best Iain

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    1. Iain, you are fortunate to have kin interested in your hobby. Neither of my boys showed much interest growing up and that disinterest continues to this day.

      I often joke (maybe half-heartedly) to my wife that I want to take it all with me. If Emperor Qin could, why not me? I will use your example as a starting point for negotiation.

      Whatever keeps you out of the bar is a good thing, right?

      Appreciate your thoughts on this topic.

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  17. A timely and thoughtful post, Jonathan! Much of it echoing my own recent departure and return to the hobby! Although I am about to rebuild my WotR collection, I have no regrets selling off over half of the figures I had to local gamer buddies. Warm regards, Dean

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    1. Dean! Very good to see you back! I considered your situation as well but with your recent Enfilade game mastering, I figured you were back.

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  18. Wow that is a thought provoker Jonathan!

    I had never really considered what happens to the little men after the main event. Her indoors has mentioned at time that she would keep them, but in the hard light of day, I think that unlikely – especially given that the weight of lead building up in my garage is in danger of shifting the centre of gravity of the Earth.

    I don’t know about you, but I use my hobbies as an escape from the challenges of the daily grind. My job is almost constant problem solving, and don’t get me wrong I like that – there is an intense satisfaction in getting to the bottom of why this stupid piece of software is doing what it has done now! For me losing myself while researching, collecting, painting and the occasional game is an essential part of remaining sane. Similarly thinking of rules and scenarios is an essential part of surviving the ridiculous amount of time I have to spend commuting to and from work.

    In the late 1990s and early 2000s I actually stopped collecting and gaming and sold my armies (I had only a few armies at the time although they were very large armies). At the time I was involved in a wargames business and being involved 24/7 was just getting too much. Although I didn’t touch a paint brush or play a game for five or six years I never lost the interest and a few years after getting out of the business I was back collecting and enjoying the company of good friends.

    Some sixteen years ago a friend of mine passed and his family sold off his very large collection. The group I play with chipped in a bought a significant portion of that collection, not only to have figures to game with, but also to enable his gaming legacy to continue. Regrettably his family rated the value of the collection too high and I suspect that a good percentage were unsold and wound up in less prestigious places.

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    1. Mark, hobby time is an outlet to reduce work induced stress for me as for you. It is a time to relax and reflect. Perhaps working in IT/computing related fields brings on stress?

      No one values your work as the person creating it. Too bad an arrangement could not have been made to keep all of your buddies collections among his friends. They would have valued the collection more than a stranger; at least sentimentally.

      As for our stockpiles of lead, the earth is fortunate we are in different hemispheres!

      Your thoughts and stories are much appreciated!

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  19. I can understand and sympathize with this situation, having just gone through the liquidation of a gaming friend over the past 7 months. He was also a past manager of a gaming store in California from the late 1970's to the early 1990's, so there were whole generations of gaming interests, layered with some additions from the passing of two or three other gamers that he had inherited over the years.

    I am glad to report that many months worth of living expenses for his widow were generated and at least two sections of his collection are now included in the collection of two fellow game players (one is myself) fully intact as two complete opposing sides of forces from the 16th and 17th centuries respectively.

    The focus in all the sales portion was to have the miniatures gain what value they could and to have them go to a willing game player so they could gain a new life on the tabletop!

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    1. I knew Jeff only through his blog and personal correspondence. He was a fine fellow and we shared an interest in our ECW projects. A tragic loss, no doubt.

      Very good to read that his collections have found good homes. I do enjoy seeing his collections in combat through your blog. That is a legacy that will live on.

      Thank you.

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  20. I'm reminded of how Wally Simon handled his legacy (at the time, I was living in the region and had contact with some of the Potomac Wargamer circle). He had arranged to have a close friend run an "open house" and his gaming friends were invited to come through and take what they wanted.

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    1. That was a selfless gesture. Thanks for sharing that.

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  21. Thank you a very thoughtful piece. I happily consider myself somewhere in the middle of my allotted time , but a number of recent events have also flagged a sense of introspection. Some good some bad, a good friend and occasional gamer struck down with an incurable brain tumour, my son completing his university course and a second colleague at work struck down at 56 in the blink of an eye. My father who is still alive has been through a process of sorting his affairs of all the most stressful things he dealt with was his lifelong stamp collection, in so many ways similar to our hobby, his relief when I said I would love to have it was immense. As to some of the other questions you raise, we all know in our hearts it is the journey that counts not the destination and yet so many of us fill our time with anxiety and stress, there is clearly something about our comfortable modern lives which causes this, perhaps the simplicity of survival is not enough. As for collecting, painting gaming reasearching they are all a part of MY hobby and I intend to keep doing all of them to the last 😀

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    1. Well said, Matt! If one of my sons (or daughters) expressed an interest in my collection, I would be very pleased! I still hold out hope for interest from grandkids but they are still much too young but there is time to foster an interest.

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  22. I have moments when I think I will finish painting and collecting by about age 70, and just use what I have. However, I rather doubt that will be reality. As you might know, I was fortunate to know Charlie Sweet and still see his son David at least once a year at Historicon. Dave told me that Charlie still had figures under way on his painting table when he passed on well into his 80's. I suspect the same was true for Don Featherstone, who I had the pleasure of meeting, again in his 80's, on his last trip to Historicon, being introduced by Jim Getz. Don was certainly still making new purchases then. When I ruminated on halting the expansion of my collection, my freind Joe quipped "Yeah, right; they'll have to pry the paintbrush out of your cold, dead fingers!" I suspect his assessment in closer to the truth! I have greatly enjoyed our hobby since about age 13, and cannot imagine leaving it behind while I am still physically capable of enjoying it!

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    1. Peter,my name can likely be chiseled into the granite for those painting until death do us part. Along with you and the fine gents you mentioned, I will be in good company!

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