An important skirmish leading up to the Battle of Waterloo unfolded in Columbia on Saturday, but the battle, called the Closing of the Gates at Hougoumont, was neither a re-enactment nor a dramatization.
It was a battle in miniature, sometimes in staggeringly realistic detail, down to the determined looks of the bayonet-wielding toy soldiers and the soon-to-be amputated leg of a wounded figure on the battlefield.
The diorama, voted Best in Show, was just one of several such displays at the Southeastern Toy Soldier Show, held at the State Museum.
Held annually in Columbia, the popular show attracts hundreds of collectors, toy enthusiasts and history buffs from across the Southeast, but for many, the tiny, and often exquisitely-detailed figures from all manner of time periods, aren’t toys at all.
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“These are expensive to collect,” said Jeffrey Mosser of Aiken.
Mosser, who attended the show with his son, Travis, had already spent $95 on a figure from the “King and Country” collection, and was planning on spending a little more.
Both were dressed as early Civil War-era Confederate soldiers, but also had been known to dress in World War I and World II uniforms as part of an organization that interprets military time periods.
The warrior monk, which Mosser purchased, would soon join others from the Crusades period stored in a glass display cabinet back at Mosser’s home. The pieces, he said, are something he enjoys collecting but not from the standpoint of playing toy soldiers.
“I might get them out and look at them,” he said, laughing. “But I don’t play with them, so there’s nothing ‘toy’ about them.”
Dave Gatti, who was helping with the show, said a love of history is the common denominator among those in attendance Saturday.
“This is history in the round,” he said. “It’s history you can see and touch.”
A member of the S.C. Military Miniature Society, which sponsored the show, Gatti said everyone in the club enjoyed discussing history and could even get into some lively debates from time to time.
Each year, society members work to build a diorama depicting a pivotal moment in military history, such as the launching of the Confederate submarine Hunley, for display at the museum. Members might craft molds for making figurines or paint backdrops. A retired surgeon, Gatti enjoys painting set pieces. In constructing the dioramas, accuracy, he said, is of the upmost importance.
“There’s nothing worse than someone saying, ‘They stopped using that uniform two years before that battle,’” he said.
For others, it’s about the nostalgia of childhood.
“I collect what I had as a kid,” said 65-year-old Terry Sells.
Sells, who had driven from Tallulah Falls, Ga., to attend the show, had decided recently to start selling off just a little of what he had in his staggering collection. There were no children, he said, to inherit the pieces that ran the gamut, from Native American figures to Roman gladiator sets complete with chariots and spotted leopards.
“After 40 years of collecting, I have a pretty sizable collection,” he said. “And ... an understanding wife.”