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The Importance of Scale in Miniatures for All Types of Models and Collectibles


What is Miniature Scale?

Definition of Scale Measurement - Scale is the defined size ratio between a full size object and its miniature or model version. The easiest model scales are one where scale translates directly from a common measurement, like one inch equals one foot, sometimes written as 1:12 or 1/12 scale (one inch equals 12 inches) the most common scale for dollhouses. In 1/12 scale an object one inch tall in miniature would be twelve inches tall in normal size.

A Ratio, not a Measurement - In a 1:12 scale miniature, one part miniature equals twelve parts real. If something is 2 cm. as a 1:12 miniature it will be 24 cm. in full size.

Scale in History - Scale became more important in the 1970's as people sought more accurate and interchangeable pieces for their collections. Early examples or antiques may vary widely from a scale size. Many railway model scales have gone out of production as the hobby changed from carpet railroads to smaller modern tabletop layouts. As height and fashion changed across history, miniatures changed as well. An antique doll which seems small may accurately represent someone from her period.

Dollhouse Scales- In addition to the common 1:12 scale, dollhouses may be 1:24 scale, sometimes called 1/2 scale because it is one half of 1:12 scale. 1:48 is a smaller dollhouse scale sometimes called 1/4 scale (1/4 of the regular 1/12 scale). Playscale or 1:6 is the scale used for fashion dolls. A 1:12 scale toy dollhouse for inside a 1:12 scale dollhouse would be 1/12 x 1/12 or 1:144 scale. In addition there are some common model scales created by particular toy makers. Lundby, a Swedish company famous for their range of sturdy play dollhouses used a scale between 1:15 and 1:18 for their items.

Gauge - Railway modelers not only have to deal with scale, but with gauge, which is the measurement of the space between tracks. Railway modelers sometimes divide themselves into Narrow Gauge and Standard Gauge groups.

  • Narrow Gauge in real railways has 3 ft. 6 in. (1067mm) between the rails and was used a lot for private industrial railways or railways in mountainous areas.

  • Standard Gauge railways have 4 ft. 8 1/2in. (1435mm) between the rails and are the most common of the world's commercial railroads.

There are an enormous range of miniature railroad scales in both main gauges. Even within named scale groups such as HO there may be huge variation in the ratio. HO may vary in size from 1:72 to 1:90 with various gauges depending on the manufacturer. Z scale at 1:220 and N scale at 1:160 are the tiniest model railways. The largest for indoors are G gauge/scale at 1:22 to 1:25, used in garden railroads. Outdoors even larger scales are the ride-on steam trains you see in amusement parks. Some half scale 1:24 dollhouse builders use G scale railway components in their dollhouses as the scales are similar.

Finescale - More accurate scale miniatures are called finescale, a term that appears mainly in dollhouse and model railroad miniatures. Finescale miniatures are highly and accurately detailed to exact scale.

Gaming Scales - Military and fantasy models may be different scales or sizes depending on whether the pieces are used for gaming, and what size army, territory and moves are involved. A larger description of the various sizes used for gaming figures can be found in the Introduction to War Gaming Miniatures These scales commonly range from 1:300, a size used for micro armour up to 1:32, a common size for toy soldiers. Model ships may be a standard scale for gaming, 1:2400, or sized to be placed on a mantelpiece, something modelers call FTB or Fit the Box Scale, a scale whose parts can be packed easily by a company.

Collectibles in Mixed Scales- Some collectables use different scales within the same range. One popular series of Christmas villages has buildings which are approximately HO scale (1:87) or S railway scale (1:64) in size with trains in O scale (which varies from 1:43 to 1:48). O is a common size for Christmas and toy trains. The same village may have cars and other vehicles slightly larger than O scale and people who are G scale (1:20, to 1:25). Confused? Mixed scales make it hard to purchase pieces from other ranges to match your set unless you know what scale they are.

Proportion Without Scale - While architectural miniatures and miniatures built to be exact scale examples for furniture or ship building may be accurately scaled down to the thickness of the paint, the majority of items we call miniatures are not built to any particular scale. Scale model builders sometimes refer to these as TLAR scale for That Looks About Right. Collectible cottages, famous building models, tourist miniatures, Christmas ornaments, miniature books and many decorative miniatures fit the TLAR category.

Scale Model is often a catch all phrase for an item that depicts reality in smaller or larger scale. People who work in a particular scale will refer to collecting 1:18 scale diecasts, rather than scale model cars. Railroad scales will be referred to by name, rather than calling an HO locomotive a Scale model train. The term scale model has been so loosely applied that it now tends to stand for toys, or items built from boxed sets of pre-cast modelling parts.

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