Bill Imrie, Founder of Imrie/Risley Military Miniatures, dies

William “Bill” Ferguson Imrie, founder of Imrie/Risley Miniatures in Ballston Spa, New York and an important influence on the development of the military miniatures hobby, died on May 5, 2008, of natural causes, he was 77.

Bill was not just an important part of the military miniatures hobby in this country; he was its founding father. He is shown at his desk in this undated photo, courtesy of Helen Imrie.

He began his career in the 1950s by producing commissioned 54 and 60mm military miniatures for museums and private clients. This modest start led to a small commercial outlet named: Imrie Custom Miniatures.

Even in the early days of production, his models were subjected to so much research that collectors were assured of accuracy down to the smallest details.

In 1956, Bill was joined by his wife Helen, herself a trained artist, together they expanded their efforts and began producing a series of Napoleonic era miniature kits under the Hellenic Miniatures name.

Bill was a co-founder of the Military Historical Society in New York City in 1960, and was an associate editor or their journal Adjutant’s Call. He was elected a fellow of The Company of Military Collectors and Historians, and contributed articles on soldiers of the American Revolution to both societies. He was also a member of the Arms and Armor Society, and of the Baker Street Irregulars and the Altamont Agents, both Sherlock Holmes groups. Bill was also co-author of The Model Soldier Guide.

His partner, the late Clyde A. Risley, joined them in 1964, with the company being renamed Imrie/Risley Miniatures. The I/R Miniatures’ team used their combined knowledge of military history, uniforms and human and equine anatomies in the manufacture of their military miniatures that was seldom seen before; making I/R Miniatures the most highly regarded museum quality military miniature company in America.

So highly regarded were Imrie/Risley Miniatures that they were contracted by the Franklin Mint to produce the first pewter figures offered by the Frankin Mint. A stunning group of thirteen figures that represented the original thirteen states for America’s Bicentennial.

At one time, I/R Miniatures’ range of figures were enormous, and were stocked by a wide array of retailers. Peter Blum’s, now shuttered, Soldier Shoppe, as well as Nat Polk’s, Polk’s Hobbies in Manhattan stocked a huge inventoy of both painted and unfinished I/R kits. Today, Hobby Bunker remains as one of the largest stocklists of I/R Miniatures.

His models appear in many museums around the country. One of his custom miniatures was featured on the cover of Look Magazine. Bill received various awards for his contributions to the hobby. Yet, he was a quiet man who never relished publicity or accolades.

My favorite I/R figures are from the range of Medieval Figures. I spent many a relaxing hour assembling and painting I/R Medieval knights and other Medieval figures for display in my bookshelf dioramas. Later I became attracted to the accurate representations of their Christmas range of Dicken’s figures, which I painted and gave as Christmas gifts.

But it was his contagious and unassuming personality that attracted me to Bill Imire back in the early 1970s. He was “approachable,” easy to talk with and never was too busy to chat.

I remember him, with his boyish smile, manning his table at either the MFCA Chester, PA shows, or the NJHMA shows at the college in Montclair and later at Somerset, NJ.

Bill was never too busy to share his knowledge with me. The last time I met Bill was at the Albany Toy Soldier Show about seven years ago. Although it was obvious he had some health concerns he still smiled and spoke to me as if I was the only person in the hall. He will be missed.

He is survived by his wife (and partner) of 55 years, Helen, two daughters and a grandson. Helen will continue with the business as she has for many years!

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