Monday, December 15, 2014

Another Family Arabian Mystery

In the comments about the Palomino "B" mark FAF, commenter Denise noted the existence (in her possession) of non-Palomino Family Arabians with the B mold mark.

When I read that, I had an a-ha! moment: could this be the evidence, at last, for the Walmart Special Run from ca. 1983?

I remember hearing about it in passing not long after it allegedly happened: a Special Run Gray Appaloosa Family Arabian set made specifically for Walmart stores. I didn’t hear or see much about it after the initial rumors; indeed, the only other reference I have for it is in the early Test Color/Special Run Lists compiled by hobbyist Jill Rademacher (now Gutierrez).

This was back when Walmart was still a regional chain, and not the retail juggernaut that it has since become. It wasn’t something I could confirm for myself, because the nearest Walmart was hundreds of miles away.

If they even existed at all, hobby interest in them waned quickly. They were Family Arabians in a previously issued color: that’s the very definition of uninteresting. I assumed that if they did exist, they would have been indistinguishable from later Regular Run Matte Gray Appaloosas, who also had USA mold marks. Those seemed a little more common than I thought they should be for something that ran only a year, anyway, so it seemed plausible.

For a while I tried to determine if there was a subtle or not-so-subtle difference in the paint jobs, but there’s so much natural variability with the Gray Appaloosa color that I quickly gave up.

For many years after their discontinuation from the Regular Run line, Family Arabians of all colors - Matte Alabaster, Bay, Charcoal and Appaloosa - were available on the Bentley Sales Company’s fabled "Discontinued" Lists. They appeared and disappeared on those lists through the late 1970s and up through at least May 1985; the next dated list in my archive is August 1985, and they are all gone.

I used to think that all the Family Arabians on that list were old backstock, and that maybe some of the Gray Appaloosa ones might have been leftovers from that Mystery Walmart Special. But again, there wasn’t any way I could prove it, and like so many other Breyer mysteries, it got tossed into the "look into it later" pile.

It didn’t occur to me that I should have started to look for items with the B mold mark. It was right around the same timeframe. Duh.

With the possible existence of B mold marked non-Palomino Family Arabians, now I have to consider other questions.

If the Walmart Family Arabians did exist, were other colors - maybe all the other previously issued colors - going to be a part of that program?

Were some of the models sold to Bentley Sales (and other mail order houses) basically Reissues made specifically for them - in whole, or in part - during the B Mold Mark Era?

Or were they part of some unrelated program that never launched, only to end up in the warehouse - and then sold to mail-order houses?

Were the non-Palomino B-marked Family Arabians even distributed by mail-order at all, or just Tests and Samples mixed into the detritus that was sold off in the mid-1980s, when the Chicago factory was cleaned out? There were lots of Tests and Oddballs in that stuff, and I could see them slipping out undetected...

Always more questions than answers with these darn Family Arabians!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fangirl Swooning: 2015 Releases!

First, let me say that I had no idea that Reeves put up a picture of a real live puppy wearing an actual Breyer horse blanket on their Facebook page a few days ago. My only contact with Facebook is checking out the Breyer page about once a week for news and clues. But the original points remain: easy-to-do and cute.

I was going to write about the Banff, because it's Banff. But he's not here yet, and I was in a mood to write now, not later.

Then I thought I’d follow up on Denise’s comment a couple posts back about the other B-marked Foals, because there's an interesting discussion to be had there.

But then Modell Pferde Versand had to post pictures of some of the new 2015 models, and I kinda lost my mind when I noticed who was among them:

My beloved PHB! Yes! And in a somewhat different pattern!

Other hobbyists are more excited about the Pinto Desatado, or the stunning Smarty Jones Polo Pony that was shown on the 2015 Calendar, or over various Classics molds, but you know had to be the Polled Hereford Bull for me.

I was promising myself that I wouldn’t be buying much new stuff the first half of the year. It’s not a lack of money or space, just a matter of wanting to focus on other priorities for a while. But dang it Reeves, there you go making things near and dear to my heart!

I sort of suspected/hoped he’d be back; while it was certainly possible to make the Marshall Special Run from warehoused bodies, they also could have been produced from "test shots" made in the process of prepping the mold for production.

But I sort of discounted that notion, because lately almost all the Nonhorse, non-Companion mold releases have been either Special Run items of significantly larger piece runs, or items made from warehoused bodies.

So yes, I am very, very, very excited that I will soon be able to buy a new Polled Hereford Bull off the shelf without having to resort to ninja moves or Vulcan nerve pinches. (Unless special ones happen to show up in the you-know-where.) It’s nice to see the Cow, Calf and Deer Family making comebacks, too. (Will my hoped for Piebald set finally become a reality?)

Although the mold itself isn’t wildly popular among hobbyists, the Polled Hereford Bull is a pretty good seller in the nonhobbyist market. I’ve never had a problem selling any duplicates for a decent price when I've had to. So I think he’ll be a good seller for Reeves, too.

The other model among this initial group that will be on my must buy list - after the Polo Pony, I hope - will be the Autism Awareness Model, on the Quarter Horse Yearling mold. It’s not the mold, or the color, but the cause: my older cousin Todd is autistic. He was one of the first autistic kids to be mainstreamed into the public school system in Michigan, graduating in 1980.

So yeah, that's something that I'm more than happy to support. (FYI: Todd's more of a cat person than a horse person.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Poodle Cuts

Let me tell you, yesterday was a day. It started out great - yes, there is a Banff on the way to my house! But it ended with me having a partially shaved head for the duration. What I thought was going to be a minor medical procedure involving a short-term comb over will now be less minor, and may involve at least a month of creative headcoverings.

(Long story. Really, it’s nothing serious, just unsightly and inconvenient.)

Anyway, Banff has made me think about other potential animal Special Runs in the not-too-distant future. Although the Special Runs for next year’s BreyerFest are likely already set, outside of a few details, I’m hoping that the Big Poodle (aka the "French Poodle", as it was identified in its earliest ephemera appearances) is among them. Either as the designated nonhorse Special Run, or something in the souvenir-heavy store off to the side:

With a dog coat, because a commemorative BreyerFest dog coat would be adorable, and a nice nod to Vintage collectors who avidly seek out the scarce felt-coated Poodles of Christmas Catalogs Past. They gave us a collar for the 2003 BreyerFest Boxer Duke, so why not? It wouldn’t take much effort to adapt a horse blanket pattern to fit.

The Big Poodle mold has been out of commission since 1973. The biggest factor in the mold’s retirement was the mold itself: because of the complexity of the head and legs and its heavily curled coat, it takes a lot of plastic to mold one. The irregular, deeply cut surface of the mold also leads to other molding issues, including mold flow lines and short shots.

A lot of plastic, and a lot of potential waste: for the number of pieces that were selling in a given year, he was getting a little too expensive to manufacture. That was also at the beginning of the Chalky Era, so that had to have been a factor as well. Shooting Cellulose Acetate of variable color, quality and origin into a mold with some manufacturing challenges? Yeah, time to let him go.

In the early days, Breyer mitigated some of those cost problems by cutting the cost the only other way possible: the paint job. The earliest Poodles were barely painted at all, outside of a little detailing on the face and the collar. Even the Black ones: the earliest Black Poodles were molded out of solid black plastic that necessitated, at most, a bit of gloss.

Like my example, above. Who is also without a mold mark; the mold was in production for three years before the circular mold mark debuted, so it’s not uncommon to find him without one. (Its absence also makes price negotiations at nonretail establishments a little easier.)

The Matte "Silver" Gray Poodle that replaced the Black and the White in the late 1960s wasn’t much more sophisticated; he had shading, but the curls in the coat did most of the work there. The Woodgrain was somewhat more complicated, but the market for Woodgrains was a bit different: they could, and did, charge more for them.

It’s been over 40 years. We’ve seen the revival of molds like the Racehorse and the Fury Prancer, the return of Decorators, the introduction of Translucents, and the release of items as exotic as a Glossy White Moose with blue eyes and a Silver Filigree Buffalo.

A Poodle for a French-themed BreyerFest? Not the least bit exotic. Nay, it seems like a perfectly logical choice, to me.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Tailing Off on the FAF

Wrapping up/prepping up the last few pieces I intend to sell for the next couple of months, outside of stray relist items. There’s a slim chance I might purchase another collection soon - newer stuff, no Special Runs - but even if that comes to pass, I won’t have the time to prep and sell until at least March.

I have just about run out of all my accumulated packing materials anyway. (Empty space in the garage, hurray!)

I have been picking up a few pieces here and there, mostly via the local network of Salvation Army stores. Last Wednesday was a particularly memorable day - dealer promo cars, Elastolins, old German model train supplies and Aurora model kits from the 1960s! - but earlier in the week I was also very pleased to find this little fellow:

As soon as I saw his broken tail, I was positive that he was a "B Mold Mark" Era Foal, and he was:

The Cellulose Acetate variant that they went with during that era was a bit less flexible than the standard CA, and tail breaks are a common consequence of that.

I bought him because he was cheap, I felt sorry for him, and for research. From what I’ve been seeing online, it looks like I need to restart my Family Arabian Foal research program, and get all those mold variations straightened out. Not just for my sanity, but also to help satisfy the curiosity of my fellow hobbyists.

That he has the B mark helps fix his date - ca. 1979-1982/3 - and the state of the mold at that time. So he's going to stick around a while, as I make my way through all my FAFs again, point by point.

I’m somewhat less interested in retooling that occurred after that because it’s less necessary. The release dates for later (post-Palomino) releases are well-known, and any mold changes we’d find there would just be corroboration. I imagine there might be interest in discovering if there were any changes during the brief runs of the late 1980s/1990s Family Foals, but I already have enough on my plate as it is. I have to draw the line somewhere.

And there aren’t mold changes since 1997 that we know about, since FAF mold’s last release was the #995 Dark Chestnut Julian, during the brief "Bi-eye" Era.

The Mare has been missing since then too, but the Stallion still makes appearances. The most recent ones have been the Gold Charm Pinto Web SR back in 2009, the Chestnut Azhar in 2008-2009, and the recent Warehouse Reissue of Azhar.

While neither the Mare nor the Foal have the same fan base as the Stallion, with all the Reissues and Vintage-style releases that have been coming out lately, it’d be nice to see the whole family released together again one more time. Something either Glossy or Decoratory would be nice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Banff and Other Not Brown Buffaloes

Well, there’s that last crazy-weird-awesome special of the year I feared: a Silver Filigree Buffalo?!

I want to be ridiculously excited about Banff, but after what happened with the Polled Hereford Bull Marshall, I have to temper my excitement just a bit. Even if the piece run this time is 300, not 40.

It’s true, according to the e-mail Reeves sent, that most previous Buffalos have been some shade of brown. Even the two nominal Decorators - the Connoisseur Tortoiseshell Taima, and the Ranchcraft Woodgrain - were brownish.

The only established releases in not-brown (outside of Test Colors) were in white, or nearly so: the #380 Tatanka from 1992-1993, and a very low piece special run made possibly as a tie-in or promotional item for Dino De Laurentiis’s 1977 film The White Buffalo.

If the posters and online reviews are any indication, it’s basically Jaws in the Old West - starring Charles Bronson and an animatronic Buffalo. Sounds like my kind of film!

These older special runs are grayer - almost Smoke - and don’t have the red handprint that the Tatanka has.

There may have been a Post Production Special Run of the Tatanka made in 1995, to commemorate the birth of a real white buffalo in 1994. The details about that SR are a little sketchy; all we know for sure is that they don’t have handprints either, and are probably hand-numbered.

The Tatankas used to be one of those hot must-have items that regularly commanded three-figures on the secondary market. He’s still pricey (for a Buffalo) but not unreasonable for a scarce nonhorse mold. The two handprint-free SRs, early and late, I can’t judge: they are so scarce that I can’t remember even seeing one for sale recently.

As for the alleged "Bronze Glo" Buffaloes - Bronze-colored Buffaloes that may have been a part of a paint test/experiment in the 1970s - I am about as skeptical as I am of the Mobil Red Pegasi. While a few of them may indeed be the real thing, some (if not most) are not.

I’ve seen too many "Bronze Glo" models claimed to be real for all of them to be real, unless it was one very large bucket of paint that Peter Stone and Chris Hess were playing with that day in the factory. Stranger things have happened, but fakes (innocent and intentional) happen, too.

As with anything claimed to be exceedingly rare, caveat emptor.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sonny and His Sticker

My Sonny arrived on Friday:

Cute! And if the prices I’ve been seeing are any indication, I am not alone in this assessment.

The only thing that weirds me out a little is the scale. A little bit of that is about the dappling - that’s always been an issue with Stablemates - but mostly it’s the sticker. Was the scale of it off? If we scaled up both the Drafter and the sticker proportionately, until the sticker was the same size as the bigger "name" stickers used on the Traditionals, what size would Sonny be?

So I did the math: turns out that Sonny would be about Classics-scale, a little over six inches tall. So, not too bad.

There were two Classics-scale models that did receive Blue Ribbon Stickers during the Blue Ribbon Sticker Era of the late 1960s: the Bucking Bronco and the Rearing Stallion. The Bronco only received the small "number-only" version of the sticker, but Rearing Stallions can be found with either the bigger "named" stickers or the smaller "number-only" ones.

Back then, though, models weren’t broken out into scales. That didn’t happen until the mid-1970s, when the Hagen-Renaker molds were introduced. Even then, it took a while for those two molds to be reclassified as Classics, and not just diminutive Traditionals.

Physically, the smallest model of the Blue Ribbon Sticker Era to receive stickers wasn’t a Foal: it was the Bear Cub. Stickered Bear Cubs are not commonly found, but that’s because it's hard to keep a sticker stuck on a model with such a heavily textured coat. Other models with heavily textured coats tended to lose their stickers over time for the very same reason. (Good luck finding a Polled Hereford Bull with one!)

This isn’t the first time that stickers have been put on Stablemates, though. Shortly after the Stablemates molds were shipped to China in the early 1990s, they tried putting little gold "Made in China" stickers on the releases that followed.

That didn’t last long, either. I don’t know if the reason was a change in import regulations, or the fact that the stickum on the sticker didn’t stick very well. Annoying little buggers, regardless, and so far they haven’t merited much attention from hobbyists.

Well, back to tending my saleslist. I do have a few of my "better" items up on MH$P now, and will have a few more up by the end of Monday. Not sure exactly when; I’ll be in and out of the house all day with packing and shipping (busy sales weekend!) I’m crossing my fingers that Reeves doesn’t pull any crazy Cyber Monday surprises on us...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dating with Family Arabians

A nice, quiet and peaceful Turkey Day. The rest of the extended weekend will be spent taking care of paperwork and trying to get as much stuff up on MH$P and the like by Monday. If I can manage it, I might even have a special offer up here.

(I am also trying to get one particularly aggravating quilt project done by then, so again, no promises made.)

One interesting aspect of collection buying is that collections tend to be time capsules: most of pieces in a given collection will have been purchased within a narrow span of time. The more pieces you have, the more accurate the dating can be.

The second collection I purchased was datable from 1959 to 1962, a time period I consider one of the most fascinating for Breyer History. A ton of new and more realistic molds were coming in, and the less realistic molds were being phased out. Less emphasis was being put on acquiring entertainment licenses, and more on creating generic pieces with (presumably) fewer production restrictions. And there were more horse molds being introduced, period: in the 1950s, the number of horse and nonhorse molds were often at or near parity.

It’s also one of the lesser-documented eras: aside from some mail-order company sheets, the ca. 1960 Dealer Catalog and 1961 Inserts, and some XMAS catalogs pages, there’s not a lot to go on. Price lists are in short supply, so release dates from that era are difficult to pinpoint. Most of what we know - or think we know - is built on a fragile web of references.

This is why things like the existence of frequent mold variations on the Family Arabian Foal can be so invaluable: it’s one of the few ways we supplement the slender paper trail.

This collection had several Family Arabians in it, of every color. Alas, there were no belly-stamped Foals, but some curled-eartip ones. Except for this Gloss Palomino:

It has the fatter and flatter ears typical of the majority of Family Foals from the 1960s. Here’s a comparison with an Appaloosa Foal from the same collection, with the curled eartips:

I have not been able to track down any Charcoal or Palomino Family Foals with the curled eartips. The few bits of ephemera we have from 1959-1962 suggest that the Palomino and Charcoal Family Arabians didn’t debut until 1961 or even 1962. If the eartip mold changes occurred prior to the release of the Palomino and Charcoal Family Arabians, that would explain the absence (or extreme rarity) of curled eartip versions of them.

Exactly when? That, we still can’t pinpoint. Just a probable sequence.

Anyway, the fact that virtually all of the other models in this collection are datable to this time period also suggests that this Foal - and his entire family, who came with - are likely to be extremely early releases of the Palomino Family Arabians, if not among the earliest.

They were in very, very nice condition compared to the other Family Arabians in the group, which means they were either highly prized, lightly played with, or both. They are so nice I haven't decided yet if they are staying, or going.

That the Palominos could have been highly prized should not be a surprise. Let’s not forget that at the time they were likely purchased, the Palominos were a shiny new novelty. No one had any idea they’d eventually become common to the point of ubiquity.