Saturday, April 25, 2015

More on the BHR Rehoming Sale

One of the recent Black Horse Ranch eBay auctions looked very familiar, so I took a quick skim of my files, and look who I found in one of Marney’s albums!


This is the same Dapple Gray with white points Proud Arabian Mare that went for an oh-my-goodness amount about a week or so ago.

The photo is unmarked and undated, but presumably before 1992; most of the photos in this particular album are from the mid-1980s, so I’ll hazard a guess that that’s when and where this model came from.

There are a few photos in the album that are specifically attributed to Karen Grimm, including at least two other Test Colors and several Decorators that Marney was obviously using for reference. Including this guy, whose auction ended Friday:


I have no idea if discovering and posting these photos earlier would have had any impact on the prices. Maybe, maybe not. In the PAM’s case, most of the value would be in confirming the fairly safe assumption that it - like most hobbyist-owned Test Colors from the 1970s and 1980s - passed through Marney’s hands at some point.

Not all did, of course: eBay has been littered, over the years, with Tests and Oddities discovered "in the wild". Lots of people had access to the factory, and the goodies sometimes abandoned inside. 

There are several unmarked photos in the album, so it would not surprise me if there are even more of Karen’s models "hidden" within.

In other BHR news, it has been reported that part of Karen’s collection will be sold at BreyerFest at the host hotel (the Clarion) in one of the suites, starting Thursday night. As far as I know (no time to follow up here, again) it’ll be a straight-up sale of Breyers and some of her famous "Faux Finish" Breyers.

Whenever someone asks me about selling off an entire collection - big or small - I always give "take it to BreyerFest" as a viable and expedient option. It’s the best place in the world to get rid of a lot of models quickly: that’s where the money and the desire are.

I’ve gotten some flak for advocating it, because some hobbyists see it as a limiting factor: if they can’t go to Kentucky, they can’t buy. It’s early enough, however, that I hope some enterprising hobbyists will consider offering pick-up and selection services, like they do for Special Run Ticket items and at the Peter Stone Warehouse Sales.

(I can’t do it. Please don’t ask.)

I gather that due to safety and capacity concerns, there will likely be a limit to the number of people in the room at any given time, so there may be a line or numbering system of some sort.

I don’t know what I am going to do about it right now. My Thursday night is already on its way towards being extremely busy, and I doubt I can accommodate an extended amount of time standing in another line. 

I’m more curious to simply see it (and document it!), rather than purchase anything from it. Though I will buy something, undoubtedly, most of the models I would pine for I wouldn’t be able to afford. *Bask+++? Certain Test Colors? Some of the more exotic Fauxs? Not gonna happen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Working Towards a Better Average

Work ran late Saturday night, so I was in no condition to go to the flea market on the first Sunday of the season. I wasn’t too upset, because I found this lovely pair at a local Salvation Army Store, a couple days prior:


The #3055 Classics Arabian Stallion and Mare; both have gray hooves, which dates them closer the end of their production run, and that ran from 1973 through 1991.

Earlier variations of the Stallion and Mare have tan hooves, and the earliest have different markings: an added star on the Stallion, and two (hind) stockings instead of four on the Mare. Those changes didn’t occur simultaneously - Star-faced Stallions aren’t difficult to find, but Two-stocking Mares are uncommon - but the variation history of the original Classics Arabian Family is a longer and more complicated post for another time.

Considering the fact that I fished them out of a large dump pile of used toys, they are in remarkably good condition. I must have found them not long after they were consigned to the heap! I can see only minimal playwear and damage.

The roughness of the seams and overall construction quality, on the other hand…that’s the topic I wanted to focus on a bit today.

For their time period, the seam quality of these two models is about average. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse. If I had bought the selfsame set back in the 1980s, I would have been neither surprised nor appalled by what I would have seen when I opened the box.

Would they have been considered "Live Show Quality" back then? Maybe, maybe not; as the hobby cliché goes, it would have depended on what was on the table that day. 

We were not unfamiliar with the concept of handpicking back then, so I imagine a somewhat experienced hobbyist (with more than one live show on her resume) might have weighed her options, and could have considered them performance prospects.

Even back then, performance judging was weighted more towards the quality of the tack and the  accuracy and appropriateness of the setup, than the horse. That’s what we told ourselves, anyway. All too often (as is the case today) the prettiest or most elaborate had the upper hand, regardless of quality or fidelity.

When I see rants about the quality control issues today and how great models were "back in the day", my mind goes back to the models of the 1970s and 1980s, typified by this Stallion and Mare. We remember the bests of things, and the worsts of things. What was average tends to fade from memory because it is average.

Did we want and hope for a "better average" back then? Oh, heck yeah! We made our complaints known, viable competition arose, and things starred getting better.

They will continue to do so, though most of the improvements that need to be made today feel almost insignificant compared to what has been made.

BTW, I spent a good 10 to 15 minutes searching in vain for the matching Foal, but he never showed up. I did manage to score a more recent Breyer doll and a Little Bits body, so all my time spelunking wasn’t completely wasted.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Odd Western Horse Cull

I told myself that eBay was for research, and for the picking up of obscure bodies (Still looking for that cheap Traditional Kitten. A Khemosabi now, too.) but this guy ended up on my doorstep earlier this week somehow:


It’s an unpainted factory cull Western Horse, probably an older one from the late 1960s or early 1970s, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

I’m not normally a big buyer of Unpainteds/Blanks. All models start out that way, so the collectibility and/or novelty factors for me are pretty low. The only exceptions I make are for items that were sold that way as a Special Run (like the G1 Draft Horse in 1984), or examples of molds in an older and less modified state.

This Western Horse is one the latter, not the former. He’s definitely not a stripped model: his seams are uncleaned and unfinished, he has a few dark goobers floating in his plastic, and his hind legs are pinched together and bent slightly forward in a way indicative of a fixturing issue.

He is older - look at that lovely camel’s hump! - but how old I am not sure. He does have the USA mark, but we’re not sure when that was etched into the mold. The best guess is that this occurred about the same time the USA was added to most of the other Breyer molds, circa 1970.

I think this piece is roughly from that time period. My working theory is that he might have been part of the sample batch run shortly after the mold was modified. On what piece of evidence does this theory hang on?

He was purchased from a seller in California.

Odd Breyer whatsits have a habit of turning up in California. The first free-range In-Between Mare? Found in California. One of the first Gloss Gray Appaloosa Shetland Ponies discovered? Also California. Some of the earliest and most reliable rumors of Christmas Decorators? In California.

This Western Horse isn’t on par with any of those discoveries: at most, I think he might have been part of a sample batch sent to the Unger & Associates, who started out as one of Breyer’s earliest sales reps, and later became collaborators (Brenda Breyer? That was them.)

I think a lot of the Breyer oddness that comes out of California has something to do with that business relationship, actually.

For all I know, he could have just been another employee take-home or a part of a foster care/adoption donation box. I just him and I haven’t had a chance to e-mail the seller back for any additional information or confirmation of my suspicions.

If I do get any additional information, I’ll let you all know.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dollar Store Fun

I had a little fun at a local dollar store earlier this week, while picking up some inexpensive craft items. The first thing that caught my eye were these stickers, in the store’s rather well-stocked scrapbooking section:


Hello, Mr. Family Arabian Stallion - fancy meeting you here!

What cracks me up most about these stickers is the sheer randomness of the shapes: hearts, arrows, badges, banners, butterflies, a rotary telephone and a pair of Family Arabian Stallions. (A telephone?) It’s like they had all these leftover patterns, and they stuck them all together on one sheet so they wouldn't go to waste.

Breyer-inspired imagery in scrapbooking and other craft materials is nothing new, though most efforts try to dress it up (or down) a little bit and make it a little less obvious than this example.

(I might buy a couple more sheets for some actual crafting purposes, so if anyone’s interested, let me know and I’ll stock up.)

In the party favor section of the same store, they had some delightful (to me) little knockoffs of the G1 Silky Sullivan, Thoroughbred Mare and Seabiscuit. They are about half the size of the Stablemates they are loosely adapted from:


The purple and blue "dappled" Silky and That Thoroughbred Mare are my favorites. The Silky is at least attempting (awkwardly) to simulate a real horse color, either a Leopard Appaloosa or Dappled Something (Grape Charcoal?)

That TB Mare, on the other hand, appears to be painted like a dinosaur, complete with glowing red eyes. Now there’s a Decorator concept that hasn’t been explored yet!

It’s easy to make fun of these little guys, but it’s important to remember that for the first decade or so of its model-horse-manufacturing days, Breyer was basically a knockoff company too, reproducing mold from other manufacturers and painting them in peculiar or unnatural colors.

They eventually grew out of it. They even - in the case of the G1 Stablemates and most of the earliest Classics - went on to partner with one of the companies they knocked-off from.

Who knows? Perhaps one of these companies producing these knockoffs will branch out into original molds, and develop their own set of modified "Decorator" colors.

One other important point to make here is that for most of the public, there’s not that much difference between these funky little fellows and any other brand of model horse, except the price. If you’re buying party favors for a horse-crazy little kid, you’re more likely to stock up on the blue and purple lizard horses at four for a dollar, and not the four dollar Stablemates, or the two or three dollar Blind Bag Mini Whinnies.

Because for most kids, horses really are a phase. Some of us just happen to grow back into it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Prune Brown

Head’s up: I’ll be starting to sell stuff again within the next week or so. The outdoor flea market season opens soon here, and I will need some walking-around-money for that.

The Special Run we thought would be a vintage model turned out to be the Croi Damsha in Dappled Sooty Palomino: it’s the very antithesis of a Vintage Model. Huh. I wasn’t expecting another release on that mold until the Fall.

You know, from a distance, in passing, and if I wasn’t wearing my glasses, a Palomino Croi Damsha could pass for a Palomino Family Arabian Stallion. There’s that, at least.

(Hmm. A Reissue Palomino FAS in Dappled Sooty Palomino. I had not considered that a possibility until now.)

The final model in the Ticket Special Lineup will be a Gloss Dappled Rose Gray Wixom, if the rotating banners on the Breyer web site are to be believed. (A Percheron, finally!) Unless it turns out to be a different kind of something, like a Store or Souvenir Special.

Regardless of what she is, I doubt her inclusion there is an accident. It feels more like a way to drum up interest for the last weekend of Early Bird Ticket sales: Let’s drop a previously unknown/unseen Gloss Special Run on the front page!

Back on topic. Here are a couple of actual Vintage Models: a pair of Western Ponies in Dark Brown and Black Beauty:


The Dark Brown variation is comparatively rare; it appears that it was only issued ca. 1956, or shortly after the discontinuation of the Davy Crockett Horse and Rider set. It really was listed as "Dark Brown" on at least one piece of ephemera from the era, so it was a genuine release, and not a variation.


My theory for its existence - and relative rarity - is that the #40 Dark Brown release was created to help use up the "Plum Brown" acetate that was purchased for the manufacture of the Davy Crockett Horse and Rider set. The Davy Crockett fad faded almost as quickly as it rose, and Breyer may have been stuck with a load or two of Plum Brown plastic.

But not too much: the Brown Western Ponies aren’t easy to find today, and (as far as I know) there aren’t any other Plum Brown models floating around, other than the Fury/Prancers. The "Brown and Gold" Western Horses that occasionally cause a stir on eBay are just early (and not very good) knockoffs.

The color of the Brown Western Pony is dark enough that in the right setting and the right lighting, it’s almost indistinguishable from the Star-faced Black Beauty, so it might be slightly more common than we actually think. And the Star-faced Black Beauty slightly more rare.

Through the 1950s and early 1960s, Breyer seemed to have an "as above, so below" policy when it came to the Western Horses and Ponies. Except for the Dark Brown - and the Star-faced Black Beauty Ponies, who share the same item number. That, and their decorative similarities lead us to the conclusion that the Star-faced Black Beauty Western Ponies were the variation - of the Dark Brown, created when the Plum Brown plastic finally ran out.  

Due to the ephemera gaps of the 1950s, we can’t be sure when the transition happened. It was somewhere between 1956 and 1958, since the No. 40 Western Pony is listed on a 1958 dated price list - and is shown in a ca. 1958 Dealer Catalog - as "Black Beauty". I tend to believe it was earlier rather than later, hence my "ca. 1956" dating.

On a final note, I have to admit that I snicker a little bit every time I see or hear the term "Plum Brown" used to describe this brown plastic we’ve been discussing today. "Plum Brown" has always struck me as a very pleasant euphemism for the word "Prune".

We’re very fond of describing horse colors using food words: Olive Bay, Mulberry Gray, and Peach Dun. But Prune Brown? It doesn't sound quite so yummy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Burden of History

Update on the BHR situation - they are now also accepting offers for some pieces via MH$P:

http://www.modelhorsesalespages.com/searchlist.asp?Accid=19554

Interesting. Glad that they’re going to spread the wealth in multiple ways. Hope there are some direct (no bid) sales in the pipeline too.

As for the absence of the promised social media presence, we may still be in the "soft opening" phase here - a low-key launch made prior to a bigger announcement, presumably to test the market and work out any potential issues.

On the issue of the museum … that’s a complicated one. At some point in their hobbyist "careers",  I believe most hobbyists fantasize about the notion of starting, having, or at the very least donating their little beloveds to a museum.

Most of us abandon the idea rather quickly: we don’t have the time, the money, or the enthusiasm to follow through on the task. Even if we do, other things get in the way, like work, family, or the sheer amount of storage space required before it ever gets to the actual working museum phase.

The history of past efforts is not encouraging, either; it gotten to the point that whenever I hear rumor of someone else taking up the task, I involuntarily start make painful-looking faces. "Oh, this has a high probability of not ending well."

Small museums dedicated to idiosyncratic hobbies have a difficult time making a go of it, especially after the founder’s passing. Even if a building and a curator (full, or part-time) are secured without much money or fuss, it’s the funding needs that accrue over time that become the bigger issue. Things like general building maintenance, marketing, utilities, and finding someone who knows how to dust correctly. (A bit of an issue on my end, but let’s not go there. Sigh.)

Unless you are independently wealthy and/or manage to set up a healthy endowment fund, you’ll find yourself competing with hundreds of other small museums for a relatively small pot of grant money. Money that’s more likely to go to a local Civil War history museum than to a collection of horse-shaped objects.

In the end, the needs of today often end up outweighing the needs of the yesterday.

Even if the collection itself disperses, though, the legend of it still lives in the provenances of the pieces that disperse. That’s not a bad thing.

Ooh boy, that feels like a bit of a downer. To lighten the mood a bit, here’s a little speculation about the latest BreyerFest Special Run clue on their web site blog:
A wise woman once said "Fashion changes, but style endures." Our next horse is stylish and timeless too.
Like many others, I think this reference to Coco Chanel refers to a vintage (for me, pre-1985) mold. Personally, I’d like to see it be an Old Timer: we haven’t had a widely available Old Timer release since 2004’s Starman and Noddy.

We have had the Vintage Club "Gus" in 2012 and the Reissues of #935 McDuff (the Blue Roan Appaloosa) and #1260 Noddy (the Gloss Palomino) but none of those releases were readily available to the general public or low-involvement hobbyists.

After the Western Horses and Family Arabians, the Old Timer mold is probably the most recognizable model to the general public. And they love him: I have never had an issue selling Old Timers of any color, of any vintage, in any selling forum.

I think it’d be both funny and appropriate if it were the Family Arabian Stallion. Not only does clue "fit", it also segues rather neatly into the "Four Arabs from Four Eras" theory I floated earlier.

The only problem there would be color: he’s come in just about every color, outside of some Decorator ones, and another Decorator in the Tent lineup seems unlikely. Unless it’s a Translucent.

A Translucent Family Arabian Stallion would be several levels of awesome.

We’ll find out soon, if not already.

Monday, April 6, 2015

So Many Horses

Since I’ve been dealing with a lot of weirdness and paperwork for the past two weeks (hobby and nonhobby), I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to the Black Horse Ranch collection listings on eBay. (Under the seller ID: thehorseyouwantcalif)

But not too late - we are talking about a collection of 9500 pieces, and I only missed about a week’s worth. For those of you unfamiliar with the scope or significance of this collection, here’s a page that gives you a few hints of its glories:

http://www.bhranch.com/model/modeltour.htm

I also have some of Marney’s photographs of Karen’s collection (from the late 1980s?), and I’ll get around to scanning and posting more of them later this year, after I finish upgrading the computer hardware and software.

(Click to enlarge.)

They are not a better or more intimate look at her collection: the pictures are mostly panoramic shots that focus on capturing quantity rather than detail. They will not add much value to most of the pieces in the Collection in terms of either provenance or monetary value, since it'll be difficult to single out any but the most distinctive pieces.

But it is fascinating to compare these photos to later photos to see how even the largest (and arguably one of the most complete of all) collections evolve over time.

I’ve been around long enough that I bought models directly from Karen Grimm - as in actual hobbyist-to-hobbyist transactions, and not just the Special Runs and Regular Runs she sold as a dealer. The allure of buying "certified" pieces from the BHR Collection isn’t going to be as strong to me as it will probably to be with other hobbyists who may have heard of her only as part of hobby legend.

The prices for the first couple batches certainly seem to say so. No room in my budget for this quarter, alas.

I do hold out hope that perhaps, a few hundred (or thousand) pieces down the line, I might find a suitable something or two from her personal collection to add to my own.

(For the record, I have no involvement in this dispersal, other than a signal boost.)