Friday, April 3, 2009

The Littlest Details

I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating: don’t ask Reeves about Breyer history. Whatever answers they give you, take with a large grain of salt - or aspirin. And you don’t even have to be me to make that claim: any hobbyist who’s been around for any length of time knows more than the average Reeves employee does.

There’s no shortage of painful examples to quote from, but the winning statement that set me off this week was the Daily Breyer post about the Stablemate G1 Draft Horse:

This is the G1 Stablemates drafter (mold #5055) sculpted by Maureen Love Calvert in 1976.

Although the Draft Horse does have a 1976 copyright date on his belly, and didn’t make his first catalog appearance until 1976, he was actually available in mid to late 1975 - the original price list puts it as a September 1st release. That part doesn’t bother me too much - it’s a fine point, and an arguable one (the argument revolving on which sources you consider more viable - the collector’s manual and mold mark, or the dealer price list.)

It’s the "sculpted by Maureen Love Calvert in 1976" part that slays me. NO. It was sculpted in or slightly before 1959 for Hagen-Renaker. The design was leased and was made into a Breyer mold ca. 1975/6. I’m not sure if Maureen had any say at all in the creation of the Breyer molds cast from her designs, much less sculpt them for Breyer.

Now, I may be making a lot of hay out of what could simply be a poorly phrased sentence. The absence of any mention of the Hagen-Renaker name could be a consequence of some phrasing in the original leasing agreement, or just a little extra added precaution instituted by someone’s legal counsel.

Nevertheless, it’s these littlest details that could have huge consequences, especially if we’re talking about the Hagen-Renaker molds.

I saw a similar Facebook post about the Proud Arabian Mare a little while back - no mention of Hagen-Renaker’s involvement, and a wrong date, too (1956). That date discrepancy is actually a much bigger deal than the little Drafter’s: if Breyer could credibly prove that the release date was 1956, then H-R’s claim that the model was a copy of their design, first released in 1957, would then fall apart.

If that were actually the case, the mold would still be in production. But it’s not, because there’s absolutely no evidence for a 1956 release date. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy or any details of the original court case that shut down production of the Old Mold Mare and Foal (another holy grail of ephemera for me!) Since Hagen-Renaker prevailed, my guess would be that the weight of the evidence was on their side, not Breyer’s.

The 1956 meme was started by Marney, and carried forward into a variety of sources since then. And I’m not sure where Marney got the 1956 date either; the earliest physical evidence we have for the Old Mold Mare and Foal is a sales flier/price list dated January 1, 1958.

Most Reeves employees don’t have as thorough a knowledge of pre-1984 era as hobbyists do - heck, a lot of them can’t tell you what models they made last year. And what they have in their archives from before their purchase in late 1984 isn’t much: just a couple of binders, rather incomplete. There’s no way for them to confirm or deny the existence of most models they had no hand in producing in the first place.

They have to rely on us.

We have to do a better job with the task we’ve set before ourselves: the details of history do matter, regardless of the kind of history being written. We fret over the littlest details of judging, conformational accuracy, color genetics and breed standards: why shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the same standard when it comes to our history?


Kelly Weimer said...

Andrea, reading your blog makes me happy to know I'm not the only one out there who searches for the obscure. I've done several general searches of the US Copyright office, Googled old newspapers, and looked up old court documents just to see what might turn up regarding Breyer, Reeves, and some of the "major players" (such as Charles Schiff, Sam and Peter Stone, etc.). I haven't discovered anything significant so far, though the link to pre-1978 copyrights has been broken on the web page for some time.

ANDREA said...

Some of the documents I have are super, super obscure - one of my favorites is an industrial-impact study of the Chicago area that made note of the number of jobs lost when Breyer moved operations to New Jersey! (I forget the number - the PDF is buried here somewhere!)

When I had better access to legal research sites, I did uncover some really tantalizing leads, but I never got a chance to follow up. (Access to legal research sites is expensive - for the good ones, anyway.)

Anonymous said...

My name is David Meyer, a nephew of Charles Schiff, who was my mother's brother. Although I cannot remember the names of the various model horses, I do recall having a significant collection of them in the 1950's. They were designed accurately to the muscular and skeletal form of the horses. The kids played with them, the adults admired and collected them. I still have one, which my own grandchildren play with.