Monday, April 6, 2009

Lowdown on the Basset Hound

As promised, here’s another mystery that needs extra sets of eyes…

As time goes on, it has become increasingly apparent that most early Breyer were not original creations, but adaptations of pre-existing designs. The Old Mold Arabians are a notoriously well-known example, as are the Large Poodle, Boxer, and the Horned Hereford Bull. Could the Basset Hound "Jolly Cholly" be one, too?

The initial evidence for this hypothesis comes from an examination of the model itself. Like the Poodle and the Boxer, the Basset Hound is out of scale with both the horses and each other. Another troubling feature is the mold’s exaggerated and comical nature: whatever the anatomic merits or demerits of the early Breyer molds, they are at least nominally "realistic" in style. Both of these features suggest that the inspiration for this model was … another model.

Where the trouble comes in searching for this original inspiration is that there’s a lot of inspiration to choose from. There’s a surprisingly large number of comically styled bloodhound/basset hound figurines from the period immediately preceding the mold’s introduction in 1966 (in brown, as the Bloodhound. Who IS NOT woodgrain!) The adoption of the Basset Hound as the mascot/spokesdog of the Hush Puppies brand shoes in the late 1950s probably had a little to do with that.

While all of these models share similar exaggerations - oversized domed head, severely foreshortened body, and deep symmetrical facial wrinkles - they are not identical. What this suggests to me is an even earlier model on which all of these other pieces took their design cues from.

I might have found him - on a hobbyist web site, of all places: the Animal Figurines Gallery web site. On the page dedicated to Robert Simmons figurines, there’s a piece that’s startlingly similar to the Basset Hound. Here’s the link. Scroll down to Hounds and see for yourself. He’s hard to miss!

Robert Simmons was a California Pottery company based in Los Angeles. They made relatively inexpensive copies of figurines from other contemporary companies, like Royal Doulton. Allegedly the company went out of business by the early 1960s, which means if this guy is for real, he would predate the Breyer mold. And if that’s the case, the question then becomes - what mold, and what company did Simmons appropriate him from?

My china documentation is pretty weak, though, so I may literally be barking up the wrong tree here - heck, maybe it’s even a case of Simmons copying Breyer, for all I know! It’s another one of those Breyer mysteries that sits patiently in my archives, waiting for the right lead or the right moment. If anyone else can provide better or more specific data on this it would be much appreciated.

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