Friday, April 24, 2009

Test Colors: A Good Beginning

I had to sell a test color out of necessity a few weeks ago. (I live in Michigan and I can’t find a job to support myself: ‘nuff said.) It was one of those odd things that came via the mysterious eBay toy trafficker by the name of "newtoymens": a solid black Proud Arabian Foal. I was able to let him go partly because he wasn’t the kind of test color I prefer to collect.

"Test color" is a generic, catch-all term that is used to describe a lot of different kinds of models created for a lot of different purposes. Not all of these models labeled tests are truly tests in the strictest sense of the term. And not all are equally desirable (more on that in a moment.)

In the loosest sense, the term "test color" refers to any model that was either made in advance of production, as a regular run item or a special run, or one that never made it into production at all. A test color can vary either in finish, markings, or color scheme; rarely it is used to describe a model with significant changes either in the mold itself or the selection of accessories it was packaged with.

I’ve made several attempts over the years to categorize all the different subcategories of "test colors" that exist, with varying degrees of precision and nuance. It’ll drive you crazy, I swear, trying to determine where the lines exist. What distinguishes a "production test" from a "color test?" What do you do with all of the models Marney Walerius was responsible for creating? Some are clearly test colors, but so many of them …aren’t. Maybe.

I won’t share with you - not yet, anyway - all of the categories I created to define nonproduction models. I could write lengthy, detailed essays of every single one. But it’s still a work in progress, mostly because Reeves seems to enjoy redefining the various categories on a daily basis.

Here’s a case in point: it wasn’t unusual, back in its Chicago days, for the company to produce multiple tests of a single color - usually in quantities of five, but it varied. This was done for a variety of reasons - for sales meetings, meetings with the painters, to test the viability and consistency of the paint job in production, that sort of thing. Test colors were rarely unique, at least not the way we now think of them.

Nowadays, just about everything gets a production number, regardless of the quantity produced: the VRE Specials are a recent and infuriating example. The lovely and completely unattainable Stretch Morgan "A Night at the Oscars" was labeled and sold as a special run - of 4 pieces. Less than many true vintage test colors.

See what I mean?

As far as desirability goes, it goes without saying that some test colors are more desirable than others. For most collectors, it’s about the rare combination of a well-executed paint job on a favorite mold. An Indian Pony will go for more than a Lady Roxana, and an intricately mapped pinto will go for more than a plain, undappled bay.

For me, it’s a little bit different: it’s the historical quality that takes primary consideration. I already had other test colors from newtoymens, and at least two of those actually appear to be tests for models that did end up in production, albeit on different molds. And you know me, I’m all about the history.

So the little Black PAF had to go. Sigh. I sure hope I get to keep the others...

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