Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When Breyer met ERTL

My Tonka post reminded me of another strange Breyer toy truck connection – not with Corgi, but with ERTL.

While I do modestly well horsewise at my local flea markets, I haven't found much model horse ephemera there. I've found a few things – some old JAHs, a stack of vintage Western Horseman magazines from when Breyer was heavily advertising there, a few vintage Christmas catalogs. I did find an old Hartland flier in a NIB Hartland Polo Pony once (I almost fainted when it fell out of the box!)

It's not just the esoteric nature of the materials that is the issue, but the market too: the ephemera collectors around here are a little more dedicated than most. Whenever I see an old guy in a flannel shirt hunched over a cardboard box, that usually means someone's brought a box of fresh old paper. (Or toy trains.)

By the time I get my turn, it's already been picked through quite thoroughly, but not always.

I got lucky one day, and found a 1983 ERTL Dealer's Catalog. I couldn't pass it up: not only did it feature some of ERTL's early attempts to break into the model horse market, it also featured a number of Breyer knockoffs scattered randomly throughout. Here's a detail of the accessories that came with “The Alamo Quarter Horse Farm Set”: mini FASes!

Knockoffs of the Breyer Cow and Calf are also very prominent – in fact, they seem to be a decorative element on just about every other page in the catalog. Here they are, inexplicably chillin' next to the Wrangler Helicopter Set:

(The catalog text helpfully notes “Accessories not included.” )

But the biggest surprise was found in the “Farm Animals – Plastic” section. A full page is dedicated to their new “Deluxe Animal Assortment.” One of these things is not like the other:

Why on Earth is the Polled Hereford Bull there?

The catalog text notes that a Hereford Bull is included in the assortment. The PHB itself was obviously NOT going to be included: the standard box size is listed as 4 7/8” long, 1 1/2” wide, 3 1/8” high, far too small to contain the PHB's massive bulk. Was he just meant as a stand-in for their own Hereford Bull? Was their own Hereford Bull not ready yet? Or was it a mix up at the printing plant, or by the photographer?

Breyer was still in Chicago at that point, and ERTL was in Iowa, so the mix up theory is a little more plausible than you might think. The style of photography is very similar, so it wouldn't surprise me if the same photographer or studio was involved.

Another thing that strikes me is how much nicer the contemporary Breyer Dealer Catalogs were, from a design standpoint. I don't have the motivation – or the time – to go through my argument on a point by point basis. The Breyer Catalogs are just slicker, cleaner, and more “professional” looking than ERTL's. That's probably just a function of Breyer being in Chicago, rather than Iowa, and thus having a deeper talent pool to draw on. It's not something I've given a lot of thought to, but I probably should. There might be some fruitful research there.


GWR said...

Funny you should post this, I was looking for sites to ID a couple of Mego dolls and came across this site:


Scroll to the bottom photo, is it just me or does that look an awful lot like the old Breyer Shire mare?

Anonymous said...

What about Pressman? I have a neat copy of the Fighting Stallion.

ANDREA said...

Hmm, it does look a little like the Shire mare!

In an alternate universe without Breyers, I would be a Mego collector, desperately trying to track down the Logan's Run prototypes and customizing an entire Green Lantern Corps from disassembled bodies.

I'd love to do a post or two about Pressman, but I don't have a lot of research material on them, unfortunately.