Saturday, October 3, 2009

Christmas Decorators, Part II

Someone on Blab recently referred to Christmas Decorators as Breyer’s version of Bigfoot. The description is apt: just like Bigfoot, all of the evidence we have for the existence of Christmas Decorators is either circumstantial, or secondhand.

As of today, there are still no confirmed vintage Christmas Decorators in anyone’s possession. There are a few Christmas Decorators in Reeves’s sample room, but these are relatively recent test colors, and definitely NOT vintage. If Reeves has any vintage, pre-1985 models in their possession, they were purchased secondhand. As far as I know, any test colors or samples that did exist in the Breyer factory in Chicago prior to Reeves’s purchase were sold off, in bulk, to either Marney or to the Bentley Sales Company, and I can’t recall anyone finding anything particularly Christmassy back then, either.

(I haven’t been in the factory since 1992, so I have no idea what’s actually there right now.)

As of today, there is also no known paper evidence for the existence of Christmas Decorators. Since then, we’ve filled in most - but not all - of the gaps in our knowledge of the early 1960s Holiday catalog releases, and so far no Green or Red Breyers of any kind have revealed themselves.

Yet, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: all it takes is one photograph, one document, or one model to move something from the realm of the imaginary. Documentary evidence for many early Breyers is exceedingly sparse; we only have one piece of evidence acknowledging the Buckskin Running Mare and Foal as Regular Runs. The only concrete evidence we have of the existence of the Copenhagen Belgian is a single photograph.

Even though there’s no physical evidence, there’s just too much independent, circumstantial evidence floating around. If all we had was a single witness or account, it’d be much easier to dismiss them as the product of wishful thinking. But my account was independent of Gale’s account, and Gale found another collector with a report independent of her own.

But that’s not the sum of all of the circumstantial evidence, either. There’s a lot more evidence that seems to point to a Christmas Decorator-shaped hole in the Breyer Universe.

First, let’s examine the Christmas part of the story.

Contrary to what many collectors believe, Breyer was making and marketing Special Run Christmas items for mail-order catalogs as early as 1954: that’s when the Palomino Western Pony Grooming Kits debuted in the Sear Wishbook. The Musicbox Prancers arrived a year later; a couple of years after that, so did the French Poodle Sewing Kit.

Sometime in late 1960 or early 1961, Breyer added the Modernistic Buck and Doe to their product line. The story behind the Modernistic Buck and Doe and how Breyer came into their possession is a long and complicated one, and not entirely relevant to the discussion at hand; that’s another post, for another time. What’s important here is that the promotional documentation of the Buck and Doe - the ca. 1961 insert sheet, and the 1963 Dealer Catalog - touts their suitability as decorative items for "Christmas and other special occasions." And they can be found in a few Christmas catalogs, the earliest being the 1961 Alden’s.

So it’s clear that Breyer was at least thinking about expanding into Christmas-themed or Christmas-specific items in that time period. (The time period that, coincidentally, we have very little Breyer-issued ephemera from.) Painting some of their regular run items in decorative, non-horse colors would have been the next logical step.

In my next (and I hope, final) post on the subject, we’ll discuss the Decorator part of the equation.


cinnymutt said...

Andrea, you're a riot... love your site! A couple things. Regarding your Sept.15th blog about Breyer & ERTL you show a photo from an ERTL catalogue with barn animals. It sounds to me that you're saying the one animal that's out of place is the Breyer Polled Hereford while all the others are ERTL's plastics. Yet on that page are two polled herefords, one black and one brown (I'm assuming the brown one is the Breyer's). I have the black one and it has an imprint from "Hartland Plastics, Inc." although it is the exact form of the Breyer's. Help! Also, regarding your back pain from bending over at a 45* angle for 16 hours. My brother and I were 4th in the world in the doubles jigsaw championship. I feel your pain!! HA!

ANDREA said...

Yes, the brown one is the Breyer. You can see the background is slightly different, like it was from a different photo shoot.

I suspected that the Black Bull was probably a copy of the Hartland, much like the little Holsteins were Breyer copies. Actual Hartlands weren't being made in any way, shape or form at that time.

I don't have examples of either the Hartlands or the Ertls to make a direct comparison, though.

Stockstill Stables said...

I have a photo of an old appy shetland here. Someone sent it to me in 1992 and Ive forgotten who, just that it came from the west coast.