Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Adventures in Home Decorating

It’s the question that’s launched a thousand debates at live shows and online: what are Breyers, exactly? Are they toys, or collectibles?

The correct answer: they’re whatever you want them to be. I’m not trying to be clever or coy here: Breyer actually made that "ambiguity" central to their earliest advertising campaign. Their earliest known slogan was "It’s a Toy, a Welcome Gift, an Art Object, because it’s so real" (emphasis theirs, not mine.)

(Sorry for the moire patterning - it's the scanner again.)

Breyer was still a relative newcomer to the world of proprietary products then, and probably seemed like a safe bet to them to shoot for the widest possible customer base. (It’s cheap enough to be a toy, but classy enough to be home décor!)

By the early 1960s, though, different product lines, with different marketing strategies, started to emerge. Some were clearly marketed towards the home décor market - such as Decorators and Woodgrains - while others were clearly marketed as toys, like the Family Arabians (every model, in every color had a name!) Everything else sort-of fell in between: these were the slightly nicer and pricier models that members of the youth market to aspired to, and that the adult market also saw as an affordable and more durable alternative to comparable china figurines.

By the late 1960s, these loose distinctions in their product line fell apart. The short and simple reason why? Hobbyists. Breyer had been aware of the "hobby," such as it was, by the early 1960s, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s - with sales lagging, and the brand in danger of being discontinued completely - that Breyer finally decided to tap into the hobbyist market. And hobbyists preferred a more realistic model horse.

Pieces designed for "home décor" didn’t disappear overnight; they just didn’t get quite the same attention and marketing push that pieces designed for the toy and hobbyist markets did. Woodgrains continued to be made into the early 1970s - mostly as special runs for the Ranchcraft Lamps - and a handful glosses and nonrealistic colors were mixed into the regular run line.

In recent years Reeves has attempted to recapture a larger portion of the home décor market. Someone on Blab recently resurrected an ancient thread - from 2004! - about an attempt by Reeves to grab a bigger piece of that market. A few models featured in that failed launch were later repurposed; I think the 2006 Porcelain release Tally Ho might have been one of them.

Another one of these models was later featured as a Daily Breyer on their Facebook page: Hot to Trot. She’s definitely not my cup of tea - not because of the paint job (that I kinda like) but the mold: Magnolia is not one of my favorite Moody sculptures.


Latter-Day Flapper said...

I thought you might be pondering the challenges of home-decorating when one has a large collection of non-decoratively-advantageous items. ;-) Some people collect art glass or paintings; I have a room full of . . . plastic horses. (I painted my room green last year, and, yes, I did hold the paint chip up behind various models to make sure it was flattering to buckskin and bay roan.)

I have noticed, though, that many Breyers, especially the newer Sifton and Cantrell molds, are as nice, and occasionally nicer, than some of the "art piece" horses I see for sale. "Smarty Jones" and the Trad "Ruffian" are really beautiful sculptures.

ANDREA said...

Except for a few select H-R pieces, and a fragile Breyer Elk, my herd is not allowed to be a part of the home decor outside of the office and the bedroom. (Not my decision!)

I briefly worked at a home-dec store (posing as a craft store), and rolled my eyes at some of their horse-themed items they had for sale - you could get a better-made and better-looking Breyer for the same price, or less! I can see why Reeves is so eager to tap into that market.