Sunday, December 6, 2009

That Seventies Catalog

Let's talk about that jobber/distributor toy catalog I mentioned last time. It's the Orgill Brothers and Company 1977 Illustrated Toy Catalog, and it's like a window into my childhood toyland: everything from Barbie, to Bicycles and Breyers, and Beyond! (Literally - Space: 1999 action figures!)

Jobber is a slightly antiquated word for a distributor or wholesaler. A middleman. They'll sell dozens of lines from dozens of manufacturers to simplify and streamline the retailer's ordering process – for a price, of course.

Every page of it is full of awesome, but the Breyer pages are going to be our focus, naturally. There's nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the selection – a couple dozen Traditionals, a few Animals, the Classic Racehorse Assortment, Stablemates Assortment, a few Gift Sets. No secret, previously unknowns special runs or oddball items that I can see. (The Donkey and Elephant are present, but that's overstock from the previous year's Election/Bicentennial promotion, and not really a huge surprise.) Just the kind of horses you'd find in your locally-owned hardware store, the market that Orgill primarily caters to.

Yeah, I did buy some of my models at hardware stores back then! Didn't you?

What's nice about a catalog like this is the ability to compare the wholesale prices with the suggested retail prices. Midnight Sun would cost the retailer 4.39, with a suggested retail of 6.59 – a 33% markup. That's about the same markup Orgill was making: per Breyer's own wholesale pricelists, the cost to the distributor for that same Midnight Sun would have been 2.97!

I have no idea what the markup is now: I'm neither a distributor nor a retailer. Even if I was, there would probably be some contractual mumbo-jumbo about the pricing structure that I would bar me from discussing it in a public forum anyway. But we're talking about 30 year old prices on merchandise that's been long discontinued.

For those of you pining for the days of the Six Dollar Traditional, don't forget that this was in 1977 money. As a genuine chronological youngster of that time period, I can assure you, Six Dollars was not a small sum. Saving that kind of money took herculean effort, especially when you're constantly tempted by one dollar Stablemates and 35 cent comic books.

The most fascinating part of this catalog, though, is the photographs: a I mentioned in my previous post, some of them are OLD, and many don't match the product that's being sold. Here's the Running Stallion:

The Alabaster Running Stallion was discontinued, oh, around 1971. The text under the photo notes that it's the Appaloosa you'd be buying. Likewise with with the Indian Pony, shown here in long-gone Buckskin version:

My favorite is the Fighting Stallion; the stock photo used to illustrate the Alabaster is actually that of the Gray Appaloosa, dating back to at least 1961!

We have our share of vintage prototype pics, too, including our old friend Yellow Mount, taunting us yet again:

Several of the newer items – like Lady Phase, the Charolais Bull, and Hobo – have more contemporaneous photos, so Orgill obvious had access to them. So, what was up with the outdated, incorrect stock photos?

The answer is simple: this catalog is pre-digital. It had to be manually pasted up. Every chunk of text and every photograph had to be physically cut and pasted into place. Lines had to be hand-drawn with a technical pen. Mistakes and cut lines had to be touched up with white paint, with a paint brush. If you look closely at the scans, you can still see a few blotches and cut lines.

It's about as much fun as it sounds. I managed to get into graphic design at the very tail end of the “manual” era, so I did get to experience that fun first hand, briefly. (My first semester in art school included a digital prepress class – in Aldus PageMaker! It was my favorite class, by far. I miss doing digital prepress, I really do...)

So the overworked table jockeys who had to put the toy catalog together probably reused old pages, or cut and pasted chunks of old stats into the new pages. Wherever there was a possible discrepancy, they'd paste in a line of text underneath to cover their behinds, just in case.

I'm sure that shortcuts like this probably led to at least a handful of post-production runs on some of the models in question, unless Breyer got lucky and just happened to run across a box or two of old stock hiding in the factory somewhere. No matter how thoroughly the search, there's always a box or two of some old somethings lurking in the warehouse. Look at the kind of stuff that still turns up in the Ninja Pit every year!


Anonymous said...

Hey, when I was growing up back in Fort Worth, there were Breyers available basically everywhere! You could find them at hardware stores, Ben Franklin, and drugstores like Super D! I even bought a few from a shoe repair shop.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is just a fluke but doesn't this Midnight Sun look like it has a narrow stripe down its face?


GWR said...

Hey, I still buy some of my Breyers from an Ace Hardware store in Platte City! :D It caters to rural areas so there's a lot of ranch and horse supplies there, too.