Friday, January 1, 2010

The Original Black Beauty

I have a small confession to make: I don’t like Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Most of my attempts to read it ended with me throwing my copy against the nearest wall. It’s not something I normally do with any book that displeases me, so I’ll just chalk it up to my low tolerance for Victorian sentimentality.

When you grow up in an environment encrusted with Victoriana, you either learn to love that particular aesthetic, or ignore it … and I don’t love it. I’m more of a gee-whiz, streamlined, hope-for-a-better-future Art Deco gal. (A bit of a contradiction for someone who researches history, I know.)

On the other hand, I do like Breyer’s early Black Beauties: not the seemingly endless reissues and reinterpretations of the horse from the book, but the color itself.

The color "Black Beauty" first appeared in the ca. 1953 catalog sheets, in reference to the Western Horse and Pony: the Western Horse is #58, and the Western Pony is #44. By 1958, the number on the Western Pony changes to #40, the Western Horse disappears completely, and the Fury/Prancer is now listed as being available in this color. From the 1958 price list:

The term is not used as a color descriptor, but as a proper name. Here’s another part of that 1958 price list that clarifies this point: the model doesn’t come in "Black Beauty," it is Black Beauty:

The Black Beauty terminology is dropped in the 1960 Dealer’s Catalog, and the color simply becomes "Black." The Western Horse reappears in this color, too, as #50. A Mission Supply House mailer from ca. 1961 still refers to all three as "Black Beauty," but Red Bird Sales pages from roughly the same time period call them "Black."

Confused yet? It gets worse: there are at least three different variations of this color!

The earliest "Black Beauties" - the #44 Pony, and the #58 Horse - were solid, glossy black plastic, with metallic gold hooves and trim. The Prancer never came in this variation, as far as I know. It may have been discontinued by 1955, but it’s difficult to tell precisely due to the lack of paper evidence.

The second version of "Black Beauty" was the version I discussed in my last post, with four white stockings, gray hooves, and a masked star or blaze. Only the Western Pony and the Fury/Prancer came in this color. Since the #27 Fury has nearly the same paint job as the #P40 Black Beauty Prancer, it can be hard to distinguish between the two. Black Fury/Prancers are usually only identified as #P40 Prancers if they still have their original chain reins and western saddles.

Both the Western Pony and the Fury/Prancer were used in Horse and Rider sets in this color, adding to the confusion. Some of the Horse and Rider set Fury/Prancers had the wider, Davy Crockett Horse blazes, but not all. This variation appears in the 1958 Dealer’s Catalog.

Dating this color variation is very difficult, especially since they share the same issue number - and markings - as the Plum Browns. The Plum Browns predate the Blacks, and probably "evolved" into the Black Beauties once they ran out of the colored acetate: all they had to do was change the name on the pricelist, and carry on.

All three models came in the third and final version of "Black Beauty." This color is quite distinctive, and in my opinion is the most attractive of the three: bald face, 4 stockings, a white tail tip, and silver trim on the saddle and molded on tack:

This color also varies the most of the three: the markings can be white plastic, or overpainted, or some combination of the two; handpainted eyewhites are also sometimes seen.

A Western Horse in this variation appears in the 1960 Montgomery Wards catalog; it’s possible that they may have started manufacturing it up to a year earlier, but until more evidence shows up, we can never really know for sure.

The same can be said for their discontinuation dates: all we have are rough boundaries here. They all appear in the ca. 1960 Dealer’s Catalog, and are all gone from the 1963 Dealer’s Catalog. I’m pretty sure the Fury/Prancer mold, with the exception of Fury himself, was discontinued in 1961. But according to the Red Bird Sales pages, the Western Horse was still available in 1962.

All three variations are fairly rare; I’ve been told that the solid blacks are the rarest of the three, but it’s hard for me to judge. I purchased a primo pair back in 1980 (one of my earliest "hobby" purchases) and consequently haven’t paid too much attention to their market prices.

I’ve had the most trouble finding the silver-tipped third version, but I think that’s mostly an issue of condition, not availability. Since most third version models were molded in white plastic, and not black, rubs are just more prevalent - or noticeable.


buckpony said...

Hello! Thank you for your blog! I just came across it while surfing blogs this past week. I look forward to reading through it and learning some history from you. I have been collecting Breyers for as long as I can remember. My Mom is still kind enough to give them to me for Christmas, although no one else in my family will...they feel I have too many. Ha! We who love them can never have enough! I'm guessing my collection is between 300 - 400, but I truly need to take an inventory. I have a few that are even signed by Peter Stone. I believe I went to one of the first BreyerFests back in 1989 while we were having Pony Club Championships and Festival and I heard that Peter Stone was going to be there to sign horses. I packed up my favorite ones in a small suitcase and took them with me. Mr. Stone and I unpacked each one. While he signed them, he told me about each one. He was so patient and kind! Afterwards, he even posed for a photo with me. I was on cloud nine! I need to locate that old photo and post it to my day! Anyway, I thought that was really neat and really apprecitaed the time he took with me so long ago. I only own one Stone Horse; one my Mom gave to me a few Christmases ago and she had it signed by Mr. Stone as well. I treasure each horse, but my kids think I'm crazy. :)
Anyway, thank you for sharing your knowledge through your blog. I find it so interesting!!

BluelineGoddess said...

I own a Black Beauty Western Pony - gold hooves and everything (sadly, his chain reins are long gone). I got him from my great-grandparents estate back in 1987 - to everyone else, he was just a silly plastic horse. It wasn't until 1997 or so that I learned he was a Breyer.

Anonymous said...

I just came across your website while looking for more information about Breyer Western Horses and Ponies. I've been a collector for about 40 years and currently have about 800 or so Breyers with about 100 of them being the Western Horses, Ponies and Furies. I'd love to see more Western Horse and Pony photos as well as share some...if I knew how to add photos to this blog. :)