Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shades of Gray

I was going to write about the BreyerFest stuff today, but I haven’t had the time to do much more with the JAH Supplement beyond looking at the pictures. I’ll get to it next week, when I’m a little more lucid - and better read. Since I’m short on time and feeling a little cranky from my jacked-up schedule, let’s discuss another lovely piece from my "newtoymens" collection:

It’s a little hard to tell from this picture, but this little Donkey is a test color. He’s the same color as the #376 Brighty, the 1991 re-release in that quirky gray-brown dun color with the white belly and muzzle, and shoulder striping. Being that it is an undatable "newtoymens" piece with no real provenance, I don’t know if he was a test color for Brighty, a rejected test for the 1992 Election Donkey with the Brighty paint job, or even a test for another release entirely.

Some molds have lots of test colors floating around, and some have almost none, and the old Donkey mold is one of the latter. I’ve seen more test pieces on the Brighty mold - and even the Kitten - than the old Donkey. Part of the reason is that there haven’t been that many Donkey bodies lying around to experiment with: aside from his brief return in 1992, he’s basically been out of production since the mid-1970s.

Why the Donkey mold has been missing for so long is a matter of debate. I think a lot of collectors just assume that, like the Fury or the old Racehorse, he’s an old, dated mold that has been superseded by newer, more popular donkeys. We have the Brighty, the Companion Series Miniature Donkey, and now the cutie-pie Stablemates Donkey to fill in the gaps of the donkey-loving collector’s heart.

There may have been some damage to the mold that prevented or limited his return, too. According to former Breyer employee Steve Ryan, the Donkey mold was allegedly damaged in the aborted attempt to move production to Mexico in the 1970s. I don’t know how much truth there is to it; my interactions with Mr. Ryan did not inspire confidence in his grasp of Breyer History.

While real-life donkeys don’t come in quite the same color range as their cousins do, they certainly come in more colors than the old Breyer Donkey has: gray, gray, gray … and gray. There’s a lot of variation in that boring gray paint job, though, and one could amass a nice-sized collection of its many variations, from pale gray to near-black.

There are a few bay and Five-Gaiter Sorrel Donkeys from the 1960s floating around, too, but their color is sometimes so dark and muted that they are sometimes mistaken for just another shade of gray. And they may well be, as we have no documentation of it being a separate release or special run item.

There have also been rumors of Woodgrain Donkeys. I’m willing to entertain the notion of their existence, possibly as another Special Run item for the Ranchcraft Lamp line, but so far I haven’t seen one that passes historical muster. Red Mill - a company that manufactured figurines out of a crushed pecan-shell composite material - did make a fairly good copy of the Breyer Donkey, and that might be fueling the rumor.


Leah said...

Your comment about a Stablemate donkey galvanized me into action to find this elusive beast. I think you mean the donkey(s) from the Country Vet Set and the Down on the Farm set. I was wondering if those are the same donkey mold- I found a picture of the Vet Set version by itself on Ebay but not the other, and in the promo pic you can't see it very well. Any idea?

Thanks for another fabulous Breyer history post!

Tanaqui said...

I love your test. He's a really cool little guy. This is my Newtoymens donkey test I bought in 2005.

Sara said...

There is a woodgrain donkey that's been shown at Breyerfest live in the regular Woodgrain class for the past couple of years. I think he's authentic.

Sara said...

oops... That failed. Maybe a shorter link

Kirsten Wellman said...

Yes, there is a woodgrain donkey that has been at BF the last few years. Michelle Smalling owns it. I've looked it, and it sure looks like the real deal to me. :) I have heard of one other, but I haven't seen it.