Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kinda Sorta Maybe

Mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year; the first thing that popped into my head was "Personal Assistant," but that’s not going to happen. Not unless either one of us comes into some unholy amount of money in the near future.

If it should ever come to pass, the "new hire" would have to be a model horse hobbyist, because one of the job requirements would be to listen to me kvetch about it live and in person, so my family wouldn’t have to. (And that would be my gift to them!)

(In reality, I’ll probably end up with some DVDs, a couple of books, and an undisclosed amount of cash-to-be-named-later.)

Anyway, back to the online kvetching.

You may have noticed that I use the hedging phrases I think and I believe quite a bit here. The words probably and maybe get a lot of mileage, too. They aren’t just affectations in my writing style, like my propensity for bad puns and adverbs. There’s a reason for it: it’s inherent in the material I’m working with.

As I’ve explained before, the internal records of what Breyer did before they were purchased by Reeves (and for some time afterwards) were sketchy, to put it kindly. All Marney had to work with, at one point, were the fading memories of a few long-time employees, and a loose box of unsorted (and often, undated) papers.

We’ve come a long way since then. We’ve filled in a lot of the gaps - but like the fossil records, there are still many gaps left undocumented. (Oh how you vex me so, 1959 through 1962.)

Even though we have a good idea of what might have happened, there’s very little certainty in any of the history prior to the mid-1980s - and in a surprising amount of it since then. Just when we think we’ve got something figured out - bam! Out pops another oddity, or some previously unknown special run, or a photograph that makes us all go "What the…."

Hence, my use of hedge words. I’d rather leave room error when it comes to Breyer History, than make a flat assertion of fact. The hard evidence to make those flat assertions often just isn’t there. Saying I think gives you the leeway to make corrections - or at least, look less like a fool than the person saying I know.

In this regard, Test Colors are the bane of my existence. Unless you’ve got the paperwork, or a solid provenance (usually via Marney, or a former Breyer employee or contractor) it’s pretty darn well impossible to confirm a Test Color as such. The body of documentation I have on hand regarding Test Colors is rather limited, and a lot of it resides not on paper, but in the most unreliable form of documentation: memory.

From time to time someone will show me a model and ask for my opinion on it; in many cases, it’s an owner or potential buyer hoping that I can confirm it as a Test Color. I’m sure a lot of them are disappointed when I can’t give them the "Definite Yes" they’re looking for. In more than a few instances, they’ve trotted it over to another expert willing to give them the more affirmative answer they’re looking for.

Some have a higher likelihood of being genuine than others, for whatever reasons, but absolute certainty? That I can rarely give.

I hate the way that so many hobbyists - including many that should know better - toss the term "Test Color" around so lightly. Especially when it’s quite obvious that the model can be more easily explained as something else: a Variation, a Cull, or even a previously unknown special or regular run.

It’s not just about the value: there are lots and lots of variations that can compete quite well in that area with Test Colors. I hate it because the words "Test Color" convey more status to a model than any of those other descriptors do. It’s all about the status for some hobbyists nowadays - you just can’t be a serious collector without at least one genuine rarity in the collection, right?

I guess I was lucky that I managed to get some Test Colors - real, honest to goodness ones straight out of the Chicago factory - before they became such a thing. They were always a "thing," even back then, but not at quite the same level of intensity.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t want a few more for my stash, but it’s a little less about status in my case, and more about the history. A Test Color that was an actual test color for something, and not some random weird thing? That’s more my speed - and usually cheaper, too.


Anonymous said...

Is it more correct, then, to label something as a "cull" than a test color? What's the difference? I have three OOAK (perhaps that's a better term?) Breyers- one that came from Reeves and is labeled a Test in its documentation, one that claimed to come from Marney's collection and is definitely unrelated to any regular run on that mold, and one that's a bit of a conundrum. It's unfinished (eyes and hooves unpainted), and in bay. The mold came in bay twice: once very recently, and this horse is old; and once in the 80's as a SR. The paint job is significantly different in shading and markings from the SR. How does one describe a horse like that?

ANDREA said...

If it's not finished, it's a cull, whether it was intended as a regular run or test color.

A lot of painters at the factory would clean their paint guns off on whatever bodies they pulled out of the cull bin. So technically, I guess, those kind of models could be tests of a sort. "Test Color" implies intent, and it's sort of hard to prove intent with those kinds of models.

It's true that there's a lot of overlap on some models with some terms - some things can be multiple things at the same time.

Anonymous said...

And then, of course, there are variations, your forte. Which cause their own set of problems. For example, I have a factory escapee no-white Huck that I found at a tack store. He was sold as a regular Huck. He's also definitely not an escaped Breyerfest SR Huck because those were A) glossy and B) had dark grey hooves, whereas mine are tan/peach like the RR Huck (and mine is matte). I've live shown him extensively and had various judges chuck him out of RR classes and make me put him in with the Tests and OOAKs (which is patently ridiculous because he's _not_ a OOAK- I've seen a couple of others in other collections over the years).

Allison said...

Of all my accidentally broken Breyers that had been saved since I was a kid, :-(, I miss my Man O' War the most. I did not think I could replace it..? The ONLY thing that helps is reminding myself that his grandson to the 4th degree is in my barn! <3

NJHeart2Heart said...

First, juist want to say I enjoy your blog, and think I would enjoy meeting you in person some day- I like your writing style, your honesty, and your sense of fair play :) As for this post, myself and a friend got a LOT of intersting (and cheap) models from a NJ flea market guy years ago and I have no idea what they are :) Probably culls, but I admit I like the term OOAK - gives them a sense of value, even if only to me.. and I do love many of them :)