Monday, March 16, 2015

In the Beginning

The Western Horse is one of the handful of Breyer-related topics that I defer to others; most of my research on Early Breyer History tends to focus on Breyer’s pre-equine proprietary products, like the Checkers, Poker Chips, Cigarette Host, Money Manager et al.

It’s not that I have less interest in the Western Horses per se, but that I believe - for want of a better word - that the pre-equine products and their history are more "endangered".

Whether or not a model horse is classified as a Hartland or a Breyer, it will be collected and treasured regardless. Funky things like plastic humidors or vanity organizers, and the lesser-known clocks? Maybe not as much.

For the definitive guide to the Western Horse and the disentanglement of most of its mysteries, I send you here:

I mostly concur with the research, outside of a few minor quibbles. The one I want to discuss today is the assertion that "Breyer’s own documentation says they started in 1950."

Well, yes and no. Breyer does assert that start date - and is using it to celebrate its "Fanniversary", but the reality is far more complicated than that. "Breyer" has several different start dates, depending on how you want to define it.

The Breyer Molding Company itself existed several years prior to the introduction of the horses; though the exact date is not known, with some research it is probably knowable. (Per Nancy Young’s Breyer Molds and Models, it’s likely pre-1943.) I do not know if Reeves does, in fact, have any documentation at all in their archives prior to the early 1950s.

Back then it was a standard plastic injection molding shop, molding whatever they happened to win a contract on. That included government contracts; when many of those contracts disappeared after World War II, Breyer decided to position itself as a toy and novelty manufacturer in order to keep the shop running even as the contracts themselves ran out.

Documentation for these early products is scarce. The Cigarette Host appears in the 1950 Sears Wishbook, and a brief article/PR piece in the February 1952 issue of Playthings magazine, entitled "Attractive Items from Breyer" mentions that the Money Manager had been "[o]n the market for 3 years".

That Breyer started molding the Western Horse in or around 1950 for Mastercrafters appears to be true, but the Western Horse as a product independent of the Clocks? We’re not as sure; the similarities between the Hartland and the Breyer Western Horses are such that it’s sometimes difficult to determine which is which in early magazine and catalog advertising. Neither company, at that point, was a recognizable enough "brand" that advertisers saw it necessary to call attention to it.

I presume that Breyer’s Western Horse made its formal/official debut in 1951, with a brief article in the March 1951 issue of Playthings, entitled "Breyer Molding Co. Announces ‘Palomino’". It’s possible that the model may have been in production for several months prior; it wasn’t uncommon for Breyer to do such a thing later on, as was the case with the "Big" Poodle mold.

The brand known as "Breyer Animal Creations" seems to have debuted in 1952: prior to that (such as in the March 1951 article, above) all Breyer-manufactured items - animals or otherwise - are referred to as products of the Breyer Molding Company.


For what it’s worth, I’m a bit of a pedant, and consider the Breyer brand to have formally started in 1952, with the apparent creation/registration of the "Breyer Animal Creations" brand. Reasonable arguments could be made otherwise, for any number of dates.

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