Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Short History of Alabaster: Part I

Since I am going to either be away, or occupied with other things through the weekend, I will be queuing up the article I wrote about the history of Alabaster for this year’s Sampler.

Even though Breyer’s history began with a white Western Horse, the term “Alabaster” – the word hobbyists most commonly use to describe white-colored Breyer horses – did not appear in any official Breyer ephemera until ca. 1962.

My recent research has determined the reason why: “Alabaster” was created as a descriptor not just of a color, but a finish. In short, Matte White = Alabaster.

The history of Breyer’s plainest and most basic color, however, is far more complicated than that.

The earliest white-colored Breyer horses of the 1950s were literally White, in both form and name. Models like the Western Horse, Western Pony and Fury Prancer were uniformly described in the ephemera of the time as White: and they were, save for a few touches of gray shading on the hooves and head.

It wasn’t until 1958 that models with more extensive gray shading arrived, in the form of the Old Mold Mare and Foal (and a year later, on the Stallion). While the paint job on the Old Mold Family was very similar to the color we think of as Alabaster (gray manes, tails and body shading) they still weren’t labeled that way. The early ephemera still referred to them as White.

Other white-colored models began to show up shortly after but they were not labeled Alabaster, either. The Shetland Pony, with her gray mane and tail and pink hooves and muzzle, was still White. The Mustang and Five-Gaiter were described as Albino, presumably because the earliest pieces were issued with dark pink eyes, not black ones.

It wasn’t until ca. 1962 that the term “Alabaster” finally appeared in print, to describe the brand new Running Mare and Foal, and a revamped White Fighting Stallion.

What did these three releases have in common? The Running Mare and Foal and the re-released Fighting Stallion all came in a Matte finish. They were followed shortly afterwards by the Rearing Stallion (1965) and Running Stallion (1968), both Matte, and “Alabaster”.

It wasn’t until 1969 that the Family Arabians and the Shetland Pony – among the last remaining glossy White pieces in the Breyer line – were officially labeled Alabasters in existing ephemera. This is almost exactly the same time that Breyer officially began phasing out gloss.

1968 Pricelist:

1969 Pricelist:

I do not think this was a coincidence. Especially since the third white release in the line at the time – the Western Pony – remained glossy. And was still labeled as White.

There seems to be quite a bit of evidence that Breyer was being careful and nuanced when it came to their color terminology in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially with their expanding repertoire of gray-based colors. One that expanded further with the release of the matte Dapple Gray paint job on the Proud Arabian Stallion in 1971.

To complicate matters even more, the term White was still being used. In spite of the fact that neither the Old Timer (released in 1966) nor the Indian Pony (released in 1970) ever came in a Gloss Finish, they were both consistently described in catalogs and other price lists as White well into the 1970s.

What I think was going on there was that a decision was made to turn that particular descriptor into a term for a matte white finish with heavy, almost Smoke-like body shading.

This “new” White didn’t last long: all subsequent “white” releases in the 1970s and 1980s were labeled Alabaster, regardless of the amount of gray shading they came with.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where do I get a sampler? I was at Breyerfest but didn't run into you. I would be very interested in-reading it.