Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Short History of Alabaster: Part II

For some reason this did not drop as scheduled on Saturday. So here is the conclusion, four days late....

I don’t think it was a popularity issue that doomed the “new” White paint job, but a manufacturing one: it was hard color to maintain consistency from model to model and the gray paint, applied over (not under) the Matte topcoat, rubbed off easily.

Confusing? Yes, very.

Honestly, this color confusion shouldn’t really be too surprising: we are talking about a company that had a hard time distinguishing between Bay and Chestnut. Having all these different names for a color as allegedly uncomplicated as White? Just par for the course.

Some argument could be made that Alabaster was in itself just another one of Breyer’s “Decorator” colors, albeit its simplest and most subtle. Like Smoke and Charcoal, Alabaster is not a term that was used in the real horse world to any significant degree, and bears only a coincidental resemblance to colors horses actually come in.

Matte finishes were still relatively uncommon at the time and used then primarily as a sealing topcoat for Woodgrains. The term might have been invented to help call out what was then something unusual and distinctive. Or as I’ve speculated with the color Charcoal, the term may have come from an offhand reference in a book or magazine.

Another point in favor of labeling Alabaster a Decorator color is that the term Smoke – another quasi-realistic color – debuted on the Running Mare and Foal at exactly the same time as Alabaster, and was even paired and marketed with it in deliberately mismatched Mare and Foal sets.

Then there is the matter of Gloss Alabaster: believe it or not, this term never comes up in early Breyer ephemera. It appears to be a hobbyist creation: through the 1960s and until Gloss finishes were phased out, Breyer always referred to Gloss Alabasters as White.

There were a number of reasons why white-colored horses, in all their names and forms, became a staple in the Breyer line through the 1960s and 1970s.

First and foremost: yes, they were a little cheaper to manufacture. They required fewer painting steps, and less paint. There was also less production waste. In an era where multiple simultaneous releases of a mold were the norm, it was common practice to set aside lighter-colored culls to repaint with a darker color later, rather than discarding or regrinding them.

But white was one of the most popular horse colors with the general public too, partly fueled by pop culture figures like The Lone Ranger’s Silver and Hopalong Cassidy’s Topper.

Although derided in recent years as a cheap, plain, and (at times) a downright lazy color to paint, careful examination reveals that too is not as simple as it seems. The simplicity of the color itself is a deceit: unlike other paint jobs, there’s no place for a minor decorating or molding flaw to hide.

In effect, we see the mold as the moldmaker sees it: no more, no less. That so many molds still succeed and delight is a testament to the craftsmen who helped bring them to life in the first place.

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