Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Plum Brown

I’m still suffering from a motivational deficit. I tried to brush it off with a marathon of paper shredding yesterday, but the enthusiam didn’t stick. I think it’s the weather: not the lack of sun, but the lack of heat. I don’t get a lot of projects done in the wintertime, because it’s incredibly difficult to get anything done when your swaddled in a half dozen blankets and quilts (unless what you're working on is actually a quilt!)

Laugh if you must, but I was secretly hoping I’d get a zebra-print Snuggie from Santa this year. Nope, just a peachy keen new laptop and some fancy chocolates. And speaking of chocolate…

Here are two different pre-1960 Western Ponies. Notice anything different between the two?

It's a little hard to tell, but the one with darker hooves is dark brown. It’s a color hobbyists call "Plum Brown" because it often comes with purplish undertones, though mine is more dark chocolate-colored. The base color is colored plastic that, as we’ve discussed before, was not an uncommon Breyer painting shortcut in the 1950s.

There are only two models known that came in this brown color: Davy Crockett’s Fury/Prancer horse from the Horse and Rider set, and the Western Pony. Both are painted with masked facial markings, 4 stockings and dark gray hooves.

For the longest time, we didn’t know anything at all about these Plum Brown models, and just assumed that they were a color variation of the Black. We didn’t learn that they were separate and distinct releases until copies of an undated catalog page/flier started circulating among collectors. From the reverse:

It was widely presumed that Breyer also made a Brown Western Horse. It was a logical presumption to make: they did make a brown Fury/Prancer and Western Pony, and our fragmentary documentation from the 1950s didn't rule out the possibility. Why not a Western Horse? Some collectors even claimed that they had one in their herds.

Then I saw one of those alleged Western Horses in person and realized it was just a copy, and not a very good one at that. The plastic was wrong, the color was wrong, the hooves were poorly sculpted - even the reins were wrong! They also have metallic gold shading that’s not seen on either the Plum Brown Fury/Prancer or Western Pony. It’s as if they were actually trying to imitate a bronze finish; I believe the manufacturer of these odd and early knock-offs was probably taking its design cues more from pot metal carnival horses than the plastic Breyer versions.

The Fury/Prancer is far more common than the Western Pony in this color, possibly because the Plum Brown Fury/Prancer was not only used with another Horse and Rider set - the Canadian Mountie - it was also sold separately. The Western Pony mold was used on a few Horse and Rider sets, such as the Indian, the Cowboy, and Kit Carson, but I can’t recall ever seeing an original set with the Plum Brown Pony.

Not much is known about the Plum Brown Western Pony, other than its appearance on that single, undated (ca. 1956) catalog page and his hasty retreat: he was gone from the 1958 catalog and price list. Maybe, as I hypothesized with the Pink and Blue Elephants, he was designed to use up the colored acetate they had lying around the factory.

It may be that the Plum Brown Western Pony’s rarity isn’t as profound as we perceive it: in low light, and at first glance, they can be indistinguishable from the somewhat more common Black Beauty version. None of the Black Beauties are really "common" either, but I’ll discuss that in my next post.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Heavy Metal Horses

Ach! I am so completely unmotivated. It's my reflective time of the year; I'd rather sit and contemplate the greater mysteries of the universe, than the smaller ones of Breyer History. I'm not going to force it, because I have faith that this deeper contemplation will lead to something productive in the end. Like Douglas Adams's "holistic detective" character Dirk Gently, I believe it doesn't matter where I start, because eventually I'll end up where I need to go. From The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul:

"... A few turnings later and I was thoroughly lost. There is a school of thought which says that you should consult a map on these occasions, but to such people I merely say, 'Ha! What if you have no map to consult? What if you have a map but it's of the Dordogne?' My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it is going and follow it. I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere that I needed to be. So what do you say to that?"


"A robust response. I salute you."

Not a terribly useful line of thinking if you find yourself wandering around the parking lot of Target the day after Christmas, in the rain, wondering where the heck you parked the darn car, but perhaps moreso in more intellectual pursuits. Like running keyword searches on Google for cast iron doorstops.

Like this one:

It's part of an extended series of Breyer knockoff doorstops. In one of my luckier days at the flea market, I found a small collection - five pieces, to be precise. I sold most of them off for my own safety: they were extremely heavy, and I am extremely clumsy and value my feet.

I did keep the Old Timer: I have a modest interest in Breyer knockoffs, and I was a little obsessed with the Old Timer at that moment in time. He was also in the best condition of the bunch, and he still had his hat. (Cast Iron Doorstop with removeable hat = cool. 'Nuff said.)

I do know a little bit about these cast iron knockoffs For the record, there are at least eleven of them:

4510 St. Bernard
4511 Horned Hereford Bull
4512 Bassett Hound
4513 Appaloosa Foal (Lying Down Foal)
4514 Tennessee Walking Horse (Midnight Sun)
4515 Fighting Stallion (Alabaster)
4516 Arabian Stallion (Palomino FAS)
4517 Famous Thoroughbred (Traditional Man o War)
4518 Clydesdale Stallion
4519 Jumping Horse
4520 Old Timer

I know this much about them because I have multi-generational copies of two pages from a catalog that lists them by these names and numbers. It's obviously some sort of wholesale or manufacturer catalog, because the copy states: This new handsome group of animal reproductions in Cast Iron is becoming a popular and fast-moving line among our customers.

There's some truth in the statement about their popularity, because they do turn up with some frequency in antique stores, on eBay, and on antique web sites that don't know what they are talking about.

Those antique websites usually identify them as being very old. They can't be: they're all copies of models made from the 1950s onward; the St. Bernard wasn't introduced until 1972! My guess would be that they date from the mid- to late 1970s: cross-reference the manufacturing dates, and you'll find that these models were all current and available from 1972 through 1980.

Who the manufacturer is, is the mystery here. The antique web sites and references sometimes identify them as Hubley, which is impossible since Hubley stopped manufacturing in the mid-1960s. They did make a few horses, but they don't look anything like the Breyer knockoffs. It's just wishful thinking on the antiquers' part: Hubley pieces are very collectible, and often very pricey.

The only clue to the real manufacturer is a logo that appears in the upper corner of the two catalog pages: a Currier and Ives-styled horse with the letters ASC.

I've done several different keyword searches looking for this company, with no usable results. At this point I think randomly typed keyword searches would probably be just as fruitful.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

2010 Previews and Stuff

It looks like I'll start the year with a truly clean slate: there was honest-to-goodness dusting performed in the office yesterday! I have no idea what got into me; I'll chalk it up to work avoidance and the absence of a cat to vacuum.

The work avoidance issue: dealing with the big black hole that is my research data entry slush pile. I'm always incorporating new data into my files, but not at the same rate that I research it. Then I find some unexpected lead, and off I am again on some other crazy topic. I think I'll probably spend most of my free time in the beginning of the new year dealing with the consequences of that foolishness. (In addition to working on the nascent hobby advocacy movement that seems to be coming into being – finally!)

The new year is almost here, and photos of the 2010 releases are already being floated about, and analyzed to death. I'm not going to be one of those people today: we should all know by now that it's not a good idea to judge a Breyer horse by its stock photo. Especially the new G4 Stablemates; it's pretty clear that a number of those photos are of prototypes, and not to be trusted. The two resin prototypes we had a sneak peek at BreyerFest this year looked just fine and dandy in person, and I suspect that most of the rest will be, too. There might be a clunker or two, but it's nothing worth fretting over until we have them in hand.

I'm glad to see a new Nokota and a new Peruvian, though – now there's a couple of favorite molds that might make me break my vows of model horse austerity. The Treasure Hunt Othellos are very nice – I like the mold a lot, but I'm not sure I like him enough to participate. I may reconsider, depending on the color and quality of the redemption horse. (Gloss Charcoal = YES! Another shade of gray = meh, not so much.)

I have a lot of reservations about the Breast Cancer Benefit horse. Normally I'd be attempting cartwheels at the thought of a mass-market transparent Traditional-scale horse; one of my few, true model horse grails is to track down and possess the Transparent Belgian I once saw in Marney Walerius's basement. I have all of the other transparent, or mostly transparent Breyer releases, except for the unaffordable Connoisseur Tortuga.

Benefit horses of any kind are good; I just wish it could have been targeted towards an orphan cancer that doesn't quite get the same level of funding or media attention.

You know, like pancreatic cancer.

Hell yeah, it's personal. Some of you may know, but others do not: I lost my Dad to pancreatic cancer almost two years ago. PC has a 5% survival rate after five years; we had 28 days, which is not untypical. There hasn't been much research done, because there's no money in it: there are virtually no survivors to campaign for it.

Now that they have the painting template for it, we can hope that maybe the idea will carry through to other causes, in other colors. (PC's color is purple.) And at least with PC, there would be a logical connection of the horse to the cause: Patrick Swayze was an Arabian horse breeder and enthusiast. I think there's even some footage of him competing at the Kentucky Horse Park on YouTube somewhere.

(And intriguingly, the Tempur-Pedic company is also doing a PC fundraising effort with a limited-edition teddy bear: their headquarters just happens to be in Lexington, Kentucky. BreyerFest attendees would much appreciate some comfy mattresses in a nap station in the Covered Arena, dontcha think?)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Saving Hobby History

One shift turned into two back-to-back shifts, thus playing havoc on my schedule. Fooey. It'll be worse in January, when the part-time job temporarily turns full-time, with overtime, and insane. (It's not as awesome as it sounds. Trust me. Other income-making opportunities are welcome.) Not sure if I'm going to cope with it here – write shorter posts, pre-write a bunch, or some combination of the two. We'll cross that proverbial bridge when we come to it.

Back to the Hobby History project.

When I talk to “outsiders” about the model horse hobby, many of them get the impression that it's a relatively new phenomenon, like PEZ collecting. PEZ dispensers have been around for about the same amount of time as Breyer Horses – since the early 1950s – but there wasn't an active or huge PEZ collecting/hobby community until the early 1990s. (I should know: I was one of attendees of the first PEZ convention, the famed Dispens-O-Rama, in 1991! Yes, it was several different flavors of awesome, including Anise.)

So when I tell them that the hobby has been around in some form, in the U.S., since the late 1950s, I get the usual eye-rolls and incredulous looks. So I'll go to my archives and pull out a couple of pieces of documentation to straighten out the wiseacre, including this neat article from the September, 1961 issue of Western Horseman:

Yup, that's an Old Mold Mare they are holding. There's a App FAM and several H-R minis visible, and that's a pot metal Western Horse on the shelf. A favorite quote from the brief article beneath:

“The miniature saddle maker's artistic talents also include pencil sketching and refinishing horse statutes in such colors as real animals.”

Unlike Breyer History, we actually have quite a lot of Hobby History ephemera out there. Prior to the Internet, the hobby was a paper-intensive affair: letters, newsletters, photo shows, the occasional newspaper or magazine articles brought us together and bound us together. I can remember stalking the mailbox on a daily basis, anxiously waiting for the next precious communique from the Model Horse Universe. A big, fat envelope with my name on it = much happiness!

As a student of history, I'm also interested in saving the hobby's collective history, not just of Breyer Horses. Aside from the research opportunities it would provide (i.e. being able to track when certain terms were invented, when color and mold changes occurred, etc.) it'd also provide us some standing and credibility to the Outside World. Showing the Outside World that we've been around for about fifty years will go quite a ways towards taking us more seriously, and proving that we're not a fad, and we're not going away.

Besides, other avocations with papery origins, most notably Science-Fiction and Comic Book Fandom, have made vocal and visible efforts to preserve their history and ephemera, so why not us? Science-fiction fandom just celebrated its 80th anniversary, in fact! (And some are celebrating by trying to find out what happened to First Fandom's first club president. Cool!)

There's just one problem: most hobbyists shared my sentimental attachment to this paper, and are loathe to give it up.

I've been trying for some time now to save the physical remnants of our collective history and create at least the rudiments of a hobby archive. I've made a few excellent recoveries and discoveries, but most hobbyists don't want to surrender the tangible evidence of their fondest childhood memories. Then there's the contentious question of who becomes the repository: everyone who has a bigger than average pile of stuff wants to be home of THE archive (including me!)

I first became involved on Blab when my name came up in a potential hobby history project; our initial efforts didn't get very far, for a variety of reasons. The topic came up again, in connection with the epic “future of the hobby” thread, and it looks like we might get a little bit further along this time. For one thing, a Facebook page has already been created to help collect and coordinate our collective efforts, and begin the effort to collect oral histories. A link to that page has been provided in my Links of Interest, to the right.

Next post – back to plain ol' Breyer History. Promise!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Face Time with Old Friends

I actually have to work tomorrow! It's not much, but it's something. Unfortunately I have to be up and on the road at some unheavenly hour when most of the world is sleeping, except for vampires and truck drivers. So something short again, today.

Finished the latest quilt, finished the descriptor project. Now moving on to my 2009 paperwork and cleaning up the office for some near-future remodelling. And some stray crafty things: I bought some Aves Apoxie Sculpt from a local hobby store recently, and I'm having a little fun with that, too. (Yes, I do a little customizing, just for fun. Nothing beats dremelling a FAM body for stress relief!)

Lots of positive goods came out of the collection excavation. Aside from finding the inspiration for even more blog posts, I now know where all the models are that I need to photograph to illustrate those blog posts.

Another positive result is that's it has definitely put a damper on my acquistive desires. I did a thorough purge a few years ago, so it's not that I've found a lot of my models wanting – if anything, the process has made me want to see these guys more, not less. After being in storage for a while, they've become fresh and new again, and I miss their company. Buying a lot of new horses would mean less face time with old friends I want to get reacquainted with, y'know?

(Though the “refreshened” new horse smell put me out of commission for a couple of days this week with migraines. Holy moley, I didn't realize one could actually overdose on it!)

There are still an number of newer molds and models I'd like to get, and I won't turn away any potential herd members if I should happen to stumble on them during my daily routines. But I will definitely shifting more of my modest discretionary income towards model horse ephemera, and a lttle less on actual model horses.

Speaking of which, it looks like the hobby history project is getting back on its feet again – ironically, as a result of a discussion about where we need to take the hobby in the future (which actually started out as a discussion about realism. Gotta love thread drift!) I'll discuss that endeavor in my next post, when I actually have time to do it; in the meantime, I really think it's worth your while to at least lurk in the discussion. It takes a couple of pages in before you get to the meat of it. Good stuff – something we've needed to get out in the open for a while. Let's hope the momentum for change lasts:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ephemeral Things

I've had to reference Marney's book a couple of times in the past few weeks. It felt strange using it as a reference book: it's become more valuable as an artifact of Breyer History than as a Breyer History.

There's still value in it as a history: Marney knew what she was talking about. She had unprecedented access to the factory and to everyone in the know. It contains unique and otherwise unpublished photographs. The sections on early Breyer history provide data and insights you can't get anywhere else. There's just one problem, and it's a big one.

She couldn't write.

I'm not talking about style or flow, I'm talking about simple coherence. She couldn't organize her thoughts on the page. She'd stop and just start rambling, or ranting. Unrelated captions and marginalia are embedded within paragraphs. Some concepts are left completely unexplained, and others are expounded upon, again and again.

Dates and data changes from page to page. She contradicts herself, frequently. On one page she spends an entire paragraph describing the horse and rider packaging, stating that she couldn't reprint them out of respect for Breyer's copyright: on the next page is a Breyer promotional picture showing the boxes she just described!

It's an almost textbook case against the concept of self-publishing. Some people need editors, and some books shouldn't be published. This shouldn't have been published, at least in the condition that it's in.

I know she had significant health problems, which probably affected her writing, and prevented the necessary editing from occurring. Whenever I find myself skimming through it, frustrated, I tell myself: It's probably just a first draft. There wasn't time to fix it.

But even if there had time, who would have volunteered to edit? I know I was too intimidated to even ask. We were all too intimidated to ask: she was our guru, our buddha, the queen of all Breyer History. Who were we to question her in the completion of her sacred task? She knew it better than any of us could have; it would have seemed presumptuous of any of us to have asked if she needed help.

If any good came out of it, it made me realize that I had to get somewhat serious about collecting and preserving Breyer History. This blog, and the history in it, might not exist because of it.

I often wonder what happened to Marney's stuff. Not the horses, but the paper: the research notes, the ad slicks, stock photos, correspondence: everything that did (and didn't) make it into the book. Part of the reason is because I'd like to see it preserved, as part of our greater hobby history. But part of me hopes that by looking at this otherwise unknown source material, some Breyer mysteries will finally be revealed, or at least be better explained. We have a better framework now to interpret whatever data it might contain, things she might not have noticed, or thought unimportant at the time ...

I know it was not all thrown out, or destroyed. I actually have some inkling of where and to whom some of it went; it was through one of those folks that I managed to secure one of Marney's photo albums. I'd love to have more of Marney's stuff – or access to it – but there are rather delicate issues involved, most of which are probably not prudent for me to discuss, except in this most general of terms.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Etymology and Decorators

My fingertips are so raw and sore right now – the consequence of trying to finish another big quilt project by the end of the year, in addition to the descriptor project. (And a couple of small, crafty projects, too – I just noticed the gesso on my fingernails.)

Attention Deficit Disorder runs in the family, and I suspect I have a mild, manageable form of it: it manifests itself in a need to multi-task. I do crash from time to time, but I know my tolerance levels, and I'm operating well within them. If anything, I could probably take on another project or two...

Back to the project at hand. Today's topic will be the spare, rare history of the Decorator.

As I hinted before in our 3-part discussion about Christmas Decorators, documentation for actual Decorators is also extremely sparse. In fact, we have only four pieces of documentary evidence:

  1. A “Supplemental Price List” dated April 1, 1964, that lists all of the models we now call Decorators. There are actually two near identical copies of this pricelist, one printed on light blue paper, and the other, on yellow (blue and gold, get it?)

  2. A picture in the 1964 Alden's Christmas Book, featuring a pair of “Copenhagen Dappled Horses” for the hefty sum of 6.99. The catalog copy: “magnificently detailed of china-like fine quality plastic. Break-resistant! Lovely mare with foal for her novelty shelves or a favorite youngster's room.” (The Running Mare and Foal, obviously.)

  3. A full-color photograph showing the entire Decorator line, complete with numbers. Stamped on the back of this photo is the notation “Please mail your order to J.C. Unger ...”

  4. The photograph of the Copenhagen Belgian that appeared in an issue of JAH back in 1980.

That's it. It doesn't seem like a lot – and it isn't – but it's a lot more than we have for many early Breyer releases. But did you notice what's missing from the paper evidence?

On none of these pieces of evidence is the word “Decorator” even used.

Looking through my early ephemera, the closest we come to the word Decorator is in the Dealer Catalog references to the Modernistic Buck and Doe, who are called “Delightfully Decorative.” Marney labels them as “Modernistic/Decorator” and includes them in the Decorator section of her book, but provides no other evidence or documentation linking the two together, only noting that the Deer were “originally created as Christmas decorative pieces.” The two existing catalog pages that feature the Deer also note this, seen here on the ca. 1961 catalog insert page:

They are metallic gold – and predate the horses by at least a year – so it's possible that this is where the term originated. But was the term “Decorator” itself an internally-created one that we simply don't have the documentation for – yet – or was it a term that just arose in the hobby organically, like “Chalky” did?

Marney was pretty much the source of all Breyer knowledge back then, so I'm inclined to believe that the origins of the term, or its popularization in the model horse lexicon, are with her somehow.

It's possible that Marney may have overheard the term from someone at the factory, or may have seen the word used in conjunction with a local store's advertising campaign, or had access to a document, now lost, that used it specifically. Or maybe Marney just made it up – based on the promotional stuff for the Buck and Doe – and the hobby just adopted it as a matter of course. (Who were we to doubt Marney's knowledge then?)

I also remember – I truly can't say where or from whom I heard this bit of information – that the term Decorator was also used to describe Woodgrains. (Marney, again?) The earliest references I have for Woodgrains – the sepiatone ca. 1960 Dealer Catalog, and two Mission Supply House fliers, ca. 1961 – only refer to them as “Wood Grains” or as part of the “Wood Grain Series.” If true, it might be a point in favor of the “in-house” theory for the origin of the term: maybe it was just the word they used around the factory to describe all of the “nonrealistic” finishes. (Charcoal, at the time, was probably considered “realistic.”)

By the way, the term didn't become the single word “Woodgrain” until 1970, and only then on the pricelists. The Fighting Stallion – the only remaining regular run Woodgrain, seen in the Collector's Manuals from 1968 through 1973 – was always described as “Wood Grain.”

Oh, to have had access to Marney's original research notes and documentation. What new discoveries could be made there, what mysteries could be revealed, with fresh eyes? If only, if only.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Arabian Crosses

My Anniversary FAS came yesterday – ooh, so pretty! I think he'd look great on this year's gold and burgundy tree (we have a different "theme" every year), but the rest of the family will probably beg to differ:

Don't you think he'd make a fabulous topper? (The tree is actually white with purply lights, not hot pink. We did have a hot pink tree one year, though. Made entirely out of poinsettias. Truth!)

Speaking of palomino quasi-Arabians, I just encountered a Breyer Mini-Me situation here. Not an exact match – not even the same sculptor – but close enough to make you wonder. The G3 Target Palomino Arabian, labeled an “Arabian Cross”:

And of course, the Palomino Make A Wish, also labeled an “Arabian-Cross” (from the May/June 2009 JAH):

Most of my horses are loose, but I do try to keep one example of every version of the Stablemates packaging. I've thought that a history of Stablemates packaging might make a nice display someday, when I'm finally in a situation to have all of the horses out and about. There is no rhyme or reason to who gets to stay in the packaging; it just happened to be the G3 Arabians luck. It sits next to my computer, along with a few other Stablemates in their original packaging.

A few days ago, I was just blankly staring at it, when I remembered the big stink some hobbyists made about the Make A Wish mold when it was making the rounds earlier in the year. Something about the typography on some of the signs made it “obvious” that Reeves had made a “huge” mistake and had initially called it an Arabian, but discovered the mistake at the last minute and tried to fix it in the text, inserting the word “Cross” after it, but of course we weren't fooled!

Thus proving yet again that Reeves is full of equine know-nothings, etc. and so on.

Oh, please. Give it a rest. They've been using the “Cross” term to denote partbreds for a while now – anyone remember the Bay Tobiano Peruvian Cross from the #5971 Stablemates 4-Piece Gift Pack, the Paso Fino Cross from the 2005 Parade of Breeds Set, the Duchess as a Buckskin “Thoroughbred Cross,” the #740 Percheron Cross Roy in Black...

The little dash between Arabian and Cross in the Fest promo material isn't sufficient evidence, in my eyes, of a conspiracy to cover up a mistake. It's just clumsy typography that got carried forward. (And there's lots of inadequate typesetting in your average issue of JAH. I used to do that sort of thing for a living, y'know.)

There are enough actual people at Reeves that know enough about actual horses – and the sturm und drang associated with the Palomino Arabian issue – that I'm sure it wasn't an “oops, we forgot that there weren't no such thing as Palomino Arabians” mistake. It was, at most, just a case of someone just making a run-of-the-mill typo correction rather awkwardly.

Especially since they had released a Palomino "Arabian Cross" Stablemate on the G3 Arabian not that long before.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

That Seventies Catalog

Let's talk about that jobber/distributor toy catalog I mentioned last time. It's the Orgill Brothers and Company 1977 Illustrated Toy Catalog, and it's like a window into my childhood toyland: everything from Barbie, to Bicycles and Breyers, and Beyond! (Literally - Space: 1999 action figures!)

Jobber is a slightly antiquated word for a distributor or wholesaler. A middleman. They'll sell dozens of lines from dozens of manufacturers to simplify and streamline the retailer's ordering process – for a price, of course.

Every page of it is full of awesome, but the Breyer pages are going to be our focus, naturally. There's nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the selection – a couple dozen Traditionals, a few Animals, the Classic Racehorse Assortment, Stablemates Assortment, a few Gift Sets. No secret, previously unknowns special runs or oddball items that I can see. (The Donkey and Elephant are present, but that's overstock from the previous year's Election/Bicentennial promotion, and not really a huge surprise.) Just the kind of horses you'd find in your locally-owned hardware store, the market that Orgill primarily caters to.

Yeah, I did buy some of my models at hardware stores back then! Didn't you?

What's nice about a catalog like this is the ability to compare the wholesale prices with the suggested retail prices. Midnight Sun would cost the retailer 4.39, with a suggested retail of 6.59 – a 33% markup. That's about the same markup Orgill was making: per Breyer's own wholesale pricelists, the cost to the distributor for that same Midnight Sun would have been 2.97!

I have no idea what the markup is now: I'm neither a distributor nor a retailer. Even if I was, there would probably be some contractual mumbo-jumbo about the pricing structure that I would bar me from discussing it in a public forum anyway. But we're talking about 30 year old prices on merchandise that's been long discontinued.

For those of you pining for the days of the Six Dollar Traditional, don't forget that this was in 1977 money. As a genuine chronological youngster of that time period, I can assure you, Six Dollars was not a small sum. Saving that kind of money took herculean effort, especially when you're constantly tempted by one dollar Stablemates and 35 cent comic books.

The most fascinating part of this catalog, though, is the photographs: a I mentioned in my previous post, some of them are OLD, and many don't match the product that's being sold. Here's the Running Stallion:

The Alabaster Running Stallion was discontinued, oh, around 1971. The text under the photo notes that it's the Appaloosa you'd be buying. Likewise with with the Indian Pony, shown here in long-gone Buckskin version:

My favorite is the Fighting Stallion; the stock photo used to illustrate the Alabaster is actually that of the Gray Appaloosa, dating back to at least 1961!

We have our share of vintage prototype pics, too, including our old friend Yellow Mount, taunting us yet again:

Several of the newer items – like Lady Phase, the Charolais Bull, and Hobo – have more contemporaneous photos, so Orgill obvious had access to them. So, what was up with the outdated, incorrect stock photos?

The answer is simple: this catalog is pre-digital. It had to be manually pasted up. Every chunk of text and every photograph had to be physically cut and pasted into place. Lines had to be hand-drawn with a technical pen. Mistakes and cut lines had to be touched up with white paint, with a paint brush. If you look closely at the scans, you can still see a few blotches and cut lines.

It's about as much fun as it sounds. I managed to get into graphic design at the very tail end of the “manual” era, so I did get to experience that fun first hand, briefly. (My first semester in art school included a digital prepress class – in Aldus PageMaker! It was my favorite class, by far. I miss doing digital prepress, I really do...)

So the overworked table jockeys who had to put the toy catalog together probably reused old pages, or cut and pasted chunks of old stats into the new pages. Wherever there was a possible discrepancy, they'd paste in a line of text underneath to cover their behinds, just in case.

I'm sure that shortcuts like this probably led to at least a handful of post-production runs on some of the models in question, unless Breyer got lucky and just happened to run across a box or two of old stock hiding in the factory somewhere. No matter how thoroughly the search, there's always a box or two of some old somethings lurking in the warehouse. Look at the kind of stuff that still turns up in the Ninja Pit every year!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stock Photos and Stock Horses

I did a quick box count last night and realized that I was one-third done with my big “descriptors” project – considerably further along than I had anticipated. It helps that I'm not working, I guess. I have lots of time to occupy, and I might as well do it constructively.

The not-working part is not by choice. And not something I want to talk about right now.

What I do want to talk about is the catalog photography problem. No, not the recent phenomenon of lackluster lighting and color correction, but Breyer's bad habit of reusing and recycling old stock photos.

It was a particularly bad problem in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the product line changed at what now seems like a glacial pace: models and colors were issued not for months or years, but for decades. It made sense for Breyer to get as much use out of the stock photographs they had on file, rather than retake photos of the same models from year to year.

The only problem was that these paint jobs didn't necessarily stay the same over time. Markings changed, or the color or shading may have been tweaked over the years. Sometimes only the prototype of the model was available for the initial photo shoot, and the production model was significantly different. The Yellow Mount was famous for this discrepancy. For years, Breyer used photos of the prototype, which looked little like the actual production model. Here he is again, in the 1975 Collector's Manual:

He was his actual normal self in other PR materials, including the picture box he came in – here illustrated in the 1975 Dealer's Catalog:

Many of us were quite disappointed back in the day when we realized that the model we received only bore a passing resemblance to the one we saw in the catalog – because it was the photo in the catalog that we had formed our hopes and dreams on!

It's a huge problem when it comes to documenting color and mold changes. Most of the photographs in the 1968 Collector's Manual weren't taken from models that were fresh off the line: they were stock photographs that had been sitting around, sometimes for years. They retook a lot of them for the 1969 Manual, but a lot of those same photos were still being used in the 1975 Collector's Manual, even though many paint jobs changed dramatically in that timespan. We have to rely on other sources – contemporary photographs and accounts, and non-catalog promotional materials – to date those changes.

Stock photos are still useful research tools; look at how far it got us with the mystery of the Sorrel Fighting Stallion. It helped establish an earliest possible date: that model in that color had to exist by 1963. Stock photos cannot be used to establish a latest possible date, because as long as the photos exists in some form, somewhere, it may get used. For example, I have a very amusing toy jobber catalog from 1977: some of the photos they use to illustrate then-current Breyer products date back to the 1950s! (And don't necessarily match up to the product advertised!)

I'll have to talk about that wonderful old toy catalog another day – it really is worth its own post.

The stock photo problem doesn't happen as much as it used to, because the turnover is so high that individual releases don't have the opportunity to change over time. The markings or masking might be a bit different, or they might switch the finish from matte to gloss, but the photographs they release are a lot closer to the final production pieces than they used to be. We still hear griping and moaning about the models don't EXACTLY match the photographs, but compared to what we had to deal with in the 1970s, those complaints seem almost comical.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

He Who Must Be Possessed

Yes, I succumbed to the power of the almighty FAS. There it was, a quarter to three in the afternoon, and suddenly wave of nostalgia washed over me, and I realized I was in desperate need of my credit card. I slept through Music City, and hesitated on Frappe: I wasn't going to miss this pretty boy.

I'm another old fart who grew up with the Palomino FAS. And an Alabaster FAS is partially responsible for getting me in the hobby. (Not my own: it's a long story, best told by itself.)

It seems pretty remarkable, given the Family Arabians 50 some years of history, that this model represents the first official release in any kind of pinto. Plenty of Appaloosas, but no true Pinto releases: all we've had before were some test pieces, and the ultra-elusive Ford Pintos, seen here in a photo from Marney's album.

There are believed to be two complete Families, and an unknown number of Foals, distributed to team members who worked on the Ford Pinto Design Team. I live in an area filled with current and former Ford employees, some of whom probably knew and worked with those guys, so I still have a tiny sliver of hope that I'll run across one of those Foals locally.

That airbrushy style of pinto is best known for its appearance on the ever-popular Indian Pony, though it has cropped up on test pieces since then. I know crisp, tightly masked pintos are all the rage among the young whippersnappers right now, but I certainly wouldn't bypass a small SR or two of airbrushy chestnut pintos, especially of the older molds. (QH Gelding, or Stretch Morgan, or dare I say it, even Old Timer himself?)

There haven't been many intentionally unrealistic colors on the Family Arabians either: Charcoal and Woodgrain are the only two that come to mind, and I'm not so sure that Charcoal wasn't considered “realistic.” Being something that was probably targeted more towards the younger set, I don't think its likely they were even considered for inclusion in the original Decorator experiment. (Actually, we don't know much of anything about the original Decorators, period. Another post I'm working on, coming soon.)

Some hobbyists have gotten pretty jaded about piece counts, and thought that 200 pieces was a “high” piece run for this model. Piece counts are all relative: 200 might seem like a lot for a hoity-toity exclusive event, but not so much for a wider release. That was a non-untypical piece count for Specials in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and many of those model had little problem selling – and still don't. Prices may not be what they once were, but you can still get a decent return on your money for something like the Chestnut Congress PAM, especially if you purchased it firsthand.

Poking around the online hobby community, I saw all the right kind of reactions; factoring in the nostalgia, I figured the Anniversary FAS would be a brisk seller. And he was: gone in less than four hours.

Not as brisk as the Silver Snow from last year, but the online model horse community had an entire weekend to freak out about him, not a single weeknight. There were also no order limits back then like there are now – something that had to be instituted because of what happened with Silver Snow.

Now to make room for my sparkly little pony. I wonder if I can hide him in the holiday decorations somewhere...

Monday, November 30, 2009


I think I might have to break my vow of model horse poverty and buy the 50th Anniversary Golden Charm Pinto FAS Web Special on Shopatron. In my defense, (a) my credit card is paid up, (b) I haven't bought my holiday gift to myself yet, and (c) I will be listing several sales horses on MH$P this week.

Well, at least I have a night to sleep on it.

Writing up the descriptors (the fancy word I made up to describe the kind of data I'm collecting on my herd) is going a little more slowly than I planned. I think it's because I hit the boxes with the Little Bits and Classics first; the boxes with Traditionals-only go by much quicker (fewer pieces per box!) Two boxes per day, with occasional breaks for other long-term projects, should get me to my goal by the end of the year.

But there's the memory factor, too: every model has a story. I'm not just talking about my personal history with the model, or its provenance. It's that I'm finding I could, quite realistically, come up with an interesting and detail-rich history post about each and every model. Here's a good example:

It's an early variation of the Breyer Elephant, in battleship gray. There are two different versions of this variation: one is molded in solid, opaque gray plastic, and the other (like this one) is painted in opaque gray paint. They can be hard to tell apart at first glance; the easiest way is to flip them over and check for paint puddling on his feet. Dating these fellows is rather hard: it's assumed that they were manufactured in the 1950s, but photographic evidence for the battleship gray variation is found the 1963 Dealer's Catalog.

(I'll discuss the problem of dating by catalog photos later this week.)

I found this fellow in a rather large collection of Elephant figurines that included several Breyer Elephants. When I spotted the collection at the flea market, from a distance, I made a silent prayer to whatever deity watches over the flea market that there would be at least one of the really rare Breyer Elephants in the herd (Pink, Blue, Woodgrain?)

Alas, they were all the same shade of gray, save this one. This guy was the only Elephant worth keeping. The rest of them went straight to the saleslist, where they made me a modest profit that was probably wasted on some other crazy flea market purchase, like my giant bucket of sequins or that five pounds of vintage Czech rhinestones. (They were still in their original packaging!)

Did you notice the sticker? Of course you did! It's a gold foil sticker indicating this fellow was a souvenir of the Will Rogers Turnpike in Oklahoma. Breyers with souvenir stickers or decals aren't uncommon; I see them turn up on eBay or the local dirt malls from time to time. They're not factory issue, so they don't necessarily add anything to the value of a model unless the place or date has a certain significance to it.

This one does.

A few weeks after I purchased the elephant collection, I found an old stash of travel brochures from the late 1950s. I don't go out of my way to collect them, per se, but if I find any that interest me on an artistic or topical level, I'll snap them up. They're cheap and fun, and provide an intriguing window into the previous owner's notions of suitable family vacationing.

And every once and a while, you find a genuine little treasure. In this box, I found a brochure announcing the opening of the Will Rogers Turnpike, in 1957! (I'd scan this little curiosity and share, but I can't find it at the moment - the boxes of horses are getting in the way.)

Highway and turnpike openings in the late 1950s and early 1960s were kind of a big deal, so the fact that the state of Oklahoma thought it was worth celebrating is not all that unusual. I just think it's neat that I found two separate Turnpike souvenirs in the same season, at the same flea market in Michigan, and from two different vendors!

I have no evidence one way or another if the Elephant was a souvenir sold specific to its opening, or was just a gift shoppe item that was available for some time afterwards. The paint job is a pretty early one, so I'd like to think that it was – or at least from the time when the road was still new and exciting, and not just a strip of pavement that took you from Point A to Point B.

Should the Elephant ever have to make that journey to Point B, the brochure is coming with him.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sorrel Fighting Stallion, Redux

I spent my Black Friday finishing up my 2008 paperwork (got the new toner cartridge on Wednesday.) Now I remember why I put off printing and sorting it all out – I spent way more than I should have on the“nonessential” things. The paperwork for this year should look a lot better; I've cut out most of my retail horse shopping (except for the Target and TSC specials) and I've studiously avoided the temptations of eBay.

There's no moral or philosophical underpinnings to those shopping decisions, beyond a lack of space and a lack of money. From now until I get the herd under control, the only hobby-oriented things I'll be buying are actual necessities: reference materials and office supplies. (One can never have enough binders or index cards!)

I was doing a little research on a topic I had been planning on writing about today, but I found something else instead: more on the possible origins of the Five-Gaiter Sorrel Fighting Stallion. (This sort of thing happens all the time, which is why my list of future topics never gets any shorter.) I was cross-checking some data in my early Breyer pricelists, and something caught my eye:

Look familiar? It's the same photograph of the “Bay” Fighting Stallion we saw in the 1968 Collector's Manual that I concluded was the Sorrel Fighter:

The “new” data isn't really new: I've had it for several years now. It comes from a copy of the Frederick C. Wolf & Son Inc. pricelist, dated May 7-8, 1963. (One page is dated May 7, the rest are dated May 8.) They were wholesale jobbers and distributors based in Tacoma Washington.

Most of the data duplicates what we already know from the official 1963 price list; the importance of this list was that it was the first documentation that showed that the matte and gloss Alabaster Fighting Stallions really were two distinct, separate releases. The 1962/3 Red Bird Sales Pages documents that fact in better detail, but those were found a few years later.

(We're not sure what to make of the “Dancer” nickname given to the No. 31 Fighting Stallion: we don't have any other reference to this name anywhere else. We don't know if Breyer or the jobber made it up. Separate topic anyway.)

What this “discovery” means is that we can push back the possible manufacture date of the Sorrel Fighting Stallion back to 1963. Since this was the same year that the Bay colorway was formally introduced on the Fighting Stallion, that means that the Sorrels may predate the standard “Breyer Bay” version we all know and love.

The only question then becomes: where do the Gloss Bays fit in the chronology? We don't have any references at all for the Gloss Bay Fighting Stallions: no pictures, and no notations on any pricelists, mail order sheets or catalogs of a finish change.

Then, as now, some of Breyer's upcoming releases may have been made available early for holiday orders. My guess – and it's purely a guess – is that these first batches of Fighting Stallions were produced in Gloss, possibly as a part of the 1962 holiday shipments. Once regular production began, they switched over to the Matte.

That wouldn't explain why the photograph shows the Five-Gaiter Sorrel version of the Fighting Stallion, though. If the glosses came first, and they intended the Sorrel color all along, then there shouldn't be any Gloss Bays at all: just Gloss Sorrels. But that's not the case at all. (I also happen to think that more than a few of the “Gloss Bay” Fighters out there aren't 100% authentic, but again, that's a separate topic.)

There was a lot of color confusion in Breyer's early days: the same colors on different models had the same name. The “Bay” Western Prancing Horse was actually the same color as the “Sorrel” Five-Gaiter, and the “Chestnut” Running Mare and Foal were the same color as the “Bay” Quarter Horse Gelding (except for the finish.) And the #36 Racehorse was called “Bay,” but was actually Chestnut.

Maybe somebody – or a lot of somebodies – just got their shades of Bay mixed up. “We didn't mean the Prancing Horse Bay, we meant the Running Mare and Foal Bay!”

Speaking of the Running Mare and Foal, there's another theory about the color switch that I've been entertaining: Breyer may have been engaging in a little “matchmaking.” Customers liked buying matching family sets: since the Matte Bay Running Mare and Foal also came out around that time, maybe Breyer thought that by making the Fighter in the same color and finish, customers would assume that they were all members of the same family, and buy accordingly.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gray Plastic Chalkies

My next big project will take me to the end of the year, and probably a little bit beyond: I need to inspect the one-third of my collection now currently in storage. There are approximately 40 (40!) boxes to unpack, examine and repack, and each box has anywhere from 10 to 20 models apiece, so my end-of-the-year projection is not an exaggeration.

I pack pretty well, and the storage conditions – while not ideal – are more than adequate, so damage isn't the primary issue here. I did a thorough inventory a couple of years ago and I've managed to keep that up-to-date, so that's not the reason why, either.

Nope, the primary reason for the excavation is research. I'm trying to collect physical data on the models themselves. I'm taking notes on things like color, markings, mold marks, mold changes and other unique or distinct characteristics that help distinguish one release from another. It's tedious, boring but necessary work, especially when you have some models that came in a multitude of “Bay” paint jobs, some of which are worth significantly more than another – and some of which aren't technically Bay!

A secondary benefit of this excavation is that I can unearth and photograph some of my buried treasures for future blog posts. Today's subject is was one of the things I found in my first day back on the project: my Gray Plastic El Pastor!

Gray Plastic Chalkies are just one of the many different subcategories of Chalkies. Gray Plastic Chalkies are models that were molded in a light to medium gray-colored Tenite, and not basecoated with white prior to painting. I sometimes call them Semi-Chalkies because they were nonwhite plastic models made during the Chalky Era (ca. 1973-1976): Breyer just skipped the basecoating step. The most common Gray Plastic Chalkies are Elephants and Donkeys; here's a particularly lovely near-black variation of the Donkey:

The Gray Plastic Chalky Elephant and Donkey are easy to distinguish from the earlier Donkey and Elephant (ca. Late 1950s – early 1960s) that were also molded out of gray plastic. One, the color is different: the earlier ones were a glossier and more battleship gray color, while the Chalky Era ones are more of a mop-water gray. Second, the paint jobs were completely different. The earlier versions only had their eyes painted; on the later ones, additional gray paint is used to enhance the color.

Breyer also used the gray plastic on the Spanish Fighting Bull and the Walking Polled Black Angus Bull to good effect. I actually prefer the Fighting Bull in its gray plastic version: I think the gray plastic horns are less stark-looking than the white ones he usually comes with.

Breyer attempted to go with the unpainted gray plastic on some of their horses, but with less success. With solid colors, or black-painted horses, it wasn't too much of a problem: I have a gray plastic Black Stretch Morgan who's quite handsome. (Haven't unearthed him yet, sorry.) With models like El Pastor, where having a white surface is essential to the proper execution of the design, the gray plastic just makes them look dingy and oversprayed.

Maybe Breyer thought they could get away with it for a batch or two. This was the era of the fuzzy overspray: clean, sharp markings were the exception, not the rule. (Whenever I see someone carping nowadays about a miniscule amount of overspray on an otherwise flawless horse, I'm not sure if I want to laugh at them or call them out on it. Back in the day, we bought Stablemates with untrimmed flashing on them, and we were okay with that! Well, not entirely okay with it, but certainly a lot less whiney.)

The Gray Plastic Chalky horses are less common than the nonhorses, probably because while our standards were lower than they are today, they weren't nonexistent. Did they really think we'd buy a #97 Chestnut Appaloosa Gelding with a gray hip blanket?

(Yeah, really, they made Gray Plastic Appaloosa Geldings. I don't have one – yet.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Puffy Stickers!

My latest big project: going through last year’s horse trading. The spreadsheets were all fine and up-to-date: the work was in the cleaning, sorting and organizing of the paperwork that went into it. I would have finished today, too, if the printer hadn’t run out of toner.

I’ve had too much experience with electronic files being lost, destroyed or tampered with to abandon the security of hard copies. And there’s some satisfaction in seeing it all neatly tabbed, collated and sitting on the shelf in one sturdy little binder. It’s like a craft project, with data instead of scrapbook paper!

Since I was already in the mood, I also started reorganizing my hobby archives. I had my archives in a couple of different locations in the house, and I’m now attempting to relocate all - or most - of it into my office. I knew I had a lot of stuff, but putting it all in one room was quite enlightening.

I’ll go on another day about my efforts to create a true model horse hobby archive; I scrapped my first attempt to articulate my thoughts about it (thus explaining the shortness of today’s post!) And I do want to tidy up the place a bit before I share pictures of what my "library" looks like, anyway.

I will share a couple of things that I found in the move: the Puffy Stickers I mentioned in the post about the J.C. Unger connection a little while back. They were right where I thought they were - in a mixed box of loose bits of Breyer tack.

In case they aren’t quite readable the first sheet has: (Bay) Jumping Horse, Overo Paint, Lady Phase, Trakehner, Traditional Black Beauty, Traditional Man o’ War, (Buckskin) Mustang, Tennessee Walker (aka Midnight Sun) and Legionario III.

Second Sheet: Stud Spider, (Palomino) Family Stallion, (Palomino) Western Prancing Horse, Clydesdale Stallion, (Appaloosa) Running Stallion, (Buckskin) Quarter Horse, Clydesdale Mare, (Bay) Running Mare and the (Mahogany Bay) Proud Arabian Stallion.

They’re in remarkably good condition, considering that they’re nearly 30 years old. The sheets are bent slightly, but I don’t see any yellowing, peeling or cracking. I did keep them in their original wrappers and stored in an unlit closet for most of that time, which probably helped.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Side Stander Clocks

Let’s continue with the theme of "whatever happens to be on or near my desk" with this not-so-little beauty, a Palomino Side Stander Clock:

Unlike the "Horse Over" Clock (now considered largely a Hartland-molded product) there’s little dispute over the "Side Stander’s" origins: the horse Breyer-molded. The base probably is, too - there’s no identifying mark to speak of, but the plastic has the same texture, weight and consistency as the horse, and the molded-in swirly color is similar to the color seen on my square tortoiseshell clock with the early Breyer mold mark.

The clock itself is painted metal, with a "Ceramic Clock Co." label on the back. It is generally assumed that the Ceramic Clock Company was a subsidiary of MasterCrafters: some labels show that they shared the same street address. What the exact relationship is not known to me; I haven’t followed up on that topic, not for a lack of interest, but because of the paucity of the paper trail.

The exact chronology of the two clocks is unknown; it’s believed that the Side Stander Clocks came after the Horse Over Clocks, but when exactly - and how long - I don’t know. I don’t think I have any documentation in my archives that even shows a true Side Stander clock for sale, either. A page from the Fall-Winter 1951 Sears Roebuck Catalog does show the non-Breyer, pot-metal version of this clock: I don’t know who was copying whom, though.

Wherever the truth lies, the horses found on the Side Stander Clocks represent some of the earliest Breyer model horses known, if not the earliest. Both White and Palomino versions have been found; White ones seem to be slightly more common than the Palomino, but that could be a sampling error on my part.

And did you happen to notice this clock is a variation, too? He has two socks, not the standard four! It’s definitely not very common: I’ve only seen two others like this, and both were Clock Horses as well. Four-sock versions of this clock exist, too, so I don't know if this means that the two-sock version was the first version of the Palomino Western Horse, or just an early variation.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Anyone remember Steha?

Another short one today - I’m in the final throes of a big, complicated non-horse, non-writing project, and I don’t want to lose my momentum. (It’ll be done today, and then I’ll move on to the next big, complicated non-horse, non-writing project. Yes, I do have way too many hobbies!)

Some hobbyists think that Reeves’ involvement in the wonderful world of model horses began in late 1984, when they acquired the Breyer brand. This is not so: prior to that, they were the exclusive U.S. distributor of Steha Horses.

I didn’t know this until recently, myself. A few years ago, I purchased a couple of Reeves’ Great Lines Catalogues on eBay. These books contain bound copies of dealer catalogs of all of the lines that Reeves imported and distributed. I found a Steha catalog bound in the 1981-82 edition.

I don’t have a lot of data about Steha in my archives, aside from this bound-in dealer’s catalog. Stehas were flocked and haired horses made in West Germany, and were available from the 1950s to (at least) the early 1980s. Here’s a link to a good-sized picture of one:

Stehas were never a big part of the model horse world, at least in the U.S. First of all, they weren’t very realistic: some were nicer than others, but none of them could pass competitive muster, even in the more forgiving earlier days of the hobby. Second, they were rather expensive compared to Breyers: the wholesale prices for Traditional-scale Breyers in 1981 ranged from $3-6; the wholesale prices for comparable Stehas were $14-19! Yikes!

Some Steha items did find a place in the hobby: their carts and wagons were surprisingly nice, and of much better quality than hobbyists were able to create for themselves at the time.

I remember at least one local toy store that carried Stehas in the 1970s, but I never actually owned one. Aside from being expensive and homely, I was never a big fan of flockies in general: they’re hard to keep clean, and they have a nasty habit of yellowing, shedding and disintegrating.

Stehas are rather expensive and hard to come by nowadays, presumably for the same reason. If I had known back then that they’d have a Breyer connection now, I might have parceled out a bit of my allowance money and bought one.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Adventures in Home Decorating

It’s the question that’s launched a thousand debates at live shows and online: what are Breyers, exactly? Are they toys, or collectibles?

The correct answer: they’re whatever you want them to be. I’m not trying to be clever or coy here: Breyer actually made that "ambiguity" central to their earliest advertising campaign. Their earliest known slogan was "It’s a Toy, a Welcome Gift, an Art Object, because it’s so real" (emphasis theirs, not mine.)

(Sorry for the moire patterning - it's the scanner again.)

Breyer was still a relative newcomer to the world of proprietary products then, and probably seemed like a safe bet to them to shoot for the widest possible customer base. (It’s cheap enough to be a toy, but classy enough to be home décor!)

By the early 1960s, though, different product lines, with different marketing strategies, started to emerge. Some were clearly marketed towards the home décor market - such as Decorators and Woodgrains - while others were clearly marketed as toys, like the Family Arabians (every model, in every color had a name!) Everything else sort-of fell in between: these were the slightly nicer and pricier models that members of the youth market to aspired to, and that the adult market also saw as an affordable and more durable alternative to comparable china figurines.

By the late 1960s, these loose distinctions in their product line fell apart. The short and simple reason why? Hobbyists. Breyer had been aware of the "hobby," such as it was, by the early 1960s, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s - with sales lagging, and the brand in danger of being discontinued completely - that Breyer finally decided to tap into the hobbyist market. And hobbyists preferred a more realistic model horse.

Pieces designed for "home décor" didn’t disappear overnight; they just didn’t get quite the same attention and marketing push that pieces designed for the toy and hobbyist markets did. Woodgrains continued to be made into the early 1970s - mostly as special runs for the Ranchcraft Lamps - and a handful glosses and nonrealistic colors were mixed into the regular run line.

In recent years Reeves has attempted to recapture a larger portion of the home décor market. Someone on Blab recently resurrected an ancient thread - from 2004! - about an attempt by Reeves to grab a bigger piece of that market. A few models featured in that failed launch were later repurposed; I think the 2006 Porcelain release Tally Ho might have been one of them.

Another one of these models was later featured as a Daily Breyer on their Facebook page: Hot to Trot. She’s definitely not my cup of tea - not because of the paint job (that I kinda like) but the mold: Magnolia is not one of my favorite Moody sculptures.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Walking Black Angus Bull

Still being a bit lazy; I’m trying to finish at least one of my big sewing projects by the end of the week, and while I am a good multitasker in general, I am not quite good enough to sew and type at the same time.

I just happened to still have one of my Walking Black Angus Bulls on my desk, leftover from the Boehm posts: I think I’ll talk about him today.

The Walking Black Angus Bull is supposedly based on the Boehm Black Angus Bull, though the resemblance is the weakest among the four known Boehm copies: the original was standing, not walking, and didn’t have a halter. There are other differences, too - enough to make me think that there might have been an intermediate step in the mold’s translation to plastic.

He was a relatively late addition to Breyer’s lineup compared to the other Boehm molds - either in 1959 or 1960, at least three years after the Brahma and the Horned Hereford Bull were introduced. Coincidentally, this just so happened to be around the time that Breyer was having legal troubles with Hagen-Renaker concerning the Old Mold Arabians: could it be that Breyer, spooked by the lawsuit, made some pre-emptive changes to the Angus Bull mold?

There just so happens to be rumors of a Standing variation of the Walking Black Angus Bull, originating in Marney Walerius’s book Breyer Models. On page 23 of this now collectible reference book, it’s listed as a separate version of the #72 mold, released in 1957 and 1958.

No such models have turned up anywhere, however, and I rather doubt they will.

Why do I think that? Well, a lot of Marney’s research was based not on physical documentation, but on memories, hearsay and rumors that she picked up in her many trips to the Chicago factory. But memories, hearsay and rumors are unreliable things, and have a nasty habit of changing over time.

I think there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere. Marney was right more often than she was wrong: it’s just taken us years of research and documentation to sift the truth out of the debris. In the case of the Black Angus, we still don’t have enough objective, independent data to distinguish one from the other yet.

Did she confuse the Boehm Angus with the Breyer Angus? Did Breyer create the mold in a standing position originally, and change it prior to production? I don’t know.

Even after he was released, Breyer continued to tinker with the mold. There are three known "states" to the mold: "poodle cut," "semi-rough," and "full rough." It is generally believed that the "poodle cut" version is the rarest, but the "semi-rough" is not easy to find either, probably because it looks similar enough to the "full rough" on first glance that it gets overlooked. It’s only when you put them side to side that you can really see the difference.

A lot of early Breyer molds had significant mold alterations made early on, with the Clydesdale Stallion’s shoulder being the best known of these changes. The reasons for most of these mold changes - including the Walking Black Angus - is unknown.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oasis and the Multi-Molds

No convenient excuses today: I was just being lazy. I had a longer-than-expected work assignment the other day, and I didn't feel like typing. Then I found a couple of movies in the discount bin at the local Big Lots that just exacerbated the problem. (Me and my fascination with cheesy vampire flicks. Sigh.) But I was actually doing some model horsey research at the Big Lots, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

I sent in my entry for the latest Connoisseur drawing Oasis today. My JAH took a little longer than average to arrive at the Ranch, so I witnessed most of fuss and bother from a slightly distant perspective. Was I missing something from the scans? Or was it just the usual carping and moaning? (Too plain! I hated the first tail less! Looks too much like the Bay Missouri Fox Trotter!)

Sure, she’s a little pricey, and she doesn’t have a flashy, ornate paint job that might visually justify the price. But we’re talking about a mold with multiple molding variations: two necks, two tails, two manes (so far.) All three of the known or upcoming releases of this mold differ in both color and shape: it may well be that this particular combination of mold elements may be unique, or rare. So the price justification may come not from the quality of the paint job, but in the mold itself.

Interesting new development, I think.

We’ve had significant changes to molds in the past, but for the most part these were permanent alterations: being able to switch back and forth is something new. (It’s already giving me fits in the documentation department: do I label them by their parts, or give each part combo a label? Grr. Argh.)

Stone paved the way with the ISH and his various mane and tail combos. Emboldened by the success of the ISH, they began to experiment with more drastic and dramatic changes, essentially creating a whole new subcategory of OF models now dubbed "Factory Customs." They’ve improved their processes considerably from their first awkward attempts - leaden lumps of hair being blown in three different directions - but they’re not mass-produced pieces on the same level as an average, regular run Breyer release. Most of the alterations they’ve done have been done post-molding, on a small-scale basis, and are mostly cosmetic.

One of Breyer's earliest experiments with the multiple molding variations was the Classic Shire: we had the head up "Shire A" and the head down "Shire B." We haven’t seen much of the "Shire B" variation, though. All three of his plastic releases have had rather limited distribution: the Bay in the pricey 2405 Delivery Wagon in 2002, the 2007 BreyerFest Contest model Yankee Doodle, and this year’s (now discontinued?) 620 Spotted Shire.

The Spotted Shire’s quick disappearance is being blamed on molding problems. Normally I’m not a big fan of that theory - anytime a mold is taken out of production, even briefly, hobbyists start screaming about molding problems - but there may be some justification in this case. As Reeves’s first serious "multi-mold," he might have some issues that later, more technologically sophisticated ones don’t.

The newer molds have their problems, too: the original, head-down Make A Wish has a funky double shoulder that’s somewhat covered up by her big hairdo. Mane and tail options don’t always "fit" to the body correctly, either technically or aesthetically. I’m sure these mold probably cost more than the average mold, with higher than average maintenance costs.

So far most of the newer "multi-molds" have limited themselves to insertable mane and tail changes; whether we get more molds with more extensive changes will depend on how well the Make A Wish mold performs - both in the factory, and on the shelf.