Monday, March 30, 2009

Smudgie the Woodgrain

Three more weeks before the flea market opens! I have just about zero budget for horses nowadays, but I do try to keep a little in reserve just in case something cheap and/or fabulous shows up at my local haunts. And it does - all the time, in fact. Here’s a great example of the sort of thing that gets me out of bed before dawn on Sunday. I call him - Smudgie!

It’s a little hard to see in the full body shot, but his graining is actually smudged all over. For comparison, here’s his brother, who I picked up from the same dealer in a different day last year. He has more distinct and typical woodgraining:

(And yes, this guy is a variation too - but today is Smudgie’s day in the spotlight!)

Here’s a few closer-up shots for comparison (and proof that I don’t lie when it comes to my weak photography skills.)


Smudgie’s Brother:

When I first saw Smudgie, I thought he was either damaged, or a fake; he looked a little like some early attempts at faux woodgrains I’ve seen. But he’s passed the scratch, sniff and dunk tests; even his foam footpads are intact. I’ve had some issues with the dealer I purchased him from (mostly because he knows just enough about Breyers to be a problem) but he’s totally unaware of even the notion of fakes, so I can say with some confidence that he’s 100% original finish.

Woodgrains vary a lot: the technique was messy, difficult and hard to master. Some have very distinct graining, and on others it’s almost invisible. It can be neat or sloppy, light or dark. But I’ve never seen one smudged like this before - there might be some smudging in an awkward spot or two, but all over?

The Fighting Stallion was the last production Woodgrain in the regular run line, lasting up through 1973. Other Woodgrains were being produced through the late 1960s and early 1970s, too, but they were probably special items manufactured mainly for Dunning Industries and their Ranchcraft Lamp line.

Smudgie has a USA mark, which means he is from the tail end of the Woodgrain production era. (His brother is, too!) That suggests a couple of possible explanations for his finish. He could have been an experiment with a slightly different, more subtle-looking woodgraining technique. Or, he could have just been a touched-up/fixed up cull - his woodgraining might have gotten smudged in spots in production, and in an effort to salvage him, they just smudged the rest of him up to match.

I tend to thing the latter explanation is probably more plausible than the former. I’m a little out of the normal geographic range for finding Chicago-era oddballs, for one thing. (It's not impossible, just unlikely.) The touch-up/fix-up hypothesis also make sense for the time period: he was likely manufactured no more than a year or two before the "True Chalky" era of the early to mid-1970s, when good quality translucent white Tenite was getting expensive. Breyer did a lot of creative things then to minimize waste and salvage what they could from the discard bins. Some models were painted over - and became Chalkies. (Well, mostly.) It’s not hard to believe that Smudgie is just the product of another type of creative salvage.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Checkers and Poker Chips

From time to time I may repeat myself here - mostly due to a lack of time. This is a rewrite of an article I did in my MGR Sampler a few years ago. It’s now updated with better pictures - and in color!

On slower, less profitable days at the flea market, I like to rummage through junk boxes. Sometimes I do find a little buried treasure: H-R minis, a nice bit of jewelry, an intriguing bit of ephemera, a Hartland Tinymite. That’s why anybody plows through a box like that: the hope of finding some wonderful little gem others did not immediate recognize. And when you do - oh, such a nice feeling!

One thing that used to drive me crazy would be the loose poker chips and checkers that seem to be a regular feature of those junk boxes. Were any of these stray pieces actually Breyer Poker Chips or Checkers? Oh, the agony of not knowing!

That’s the crux of the problem, really: how do you look for something if you don’t know what it looks like? It didn’t matter if I found a rare, mint Monrovia H-R, or a beautiful, vintage sterling cocktail ring: if there had been some old poker chips or checkers at the bottom of that box, that’s what would haunt me. What if, for lack of knowledge, I left the "best" things behind?

Thanks to eBay, I now know. And as a public service to those of you hoping to someday score these obscurities for your own collection or collector’s class entry, here they are:

Note the wavy ribbon motif that was prevalent in a lot of early Breyer promotional materials. And it does say Breyer on the box, so there’s no doubt to their authenticity.

The checkers and poker chips use the same design: the only two differences between them are the thickness and the color. The poker chips come in red, white and blue; the checkers are in a dark red/maroon and black. The checker is about three times the thickness of the chip. I have no idea what kind of plastic was used on them - I’m not brave enough, or expert enough to attempt a pin test on them. They are heavy and substantial, though: they don’t feel cheap.

The checker box says that they are an "Arabian Coin Design." It seems to be taken from an actual coin or other design: it doesn’t look like something someone just doodled off by the die maker in a day or two. There even appears to be a date (1100, or 1700?) But I’m neither a numismatist nor an Arabic linguist, so I could be wrong there.

I’d be interested in knowing what coin or artistic inspiration the design came from. How’s that for a really, really obscure topic? It’s not one that necessarily keeps me up late at night; I have other concerns that fill that job, unfortunately.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Holy Grails

When asked to name their "holy grails," other hobbyists will name something rare, obscure or downright impossible (and frequently all three!) But it’s almost always a model of some sort. Not me. My "holy grails" are something else entirely: the 1959 through 1962 Breyer wholesale price lists.

I do have lots of research materials from that time period in my archive; most of you should be aware of the infamous Red Bird Sales fliers that confirm the existence of the Buckskin Running Mare and Foal as regular run items (albeit very brief ones!) I also have the ca. 1960 Dealer Catalog, the ca. 1961 Insert Sheets, and numerous other odd bits.

But official, dated Breyer ephemera documenting the comings and goings of different releases on a year to year basis? MIA.

We do have a 1958 price sheet: I don’t hold out much hope of finding any primary sources prior to that beyond what we already know about. There certainly could be more: I never expected, for instance, to run across the original 1950 sales flier for the Money Manager a few years ago - but I did! But what they issued, how they issued and distributed the information - the number of unknowns there will make your head hurt.

I’m pretty sure that there had to have been some sort of price lists from 1959 to 1962. It seems unlikely that they’d issue one in 1958, and not issue an updated one until 1963. That time period was extremely turbulent in terms of new colors and molds; we already know that from the secondary sources we do have. (The Red Bird Sales pages are extremely helpful in that regard - who would have thought a single index card-sized sheet of yellow paper could be the Rosetta Stone of Early Breyer History?)

And the two pieces of primary documentation we have from that era are technically undated. We’re pretty sure that the duotone Dealer Catalog is from 1960, and that the Insert Sheets of the Mustang, Five-Gaiter, Fighter and Modernistic Deer are from 1961. A dated piece of paper could finally settle the matter - it wouldn’t even have to be a pricelist, necessarily; a letter or a press release would generate much happiness here.

There is another small complication: I have some hints that Breyer wasn’t really firm on release dates back then, either. I have a suspicion that the Fighting Stallion and the Modernistic Buck and Doe may have been available in late 1960, in time for Holiday orders. So even official release culled from wholesale price lists may be nearly a year off!

Honestly, at this point I don’t care how accurate they actually are: I can sort the mess out later. I just have a desperate need to fill in that hole in my archive. I don’t have much money for horses this year, but there’s always room in the budget for more research materials! (Room in the house? Another question entirely.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Touchability Box

Since the powers-that-be at Reeves have decided to revive the Touchability box packaging, I thought I’d post a picture of an original. They’re surprisingly rare - probably one of the scarcest of the many varieties of vintage Breyer packaging out there:

The original Touchability box was a late 1960s experiment. Breyer was looking for a box that was more store-friendly than the corrugated cardboard shipper boxes that were the norm at the time. Their scarcity nowadays is partly a consequence of the short duration of the packaging: they were only used for about a year. Another reason would be the nature of the box itself; they were designed strictly for display and couldn’t be repurposed for storage.

Actually, there are a number of reasons for the lack of success of the original Touchability box. As you can see, the only things holding the horse to the packaging were a few stretchy, flexible ties that weren’t much of an obstacle to theft or package tampering. The boxes themselves weren’t terribly sexy either - just barely a step up from the corrugated shipper in terms of visual appeal.

A year or so later, Breyer experimented with the clear plastic "Showcase" boxes. They had a couple of advantage over the Touchability box: they were more tamper-proof, and you could inspect every square inch of the model before purchase. But these boxes were prone to yellowing, and not terribly sturdy; the horse wasn’t secured within the box either, so rubs and dings were another issue. In 1973, Breyer finally switched over to the familiar, much loved two-piece illustrated box for the Traditionals, and all was right in the world for the next dozen years or so.

The new Touchability box is sturdier and more tamperproof than the original. I know some collectors are concerned about condition issues, but I’m not as worried. I tend to give higher marks for durability of Breyer paint jobs than others do. I’ve occasionally had issues with the quality control of the paint jobs - overspray, sloppy glossing, inadequate shading, smudges, missing details - but the durability hasn’t been one of them.

The only models released in the original packaging were the Family Arabians; like the original, the new Touchability box appears to be targeted to a younger audience. An audience that may be looking to upgrade from the more toyish fare of Safari or Schliech, but is still appreciates and responds to the tactile nature of that kind of packaging.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Trouble With Marney

All tests are not equal: I’m still wrestling with the various definitions and categories of tests and how to best present the subject to you. The biggest problem is overlap; some models can fall into more than one of my categories, and I’m not entirely comfortable with that, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into today.

Nothing illustrates this problem better than the Palomino PAM that I discussed earlier. A few other hobbyists have informed me of the existence of other Palomino PAMs; I don’t doubt their authenticity. That's why I alluded to the possibility of others existing, before: the whole problem with Marney and the models that passed through her hands is that we still can't - and may never fully be able to - know what she had, what she did, or even begin to classify them properly.

First of all, I think we should add some nuance to our definitions, and distinguish the difference between a test color and a test run. A test color is a model with a unique (or nearly unique) paint job. A test run, on the other hand, consists of a small group of identically painted models: the quantity is usually in the single digits (5 to 7 are the most common quantities I hear about.) There may be some small variation in the run - color a little lighter or darker, or markings might vary a bit - but they are basically the same.

Marney distributed a lot of these small test runs in the 1970s and early 1980s. They were either sold directly to other hobbyists, or distributed as prizes at live shows, given away as gifts, etc. Nancy Young described a few of the more famous of these test runs in her book Breyer Molds & Models, including the Traditional Dapple Gray Man o’ War and the Shaded Dapple Gray Cantering Welsh Pony. (The Black Adios she mentions is another thing, and another topic altogether!) I have documentation for at least a couple more, including this heartbreaker from Marney’s album:

(The Appaloosa Performance Horse Proud Arabian Stallion - five pieces reputedly exist.)

Marney didn’t merely have access to the factory in Chicago, and whatever goodies it contained, she also had access to the painting booths and the painting equipment. While some of the models she acquired, either for her own collection or to sell, were actually test colors or test runs - done on behest of the management to test paint jobs, painting techniques, or to generate orders in advance of production - others were not.

Are these particular models actual test runs, or mini-special runs that Marney concocted herself? Honestly, it’s hard to tell. Marney passed away in 1992, and other than her photo album and a few letters, the only information I have comes from the memories of other hobbyists - and memory is not always reliable, especially after so many years have passed.

It’s possible that the Palomino PAM may have been a small test run, rather than a unique test color. These various Palomino PAMs could also simply be random models Marney made up over the years. Or a mini SR she made for whatever reason. It’s really hard to say at this point, until more evidence surfaces.

(Needless to say, if you have any paper documentation you'd be willing to share, let me know!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Day I Met Chris Hess

Fidelity to reality (or lack thereof) has never been a "deal breaker" for me in regards to the plastic horses: there’s so much more to a model’s appeal beyond how closely it matches the real thing. It’s not just a physical representation of a horse.

There’s a persistent strain of hobbyist that takes perverse delight in delineating every single fault in every new release. Take a look at any given thread on a new mold on any of the major discussion boards - it never takes more than five posts on the subject for the model to be declared either an abomination, physically impossible, or an affront to someone’s delicate sensibilities.

I try to keep my eyerolling and keyboard in check when the inevitable destruction of the newest Breyer releases comes up. (The original Auld Lang Syne thread on Model Horse Blab was particularly embarrassing. Upchuck smilies? Seriously?) But I get somewhat more defensive and chatty when the target of derision du jour is a Secretariat.

You want to know why? The first time I saw it was also the first - and only time - I ever met Chris Hess. You know, the guy who, more than any other person, made Breyer what it was - and what it is.

It was at Model Horse Congress (the BreyerFest before BreyerFest) in Chicago. Marney had casually mentioned something about the casting of the new Secretariat model being brought in, and in a spare moment I went over to see it.

I can’t remember what the indignation level was, if any. Other hobbyists examined it, made a few comments and minor critiques, though I can’t remember what they were. If any sentiment was expressed, it was the pleasure of actually being able to see a brand new Breyer mold, in the pre-production phase - in person!

This was in the mid-1980s, way before this sort of thing became commonplace. The coolness factor for me was pretty darn high. I was also pleased to see it because the Secretariat mold was something that was a very, very long time in coming - and here was proof, at last, that the promise was about to become reality.

The person who had brought the model in was, of course, Chris Hess. He sat next to the casting, in a rumpled windbreaker, looking a little out of his element. I didn’t realize who he was at that very moment - I guess I assumed he was someone’s father or grandfather. It wasn’t until after he left that it dawned on me.

I probably would have been too intimidated to ask him any question, even if I had been formally introduced. Although I was not the history diva then that I am now, I was well on my way; I had already had the audacity to rewrite the Master List Breyer had been sending out to collectors back then - and send it back to them!

The questions I would ask now are probably quite different from the questions I would have asked then. Not because I know more about Breyer history, but because I didn’t know that the Secretariat mold was going to be Chris Hess’s last gift to us: he "retired" from mold making with his completion. And that he would pass away not much longer after that.

In fact, I’m not so sure I would ask any questions at all. If I could have a time machine do-over moment, I think I’d just use it as an opportunity to thank him for giving us Secretariat (the horse that, in a roundabout way, brought me to the hobby) and for making my childhood a little less lonely.

Not so much history in that one, but an interesting post for some of you, I hope.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to the Future

As you can see, I spent more time tinkering with Blogger code than with writing this weekend. I am still not entirely happy with it, so the design will continue to change and evolve over the next few months. It'll do for now, though. (In the meantime, I need to brush up on my coding skills - I think I almost broke the Internet at some point yesterday!)

The post regularly scheduled for today will likely be posted tomorrow or Wednesday, depending on my schedule; it also needs a little more work, but nothing involving the hacking of source code. I also plan on following up with a further commentary and notes about the discussion of the Palomino PAM in the next post or two after that - I just have to decide which road to take with it.

Speaking of Breyer Urban Legends, I hope I wasn't the only one who yelled "Christmas Decorator!" at the sight of the pearly green smoke Huck Bey on Facebook the other day. That's another topic I'll have to get around to eventually, as I'm one of the handful of people who are responsible for the existence of that particular legend.

While I was running my errands on Saturday I stopped at the local Tractor Supply to check out the newest releases. The new touchability box on the Palomino Buckshot was interesting (more on that another time) but I spent most of my time puzzling over the new, curious "Best in Show" line.

They're being advertised as "Gorgeous, upscale ... fine quality show horses." Garishly bright silver horseshoes, the glassy bug eyes, the poofy hairdos - yeah, I remember having custom show horses like that - back in 1985!

In all honesty, they're really not that bad. (Hey, I loved my vintage customs! Still do!) These models are clearly not designed for me. I'm cool with that.

The paint jobs are really quite nice - on par with or slightly better than your average regular runs. The Arabian and the Quarter Horse didn't do a lot for me as sculptures, but that just might have been the paint jobs they selected getting in the way. The bay on the Arabian makes him look a little nondescript, and the white face and blue eyes on the QH? Freaky!

The Thoroughbred on the other hand, is rather handsome - I wouldn't mind buying him if they manage to get the mane and tail in scale and under control. Or if they do a later rerelease with a sculpted mane and tail. I could see that happening - with the disappearance of the H-R Thoroughbreds from the Classic line, there's definitely a gap to be filled there, perhaps with more modern legends in their stead.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Urban Legend: The Palomino Old Mold Mare

Here’s the first installment of something I hope becomes a semi-regular feature: Breyer Urban Legends!

There’s always been a lot of information of dubious quality circulating in the world of Breyer model horse history. This is due to a lack of existing documentation, the sometimes less-than-stellar quality of material published (especially online), and the utter hugeness of the topic (hundreds of models, some in dozens of colors, and some of those colors with multiple variations and releases!)

In the absence of reliable or consistent information, legends grow. And boy, there are a lot of them. I wince at some of the want lists I see published on MH$P, full of models that are little more than artifacts of bad research, rumor and wishful thinking. Perhaps this Urban Legend feature will help some of you cross off a few unattainable things from those want lists.

I won’t even try to cover the ones I don’t have any reliable information on; where I have an opinion stand in for a fact (usually in order to make a plausible argument or deduction,) I’ll try to make that clear, too.

Since we were all abuzz about the Old Mold Mare this week, the topic of my first Breyer Urban Legend seemed pretty obvious: the Gloss Palomino Old Mold Mare!

The original Old Mold Mare and Foal were made in four colors. In ascending order of rarity, they would be Alabaster, Bay, Gray Appaloosa and Woodgrain. (Alabasters are relatively easy to find; Woodgrains, not so much.)

It was assumed, back in the dark days of Breyer History research, that the Old Mold Mare and Foal came in the same assortment of colors that the Family Arabian Mare and Foal did. They were, after all, their replacements, right? Marney Walerius (the original Breyer history diva) thought so, and listed them in her reference guide published in early 1992. The fact that nobody had one in their collection, or had found any pictures or documentation of them - well, that just meant they were rare. Really, really rare.

Now we know better: the Palomino and Charcoal weren’t even introduced until 1961 - well after the mare and foal were switched over to their Family Arabian versions. There might have been a test color or two made back then - the Western Horse and Pony were solid sellers in gloss palomino throughout the 1950s, so it was in their repertoire. But there’s no known physical evidence that the Old Mold Mare or her Foal were ever formally released in that color.

But as is almost always the case with Breyer history, the story isn't quite that simple.

In the early 1970s, when Breyer was considering bringing back the Old Mold Mare and Foal as companions to the newly introduced Proud Arabian Stallion, there was at least one test color Gloss Palomino Proud Arabian Mare made. Here’s the picture I have, from Marney Walerius’s photo album:

(No, I don’t know her current owner or whereabouts. Sorry!)

There are test color reproductions of other Old Mold colors on the newly retooled mare in this album - Alabaster, Bay and Gray Appaloosa, at least - so I’m guessing that she was created to duplicate another member of the assumed pantheon. Instead of replicating an actual production piece, however, they ended up creating a legend.

It’s possible a few others were made - test colors from that era were rarely unique. (There’s another future debunkable legend!) And Marney had almost free rein to paint whatever she wanted in the Chicago factory until the move to New Jersey in the 1980s, so she could have conceivably created more of the pretty little lady pictured above. I have no concrete evidence one way or another, though.

And as for how we’d define the models Marney made on her own, for her own devices - true tests, mini-SRs, factory customs, or something else? That’s another very lengthy topic entirely.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Connoisseur Numbering

Has anyone else noticed that Reeves is now "officially" numbering the Connoisseur models when they advertise them in Just About Horses? Auld Lang Syne was No. 90148, and Nektosha is No. 90149. I had noticed these 90100 series numbers on the boxes of some of the Connoisseurs I had received earlier, but I was hesitant to designate them as the official release numbers: they could have been an assortment code, shipping code, tracking number, anything really.

Whatever comfort I find in the confirmation of the numbering scheme, it’s tempered by the fact that we can’t just project the numbers back to the beginning and fill in the blanks. If we simply reverse number all of the Connoisseurs back from the numbers we now know, the number for Mosaic should be #90113. According to my records, though, the number I found on the box when he arrived on my doorstep was #90117.

Hmm. I wonder where the system went kafloobie? I’m guessing it was relatively early, since the numbers seem to match up all the way to Winsome, and she was a mid-2003 release. Another possibility is that the system was correctly numbered all along, and I simply recorded the Mosaic’s number incorrectly.

The only way to know for sure is to track down those earlier box numbers - anyone else out there manage to keep track of these box numbers beyond the dozen or so I have records for?

I promise to share - if it’s bugging me, I’m sure it’s bugging some of you, too. Oh, the world of good Reeves could do by just releasing the official numbers for every obscure release that they spring on us! Little things like that make anal-retentive collector types like me very happy. (I think I actually eeked out a little "squee" when I noticed they had posted the 2004 Fiero’s official number on the Facebook page the other day: 711404.)

Cataloging the herd isn’t quite as satisfying when all you can do to a model is assign it some generic alpha-numeric code you have to make up on your own: "JAH SR 09" doesn’t have the same satisfying ring as a "90148." I’m just weird like that - and I’m guessing that since you made it to the end of this post, most of you are, too. Or at least understand.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Three Old Ladies

Since the topic has come up over the weekend, let’s have a little primer on the differences between the Family Arabian Mare, the Old Mold/Proud Arabian Mare, and the elusive In-Between Mare.

As the recent auction of an Old Mold Appaloosa Mare illustrated, this is no quibbling point of trivia for history nerds: this is a case where ignorance could have devastating consequences.

How so?

You can hook yourself up with a pretty, minty Gray Appaloosa Family Mare for a twenty (and maybe get some change back for your trouble); an Old Mold Appaloosa Mare might set you back about 100 twenties, and if you’re lucky she might not need that much restoration to make her presentable.

And an In-Between Mare? Try 250 twenties - yes, even in THIS economy. (You could conceivably knock off a couple hundred if she were body quality. But it’s not likely.)

With a value spread like that, is it any wonder why some of us go ballistic when some collectors so casually confuse them?

The easiest, simplest, most foolproof method of telling them apart is the tail. The differences aren’t subtle, either, as my illustration shows: the Old Mold/Proud Arabian Mare’s tail attached to her leg at the hock; the In-Between Mare’s tail skirts her body and flips out at the tip; and the Family Mare’s tail is relatively straight and otherwise unattached to any other part of her anatomy.

(For the record, I do not own the Woodgrain IBM illustrated: it’s a picture from my reference files. If I had one, trust me, y’all would know!)

If you know nothing else about Breyer History or trivia, the one thing you should know is how to tell these three ladies apart: it literally could mean the difference between buying lunch for two, or making your house payment - for two months! (Or more, depending on your local housing market.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Buzz about the "Daily Breyers"

And what did I tell you? Ballylee sold out by the end of the week. What’s going with the mysterious "wait list" is that they’ve probably reached a low enough stock level - one dozen, maybe two? - that they wanted to reserve what’s left to cover orders in transit or in the queue waiting for confirmation - and also have a few left over to remedy loss and damages. It’s not about them making more. They didn’t make more Silver Snows now, did they?

I’m amused that Breyer has started posting test colors on their Facebook page, as an upcoming post is going to center around the entire definition of the term "test color." The reaction and commentary on these "Daily Breyer" photos has been completely predictable. Of course you want them: they’re unique, unattainable, and have richer detailing than your standard, run-of-the-mill Breyer. Of course they’re not realistic or "successful": that’s why they’re still called test colors. They’re experimenting, and not every experiment succeeds. Duh.

(For the record, if anyone at Reeves is reading: a marbelized vintage mold would make a fabulous Connoisseur idea. May I suggest the Mustang? Or the Five-Gaiter, perhaps?)

I do have to wonder about their obsession with solid legs on pintos - they’ve done it enough now to make one think it’s not something they’re doing out of simple ignorance, though it’s certainly a possibility. Not everyone who works at Reeves is necessarily a horse person, and not every horse person is as well-versed in color genetics as your average hobbyist.

Breyer’s never had the best track record with accurately reproducing real horse colors - or naming the ones they do correctly. The ancient #36 Racehorse was called "Bay" in company literature even though was rather obviously a chestnut. I also have a rather amusing letter in my archive from Marney Walerius - one of the founding mothers of the hobby who had a close, working relationship with Breyer and Peter Stone, back in the Chicago days of the company - that is basically a big rant about Peter not knowing the difference between an Overo and a Tobiano Pinto.

A lot of decisions about color and marking selection aren’t made out of ignorance, though, but aesthetics: a color may chosen simply because it "looks good" on a particular model, not because the powers-that-be necessarily think it’s realistic or possible. Hardcore hobbyists only make up a fraction of the model horse buying public, and the general public is generally more concerned with how visually pleasing something is over how accurate is it. (Some hobbyists, like moi, are a little more flexible on the subject, too.) In this case, the solid-leg pinto concept is just an artistic "tic" they’ve been on lately.

Another factor in color selection is deliberate provocation: sometimes they might deliberately release a color, marking or finish on a model to elicit a reaction and stimulate sales. The discussion on some board will start with some irate, indignant hobbyist posting "Oh, great, another solid legged pinto: those idiots will never learn!" This will be followed by several other hobbyists agreeing wholeheartedly, then others defending it or even posting a possible reference photo … and voila, instant buzz. With Reeves lurking in the background, gauging our reaction.

Breyer did this sort of thing it back in the early days in Chicago, too, though not with the same scale, gusto or planning. It was a different company then, and a different time, and not just in a there-was-no-Internet kind of way. Back then test colors were actually test colors, and not possibly some weird in-between thing, and the one in-between weird thing that did exist was something only a few of us really knew about anyway …but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The First Breyer Mold Mark?

Most collectors are familiar with the Breyer mold mark, the one that I like to refer to as the "copyright horseshoe." This mold mark, phased in sometime around 1960, is basically a large copyright mark encircled by lettering: "Breyer Molding Co." on earlier pieces, and "Breyer Reeves" on more recent items (more or less.)

There have been many other marks, signatures, and changes since that time; some molds have mold mark histories that are almost comical in their intricacy - Family Arabian Foal, anyone? However, the Breyer Molding Company existed long before they produced their first horse. Surely they had to have had something they stamped or imprinted on at least some of its non-equine products, right? What, if anything, came before?

Well, I think I found it - and it wasn’t on a horse! It was on a Mastercrafter clock - and not the clock you’re thinking of, either. It was this one:

Confused? Let me explain.

Most hobbyists are familiar with the basic story of Breyer’s start in the horsemaking business: they created a Western Horse mold for the Mastercrafter Clock Company, and allegedly received the mold back after production, in lieu of payment. The actual story isn’t as simple and straightforward as that, but that’s yet another topic, for another day.

Slightly less well known is the fact that Breyer made many other nonhorse items for this company, too - like cases, bases and knobs. So when this clock turned up on eBay, with a casual mention of a "small Breyer mold mark" in the description, I knew it was something very, very significant.

The logo itself is very small - less than a quarter of an inch high, in fact, and just about unphotographable. I’ve redrawn/reconstructed it here, greatly enlarged:

What’s really interesting is how this mold mark shares so many similarities with the early Breyer logo. This "wavy ribbon" logo and theme can be found on early Breyer stationery, promotional materials, and some of their early proprietary products like the checkers and poker chips. This theme was also echoed in the squarish shape and wavy, rippled edge of the gold foil "Tenite" stickers introduced in the late 1950s that slightly predate the introduction of the copyright horseshoe.

So in a way, this mold mark did eventually make it on some Breyer models, in a roundabout fashion.

I still have a little more research to do on this topic, believe it or not - I have a couple more leads that go even deeper in time, possibly to the very beginning of the Breyer Molding Company itself. But I haven’t had the time to do follow up on them yet, and there are plenty of other, and horsier, topics to cover in the meantime.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Web Specials Commentary

As proof of my Breyer History uber-nerdiness, I was going to post a lengthy, heavily footnoted article about the first Breyer mold mark - not the famous "copyright horseshoe," but what came before. It's fascinating - really! - but it's going to take me another day or two to whip it into readable shape. (Mostly editing for length - I tend to overwrite a bit on my first drafts.)

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts about the recent Web Special release Ballyduff.

I really like him; Reeves has been doing a bang-up job on their solid colors lately, especially their chestnuts. (I adore that gorgeous shade of red chestnut on the Australian SR Phar Lap!) It's nice to see them move away a bit from all the crazy psychedelic colors and patterns they've been high on lately. Don't get me wrong - my first choice this year at BreyerFest is going to be that awesome, over-the-top Lady Phase "Confetti" - but there's nothing prettier in the world than a simple, nicely done chestnut. (Wouldn't Ballylee's color look smashing on the Bouncer, or even the Stretch Morgan?)

Unfortunately, I'm on a budget so tight I can't even pass up the grotty pennies one finds in supermarket parking lots. Since I also had the happy misfortune of being picked for the Connoisseur Auld Lang Syne, and I rather prefer the Kennebec to the Flash, my budget priorities were pretty clear on the matter. Even though I think he's actually a pretty good deal for the money, I had to take a pass on him.

(Oh, I can almost hear you wincing at the thought of someone actually preferring the Kennebec Count mold over - well, anything. I'll deal with you conformation freakazoids another day...)

I think Reeves is finally getting closer to the winning formula for the Web Specials on price, quantity and availability. The 350 piece run - identical to the Connoisseur releases, and the recent regular run gloss variations - seems about right. Not so few to create a ninja-pit-style feeding frenzy, and not so many that they won't retain most of their value. Kudos to Reeves for managing to create a nice buzz - and likely, a tidy little profit - in one heck of a rotten economy. Sure wish I could have contributed!

I'm hoping that they don't go monthly on these particular specials; that kind of overkill is what spoiled Stone Horses for a lot of collectors. And the three month wait certainly added to the anticipation and the drama: the Web Special thread on Blab was interesting, to say the least. (And also, a little scary!)

And yet, in spite of all the fussing, cussing and drinking that went on, the Ballylee still isn't quite sold out. There's lots of reasons why: the Auld Lang Syne drawing was last week, the economy is still sinking, and it's that time of year when a lot of hobbyists are taking a hard look at their live show and BreyerFest budgets for the year. I'm sure he'll be gone by the end of the week though, if not sooner.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Obligatory Introduction

Hello, there. Thank you for finding my blog.

Just to get this out of the way up front, I am in no way affiliated with Breyer Animal Creations or Reeves International, though they certainly do know who I am.

And who am I? I’ve been a Breyer collector since 1974, and a model horse hobbyist since 1978. From time to time I’ve taken a few brief hiatuses to pursue other interests, but the model horse hobby has always been there for me whenever those interests become … less interesting.

In fact, I think what makes the model horse hobby such a strong and persistent presence in my life and the lives of my fellow enthusiasts: it encompasses so many different activities (showing, collecting, tackmaking, customizing, "pedigree assignment") that it’s hard to get bored by it.

I’ve been around long enough to have participated in most of these "hobbies within the hobby," but my primary interest and area of expertise - as you may have guessed from the title of this blog - is the history of the Breyer Horse.

It’s a long, convoluted and incredibly intricate history that hobbyists such as myself have spent hours, days and years reconstructing. Like most small, family-owned businesses, Breyer didn’t keep the best documentation - or sometimes, any documentation at all, especially in their earliest days. We have records of things that don’t seem to exist, and things that exist for which we have no record. And there are seemingly endless variations in color, markings, finish and mold - some explainable, some not.

All absolutely and endlessly fascinating to me.

As for my credentials, I’ve written numerous articles for hobby-oriented magazines and newsletters, including Just About Horses. I publish a free newsletter devoted to Breyer History, the MGR Sampler, that I distribute once a year at the hobby’s de facto convention, BreyerFest.

I’m not currently attached to or collaborating with any other Breyer History, guidebook or web site. Yes, I’m working on my own, but as my life is not as neat, tidy or secure as most, I am uncertain (if and when) of completion. This blog is my small way of making accessible what I know in the meantime.

I can’t make any guarantees to a regular schedule or series of topics, as I’m sure my life will get in the way from time to time, but I will promise to make every effort to be interesting.