Thursday, April 30, 2009

Zippo = Zeppo?

I haven’t had much time to finish some of the posts I’ve been working on, so you’ll be getting another insubstantial one today. Some long, meaty posts are in the pipeline, I promise. Writing is the one thing that’s been keeping me modestly sane over the past few not so awesome weeks. (Not getting actual carrot cake for my birthday this week was one of the lesser disappointments. Sigh.)

Man, I just knew the Quarterfest SR was going to be a Zippo. Rats! A really neat color on a mold I really happen to like. I know not a lot of hobbyists think the same way: sometimes I refer to Zippo as "Zeppo," the underappreciated fourth Marx Brother. He’s not as flashy as the Smart Chic Olena, as versatile as the Lady Phase, and he doesn’t possess the homely, old-fashioned charm of the Quarter Horse Gelding.

But I do think he’s a sleek, well-executed mold who just happens to be a snappy dresser. He looks good in almost any color: solids, pintos, dilutes, appaloosas. I have a lot of them, but not all of them: my favorite is a preproduction Zip’s Chocolate Chip, in a surprisingly rich shaded bay. (I also admit to a weakness for ermine spots. The sight of striped and speckled toes makes me squee. And I don’t, normally.)

You can’t say that for every model. Case in point: the current crop of Collector’s Choice models. Kudos to Reeves with going with the solids on two of the selections - and both of them look sharp in those colors, too! Overall, I think the Palomino on the Bluegrass Bandit is the "best fit" of color with mold, but I love roan paint jobs in general, and on the Peruvian…

Well, I’d buy the Peruvian in just about any color, but that’s another story. And don’t even speak to me about the Dark Bay BreyerFest auction Peruvian with the profuse ermine spots from a few years back. Not many models make me cry, and that one came too darn close.

But the Keltic Salinero? Tobiano doesn’t suit him. I wasn’t overly fond of the VRE Hollywood Boulevard, either. Now I though he was pretty smashing in overo as the 2007 BreyerFest raffle model Tacoma, so do think he could look good in a parti-color paint job. But the tobiano patterns they’ve used so far haven’t worked for me. They visually "break up" his elegant silhouette, which I think is the mold’s strongest suit.

Sadly, I think - despite Blab’s best efforts to the contrary - the Salinero is the frontrunner in this race. Because, just like in the real horse world, being flashy gives you the edge.

I thought the delay in releasing the pertinent details of the Zippo SR was actually a rather smart move - a nice, subtle way of building anticipation and enthusiasm in the hobbyist community. All too often Reeves will release the information on a special release a little too early, and hobbyists will spend the time between the press release and the actual release date nitpicking it to death. I really hate those kind of discussions in general, since they tend to turn so mean, and unproductive, so quickly.

I sure hope I can manage to snag that Quarterfest Zippo somehow. Doesn’t seem likely at the moment, but we’ll have to see how it all shakes out in terms of quantity, distribution and overall hobby desire.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tape Masking

Another painting technique worth watching for is something I call tape-masking. Instead getting all artsy-fartsy with an airbrush, Breyer just taped off the areas they wanted to keep white with masking tape. The technique is not too different from the one Reeves uses now for its markings and patterns, but lower-tech and cheesier. A lot of Marney tests, like this one, were tape-masked:

(Yeah, he does have a few freehand airbrushed spots on him, too.)

Stencils or masks are intricate and expensive to create; one tool-and-die guy I spoke to described it "jewelry work." That’s why the same pinto patterns show up on older test colors: they weren’t going to commit to making a new mask until the model was definitely moving towards production. If an existing mask wasn’t sufficient, and nobody had the artistic chops to freehand the pattern desired, they resorted to the masking tape.

99.9% of the time, if you run across a legitimate original finish model that has been tape-masked, it’s a test color or sales sample. Surprisingly, there may have been one regular run production model that was briefly released using this technique: the #74 Polled Hereford Bull.

I purchased this guy several years ago from the collection of a former Breyer Sales Rep. You can see that the edge of the markings is very "cut" looking and defined. Amusingly, you can also see that they tried to soften the edge a bit, possibly with a cotton swab or something:

He looked like a touchup job at first, but trust me, he’s 100% original finish. He’s passed all of the scratch, sniff and dunk tests. All the modifications in his finish are underneath his clear factory topcoat.

At first, I thought he might have been a preproduction piece (this guy’s collection was pretty awesome - a test or oddity wouldn’t have been out of place) until I found a few more on eBay. I even bought one more just to confirm what I was seeing: yup, more tape-masking.

Now, it’s possible that all of these guys that I’ve been finding were all preproduction, pre-mask pieces, but it seems unlikely. If only one or two random pieces showed up, the preproduction theory would be plausible. When you’ve seen four or five - on eBay - from different sellers in different parts of the country, it seems more likely that these fellas were legitimate production pieces.

These PHBs could have been from the first production batch, before the mask was ready, but after the model was available for ordering on the wholesale price list. And in order to get the order out, Breyer resorted to masking tape. A similar situation occurred not that long ago with the blue roan Appaloosa Performance Horse release Diamondot Buccaneer: the first batch of ‘em had handpainted spots, not masked ones.

Small changes occur in many models at the beginning of their production runs - enough so that I get a little uneasy whenever I see customizers descend upon new releases with such gusto. It their efforts to create something special and distinct, they may be destroying something just as special and distinct in the process.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Carrot Cake

I got my JAH early last week (yay!) and fell in love with Carrot Cake, the Silver Bay Misty Contest model. My first thought was "Oh great, I have to come up with something REALLY clever for the cake topper contest now." My second thought was of my hand-airbrushed Misty: she’s one test color that’s definitely staying put. Isn’t she lovely?

(Oh, and my third thought was: dang it Breyer, how’d you know it was (a) my birthday this week and (b) that carrot cake is my favorite? Darn you. Darn you all to heck.)

There’s more to my attachment than the fact that she appears to be a preproduction, pre-mask test piece: I found her on eBay last year during a very sad and extremely stressful time in my life. I couldn’t really afford it, but the world was falling apart, and I needed something rare, beautiful and tangible in my life at that very moment. I had to have her: price wasn’t really an object.

(There’s a lot of that kind of thinking, and buying, in the hobby. Deep down, we’re all just lonely little girls who love horses. Neither time nor money seems to change that. Sorry for that maudlin little interlude…)

In Nancy Young’s book there’s a mention, and a photo, of a similar piece: a hand-airbrushed San Domingo. He had been up for auction - and sold for an outrageous price - not long before the Misty turned up. That probably influenced my decision, too. It wasn’t necessarily proof of her authenticity, but it didn’t hurt, either.

You don’t see too many hand-airbrushed, unmasked pintos in the regular run Breyer line. They’re labor-intensive, hard to keep consistent, and easy to screw up. A couple notable exceptions would be the ever-popular chestnut pinto Indian Pony, and early versions of Jasper, the Market Hog. On the early Jaspers, you can even see that they "drew" the outline of his spot first before filling the rest of it in.

In other words, what I’m trying to say is that hand-airbrushing is generally a good indicator of something being either a very early, or very rare. (And occasionally, both.) It’s a good thing to look out for, if you’re looking for something special.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Test Colors: A Good Beginning

I had to sell a test color out of necessity a few weeks ago. (I live in Michigan and I can’t find a job to support myself: ‘nuff said.) It was one of those odd things that came via the mysterious eBay toy trafficker by the name of "newtoymens": a solid black Proud Arabian Foal. I was able to let him go partly because he wasn’t the kind of test color I prefer to collect.

"Test color" is a generic, catch-all term that is used to describe a lot of different kinds of models created for a lot of different purposes. Not all of these models labeled tests are truly tests in the strictest sense of the term. And not all are equally desirable (more on that in a moment.)

In the loosest sense, the term "test color" refers to any model that was either made in advance of production, as a regular run item or a special run, or one that never made it into production at all. A test color can vary either in finish, markings, or color scheme; rarely it is used to describe a model with significant changes either in the mold itself or the selection of accessories it was packaged with.

I’ve made several attempts over the years to categorize all the different subcategories of "test colors" that exist, with varying degrees of precision and nuance. It’ll drive you crazy, I swear, trying to determine where the lines exist. What distinguishes a "production test" from a "color test?" What do you do with all of the models Marney Walerius was responsible for creating? Some are clearly test colors, but so many of them …aren’t. Maybe.

I won’t share with you - not yet, anyway - all of the categories I created to define nonproduction models. I could write lengthy, detailed essays of every single one. But it’s still a work in progress, mostly because Reeves seems to enjoy redefining the various categories on a daily basis.

Here’s a case in point: it wasn’t unusual, back in its Chicago days, for the company to produce multiple tests of a single color - usually in quantities of five, but it varied. This was done for a variety of reasons - for sales meetings, meetings with the painters, to test the viability and consistency of the paint job in production, that sort of thing. Test colors were rarely unique, at least not the way we now think of them.

Nowadays, just about everything gets a production number, regardless of the quantity produced: the VRE Specials are a recent and infuriating example. The lovely and completely unattainable Stretch Morgan "A Night at the Oscars" was labeled and sold as a special run - of 4 pieces. Less than many true vintage test colors.

See what I mean?

As far as desirability goes, it goes without saying that some test colors are more desirable than others. For most collectors, it’s about the rare combination of a well-executed paint job on a favorite mold. An Indian Pony will go for more than a Lady Roxana, and an intricately mapped pinto will go for more than a plain, undappled bay.

For me, it’s a little bit different: it’s the historical quality that takes primary consideration. I already had other test colors from newtoymens, and at least two of those actually appear to be tests for models that did end up in production, albeit on different molds. And you know me, I’m all about the history.

So the little Black PAF had to go. Sigh. I sure hope I get to keep the others...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blank Slates

I’ve never really understood the fascination with unpainted models. Sure, they’re nice to have if you’re a fan of a particular model, and a few of them technically qualify as special runs. But laying out the extra cash for one - over and above body or retail price, I mean - has never made much sense to me. Because every model starts out as an unpainted. And some talented folks can turn them back into one.

Some unpainted models are interesting from a sculptural standpoint: many of the Hess molds look more like art than toy in their naked state. But for the most part, I regard unpainted models as blank canvases - one indistinguishable from another. It’s the paint job that makes a horse rare or stand out from its identically-shaped cohorts.

A few unpainted models technically qualify as special runs - such as the G1 Riegsecker Draft Horse that came with the multiple-piece SR set in the 1980s, and the 1980 JAH Special Offer Unpainteds. Even so, it’s difficult to impossible to tell those SR Unpainteds from a run of the mill factory escapees, unless you can provide the documentation (receipt, or in the Drafters' case, a complete unbroken set and/or history of ownership.)

Now, there are always some exceptions to the rule. There have been many subtle - and not so subtle - mold changes over the years, and an unpainted model of an earlier version of a mold will have some historical value. The Saddlebred Weanling is an obvious candidate - the pre-Rocking Horse, attached tail version will definitely have more value and cachet than later one with a detached tail. An unpainted unmuscled Clydesdale or a supermuscled Quarter Horse Gelding would be a major coup for almost any collector, too.

(What, you don’t know about the various different versions of the Quarter Horse Gelding mold? Another topic teaser, I know.)

Unpainted chalkies have some value, too - some of you probably familiar with the infamous Pinkie Proud Arabian Foals that have floated around the hobby for years now. One of the few unpainted models I have in my collection is a chalky G1 Saddlebred (she’s not basecoated: she’s actually an opaque white plastic one.) Sorry for the small pic - it’s a former Blab avatar:

The swirled-plastic and solid-colored Stablemate keychains also qualify as unpainted models, as do the Tortuga-style Decorators, but I would argue that in those cases, it’s the plastic itself that becomes the "surface" treatment, not the paint.

There are some unpainted models being sold by various dealers as samples - with rough seams, handwritten notations and tags and stuff like that - that may also have a slightly higher-than-nominal cash value, depending on how trustworthy you consider the dealer and the documentation he or she provides. (I’m going to assume that, being the conscientious hobbyists that you are, you probably already possess the slightly skeptical mind to be wary of anyone’s extraordinary claims of rarity or general awesomeness.)

I suspect in most cases where an unpainted model goes for an exceptional or seemingly unwarranted price, it’s just another case of someone’s (or a couple of someones’s) overwhelming need to have something special and unique. It’s just that in the case of unpainted models, there are very few true instances of uniqueness: underneath every painted model is an unpainted one.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Photo Shoots & Artist's Proofs

Just something short and sweet. I’m still feeling a little down today.

I thought I’d share a particularly handsome and treasured little dude here at my ranch: he’s a splash-spot test color for the leopard Pony of the Americas. I purchased him from the Nicklas sisters a couple of years ago at Breyerfest. Pam and Polly were very active in the 1980s, and had a reputation for having a rather fine collection. I have no doubts about his authenticity:

My guy is very similar to the test model that appears on the POA’s original white picture box, but he’s not identical. This is not surprising: as I’ve mentioned before, test colors were rarely unique, especially during the Chicago era. I always lusted after the model on the box - I was extremely enamored of the POA when he was first released back in 1976, and I had always hoped that I could find him, or a model just like him someday. So when I saw him, I knew that instant he was coming home with me. He ain’t mint, but I don’t care!

(I’m still very fond of the mold today, but I’m not so sure about that newly remodeled mane and tail. I’ll just have to wait and see one in person, I guess.)

I’ve always been very curious about the models that have appeared in catalogs, boxes and other promotional materials. Some of them are undoubtedly airbrush, touch-up or Photoshop creations, and therefore nonexistent, but some of them aren’t. Some we’ve been able to track down. The story about the 1981 Dealer’s Catalog test stand-ins for the Stock Horse Stallion is relatively well-known, and I have pictures of other known photo shoot models in Marney’s album, too.

I own a few other models that I have suspected of being photographic models - bought from certain folks, or under certain situations that make the notion seem at least plausible. I haven’t been able to confirm any of them, unfortunately.

I’m a little surprised that Reeves hasn’t taken the opportunity to label and sell their duplicate photo shoot models as such - at the Breyer Sales Tent, at the very least. Some of them are undoubtedly samples now residing in the sample room, but what of the rest?

They’ve been touting various "Artist’s Proofs" of the showier, more desirable specials as prizes, gifts and donations - some of whom I suspect were done primarily for photographic intentions. (I’m not entirely sure I like the term "Artist’s Proof": sounds like a bit of marketing puffery to me. If it’s a test, or a sample, or a preproduction piece, call it that: there’s no need to gild those particular lilies!)

That’s all very nice of them, but even the "proofs" of ordinary regular run models have some appeal to collectors. I have a Lady Roxana piece that I suspect might be one: I got her for less than retail - she is, after all, a Lady Roxana - but she still has a place of honor on my shelf next to the less humble treasures. Like my POA.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Breyer Urban Legend: Black Adios

This one has gotten me in trouble before, so I’ll have to tread lightly.

There is no such thing as a Black Adios Special Run. What you see here is also not a Black Adios: it’s a Mesa, in the extremely handsome and rarely used "Mahogany" paint job. (Few models would not be improved by it!) It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to a Black Adios, and I’m okay with that:

I see the Black Adios on a lot of want lists as a valid item. Nancy Young listed it as such in her reference bible. And there are just enough of them out there that some folks may actually find one, lending credence to the idea of it being a special run. But what they’re buying isn’t really a special run.

A Special Run item has to have a few things going for it to qualify as a one. One characteristic is consistency: all of the models have to be the same, or nearly the same: one batch might have better shading than another, or slightly different markings, but the variability is relatively narrow.

The second characteristic is limitation: it is either available only for a limited time, in a limited quantity, or only through a specific dealer or venue.

The third characteristic is acknowledgment: it has to be advertised or distinguished from a regular run item.

Not every special run item shares every characteristic, but they do meet at least two of them. "Acknowledgement" probably the most controversial: a lot of early special runs - especially the XMAS catalog items, and the Woodgrain Ranchcraft Lamps - were never advertised as such, but that’s mostly because the term really didn’t exist back then.

"Acknowledgement" mainly applies to later items that are very similar or identical to regular run releases, but were specifically advertised as specials. The most obvious item would be the Toys R Us Bay Fighting Stallion - virtually identical to the regular run release, but sold a special run.

(There’s another subcategory of this kind of special I call Post-Production Specials, which are regular run items rereleased after their original discontinuation, but I’ll leave that esoteric concept for another time.)

The Black Adioses only really meet one of the criteria, and it’s only because of the person who was involved in their creation: Marney. The Adios model was a particular favorite of hers, and the black paint job was an extremely easy one to render. Any Adios cull with reasonably clean seams could quickly, and easily, be transformed into a Black Adios.

Markings on these Adioses varied widely - some had leg markings, facial markings, gray hooves, tan hooves, black hooves - whatever Marney’s mood and the condition of the body allowed.

They were made over a period of years; she didn’t have a stockpile of Black Adioses waiting for shipment or orders to come in. They were made whenever she had access, opportunity, and potential customers. Some were reputedly available as a gift at the end of factory tours (I almost had a chance to go, but it was canceled at the last minute. And when I did finally get a tour - well, another story, another time.)

So they were not limited by time or quantity. There was no real consistency in markings or finish. They were not really advertised as special runs, though Marney was never really consistent with that terminology one way or another either. They were available almost exclusively through Marney, but that’s because she was probably the one making them on an ad hoc basis.

So what do we call them? How do we classify them? It’s a good question I really have no answer for: he’s a unique case. The Black Adios is the Black Adios.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When a Chalky isn’t a Chalky

Why the Gray Bucking Bronco was so abruptly canceled at the end of 1966 I have no idea. Did he really sell that poorly, or was there a problem with the paint job? Even though he was technically discontinued, he appears to have been available for at least another year through some mail order dealers. And when those didn’t sell, the remainders were probably repainted and sold - as Black Bucking Broncos.

These former-grays are not chalkies: the new paint job was simply sprayed on top of the old. There was no white basecoat involved. For lack of a better term, I call them paint-overs. And the Bucking Bronco was not the only model to get this particular painting treatment, either.

While the chalky technique was known and used before the Bucking Bronco’s release, it was a spotty and relatively rare occurrence - Breyer was probably salvaging pieces from the cull bins to finish orders and avoid reloading the mold back in the molding machine (a costly and time-consuming effort.)

One of the creative ways Breyer tried to limit culls was through planning. They’d try to release a mold in several different colors simultaneously, with at least one very "light" color and one very "dark" color. The light colors would get painted first, and if you messed up any of those, some of them could be painted over and "salvaged" with the darker paint job.

This paint over technique was used primarily in the era just before - and during - the official "true chalky" era of the early to mid-1970s. It was just one of several salvage techniques in Breyer’s arsenal. They did whatever could to get the job done - and keep costs down.

Didn’t you always wonder why there were so many Black Classic Arabian and Quarter Horse Foals? A lot of those popular blister-card releases were paint-overs. Dapple Gray Proud Arabians with darker than average manes and tails may have started out life as Alabasters. That may be the case with some Gloss Dapple Gray Running Mares and Foal, too: every once and a while I spot one with an exceptionally dark mane and tail, and wonder...

I don’t believe the technique was completely abandoned after the Chalky Era, either. I have some reason to believe that the late 1970s Special Run releases of the Family Arabians and Semi-Rearing Mustang in solid black were paint-overs of flawed production models or warehouse overstock.

The Bucking Bronco never received the USA mold mark, so it can be difficult to distinguish a potential early black-that-used-to-be-gray Bronco from a later always-black one. There are a few physical clues.

Even though the original gray body color is similar to the oversprayed portions of the black overpaint, it is not identical. The gray paint has a distinct bluish cast that can be distinguished from watered down or oversprayed black, and it can sometimes been seen in the transitional areas around the edges of the stockings and bald face.

Since the difference was noticeable, the painters would slightly overpaint these edges, shortening the length of the socks and shrinking the extent of the bald face. So while it’s usually the case that older models have higher socks and more extensive bald faces, in the case of the Black Bucking Bronco, it’s exactly the opposite.

And there’s absolutely no way to distinguish between one that was painted over for flaws, versus one that was painted over because it didn’t sell. I’m good, but not that good.

(Today's Facebook error: the Grazing Mare and Foal were introduced in 1965, not 1961. The pricelists, Reeves, check the pricelists!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Oh no, not again!

My favorite Douglas Adams quote, ever.

That was one of the nicer things I yelled at my computer the other day when Reeves posted more bad data on Facebook - this time about the Gray Bucking Bronco. This time there just is no excuse or rationalization for this: it was plain old lazy research. He was introduced in 1966, NOT 1961.

I’m not sure when this particular nugget of information got started, since the 1966 date is pretty well documented. We have official pricelists from 1963 onward: the Bronco doesn’t appear on them until 1966, in both black and gray. End of story.

At least with the PAM, they could make an argument based on a lack of data: that is, an absence of information means a 1956 cannot be disproved. It’s a technical and weak kind of argument, but not an invalid one. But in this case, I know Reeves does have the data - and they didn’t bother to double-check it.

As with the PAM, this misrepresentation of the data may be having a profound effect on the way the model is perceived in the model horse community. If it was introduced in 1961, that would mean that the Gray Bucking Bronco would be a relatively common mold for that time period - 6 years of production is a pretty substantial run, even back then.

But it’s not: he was made for only one year. Although we can’t make very good estimates of production quantities for any regular run Breyer models before the mid-1980s, I think a one year production run should qualify him for at least the status of "scarce." Especially since a portion of them were probably painted over and became Black Bucking Broncos. (I hate being a tease, but there’s really no room to explain that little nugget today, gals! Maybe on Wednesday.)

This is why researchers need to rely on primary sources, not secondary ones. And do their own research, rather than automatically rely on the assumptions and conclusions of others. Because these assumptions very often turn out to be wrong, or at the very least misinterpreted. What we think we "know" is often very different from what is actually known. And that can create all sorts of problems.

I’ll give them credit for getting most of the data on the Basset Hound correct (interesting that they chose to make a post about him the same week I do! Hmm?) I could quibble about the Chris Hess attribution, but that’s a matter of ongoing research and a long way from being settled. I’ll give ‘em a pass - this time!

Am I making hash out of could just be a typo? Yep. That’s what I’m here for. Heck, that’s what makes me tick. Just because something’s a typo doesn’t mean it won’t have fewer consequences than something that was deliberately typed.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Providing that they produce sufficient quantities of everybody to meet the demands of everyone in line, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed with any of available selections in the Breyerfest Tent this year. Like most folks, the Blue Tortuga Five-Gaiter is pretty high up on my selection list, but Sprinkles and the Idocus aren’t far behind either. (Wow, what a surprise - buckskin really suits him!)

Just about the only one I’m not really interested in is the porcelain. I’m sure it’ll be lovely, I just uncomfortable spending $150+ on something that has a high likelihood of getting broken. I’m clumsy, and that’s a part of the reason I collect plastic in the first place. (There’s also a part of me that screams "Breyers that aren’t plastic aren’t Breyers!" But that’s the same part of me having issues with a local, very snooty toy store and its even snootier clientele. Long story!)

The most exciting announcement for me was the QH Gelding "Birthday Surprise" SR: the same model, three different colors, and he’s wrapped up so you can’t tell which one you’ve got until you open him up - after you’ve left the line. So basically, he’s a Gambler’s Choice model. Since the upper end for Line Specials lately has been around 1500, that’s around a 500 piece run for each color. A large piece count overall means a lot of people will have the opportunity to get him: regardless of the color you get, he’ll be one of the scarcer models available this year. Win-win!

What’s making me very, very happy about the idea is the fact that it was one I suggested in the "BreyerFest Special Run Suggestion Threads" on Model Horse Blab (right down to the "wrap it up so they can’t see it" part!) Reeves asked for suggestions, and the Gambler’s Choice idea was mine. They liked my idea - and implemented it! Yay for me!

It’s entirely possible that they had something like this planned all along, but my life hasn’t exactly been filled with happy surprises lately, so I’ll just set that notion aside for my own mental well-being.

Way back when (in the Chicago days - gack!) I used to write a yearly letter of my suggestions for future molds and colors. I’m sure the first letter I wrote was probably about Ruffian - along with at least a few hundred other little girls. (And of course, it just had to be my letter that finally convinced them to do it - right?)

The best part was that sometimes I’d get a letter back thanking me for my ideas, and that made me a very happy camper. They took the time to respond to my suggestions and questions - and sometimes implemented them! Not only did it encourage me to write more letters, it made me a complete, total Breyer fangirl. (Yes, I saved most of those letters. Duh!)

When you think about it, the entire hobby is based on that concept: we’re all "fangirls." The focus of our obsession just happens to be horses, not comic books, anime or online gaming. (Though there’s a rather large overlap - and speaking for myself, I could just as easily devote an entire blog to the Legion of Super-heroes. Seriously.) We know more about horses than most horse owners do: anatomy, breed standards, pedigrees, genetics. And not just about one specific breed - but all of them!

There was no better illustration of this than what happened at a BreyerFest a few years ago. Reeves managed to get Dr. Sponenburg to give a lecture about equine color genetics - and as I sat in the back, observing the crowd as much as the lecture itself, it struck me that it was probably better attended than a lot of the academic lectures or seminars he’s given!

Voluntarily attending an academic lecture on equine color genetics. At a "toy" convention. For fun. If that’s not the definition of nerdy, nothing is!

Writing a thrice-weekly column about obscure Breyer model trivia probably also qualifies.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Sticker You Don't Know

Any Breyer collector worth their salt should know about the Breyer stickers: the gold foil "Tenite" sticker seen most often on early Woodgrains, and the blue ribbon sticker (both large and small) that appeared on most Breyer models from ca. 1966 through 1970. But there’s a third vintage sticker that most of you wouldn’t know about, because there’s only two pieces of evidence for it: a sheet of stickers in the Breyer archives, and this handsome boy:

The fonts, motifs and color choices of this dumbbell-style sticker indicates that it’s from the "brown box" era of Breyer packaging, dating from ca. 1979 to ca. 1982, and which replaced the white picture box that ruled the roost from ca. 1973 through 1978. (It is, in fact, dated 1980 on one side.)

I had no idea these sticker existed either, prior to my visit to the Breyer factory many moons ago. As I’ve said before, what reference materials they do have prior to 1985 are minimal. Most of it I had already seen, or had copies of via various hobby sources (most of them tracing back to Marney’s original copies!) Some of the newer stuff was interesting, but nothing was overly impressive - I had heard Marney describe the sorry state of Breyer’s recordkeeping before, so while it was a little sad to see firsthand, it was not unexpected.

There were still a few interesting things in the binders, though. A sheet of dumbbell stickers stood out: now THAT was something I hadn’t seen before! As an aficionado of stickered models, I was intrigued; since I had not seen - or even heard - of a Breyer model sporting this type of sticker. I just assumed it was either an experiment or aborted marketing attempt, but made a mental note nonetheless.

A couple of years later, I found the Silky Sullivan on a well-known hobbyist’s saleslist, and I just couldn’t pass him up. I mean, really - how could I not buy him?

I have no idea what the extent of this particular marketing program was. It may have truly been an experiment that was just tested in a few markets, or a few stores - in this case, the price tag on the sticker indicates he was sold at Woolworth’s. (His price? $4.97)

From the amount of information about the model on the sticker - name, number, brief biography - I am assuming that this was an test to sell Breyer models without boxes. Was this another try at "touchability?" Or just a way of eliminating the cost of packaging altogether? This cost-saving attempt was probably thwarted by the rough and tumble world of retail: a couple weeks of less-than-gentle handling by customers and employees probably rendered most of these sticker recipients into body box fodder quickly.

I haven’t seen or heard of another example crop up anywhere, though it probably shouldn’t be surprising since this isn’t the kind of sticker that (please forgive the inevitable pun) sticks around. Dumbbell stickers are designed to be torn off quickly and easily, and any models that wore these stickers probably didn’t wear them long once they left the store. Except for the collector or hobbyist who had the foresight to save this fellow.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lowdown on the Basset Hound

As promised, here’s another mystery that needs extra sets of eyes…

As time goes on, it has become increasingly apparent that most early Breyer were not original creations, but adaptations of pre-existing designs. The Old Mold Arabians are a notoriously well-known example, as are the Large Poodle, Boxer, and the Horned Hereford Bull. Could the Basset Hound "Jolly Cholly" be one, too?

The initial evidence for this hypothesis comes from an examination of the model itself. Like the Poodle and the Boxer, the Basset Hound is out of scale with both the horses and each other. Another troubling feature is the mold’s exaggerated and comical nature: whatever the anatomic merits or demerits of the early Breyer molds, they are at least nominally "realistic" in style. Both of these features suggest that the inspiration for this model was … another model.

Where the trouble comes in searching for this original inspiration is that there’s a lot of inspiration to choose from. There’s a surprisingly large number of comically styled bloodhound/basset hound figurines from the period immediately preceding the mold’s introduction in 1966 (in brown, as the Bloodhound. Who IS NOT woodgrain!) The adoption of the Basset Hound as the mascot/spokesdog of the Hush Puppies brand shoes in the late 1950s probably had a little to do with that.

While all of these models share similar exaggerations - oversized domed head, severely foreshortened body, and deep symmetrical facial wrinkles - they are not identical. What this suggests to me is an even earlier model on which all of these other pieces took their design cues from.

I might have found him - on a hobbyist web site, of all places: the Animal Figurines Gallery web site. On the page dedicated to Robert Simmons figurines, there’s a piece that’s startlingly similar to the Basset Hound. Here’s the link. Scroll down to Hounds and see for yourself. He’s hard to miss!

Robert Simmons was a California Pottery company based in Los Angeles. They made relatively inexpensive copies of figurines from other contemporary companies, like Royal Doulton. Allegedly the company went out of business by the early 1960s, which means if this guy is for real, he would predate the Breyer mold. And if that’s the case, the question then becomes - what mold, and what company did Simmons appropriate him from?

My china documentation is pretty weak, though, so I may literally be barking up the wrong tree here - heck, maybe it’s even a case of Simmons copying Breyer, for all I know! It’s another one of those Breyer mysteries that sits patiently in my archives, waiting for the right lead or the right moment. If anyone else can provide better or more specific data on this it would be much appreciated.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Littlest Details

I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating: don’t ask Reeves about Breyer history. Whatever answers they give you, take with a large grain of salt - or aspirin. And you don’t even have to be me to make that claim: any hobbyist who’s been around for any length of time knows more than the average Reeves employee does.

There’s no shortage of painful examples to quote from, but the winning statement that set me off this week was the Daily Breyer post about the Stablemate G1 Draft Horse:

This is the G1 Stablemates drafter (mold #5055) sculpted by Maureen Love Calvert in 1976.

Although the Draft Horse does have a 1976 copyright date on his belly, and didn’t make his first catalog appearance until 1976, he was actually available in mid to late 1975 - the original price list puts it as a September 1st release. That part doesn’t bother me too much - it’s a fine point, and an arguable one (the argument revolving on which sources you consider more viable - the collector’s manual and mold mark, or the dealer price list.)

It’s the "sculpted by Maureen Love Calvert in 1976" part that slays me. NO. It was sculpted in or slightly before 1959 for Hagen-Renaker. The design was leased and was made into a Breyer mold ca. 1975/6. I’m not sure if Maureen had any say at all in the creation of the Breyer molds cast from her designs, much less sculpt them for Breyer.

Now, I may be making a lot of hay out of what could simply be a poorly phrased sentence. The absence of any mention of the Hagen-Renaker name could be a consequence of some phrasing in the original leasing agreement, or just a little extra added precaution instituted by someone’s legal counsel.

Nevertheless, it’s these littlest details that could have huge consequences, especially if we’re talking about the Hagen-Renaker molds.

I saw a similar Facebook post about the Proud Arabian Mare a little while back - no mention of Hagen-Renaker’s involvement, and a wrong date, too (1956). That date discrepancy is actually a much bigger deal than the little Drafter’s: if Breyer could credibly prove that the release date was 1956, then H-R’s claim that the model was a copy of their design, first released in 1957, would then fall apart.

If that were actually the case, the mold would still be in production. But it’s not, because there’s absolutely no evidence for a 1956 release date. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy or any details of the original court case that shut down production of the Old Mold Mare and Foal (another holy grail of ephemera for me!) Since Hagen-Renaker prevailed, my guess would be that the weight of the evidence was on their side, not Breyer’s.

The 1956 meme was started by Marney, and carried forward into a variety of sources since then. And I’m not sure where Marney got the 1956 date either; the earliest physical evidence we have for the Old Mold Mare and Foal is a sales flier/price list dated January 1, 1958.

Most Reeves employees don’t have as thorough a knowledge of pre-1984 era as hobbyists do - heck, a lot of them can’t tell you what models they made last year. And what they have in their archives from before their purchase in late 1984 isn’t much: just a couple of binders, rather incomplete. There’s no way for them to confirm or deny the existence of most models they had no hand in producing in the first place.

They have to rely on us.

We have to do a better job with the task we’ve set before ourselves: the details of history do matter, regardless of the kind of history being written. We fret over the littlest details of judging, conformational accuracy, color genetics and breed standards: why shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the same standard when it comes to our history?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Down with the Count

I received my Connoisseur Kennebec Count last week: mine’s #108. He’s really faboo. So much nicer than the promotional photographs let on, but that’s not too much of a surprise: seriously, people at Reeves, either invest in a better photographer, or spend more time tweaking and color correcting the photos. They sure aren’t selling the product the way they should!

His color is really neat - it’s sort of a richer, updated version of the infamous chocolate milk sorrel of Five-Gaiter fame. My guy is a little less red and more yellow-brown than what I’ve seen posted around the Internet; but that’s might be a result of my monitor’s color calibration and the automatic color correction on most people’s digital cameras.

I was really surprised at the level of quality of the masking. It’s on par - or even slightly better, actually - than the Mosaic in terms of detail and intricacy. All of the elaborate cuts, curls and swirls in his mane are especially delightful, and make me wonder if he was an experimental piece for more intricate paint jobs to come - like the BreyerFest Sprinkles, maybe?

Also impressive was the extremely short ship time: he we literally on my doorstep within a month of the drawing date. Near-instant gratification? Awesome!

I’ve suspected that at least a little bit of the antagonism towards the Kennebec Count mold stems from the stories and rumors swirling about his alleged origins. I haven’t really followed any of that all that closely, since I’m not a starry-eyed devotee of any current model horse sculptor (well, Eberl to a small degree, maybe.)

And it’s not that I’m unaware of any of his shortcomings: I’ve explained before that realism isn’t my primary, overriding criteria when it comes to selecting pieces for my herd.

What Kennebec does have - for me - is an over-the-top rock star outrageousness to him. He’s big, he’s loud, he’s got the long and wavy metal-god hair: is it any surprise that I’ve taken all my Kennebec’s names from the pages of Rolling Stone? (The new guy’s name? Elton, of course.)

Now, for no reason than I had the camera ready, a few random shots of the upstairs wing of the collection. Consider it a preview of future topics to come.