Saturday, May 30, 2009

Curly Eartip Family Arabian Foals

I am bone tired. Things will get better - for the blog, anyway - next week. In the meantime, here's another little quickie: an illustration of what the Family Arabian Foal's curled eartips look like. The curly-eared foal is on your left, and a later version on the right.

There are other eartip versions - the Family Arabian Foal has gone through an insane amount of minor mold changes - but this one illustrates the difference quite nicely, I think.

The curled eartips disappeared rather quickly, and while I wouldn't call them rare, they're not terribly common, either. They were probably gone by late 1961 or early 1962, sometime around or before the introduction of the Palomino and Charcoals. I haven't seen an example of either the Palomino or the Charcoal with the curled eartips, which means they're either very rare, or nonexistent.

I'm not sure why the eartips were changed. My guess would be that they may have created a slight undercut, and caused the molded pieces to snag in the mold. You can just see, in the picture, that the mold lines on the ear don't follow the edge of the ear exactly, but are on the inside of the tips.

Many, but not all of the curly eartipped Foals have the C. Hess signature on the inside right hind leg - I have examples with, and without. Like I said, this mold had a crazy amount of mold changes: the signature probably got buffed out during some mold maintenance and tweaking. (Sorry, no pic of the signature today - my photography skills are just not up to it.)

I have no idea why the Family Arabian Foal - of all molds - went through so many different mold tweaks and alterations. Was there something just inherently wrong with the mold - a consequence of the rush to put it in production because of the Old Mold lawsuit? Or was it just such a popular or high production mold that it required a lot of maintenance - and the routine maintenance is to blame for all the bewildering changes?

I'm thinking more the latter than the former. It is a bit of a headache to keep track of all the subtle changes, but also neat in a way that we may be able to someday (theoretically) date any given Family Foal, to the year.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Micro Managing

I love Mini Whinnies to death, but they're aggravating little buggers from an historical standpoint. It's amazing that these little, teeny-tiny creatures could cause me so much grief.

My first issue: thirty-two “new” molds were dropped on us all of a sudden, none of them with short, punchy, or easy to remember names. It's nice that the mold numbers are a part of the molds themselves, but those numbers are indescribably tiny and not exactly visible while in the packaging or on the printed page. It's going to time before I can look at any given set and rattle off their respective mold numbers.

To keep them all straight in the meantime, I ended up drawing all 32 molds and created a numbered chart. In Adobe Illustrator. Yeah, really. Since they were so small, I simply dropped them on my flatbed, scanned them at an insanely high resolution, and used these scans to create line art that I dropped in my respective word processing files. Voila! Problem solved – and 32 new pieces of clip art to my Breyer art library.

(I have quite a bit of Breyer art, come to think of it. Probably because I'm a lousy photographer and I am especially proficient at creating vector art. Sigh. I miss being paid to do that sort of thing, you know. Does it show?)

My second issue: Reeves has started issuing quasi-SR Mini Whinnies sets to retailers such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. These special run sets are basically just regular run sets in slightly different packaging and/or with pieces taken out, presumably to meet these discount retailers' desired price point. They are special runs: they have been issued special run sequence numbers (aka “acknowledgment”) and do vary, technically, as a set from the regular run sets (more or less.) I doubt anyone except extreme completists and the micro-obsessed are even going to bother searching them out, but the historian in me insists on keeping track of them anyway.

(I even keep track of assortment numbers, for heaven's sake.)

The third issue is: what do I do about their previous lives as the product of unrelated company? Not the history – of course, I'll want to include that, at least briefly, in whatever kind of book I do write. It's where they came from: noting that is no different than noting the previous history of the Modernistic Buck and Doe. (More on that topic, coming soon!)

It's the actual Creata versions of the models I'm mentally wrestling with: do I incorporate these previous, non-Breyer predecessors into the written history somehow, ignore them, or just keep that information entirely separate?

Right now I'm leaning towards incorporating the Creata releases of the Mini Whinnies molds into a web site appendix of really obscure Breyer data - sort of like this blog, but better indexed, and with more lists. A central location where we could archive essential data such as BreyerFest auction lists and notable variations: information diehard collectors are looking for, but which would be impractical to incorporate into a mass-market book.

As much as y'all would love to have a multi-volume Breyer History, there comes a point where you just have to stop and draw a line somewhere. The Mini Whinnies are really pushing up against that line, mighty hard.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just Say No. To Mullets.

Technical difficulties today. Sorry about that.

I got all excited the other day – I found another test color splash spot Pony of the Americas! Well, okay, he was in the 1976 Dealers Catalog and Collector's Manual, and I wasn't actually looking for him, per se. I was researching another topic entirely, and I just happened to notice that he wasn't the same pony on the white picture box. That's how research works sometimes: you make discoveries while you're busy looking for something else.

I already knew that the POA in the catalog was a test piece – I just assumed that the one featured in the ephemera was the same one that was on the box. Silly me, making assumptions again. (Alas, he was not the same fellow in my collection, either. So that means there were at least three of them.)

I'm not sure why I have this mild obsession with the POA: I remember when it came out in 1976, and there was just something about it that I really, really took a shine to. I think it was its unique appearance: roached mane, short tail, that leopard appaloosa paint job. The POA was no ordinary, generic pony!

Like everyone else, I finally managed to get a look (via the Internet) at a “live” version of the UK SR Pippin on the newly remodeled POA mold. They “updated” it with a new mane and tail. It wasn't necessary, in my opinion; my first reaction was annoyance. They took away the crew cut and gave him an equine mullet!

I don't like mullets. On horses, or people. (I don't have a preference for crew cuts, but on the right person, it works. If I had a preference, it'd be towards the Byronic. For both men and horses. Let's just leave that discussion ... at that.)

I know “big hair” is back in style, for both horses and people, but I never really struck me as either attractive, or practical. And just like people, some look good in big hair, and some don't. The mane is fine – the mold has a nice enough neck to pull off a short mane. But that tail is weird: it's not an improvement to me.

I'm already predisposed to buy the first two near-simultaneous SR releases of the POA in spite of the less than appealing tail – because of the roany paint jobs on both the UK Pippin, and the not-quite-sure-what-it-is Toby. I love roans! Speckled, freckled, or airbrushed, I'm not fussy. And I'd seriously trample people for a freckle-style black roan – you know, like the old-fashioned red roan paint job with big honking freckles, except in black.

And speaking of trampling people, rumor has it that the Toby is an in-tent BreyerFest store special, like the Porcelain Stablemate from last year. This little nugget of information, however, came in the form of a verbal comment from an unidentified Reeves employee: as I’ve explained before, that’s not the kind of information you can completely rely on.

(I’ve received neither a thumbs-up nor a thumbs-down from the powers-that-be to my attempt to organize the Ninja Pit of Death line last year. The issue has been brought to Reeves's attention, but I’ve heard nothing personally. Yet.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Woodgrains: The Unrare

Continuing our discussion of Woodgrains…

Some Woodgrains are so common (relatively) that they border on the boring. Even the nicest, most perfect examples of the Family Arabians or the Fighting Stallion will rarely break the $100 price barrier. They had the longest production runs of all the Woodgrains - about 7 years for the Family Arabians, and about 14(!) for the Fighting Stallion.

If you found them with their original boxes or stickers - either the Gold Foil Tenite, or the later blue ribbon - that might change things a little bit. And surprisingly, it’d be the Blue Ribbon Sticker that’d bring the higher premium, rather than the Gold Foil.

Gold Foil Tenite stickers are relatively common on Woodgrains - "common" defined here as "not that difficult to find." In fact, most Gold Foil stickers are found on Woodgrains - not exclusively, but darn near it. This may be a consequence of who bought Woodgrains, and why: Woodgrains were marketed more as decorative items than toys. "Play" Breyers would naturally lose their stickers more quickly than "display" Breyers.

According to my research, the Blue Ribbon Sticker Era began ca. 1966 and continued through 1970, more or less. (Leftover stickers were used until they ran out, presumably in early 1971.) The Fighting Stallion and Family Arabians were the only regular run Woodgrains that continued production into the Blue Ribbon Sticker era.

If my hypothesis on the Ranchcraft Woodgrains is true, most of those were also made during the blue ribbon sticker era, but I haven’t seen or heard of any bearing the sticker. My guess would be that since they were being sold to a manufacturer as a "lamp component" the sticker wasn’t seen as necessary. They might also have given lamp purchasers the impression that Breyer manufactured the lamps themselves.

Chances are that your first Woodgrain - most collectors’ first Woodgrains - was a Family Arabian or a Fighting Stallion. They were definitely among mine. I was still thrilled to find them, of course: Woodgrains are rather difficult to find in these parts, for reasons unknown. I still get a bit of a thrill, after all these years, whenever I find a Woodgrain Fighting Stallion. (Gloss Charcoal Fighting Stallions, on the other hand, I could swear they sold them in bulk around here …)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Woodgrains and Rarity

All Woodgrains are not created equal: all are scarce, but some are more scarce than others. And defining what is rare, and what is common, isn’t as simple as you might think.

Here’s a good example: the apparent popularity and longevity of the Ranchcraft Woodgrain Running Mare and Foal Lamp may have skewed our perception of the original Mare and Foal’s rarity. The original, prelamp Woodgrain Running Mare and Foal were made for a relatively brief period of time: from 1962 through 1965, a year or so less than much more desirable pieces such as the Rearing Mustang or Five-Gaiter.

An awfully high percentage of Woodgrain Running Mares and Foal I’ve seen for sale are former lamp pieces: their drill holes and semi-gloss finishes are usually a dead giveaway. True, regular run pre-lamp Woodgrain Running Mares and Foals are fairly scarce, and surprisingly don’t command the kind of prices that that kind of rarity usually brings.

Part of it is the sex appeal: the placid, sweet Running Mare and Foal don’t elicit the same visceral response the wild and studly Mustang does. The fan club for these pieces just isn’t that large. They’re not so rare - like the original regular run Buckskins - that their very elusiveness creates demand, either. They’re not the kind of things a "high spot" collector would seek out.

And the model horse market, at this moment and in this economy, seems to be driven primarily by a small coterie of "high spot" collectors. "High spot" is a term I’ve borrowed from the world of book collecting; it refers to collectors who specialize exclusively on rare, expensive and historically significant pieces, as opposed to collectors who seek to build a more well-rounded or representative collection.

True "high spot" Woodgrains would be items like the Old Mold Mare and Foal, Elephant, and Fury - items so rare and so scarce that virtually no documentation exists for them. The Old Mold Mare and Foal, Elephant, and Fury all easily fetch four-digit figures - and except for the Old Mold Mare’s cameo in the 1960 Montgomery Wards Christmas Catalog, there is a total absence of evidence for their existence, other than, you know, their actual existence.

The Old Mold Mare and Foal were regular run items, albeit extremely short-term ones, made in one or two batches before the mold switchover ca. 1959-60. (Until recently, it was speculated that the Woodgrain Old Mold Foal didn’t even exist, but we know better, now.) Others, such as the Buffalo and Polled Hereford Bull, appear to be special run exclusives for Dunning Industries’ Ranchcraft Lamp line.

But for pieces such as the Elephant and the Fury, I have no idea. My guess would be that they were extremely short-term regular runs, a la the Buckskin Running Mare and Foal, but that’s pure speculation on my part. Until more evidence surfaces, that’s all we have at this point.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Personal Stuff

We’re interrupting our regularly scheduled programming to bring you some personal stuff. Originally I was going to create a separate blog that relates to the non-model-horsey parts of my life - and I will do so, eventually - but since this may directly affect things here, I thought I might as well put it here. I’m not ready to start or maintain that second blog yet, anyway.

In the future, if and when I do this sort of thing again, I’ll specifically label these posts with a personal tag of some sort, so you can skip to the meaty parts if you so desire. I’ll keep it short and sweet, I promise.

As some of you may know, I’ve been having a hard time of it in the "real world." I’ve been underemployed for a rather long time, and I live in Michigan: it’s not exactly been a recipe for success. Combine that with some major family health issues - and well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s been a struggle to get out of bed a lot of mornings, recently.

In fact, one of the few things that’s been keeping me going is this blog. I’ve always found writing very therapeutic, and giving myself regular deadlines to meet on a weekly basis has probably kept me from losing it entirely over the past couple of months. (The other is the recent appearances of the Legion 0f Super-Heroes on Smallville. You have no idea how happy those episodes have made me. Seriously.)

To cut to the chase: the posts for the next two weeks will not be as substantial as I would like them to be, because I found myself a temp merchandising job. I’m going to be away 12+ hours a day for the next two weeks, and maybe for a few days after that, depending on how it goes. There’s no promise of a permanent or full-time position, but (a) I will be getting overtime, and (b) I’ll be out of the house, doing something other than fretting over my bills or my problems. Nice pluses, both of them.

And I really need the money. Goodness, do I: dental work, new glasses, credit card debt. Optimistically, the paycheck I get from this temp job will pay off at least two of those looming debts. So of course I said yes, when they offered it.

It’ll mean a couple of missed trips to the flea market, and no social life; but I didn’t have the money to spend in the first place, and my social life has already been rendered nonexistent by my current circumstances. It’ll also mean that I won’t be able to tackle deeper, more involved topics I’ve been wanting to, in the short-term. I have a few I’ve been working on, but the rest will be not quite as geeky as normal.

If all goes well, it will also make my trip to BreyerFest this year a little more possible, or at least more affordable (I’ll still need a roommate - I always need a roommate!)

So, there you have it. Back to the regular model horse nerdiness on Wednesday.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ranchcraft Lamps

Since I’ve mentioned them a couple times recently, in passing, here’s a helpful list of known Ranchcraft Woodgrain Lamps:
  • Family Arabian Foal
  • Running Mare and Foal
  • Running Foal Wall Sconce
  • Fighting Stallion
  • Longhorn Bull
  • Buffalo
  • Polled Hereford Bull
There are non-Woodgrain Ranchcraft lamps too, but I haven’t tracked them as closely as the Woodgrains. Among the best known of these are "variations" of the Woodgrains: Family Arabian Foal in Palomino, the Running Mare and Foal in Bay, and the Buffalo in Brown. They’re desirable, of course, but not on the same level as the Woodgrains.

There hasn’t been a lot of research done to date on the Ranchcraft Lamps, mostly because they were not considered official Breyer products, and never appeared in any official Breyer promotional material. Most of what we know about the Ranchcraft Lamps comes from vintage mail-order catalogs and a handful of contemporary magazine ads. Our data is so fragmentary that we can’t pinpoint a manufacturing date: my best guess, from what sources I do have, is roughly from 1965 through 1970, give or take a year either way.

Have you noticed something funny about that time period? Yes, most Woodgrains - with the exception of the Family Arabians and the Fighting Stallion - were discontinued by then. While it’s possible that Breyer sold Dunning Industries a number of leftover Woodgrains from their warehouse, I believe a lot - if not most - of the Woodgrains they used were either special run or post production run pieces manufactured specifically for them.

The best evidence for that is the existence of two Woodgrains that are found only on lamps: the Buffalo, and the Polled Hereford Bull. The PHB didn’t even make it into Breyer’s lineup until 1968 - a couple of years after even the Family Arabians were discontinued in that color!

The Buffalo and Polled Hereford Bull lamps are, of course, the rarest of the lamps: there aren’t more than a handful of either one floating about in the hobby. (The Polled Hereford Bull is high on my "desperately wanted" list!) The rest are slightly to somewhat more common, especially the Running Mare and Foal and the Family Arabian Foal - I’ve found a couple of each of those myself, and I don’t normally find a lot of Woodgrains in these parts.

The Running Mare and Foal Lamp appears to have been either the most popular or best-selling piece: it appears in a 1972 Miller-Stockman mail-order catalog (for sale at a pricey $37.95 - Ouch!) Since a small number of these Mare and Foal Lamps also have USA mold marks, that’s further evidence suggesting that these Lamp-based Woodgrains were SRs or PPRs. The USA mold mark did not appear on the Running Mare and Foal molds until at least 1970 - five years after they were officially discontinued in Woodgrain.

Dunning Industries wasn’t the only company that produced lamps using Breyer models, just the best known. I have other ads, and other mail-order catalogs that feature a wide assortment of lamps from the early 1960s through the early 1990s. Most of these other manufacturers, though, used common, off-the-shelf models. While they do certainly have some appeal - especially to fans of whatever mold they happen to feature - they don’t have quite the same mysterious, romantic cachet as the Ranchcraft Woodgrains.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Matte Clearcoat

Two of my first three models were (and still are!) Chalkies, so the topic has been one of both extreme interest and deep research. I’ve been collecting them and tracking them for years: it’s a far more complicated topic than most collectors realize. It’s further complicated by the fact that a lot of collectors don’t even know what a Chalky looks like. What many collectors advertise as chalkies are nothing of the sort. A lot of them are simply early, matte-finish models with clear topcoats.

The precise date of introduction of the matte finish is debatable: I tend to think the first true matte-finished models were actually the woodgrains, which were introduced sometime around 1959. As for the more horselike colors, I’m not so sure when that occurred - the documentation for that time period is, as I’ve mentioned before, rather thin and hard to date. By 1962 at the latest, I’d think.

What the woodgrains and the early matte finishes have in common is a clear topcoat: after the model was given its basic paint job, it was painted over with a clear, satiny finish, presumably to improve the durability of the paint job. The raw, unpainted plastic was simply not left exposed on a matte finish model. (On gloss finishes, it was hit or miss. Again, a little more complicated than you might imagine.)

This "clearcoat" has some distinguishing characteristics. One, it tends to puddle and drip, just like some glossy finishes do: you can see the dark or yellowish drip marks usually on the underside of the belly and other drip points such and the lower lip, tail tip and (ahem) boy parts. Here's a nice belly spot from a Family Arabian Mare:

A lot of these topcoated models also have "waffle marks" on the bottom of their hooves. Waffle marks look - well, like waffle indentations, and are presumably from the racks that the models were either painted or dried on. Those that don’t have waffle marks often have a rough or dirty footing, sometimes with bits of wood embedded, presumably from another type of rack or shelving.

(Yes, I know this particular model is actually glossy, but this is by far the best example of waffling I have, and the same racks were used anyway.)

Because there is no exposed, translucent white plastic on any part of these models, and they have a rough footing - the two most commonly quoted characteristics of a chalky model - those unfamiliar with a true chalky often confuse these matte-finished models for one.

The clearcoats were gradually phased out starting in the late 1960s; partly out of cost and possibly through improved painting techniques. It’s still used occasionally on alabaster or light gray paint jobs, for both added durability and a little extra added finish.

The clearcoat also came with a couple of liabilities. One, it tended to turn yellow. A lot of collectors don’t know this, but there are two different ways a model can yellow: either the plastic can turn yellow, or the finish can. And the finish that turns yellow is the clearcoat, not the colored undercoat. (Yellowed clearcoats respond better to bleaching techniques than yellowed plastic, though.)

Clear topcoats can also turn slightly opaque, or "milky": it’s usually seen in the nooks and crannies of a model where the clear topcoat could puddle. It’s most commonly seen on woodgrains, but no matte-finished model is immune (it’s less visible on alabasters and grays, of course.)

Aside from the yellowing and milkiness issues, the matte clearcoat finishes have generally held up better over time than the later unclearcoated ones. I've found that they're definitely easier to clean: most everyday dings and scuff marks don't get past the clearcoat. A little gentle cleaning, and a brief trip to a sunny window, and voila! As good as new.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Post Production Runs

I’ve covered this topic before in my Sampler, but I think it’s something worth covering here because - well, I think it’s interesting.

I’ve created the term "Post Production Runs" to cover cases of regular run models being put back into production after they were officially discontinued from the catalog. These models were more common in the 1960s, when Breyer was more accommodating to its customers and not as attentive about sending out updated price lists.

I came across this phenomenon when I purchased an unusual Breyer Bloodhound. There’s some controversy over the actual discontinuation date of this guy, but the records do seem to agree that he was gone before 1970, when most Breyer molds (but not all) received the USA mark. Theoretically, no Breyer Bloodhound should have the USA mark.

This one does.

I also have in my possession a mail order catalog from 1970 that features the Bloodhound. It’s not listed as a special or exclusive item - it’s just another one of many Breyer items listed for sale. I could have just chalked this up as a case of overstock being sold - except for the existence of my odd little fellow.

A Post-Production Run model would be, in most cases, indistinguishable from a regular run item; the only ways we could tell would be if there was (a) some documentation or (b) a change in the mold actually happened. Like this Bloodhound (possibly.)

As I hinted above, these probably happened more often in the 1960s, when Breyer wasn’t necessarily communicating with its customers on a timely basis. If a customer happened to order an item that just happened to be discontinued, I’m sure they just painted up the required batch per the order, provided they had the bodies available or the mold wasn’t already mothballed.

Most of the Ranchcraft lamp Woodgrains may fall into this category - although most of the Woodgrains used were regular run items, a lot of them appear to have been produced in the late 1960s, after the original discontinuation date. The most telling clue in the Ranchcraft case is the existence of Woodgrain Running Mare and Foal lamps with USA marks: in their original release, the Woodgrain Mare and Foal were discontinued at the end of 1965 - five years before the molds received the USA mark!

(Some of the Ranchcraft Woodgrains, though, are true special runs. And there’s some question as to whether all the lamps are classifiable as true special runs. I’ll get to that another time, though.)

There may have been a Wal-Mart post production run of the Matte Gray Appaloosa Family Arabians, too. It was a persistent rumor I heard in the 1980s, though I was never able to prove or disprove it. I did think it was interesting that the Matte Gray Appaloosa Family Arabians with USA marks seemed a little more common than they should have been. It leads me to think that some of the ones that were distributed through Bentley Sales might have been the cast offs of an aborted special run. (Don’t take it as gospel truth, though!)

In the 1970s, Breyer did bring back some discontinued items after a year or so, but I tend to classify them as regular runs, since they appear in the official catalogs. (The scuttlebutt I heard was that they had excess stock of these items in the warehouse, and putting them back in the catalog was a way of generating enough orders to move them out. I’m not sure if I believe the explanation, but that’s what I heard.)

I’ve called these items "Post production specials" before - a slightly different distinction that upon further reflection I’m not entirely comfortable with. Calling them "special runs" is not completely incorrect - they meet two of the three criteria I’ve set - but most of these items are intentionally indistinguishable from their regular run cohorts. I wouldn’t doubt that most serious collectors have at least one or two hidden in their collection, right now.

You’ll never know, of course, unless you can find that little difference that makes all the difference. Like in the case of my Bloodhound.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Numbers Game

I’ve been fixating on the numbers again. This time it’s mold numbers.

(To let you know where I’m coming from with this: I have always been easily bored, and obsessed with numbers. I spent a week in middle school memorizing the value of pi to the 22nd place. For fun.)

To clarify: mold numbers are different than model numbers. Model numbers are the numbers assigned to individual releases of a mold - special run or regular run - while a mold number is the number assigned to the mold itself.

You can occasionally find Reeves referring to mold numbers on their web site, in their promotional materials, or in intra-office documents. These numbers exist more for their internal organization purposes than anything else: instead of having to refer to each mold by a specific name, it’s assigned a basic numeric or alphanumeric designation. It’s not Adios, Best Tango, Clayton or whatever: it’s mold 50. Short, simple, and easy to type into a spreadsheet.

(Alphanumeric numbers - i.e. 3155MA, for the Nursing Thoroughbred Mare - are primarily used to refer to molds whose initial release came in family or group sets, regardless of their scale or series.)

There’s no consistent logic to the mold numbers. It could be the number the first regular run model number it was released as - such as 31 for the Fighting Stallion - or the earliest number in the series of release colors. For example, the mold number for our old friend the Quarter Horse Gelding is that of the Chestnut Appaloosa: 97.

The Gelding mold also brings up another interesting point: the mold numbers weren’t automatically assigned to all of the earlier molds as they were created, but at a later date. The Appaloosa Gelding wasn’t released until 1971, about a dozen years after the mold’s initial release as 99 Gloss Bay, ca. 1959. That number is assigned, instead, to the Appaloosa Performance Horse mold, who didn’t make his debut in 1974.

Some molds do seem to have been numbered early: the Boxer and the Lassie are mold numbers 1 and 2, respectively. You’d think that if any molds would have gotten those designations, it would have been the Western Horse and Pony, but nope. The Western Horse is 57, and the Western Pony is 45. They don’t jibe with the "earliest number in the series" rule, either. See the kind of "fun" I’m having with this?

Even the molds that have never officially had any individual regular run number assigned to them (beyond general assortment numbers) have mold numbers. The illustrative example here would be the G2 and G3 Stablemates: the mold numbers in those cases are just entirely made up. (They all appear to be in the 5600 range, BTW.)

Since these numbers are either completely random or fairly predictable, I doubt there’s much historical benefit to researching them, unless you’re trying to impress your friends or interpret Reeves intra-office documents. There might be a little bit of data to be gleaned from these numbers if you look hard (i.e. obsess over it) enough, though. If the Boxer was 1, and Lassie was 2, was Rin Tin Tin 3? (Lassie and Rinty appear to have both been released in 1956, hence my line of logic.) Was the assignment of these early mold numbers a factor in the numbering sequence of the early Family Arabian releases, or just a coincidence?

(See the kinds of things I obsess over? I know, I know, that’s why you’re here.)

There’s one possible practical application to this madness: I can foresee a use in creating numerical designations for early special runs that were not given official release numbers, using the mold number as a type of prefix or suffix. Other than that, though, it’s just another obscure bit of data to collect, track and obsess over.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Old Yeller

At a BreyerFest several years ago, I remember getting into a mildly heated argument with a hobbyist who insisted that her heavily yellowed Palomino Rearing Stallion was, in fact, a special run. Or a variation, at the very least - there was no doubt in her mind that this model was special. It was issued in yellow plastic, had always been that yellow, and how dare I even suggest that it could merely be yellowed!

(He was also sprayed with an aftermarket gloss finish that was not only uneven, but flaking off in places, too. And probably contributing to his yellowness. Pointing all of this out did not dissuade her opinion one bit. At that point I did what a normal person would: I walked away.)

That story came to mind while observing the kerfuffle last week about the heavily yellowed Old Timer on eBay. Of course it’s heavily, and quite obviously yellowed - the fact that it was yellowed to the point of looking like a chestnut did not change the fact that it was, and still is, an Alabaster.

It’s also another case where a little knowledge leads to a lot of trouble: in this case, it’s the existence of at least one genuine chestnut Old Timer. A picture of one was published in the July/August 1985 issue of Model Horse Gazette, in an article about test colors and special runs by Jill Rademacher (now Guitterez). Even though the pic is in black and white, it does seem to bear some similarity to the heavily yellowed fellow in the eBay auction:

At first glance, a black and white picture in a defunct, 24 year-old hobby magazine may seem like a rather obscure reference to cite. But it’s not: many hobbyists are packrats of the highest order, especially when it comes to old magazines, newsletters and other reference materials. (And woe to you being the one trying to buy that old ephemera from them: been there, done that.)

I’ve seen hobbyists use more obscure, and much less reliable sources to base their buying decisions on. So while the $75 final selling price was disappointing, it was not unexpected. It just takes two hobbyists to bid something up, and there were certainly more than two hobbyists watching that auction.

What complicated the argument over the Rearing Stallion is the fact that Breyer did - and still does - use colored plastic as a deliberate decorative technique. For a brief time in the 1970s, Breyer used unpainted light gray plastic as a base for some of its gray and black painted models, such as the Donkey, Elephant, and the Spanish Fighting Bull (and less successfully on a few non-gray, non-black models, too!)

As far as I can tell, yellow plastic was not one of those deliberate techniques. Not in the 1970s and 1980s, anyway.

What causes yellowing in Breyer horses is actually quite a complex subject - worthy of it’s own post, easily. To keep it short and simple for today, I’ll just state that it is not unusual for a model to yellow out evenly over its entire exposed surface. It’d be far more unusual, and suspicious, to have a model that was unevenly yellowed.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bay versus Chestnut

Since he’s been getting a little well-deserved attention in the spotlight, I thought I’d spend a little time discussing a favorite mold of mine: the Quarter Horse Gelding. I was originally going to classify today’s particular topic as an Urban Legend, but it’s really just a case of mistaken identity: the persistent confusion between the Chestnut and Bay Special Run Geldings.

Here is the 1987 Red Chestnut Quarter Horse Gelding Special Run:

Approximately 1400 pieces were made - a pretty big piece count for a 1980s special run. He didn’t exactly set the model horse world on fire: it’s not the most attractive color, and he’s never been a terribly popular mold. It shouldn’t be surprising that in spite of the fact that about half of them were probably customized and flocked by one of the dealers who received them (Eighmey’s Wagon Shop,) he’s still a relatively easy and inexpensive model to pick up.

This, on the other hand, is the 1984 Matte Bay Quarter Horse Gelding Special Run:

It is estimated that about 300 pieces were made of this particular guy, though I think that piece count may be low: it’s only an estimate from one of the dealers who received him. That particular dealer was also Eighmey’s Wagon Shop. Like the Red Chestnut SR, they altered and flocked most of the models they received - 250 of the 300, supposedly, leaving only about 50 pieces in their original state.

Rumor has it that Caauwe Sales in Nebraska also received some. But probably not a lot: the only Matte Bay I’ve even seen for sale in recent years was my example, and I found him in a body box lot on eBay. (Thus explaining his less than minty state.) In an era that saw a lot of small, poorly distributed special runs, he’s right up there with some of the rarest.

Because they were similar looking 1980s special runs of the same mold, distributed by mail order, both partially "destroyed" by the same distributor, they’re frequently confused with one another. Most of the information I find about them online and elsewhere mangles the data about the two pretty thoroughly.

The fact that few collectors have heard - or seen - an actual Matte Bay QH Gelding probably contributes to the confusion. I know when I first heard rumors of his existence, I wasn’t inclined to believe them. I never saw one for sale, and I didn’t know anyone who’d cop to owning one. I thought it was just another one of those phantom special runs that only existed on collector want lists.

The body color between the two is similar - the Chestnut is more reddish than the Bay - but as always, it’s the details that make the difference. The Chestnut has gray hooves, and a small star. The Matte Bay has black hooves, a black mane and tail, a large star and snip, and a dark shaded muzzle - not unlike the original Gloss Bay release. My Matte Bay has higher than average stockings too, but that might just be a natural variation, not a characteristic of the special as a whole.

(And unlike the Gloss version, the Matte Bay will always have the USA mold mark. That should go without saying, but with all of the subtle mold mark changes lately, one can never be too careful...)

A few more Matte Bay Quarter Horse Geldings will show up eventually, as more collectors learn to distinguish them from their more common chestnut comrades - not a lot, but a few. I suspect that more collectors will suddenly discover that their Bay rarity is actually a more pedestrian Chestnut.