Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Christmas Decorators: Part I

It’s that time of year, and the topic of Christmas Decorators is making the rounds again. Since I had a small part in contributing to this most famous of all Breyer Legends, it’s probably a good time for me to give you the full story, summarize all that I know, and give all of you my thoughts on the matter.

Several years ago - I cannot remember the exact date, or the name of the person in question - I was having an extended phone conversation with a hobbyist. Since I am telephone-phobic, picking up the phone to call a near-total stranger would cause me all manner of trauma. So all I can say for sure is that she probably called me about something on a sales list that had been published somewhere. (Once I’m on the phone, I’m okay: it’s the picking up and/or dialing that gives me the dry heaves.)

Since this was well before the Internet, we were all a little lonelier and desperate for model horse talk, and the conversation quickly drifted from whatever model or models we were discussing to other topics of a model horse nature. (This wasn’t the first, or last of those kind of calls, either. We’ve all had our share of them, haven’t we?)

I mentioned something about collecting Breyer reference material, and the hobbyist on the other end of the line mentioned how she ran across a stash of old mail-order catalogs at a garage sale. She had spent some time going through them, looking for Breyers. She said that she saw "Red and Green Smoke" Breyers in one, specifically mentioning the Running Mare.

It wasn’t anything I had seen or heard about before, so I pestered her for more details - the date, the store, anything - but she couldn’t remember any of that. I made a mental note about them, and that was that.

Our knowledge of Breyer History back then was very rudimentary, compared to today. You could ask Breyer, but then as now, they didn’t know much at all. Getting an answer from Marney Walerius was not always an easy or simple task, either. While she was certainly privy to information we can only dream of now, she was not the clearest of writers or thinkers. (Sometimes she’d ramble, and casually drop a detail or bit of information on us in passing that’d have us scratching our heads…)

I don’t recall ever mentioning or asking about Christmas Decorators to either Breyer or Marney; it probably never even occurred to me to ask. I don’t recall there being any discussion about Christmas-themed Decorators back then. If there had been any discussion about them in the newsletters of the time, I had completely missed it. That phone conversation was the first I heard of any Green or Red Breyers even existing; we may or may not have even called them "Christmas Decorators," though we probably made the assumption (Holiday mail-order catalogs + Decorators = Christmas Decorators!)

The facts that no one actually had one or knew much about them were not impediments to belief, though. There were a lot of models that only existed in rumor: they only stopped being a rumor once one showed up - and that happened a lot back then. There were models that existed on paper that didn’t seem to exist, and models that existed that we had no documentation for.

The safest bet was to assume that they were possibly, or even probably real, and hope you’d be the lucky one to be there when one finally shows up.

And for several years, that was pretty much the story.

I didn’t think much about those models until several years later, when I found Nancy Young’s account of Gale Good’s story in Breyer Molds & Models. I had not heard of Gale’s story before. All I could think was that, at last, there was more evidence!

Or was there? More on that, next.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Unicorn Obsessive Disorder

I don’t have a lot of Breyer Unicorns in my collection. They’re just not interesting to me, especially since they’ve turned into little more than big hairy gray horses with strapped-on horns.

A creature borne of the imagination shouldn’t be so boring!

I had a Unicorn phase back in High School. I made a nearly life sized one out of papier-mache in art class, doodled unicorns endlessly in my notebooks, and faithfully bought the first Breyer Unicorn - the #210 Running Stallion - when he came out in 1982, right at the height of my Unicorn Obsessive Disorder. I found him a little lacking in the fantasy department, but I was grateful to have one at all.

The Little Bit Unicorn a few years later was better: Hess at least made an attempt to make him more fantastic, and less horselike. He’s the only Breyer mold so far that was intentionally designed to be a Unicorn. Not only is the horn integral to the mold, but so are cloven hooves, a beard, heavy feathering, and an insanely curly mane and tail.

I had done the research (yes, even back then I was a total history nerd,) and knew there was not a lot of consistency from description to description: some were more goatlike, and others were clearly based on deer or antelope. They were usually white in the tapestries, but the books, bestiaries and manuscripts were not quite as settled on the matter.

At least Breyer seemed to be headed in the right direction: imaginary creatures don’t need to be bound by reality. The Little Bit Unicorn was very horselike, but not quite a horse. I would have preferred the tufted tail mentioned in the medieval mythology, and a mane that wasn’t quite that girly-curly, but I could go with it. A good beginning and all that, right?

Ah, foolish mortals!

Let’s see, what kind of colors have we had on the Little Bit Unicorn since then? Alabaster, alabaster, iridescent white with lavender shading, iridescent white with green shading: notice a theme here? Even the Carousel Unicorn - a creature you’d expect to sport a more fantastical color scheme - got saddled with another white paint job. With a light blue mane and tail, and a solid gold painted horn, but still …white.

(There are a few test color Little Bit Unicorns out there: Marney had a small batch of solid black ones for sale at a Model Horse Congress in 1985. I do remember that they were the last ones to go in the test color sale; we were limited to one test color per person, and most hobbyists snapped up the Traditionals first.)

We still haven’t gotten any new "dedicated" Unicorn molds, either: every one of them since then has just been another repurposed Traditional horse with a tacked-on horn and a white or iridescent white paint job. Sometimes we get lucky and they’ll throw us a curveball - ooh, look, some pastel shading! Here, let’s put a Decoratory mostly-white paint job on the Running Stallion Unicorn Stardust!

Snore. I know it’s a cost saving measure to repurpose the horse molds - and most little girls just assume that Unicorns have always been magical horses with horns anyway, much less check out medieval bestiaries from their local university libraries.

I know I’m not alone in my demand for slightly less conventional fantasy animals. You’d think with the enthusiastic response they received to the Raffle Dragon Horse Merlin that Reeves would be a little more open to making the fantastic look a little more, I dunno, fantastic.

Gussy them up with more Decoratory paint jobs: how about one with one of those ornate Oriental paint jobs, like Jade or Cai Lun? A lot of the new molds come with multiple mane and tail options: how about a tufted tail option, or with actual ribbons or flowers molded in? (And for heaven’s sake, at least bring back the whiskers. Is that too much to ask?)

Heck, I’d settle for the Little Bit Unicorn in the four standard Decorator colors. Who wouldn’t love a little Wedgewood Blue or Gold Charm Unicorn?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tour de Horse

The worst part of the back attack was not being able to go to the flea market. It wasn’t the potential goodies I probably lost, but the window shopping I really missed. Even if I don’t buy something - there’s actually quite a lot I pass up, for a variety of reasons - I still like to see it "in the wild."

It’s also interesting to observe other people in the market respond to them - what’s the market like when I take myself out of the picture? What I like and what other collectors like are two different things: stepping back helps me judge the general market a little bit better.

Yep, even when I’m shopping, I’m doing research.

Since I’ve regained some of my mobility over the past two days, I’ve gone on a window shopping bender, sort of a "Tour de Horse," to make up for that lost opportunity. Yesterday I had a work assignment that was a little bit out of my usual way, and gave me the chance to stop at a number of toy stores, Targets, and other places with Breyers in them.

The only horselike purchase I was going to allow myself was the one Target Pony Gal SM that I’m still missing: I didn’t find him. All I walked away with yesterday was some deeply discounted school supplies (hey, I WAS almost out of graph paper!) but boy, I was tempted.

I wasn’t so lucky today, but we’ll get there in a minute.

One of the stops was a Big Lots: yep, as reported elsewhere they did have some Wal-Mart leftovers: a couple of the Classic Mustang sets, and the SM Flicka set. The discount on them was surprisingly minimal, at least compared to the Breyer merchandise they clearanced out late last year. That’s where and when I finally managed to pick up those oddball, noncatalog Stablemates Accessory Kits that Target briefly carried. They had some of the SR and RR MiniWhinnies Sets last year, too, but I had already picked those up at regular retail.

I wonder if this means that Big Lots will be a regular clearance venue for Reeves in the future, just like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s? Interesting that most of the merchandise has been Big Box SRs, too. Hmm.

Some of our local Meijer stores have changed their toy departments around slightly, as I suspected: a slightly bigger selection of Breyers, but no store exclusive or store-first stuff (yet.) But they do carry Schleich now! Good to know.

Today I went to the local TSC, nominally to pick up some spray primer and sandpaper, but mostly to look at the toy selection. They finally had the Breyer stuff up: the Banner, the Bonanza Set, the Waiting For Santa Play Set, Nutcracker Prince, and some odd quasi-SR Stablemates Play Sets. (The horses are mostly re-issued RRs; it’s the combination of accessories with horses that make them SRs, sort of. That and their stock numbers. Another one of those documentation thingies.)

The Bonanza Set came home with me, though it’s still hanging out in the car until I can manage to sneak it into the house without anyone noticing. I almost bought the Waiting for Santa set. The price was decent - $29.99, only a couple bucks more than its premiere price on QVC, but I thought I was pushing it with the Bonanza set, so I left it behind for now.

The Duchess is very nice - she’s that beautiful Dark Bay/Mahogany color that I’ve been really loving lately (most recently seen as one of the Color Crazy Huck Bey releases.) It was the Cochise that sold me though. The Cochise in the JAH promo picture was on the Ginger, and she was the one piece in the set I was ambivalent about. I love black pintos, but for some reason I wasn’t loving her.

On the other hand, I came very close yesterday to buying a really sharp, semi-gloss Warmblood Stallion in the RR Bay-going-Gray, so the mold’s surprise appearance in the Bonanza set was a winner for me.

(I wouldn’t read anything into the Ginger mold’s replacement - maybe they just liked the Warmblood Stallion better.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Finite vs. Open-Ended Specials

I was home and (mostly) conscious for the QVC show on Thursday to see the "exclusive" Wild Blue and Little Prince Gift Sets. Like the Nutcracker Prince on the previous show, they’re "technical" exclusives. The exclusive part is that they came with hardcover versions of the books, rather than the paperbacks that will be included in the sets the rest of the world will be getting shortly.

Another one of those lovely documentation headaches.

I did like the Wild Blue: I love blue roans, and Duchess is probably my favorite mold in the Classic Black Beauty Family. I’ve always thought that she’d be incredibly fetching little thing, with just a touch of remodeling and the right paint job. Here’s my none-too-great photo of the pretty dapple gray Duchess from the 3347 Trakehner Family Set:

She’s coming out in a couple of new sets this fall that I might have to buy - the 1391 Cloud’s Legacy Set, and the 300311 Bonanza Four-Piece Set, which may or may not be a TSC exclusive. It probably is; it’s just that the page in the current issue of JAH that features them doesn’t make it entirely clear, which may be intentional, if it’s an open-ended special run, and not a finite one.

The defining characteristic of a finite special run is its limited quantity: a certain number is made and distributed, and that’s that. More may turn up later, but they’re almost always leftovers from the original run, which means it either didn’t sell out originally, or a batch of models that had been reserved for a specific event or clientele was not distributed.

Banner is a finite run, as is the Mid-States Red Rock. Connoisseurs, most BreyerFest items, and most JAH specials are finite. Finite specials are often numbered or certificated, but not always.

Open-ended special runs are made in quantities enough to fill orders - and can be reordered, within a certain time limit. Most Christmas items, store-specific items, and mail-order catalog items are open-ended, unless they’re specifically labeled otherwise. The initial batch may sell-out, but they can be reordered, for however long the catalog or program is considered current. For a mail-order catalog like J.C. Penney’s, that can be for up to a year. They may come with certificates, but aren’t usually numbered.

(There's definitely some overlap in the definitions; I'm not quite sure where the recent QVC exclusives would fall.)

That doesn’t necessarily mean that all open-ended special runs are more common than all finite special runs: it all depends on the popularity of molds and colors involved. Only 900 Red Bay Kelsos from the 1992 Sears Wish Book "Drawing with Sam Savitt" Gift Set were sold, and only 547 sets of 1997 State Line Tack Pinto Family (featuring the Classic Black Beauty, Ginger, and Arabian Foal) were distributed. Both were open-ended, as far as I know.

Generally open-ended SRs do sell more; the only time we notice this is after the fact, when some of the more entrepreneurial among us try to sell off our extras, and discover that, oops, so is everyone else.

This is what happened with the TSC Duke from a couple years ago: he was open-ended SR. The initial batch sold well, just like most other TSC Specials, so the stores ordered more - and got more. Unfortunately, they overestimated the demand, and once the season was over, they were stuck with a lot of leftovers. He wasn’t less popular than other TSC Specials - it could be argued that he probably more popular, based on the sheer number that were produced - they just miscalculated and made just a little too many just a little too late in the season.

The two different TSCs I’ve visited in the past week haven’t set out their Holiday Gift stock yet, so I haven’t had to the chance to inspect a set personally to see if they are numbered or not. It doesn’t matter to me (except in a documentary sense) because if I do purchase one, it’ll strictly be because it’s a darn attractive set, and I want it!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Personal Stuff: Ouch!

Long story, made short: I have a bad back that periodically flares up on me, and it came back with a vengeance on Wednesday. It was a combination of me being on my feet for 16 hours the previous day, and an overenthusiastic attempt to kickstart my research that triggered this latest attack.

Yes, I hurt myself while researching. (Those darn Dapples! Knew they’d be nothing but trouble.)

Let me tell you, it’s awfully hard to get much of anything done when you’re bent at a 45 degree angle and unable to sit or stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. The only way I managed to make it to work was with the help of the heated seats in my car (All hail the inventor of heated seats!) and some of my brother’s leftover painkillers from his hernia surgery earlier this year.

I hated to take them, but I had no option. It’s easy to see how so many professional athletes and performers can get hooked on those things. When the pain’s so bad that you nearly pass out, and your throat is sore from the crying, feeling a little out of it becomes an infinitely preferable option.

I’m slightly more functional today. As in, I can walk around the house without gulping down codeine tablets and doing my best impression of an arthritic, 90 year old ex-football player. I did manage to get a little bit of writing done in my more lucid moments, so the regular blog posts and e-mail communications should be back starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When Breyer met ERTL

My Tonka post reminded me of another strange Breyer toy truck connection – not with Corgi, but with ERTL.

While I do modestly well horsewise at my local flea markets, I haven't found much model horse ephemera there. I've found a few things – some old JAHs, a stack of vintage Western Horseman magazines from when Breyer was heavily advertising there, a few vintage Christmas catalogs. I did find an old Hartland flier in a NIB Hartland Polo Pony once (I almost fainted when it fell out of the box!)

It's not just the esoteric nature of the materials that is the issue, but the market too: the ephemera collectors around here are a little more dedicated than most. Whenever I see an old guy in a flannel shirt hunched over a cardboard box, that usually means someone's brought a box of fresh old paper. (Or toy trains.)

By the time I get my turn, it's already been picked through quite thoroughly, but not always.

I got lucky one day, and found a 1983 ERTL Dealer's Catalog. I couldn't pass it up: not only did it feature some of ERTL's early attempts to break into the model horse market, it also featured a number of Breyer knockoffs scattered randomly throughout. Here's a detail of the accessories that came with “The Alamo Quarter Horse Farm Set”: mini FASes!

Knockoffs of the Breyer Cow and Calf are also very prominent – in fact, they seem to be a decorative element on just about every other page in the catalog. Here they are, inexplicably chillin' next to the Wrangler Helicopter Set:

(The catalog text helpfully notes “Accessories not included.” )

But the biggest surprise was found in the “Farm Animals – Plastic” section. A full page is dedicated to their new “Deluxe Animal Assortment.” One of these things is not like the other:

Why on Earth is the Polled Hereford Bull there?

The catalog text notes that a Hereford Bull is included in the assortment. The PHB itself was obviously NOT going to be included: the standard box size is listed as 4 7/8” long, 1 1/2” wide, 3 1/8” high, far too small to contain the PHB's massive bulk. Was he just meant as a stand-in for their own Hereford Bull? Was their own Hereford Bull not ready yet? Or was it a mix up at the printing plant, or by the photographer?

Breyer was still in Chicago at that point, and ERTL was in Iowa, so the mix up theory is a little more plausible than you might think. The style of photography is very similar, so it wouldn't surprise me if the same photographer or studio was involved.

Another thing that strikes me is how much nicer the contemporary Breyer Dealer Catalogs were, from a design standpoint. I don't have the motivation – or the time – to go through my argument on a point by point basis. The Breyer Catalogs are just slicker, cleaner, and more “professional” looking than ERTL's. That's probably just a function of Breyer being in Chicago, rather than Iowa, and thus having a deeper talent pool to draw on. It's not something I've given a lot of thought to, but I probably should. There might be some fruitful research there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tonka vs. Breyer

Sorry about that: my multitasking habit got the best of me again. When am I going to learn that it's really not a good idea to work on four bed-sized quilts simultaneously? (Each is at that stage where either I'm going to finish it, or it will finish me.)

I've been in this crafting frenzy, in part, because I want a relatively “clean slate” before I start any other long-term projects. (Also, it was a New Year's Resolution thing: some of these projects have been hiding in my craft closet for years, if not decades! I want them DONE!) One of them will be that Breyer-themed quilt I've often dreamed about: I found my woodgrain-patterned fabric in my stash a couple of weeks back and it's giving me … ideas.

One of the others, of course, is my long-term Breyer research.

I never really stop doing research: I'm always taking notes, acquiring reference materials and tracking down leads whenever and wherever they've turned up. It just hasn't been my primary focus over the past year or so. I have a number of half-written, partially researched blog posts sitting on my hard drive, too, that'll just have to wait until these last four quilted beasties are finally out of my hair. Which should be soon.

Most of my recent research has been of the fortuitous kind: a good example is a book I happened to run across at a Tuesday Morning earlier this year, in the midst of a “I deserve a pony” shopping excursion. I didn't find any horses that suited my needs, but I did find a surprisingly useful book.

It's Tonka, by Dennis David and Lloyd Laumann, published in 2004 by MBI Publishing Company. It's an attractive, well-produced coffee table affair about the history of the Tonka Toy Company: a little light on text, but with lots of pretty pictures, archival materials, and intriguing historical tidbits. I've always had an interest in the history of the toy industry in general – not just Breyer – and the price was right.

On the surface, both Tonka and Breyer have a lot of similarities: they were both post-war, Midwestern American manufacturers of iconic toy brands. They were contemporaries dealing with the same industrial, regional, and economic issues. Even thought their markets were a little different – Tonka is a little more boy-oriented, and Breyer is a little more girl-oriented – I thought the book might provide some good deep background research.

And it has, to a degree. As I said, the text is a little on the light side, and most of that is based on the recollections of a former Tonka executive, which definitely colors the narrative. (Everything was wonderful! Everything was great!)

The best parts were the brief interviews with former Tonka employees, who provide the most useful bits of information. One former lower-level executive, Lowell Fritzke, in discussing Tonka's efforts to move production out of the country, states:
“We were the first company in Mexico to do plastic injection molding, and the power would go out two or three times per day, which wreaked havoc with the plastic because it would harden up inside the machine”
Their factory began construction in 1981, and full production didn't begin until 1983.

Notice something odd about those dates? They don't exactly jibe with the history that the more avid Breyer enthusiasts among us know: Breyer had already made an attempt to shift their injection-molding operations to Mexico in the late 1970s. At least three molds were going to be shipped to Mexico, but only one – the El Pastor – was put into production, and those models were abandoned in Mexico due to a labor dispute.

(The others were the Stablemates Quarter Horse Mare, who for some time afterwards sported the infamous MEXICO mold mark, and the Donkey, who apparently suffered some long-term damage from the misadventure.)

I'm guessing that Fritzke's statement was just poorly-worded: perhaps he meant that they were the first American company to build a dedicated injection-molding plant in Mexico. Or maybe he was speaking of an earlier attempt or experiment that preceded their decision to move. Or maybe he just didn't know of any other company's attempts.

His comment about the infrastructure problems may also hint at the reason behind the SM QH Mare's molding issues, and the Donkey's rumored mold damage: did they suffer this damage in Mexico as a result of these problems?

Interesting how a book about toy trucks could provide such tantalizing clues about obscure bits of Breyer history, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Banner Headline

Doesn’t this year’s Tractor Supply Special Banner ship soon? I was just thinking about him today, as I was perusing my local Meijer store’s Breyer selection. (Nothing new or interesting yet, but they are doing some store resets, so I’m keeping my eye on them.) Here’s an interesting promo pic of him, from a TSC coupon they were handing out in the Pit this year:

I did get a good look at the Banners for sale in the Pit: a rich, chocolatey bay that looked good enough to eat. I almost put one in my pile, but then I passed him along to someone else. I have several Tractor Supply stores within a modest driving distance (and one nearly in WALKING distance!) so there’s no real availability issue for me as there is with other hobbyists. If I were to suddenly be overcome with the sudden need for him, I could probably swing it.

The only thing that made me hesitate in the Pit was the fact that these Banners were low-numbered pieces, like the Puukus in the Pit last year. I don’t go out of my way to obtain low serial-numbered pieces, but I’ve happened to have the good fortune of finding several in my shopping excursions, and I wouldn’t mind keeping up the practice. (My store-bought TSC Cochise from last year was #21. Neat!)

There’s no real added "value" to having a low serial-numbered piece, other than the cachet of it being a low number. Unlike fine art pieces, where molds and plates can deteriorate quickly, there is little if any loss of detail in a 3700 piece Breyer run. The models themselves are not kept in any particular order until they’re actually finished. Number 2,673 could be as nice, or even better, than number 3, depending on who finished it, and when.

I hope these serially-numbered specials do continue to get their low numbered pre-releases in the Pit. It would actually make those low serial numbers really matter, because we’d be able to distinguish them as pre-release models. Those hobbyists who want to handpick a show horse will still be able to do so on their own time in their own local retailer, but those of us who get up before humanly necessary to brave the Pit might get something that’s just a shade more special.

I’m not sure if I’ll be getting Banner; it’s not a matter of money, but space. As in, I’m really quite short of it. The second half of the flea market season has been unseasonably good - where was all this stuff when I needed to restock for BreyerFest this year? - and things are getting a little bit crowded here. All I’ve been able to swing are those Pony Gals Stablemates - 8 down, 4 to go - and even those are a tight fit. Time to list more stuff on MH$P…

Monday, September 7, 2009

Not Just About Horses

Normally I'm not given to obsessing over particular test colors, because the odds of me owning any one of them are pretty close to zero. Oh, there are a few on my list – the seal bay Peruvian with speckled stockings (in a BreyerFest auction, a few years back), the Dapple Gray Traditional Man o' War, Marney's Transparent Belgian – but I've tried to keep the list short, because there really are better things to daydream about.

But I think I'm in love with the Walking Black Angus Bull from last Thursday. The one in blue roan. He's going on the list.

It's been a really, really long time since we've even seen the Walking Black Angus Bull in production: 1977, to be precise. There's a possibility that he was rereleased in the 1980s, but I'm not sure if these models were part of an actual production run or simply factory leftovers. (I'll discuss that more fully whenever I finally get around to the Breyer Weathervanes.) It's been a long time, either way, and I'm glad that Reeves may be considering his return.

I know most collectors focus on just the horses – sometimes even to the exclusion of the accessories the horse may come with – but back in the 1950s, Breyer apparently had a broader vision of their line. They weren't "just about horses" back then: by 1953, they adopted the name "Breyer Animal Creations" for their toy line, and in a 1954 Directory of Toy Manufacturers published by Playthings Magazine, they list its main products as “Plastic horses and dogs.” (The 1953 listing only mentions “Money manager banks,” an odd discrepancy.)

As late as 1958, the non-horse molds outnumbered the horses: there were seven different horse molds listed, but eight non-horse! On the horse side, we had the Arabian Mare, Arabian Foal, Western Horse, Western Pony, Fury-Prancer, Racehorse, and Clydesdale. On the non-horse side, there was the Brahma Bull, Walking Horned Hereford, Boxer, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Poodle, Elephant, and Donkey. There's more if you'd consider the Rigid Riders, but classifying them as non-horse molds is just weird. I don't count the Small Poodle, since it was not officially released back then.

You might notice that the Walking Black Angus was not on the list. We're not 100% sure of the Walking Black Angus's release date; he's another one of those models that was released somewhere in that undocumented gap between 1958 and 1963. The 1960 you see is just an educated guess.

Horses didn't start to dominate until the early 1960s, but even then, Breyer was still releasing a fair number of new non-horse molds: Bear, Bear Cub, Deer Family, Bassett Hound, Kitten, Elk, Buffalo, Moose, and the Standing Polled Hereford Bull were all introduced in the 1960s. The 1970s saw a significant number of new non-horse molds, too: Cow, Calf, Spanish Fighting Bull, Pronghorn, Bighorn Ram, St. Bernard, Jasper, Brighty, Rocky Mountain Goat, Charolais Bull, Benji, Tiffany and the Standing Black Angus Bull.

So throughout much of Breyer's early history, the non-horse molds made up a significant percentage of their mold base. Far higher than they do today, even if the Companion Animals are factored in. (I haven't done the exact calculations, sorry!)

The only problem with the non-horse molds is that for many of them, there's a rather limited number of colors to choose from. And most of those are brown. What they lack in versatility they tend to make up with longevity. An excellent example is the #74 Standing Polled Hereford Bull: he had an insanely long production run, from 1968 through 2004 - that's 36 years! They're not huge sellers, but they're steady ones, often purchased by noncollectors as home accents.

I know there has been some grumbling about “The Widow Maker's” non-equine nature, but I think it's high time that one of the many non-horse molds that helped build Breyer is finally being honored with a Connoisseur release.

Friday, September 4, 2009


My Valiant finally arrived! (After a millennium-long wait. That's what I get for paying with a check!) I don't see anything significantly wrong with him – I've had pretty decent luck with my Connoisseurs so far – but the slightly scaly look to his dapples was a little off-putting at first.

Then I got over it.

I was going with a superhero/comic book character naming theme for my Idocuses, and his shimmery scales actually inspired my choice: I'm calling him Namor (aka The Prince of Atlantis, The Sub-Mariner, etc.) I like how he even seems to have that slightly skeptical of surface-dwellers look in his eye.

My Buttercream Idocus is named Lemon, which was the anagramic pseudonym for the character of Mon-el, from an early Silver Age Legion of Super-heroes story. (How's that for obscure?) The name for my Bay Idocus in my future remains unnamed; it will have to wait until I actually purchase him.

(Apropos of nothing, there was also short-lived comic book company called Valiant. One of the founders of the company? Jim Shooter, who began his career in comics by scripting stories for … wait for it … the Legion of Super-heroes! Also interesting: one of Valiant's titles was XO Manowar. It had nothing to do with horse racing. Prince Valiant has horses in it, though. But back to the story.)

Buttercream was another victim of “bad photography:” he looked so much better in person than his photographs let on. A high piece count, combined with a slightly higher than average price, a very diverse group of line specials, and budget-minded shoppers all conspired against him.

Maybe they'll end up glossing a batch up and dumping them somewhere, like the Tent, Grab Bags or on Shopatron. The Gloss Bay Show Prize Idocuses are stunning, and I think Glossy Buttercreams would be likewise. Actually, with the current craze for glosses, it might make good economic sense for Reeves to gloss up all their unsold matte-finished SR leftovers. It might go a ways towards solving the issue of what to do with some of those contentious “exclusives,” even if it is veering awfully close to Peter Stone variation territory.

(Glossy Burbanks? The mind reels!)

Actually, I kind of thought that that was what they were going to do with Buttercream in the first place – the price and the piece count suggested to me that they might have something else cooked up for him. Nope, just a little poor planning and bad photography on Reeves's part, nothing new.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I finally found that photo I was looking for. Behold, one of the strangest Breyer knock-offs you'll ever see: a Bucking Bronco mechanical bank!

It's from a 2005 mail-order catalog from Betty's Attic. I love how they didn't even bother to change his name! I was quite tempted to buy this little marvel of modern engineering, as I've always been a big fan of the Bucking Bronco mold, but I managed to resist the urge. If I ever should come across one at a flea market for a not-indecent price, however, I won't hesitate.

I do have a few knock-offs in my collection – they've been something I've kept a small interest in for a number of years now, though I only have a handful of them in the herd due to space issues. My most recent acquisition was this remarkably faithful adaptation of the Elephant:

He's from a company known colloquially in the hobby as “Diamond P.” On their inside hind legs, where the Breyer copyright horseshow would normally be, there's a small, four-pointed diamond shape with a capital letter “P” in it, along with a three digit number and the phrase “Made in Hong Kong.” Here's a shot from the inside hind leg of a Running Mare copy to illustrate:

The actual name of the manufacturer, or the “brand” name the Diamond P models were marketed under is unknown to me: it's another one of those numerous topics I haven't followed up on yet. The extent of my research so far has been to keep a small list of known models and a photo reference file, mostly of pieces that have passed through my hands on their way to someone else.

(FYI: I'm keeping the Elephant.)

Some Diamond P models, like the Elephant, are really good copies; their copy of the standing Donkey is also very good, as well as their version of the Rearing Hartland Mustang. Others, such as the Running Mare in my possession, are just a little off in size, color, and the overall details:

From the selection of models found so far, I'm presuming this particular brand was in its heyday in the late 1960s to early 1970s. There have been other knock-off manufacturers both before and since, some quite notorious. (“Antique” Chinese Big Ben Bronzes, anyone?)

The irony is that Breyer itself started as a company that produced knock-offs - slightly classier and better quality, but still knock-offs. Most of their molds from the 1950s were direct, or near direct copies from other sources:

Western Horse and Pony (Hartland, among others)
Boxer (Boehm)
Poodle (Rosenthal)
Old Mold Stallion, Mare and Foal (Hagen-Renaker)
Racehorse (Grand Wood Carving)
Brahma Bull (Boehm)
Walking Polled Hereford Bull (Boehm)

Most, but not all: the Lassie mold is definitely an original Breyer design, and the Small Poodle, the Rin Tin Tin, Fury, and the Rigid Riders were probably originals. (We have a dated letter and sketch for the Lassie, but nothing for any of the others, yet. Those darn fragmentary records from the 1950s!)

After the Hagen-Renaker lawsuit, Breyer did cool it a bit with the direct knock-offs, for the most part (the jury is still out on the Bassett Hound, and the Adios's story is … complicated.) And those that were knocked-off were modified just enough to keep the lawyers at bay.

All that could change with further research, naturally.