Friday, October 30, 2009

Breyer and the Fidelity Swap

In case you haven’t caught the clues, I haven’t exactly been on board with these BreyerFest-by-invitation only events. I haven’t even entered for any of them - the original in 2002, the VRE, or the LSE. I can only afford one big even a year, and I have to go with the one that gives me the biggest all-around payoff, emotionally and financially. And that’s BreyerFest.

I have been trying my best to avoid the LSE discussions; I have better things to do than moon over models I'll never hope to own. Unlike the very vocal minorities trolling the boards, I actually like most of the specials that have been announced. Chestnut is very flattering on the Roxy mold, the Halloween Horse is very clever, and I try not to think about the Smart Chic Olena too much, because I had been hoping that a(n affordable) leopard appaloosa release would be in his future someday.

I like the Peruvian, too, but he is a bit too close to the Cobrizo and the possible future Collector’s Choice Roan, but that could just be Reeves’s photography getting in the way again. The possibility of him being even more awesome in person is also something I’d rather not contemplate.

What I’m finding yucky is the sight of hobbyists falling over each other to step to the mike and proudly, defiantly proclaim how much they dislike all of the releases so far. Just a few years ago, most hobbyists would have been rolling around on the floor in paroxysms of joy over a model like Mudflap. Now they can barely contain their glee over their disdain.

Some of it is just a self-defense mechanism: better to rationalize a reason not to want something, than mope about it being unaffordable or inaccessible. (You know, it’s perfectly okay to mope every once and a while, too. Being happy all the time isn’t any better than being a perpetual mopey-dope.)

But I think an interesting new theory called the "Fidelity Swap" might explain what’s going on here.

As theorized by business writer Kevin Maney in the recently published Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t, businesses have to decide if their product or service will focus on Fidelity or Convenience. Fidelity is about quality, exclusivity, snob appeal, and bragging rights. Convenience is about affordability, availability, and ease. The tension between these two competing idea is the "Fidelity Swap."

The most successful products and services are either high in Fidelity or high in Convenience, but not both. Companies that try to achieve both are less likely to succeed: it confuses and frustrates the consumer. Consumers who prefer Convenience will be disappointed when the company produces products they find unaffordable and/or unavailable, and the consumers who prefer Fidelity will be disappointed by the lack of exclusivity or higher quality.

Sound familiar?

It’s pretty obvious I’m in the Convenience camp: of course I want my horses to be of better-than-average quality, and I am not immune to the snob appeal a rarer or prettier-than-average model brings to the herd. But I am very frustrated when models become so limited in distribution, or so expensive in price, that any hope of achieving those models approaches zero.

And there’s been a lot of those kinds of models lately. A lot.

Part of the appeal of the hobby to me was in its affordability: I could have the ginormous herd of my dreams with minimal expense, little acreage, and no vet bills. (My teenage fantasy ranch, by the way, was located in Wyoming. I’m not sure why: it just was. Oh, the elaborate facilities I drew up!) So when I see people forking over enormous sums of money for these models - and complaining that a 100 piece SR isn’t exclusive enough for them - well, it runs counter to what my notions of the hobby are.

There really aren't that many hobbyists out there that can afford the high fidelity models, and that's part of the problem: having a special class of folks who end up with the majority of the rarities is a recipe for resentment.

The second thing that might happen - that is actually happening with the Connoisseur models at this point - is model fatigue, or boredom. Connoisseurs aren't perceived as being rare or exclusive enough anymore. Any SR that breaks three digits isn't rare or exclusive enough anymore.

Honestly, I can’t see anything that would make them happy, short of giving them all test colors and made-to-order factory customs. And here I thought we had at least all agreed to make fun of the Peter Stone business model, not admire it, right?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Even More Adios

Frappe’s quick sellout was a bit of a surprise. I don’t mind being wrong in this case, if only to take pleasure in seeing some of the other know-it-alls being silenced as well. (A little schadenfreude every once and a while ain’t a bad thing.)

In my case, though, my reservations weren’t with the model, but the circumstances: the economy, the holidays, the rare-model-grabfest coming up at the end of the week, and the overall grumpiness of the hobby-at-large kinda had me feeling that it might take a little longer than a mere 24 hours.

(And now Reeves is throwing grab bags into the mix this week, too. So tempting…must resist!)

At first I thought maybe everyone had a same reaction to the color that I did, but now I’m thinking that an awful high percentage of buyers bought duplicates.

I understand this on one level: everyone wants to make a little extra cash any way they can nowadays.

On the flip side, speculating is just plain bad for the market. It’s not just the money issue (with a few winners, a lot of losers) but there’s also a perception issue: it distorts the perceived value of a model in the marketplace, and that can have a more lasting, and more damaging, effect on the market.

When the value of a model changes, it’s rarely because of a physical change in the number of models in the market. (That does happen, but not as often as you might think nor in the quantities generally imagined.) What changes is the perception: if it is perceived as rare, popular, or hard to get, more hobbyists will want it. If it’s perceived as less rare, less popular, and easier to get, less will.

The actual quantity is almost irrelevant: things change when you hit the sub-200 piece threshold, but I’ll talk a little bit more about that in my LSE discussion later this week. I’m not into a mood to go into a deep philosophical discussion about the nature of model horse market today anyway.

I do want to discuss something I did find at the flea market this past Sunday, that I briefly mentioned in the comments of the last post: a biography of Edward Marshall Boehm.

No joke. I seriously thought I was being punked at first. (The book in question is Edward Marshall Boehm: 1913 - 1969, by Frank J. Cosentino, published in 1970 by The Lakeside Press.) I picked it up, flipped through it, found the pics of Adios, and then started looking for cameras or familiar faces in the crowd to jump out at me and yell "Psych!" Nope, just my crazy flea market mojo at work again.

Here’s one of those pictures: the Boehms presenting the first Adios to the Millers on October 14, 1968 (sorry about the moire pattern - the scanner is being temperamental):

I will take the hint that the universe is giving me and finally cover the Boehm Adios issue.

Simply stated: there really isn’t one. I think Nancy Young rather conclusively proved that the Breyer Adios and the Boehm Adios were sculpted concurrently; and their similarities are mostly a result of the source materials both Boehm and Hess relied on. (Hess adapted the small bronze trophy Adios based on the original, life-sized sculpture by James Slick; Boehm probably used the same photographic references Slick used to create the original bronze.)

But here we go with the perception thing again: until Nancy did her research, the belief was that Breyer copied the Boehm. The fact that a large number of early releases were copies from other manufacturers - most notably Boehm - reinforced the notion. The notion has been dispelled largely through Nancy’s thorough research, but it still crops up from time to time (whenever someone runs across a Boehm Adios, basically.)

But the idea also tends to get a boost from the "Breyer can do nothing right" crowd. You know these folks - they’re usually the first folks to post their opinion of anything Breyer, and it’s always negative. There’s not actually a lot of them out there, but they’re persistent and omnipresent, and the sheer volume of their comments masks the fact that it’s actually a rather small pool of crankypusses repeating the same complaints over and over and over again.

(There's the perception issue, again!)

Canon among this crowd is that if Breyer did something right, well, they had nothing to do with it in the first place. They got lucky, it was an accident, other collectors have unsophisticated artistic tastes, etc.

So naturally, the assumption of the "Debbie Downer" crowd is that any success the Adios mold has had in the model horse marketplace is almost entirely because it’s a copy of something else. Something superior.

In a sense that’s true: the Breyer Adios is a copy of the Trophy-scale Adios, which in turn is an adaptation of a much larger work. But it wasn’t the Boehm. They just happen to look similar because they both ultimately came from the same source material.

Just because it’s more limited, and done in a more expensive medium doesn’t change that fact. I certainly wouldn’t reject a Boehm Adios out of hand if one were to show up at the flea market, but if I had to choose between it and a beautiful, minty Presentation Adios, I’m nabbing the Presentation Adios, hands down. Not just for sentimental reasons, but because I also think it’s a better sculpture.

More on the Boehm book later in the week. Aside from the LSE commentary, I have another flea market find to discuss. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Words of advice: don't ever do a Double Wedding Ring Quilt. They will eat your brain, all of your spare time, and your fingertips.

There’s a long and interesting story behind it, but I’ll save it for when I finally get around to my Breyer History Quilt project.

I’ve been trying to work on a post about the LSE, but everything I write turns into a cranky rant, and you guys deserve better than my best Harlan Ellison imitation. There’s been WAY too much crankiness in the model horse world lately anyway, and there's no need to throw more into that toxic soup. It’ll just have to simmer on the back burner for another day or two and try to cook some of the unpleasant flavors out of it.

(Can you tell the weather turned wet and drizzly this week? I need a bowl of Corn Chowder, STAT!)

Dang, the color on that Web Special Frappe is sweet. I kinda hope he sells out before I inevitably change my mind and hit the BUY button. (Not sure that’ll even happen, but I’ll cover that in the LSE post.) I’ve pretty much put a moratorium on buying any horses through the end of the year: I could swing it financially, but I really, truly do not have the space for it.

(Unless someone wants to trade my extra Del Mar for one. Same price point, comparable run. No bag, two very faint lines under the gloss in the blaze. Real nice shading. Think about it.)

I like Adios; I can’t recall how many I have, but it’s definitely more than a couple. Let’s see, I have an original bay Adios with a Blue Ribbon Sticker, a beautiful Mesa, Hollywood Gold, that strangely appealing 1990 Black Roan, the highly underrated Like A Diamond … no Yellow Mount, yet, but that’s because I’m being inexplicably picky. I’ve had a lot of Yellow Mounts, but none of them have been the right Yellow Mount, y’know? I have the same problem with the Palomino Western Prancing Horse.

I will never own the original Palomino, and the Buckskin? You don’t want to know my history with the Buckskin Adios. It will lead to crankiness. And the possible throwing of sharp, pointy things.

Outside of his original release, most of his releases have been of the stock horse variety, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t look too particularly "stock horsy." He looks like what he was originally meant to be: a mature Standardbred stud. (As for who came first - the Breyer, or the Boehm - I’ll be deferring that topic, yet again, for another time.)

The mold manages to carry off just about any color really well, though, so I don’t have a problem with any of the more exotic colors they put on him. (Who doesn’t love that gorgeous Brandywine?) And that dappled dilute dun? Holy milkshakes, Batman! I think I have a new favorite color for my Collector’s Choice submissions.

In case you were wondering: why yes, I do have a picture of the real Adios in his salad (or would that be alfalfa?) days: here he is as a 2 year old, in an uncredited photo from the cover of the June 16, 1943 issue of The Harness Horse:

Yet another gift to my archive from the local flea market.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Early Eyewhites

Prior to the mid-1990s, eye detailing was a relatively uncomplicated topic. You had earlier, overpainted two-stroke eyewhites, the slightly later underpainted "masked" eyewhites, and a few examples (usually among the non-animals) of eyeliner eyewhites, which were really just a variation of the two-stroke eyewhites. That were sometimes pink.

Overpainted eyewhites consist of two near-translucent paintstrokes over the back corner of the eye, painted over the black dot eye. As seen on this Bay Running Mare:

Underpainted eyewhites are done by painting the entire back half of the eyeball white, and painting the black dot eye over it. It gives a sharper, more masked look. As seen on this Pacer:

There were some notable exceptions - many of the Dogs, including the Boxer, Poodles, Bloodhound/Bassett Hound and the St. Bernard - had unique and detailed eye treatments. Some of the Dall Sheep and Mountain Goats had a type of brown bi-eye. And the earliest versions of the Fighting Stallion had a little extra airbrushed pinking around the eye (most of which have faded and disappeared over time.)

Nowadays it’s a rare model that doesn’t have some sort of fancy eye detailing - even Stablemates aren’t immune, though mercifully Reeves is backing off on them a little bit (presumably for cost, but also probably because of the freakish scale issues.)

The standard eye treatment, from the mid-1960s until quite recently, was the simple black dot eye, usually glossed. Some of the smaller scale models would have the entire surface of the eye painted black, but most Traditionals got a round or oval shaped dot that left part of the eyeball unpainted, giving the impression of eyewhites. I call these "unpainted" or false eyewhites. They’re most obvious on lighter-colored models, such as this Running Stallion:

Overspray on these types of eyes is common, often giving the appearance of gray or black eyeliner. It may or may not have been intentional.

Setting aside the Dog molds, the earliest known painted eyewhites didn’t appear until ca. 1959. It’s important to note that Breyer was not consistent with the application of eyewhites in its earliest days; some models got them, some didn’t, and there was little rhyme or reason why. Some early models are pretty rare to find with painted eyewhites, like the Buckskin Quarter Horse Gelding and Buckskin Mustang, while others are relatively common, such as the Gloss Charcoal Fighting Stallion. Early glosses are a little more likely to be found with eyewhites than early mattes, but there are exceptions to that rule, too (i.e. the Stretch Morgan!)

Some colors were less likely to have painted eyewhites, too. Virtually all white and Alabaster molds that I’ve seen have had the unpainted variety, and painted eyewhites tend to be rather rare on the whole spectrum of gray-based paint jobs (except the Smoke Belgian. Go figure.)

I haven’t done any elaborate charting of eyewhites to determine timing or rarity; there might have been an eyewhite gap between the earlier overpainted eyewhites and the later underpainted ones, but I haven’t been able to verify or deny it because of the consistency issue.

Painted eyewhites of all types - again, excluding the non-horse exceptions - seem to have been discontinued by 1968; the Traditional Man o’ War and Pacer, both of whom debuted in 1967, were the last regular run horses issued with factory eyewhites until the 1990s.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Few Words about Counterfeit Glosses

I already had fake Glosses on my list of future blog posts, but since it’s a topic that’s been making the rounds again, I guess it’s as good a time as any to get to it.

True Breyer Gloss Finishes are extremely variable. Some are thin, some are thick, some are smooth, and others are uneven. Drips are uncommon, but not unknown, especially with earlier models. While most glosses are applied over the painted surface, sometimes the paint or the surface of the plastic itself gives the model its glossy appearance.

In other words, it’s very difficult to make blanket assumptions about Breyer Gloss Finishes, and to determine if a rare or obscure piece is authentic. There’s no standardized checklists to follow, and no esoteric formulas in which to enter objectively obtained data and come up with a nice, neat answer. Authentication is a little bit art, a little bit research, and a little bit intuition.

Unfortunately, with the overheated market for Glosses right now, far too many hobbyists are giving in to temptation and "invest" glosses of a dubious nature. Because of the variable nature and quality of Breyer’s Gloss finishes, it’s very easy for hobbyists to rationalize their concerns away.

The majority of the inquiries I get regarding authentication involve rare or very lightly documented Glosses. Because there are so many variables to take into consideration, and the stakes are so high, I prefer to look at such a model in person before I make a hard and fast determination of the its authenticity. I can tell you if I’ve heard or seen such a thing before, and possible degree of its authenticity, but that’s the best I can do without an in-person evaluation.

Alas, sometimes an honest, in-person evaluation of a questionable Gloss is no help either. The allure of the Gloss is so powerful - and the emotional and financial rewards so lucrative - that some hobbyists will shop around until they find the expert to help them rationalize their investment.

It’s a cliché, but it’s also the truth: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I know, I know, we all want something rare, pretty and valuable in our collections, but we really have to be more skeptical of these things. And I have to tell you, that the majority of dubious Glosses I’ve inspected in person have been fakes.

Some of these Glosses were deliberately designed to deceive; others were not. However, a fake is a fake, regardless of the alterer's intent. An intent that could easily be lost, forgotten or overlooked when a model exchanges hands. ("Silly me. Did I forget to tell you I think he might be faked?")

Until Reeves comes up with a better way reduce the incidence of Counterfeit Glosses (Proprietary decals under the gloss? Carved brand or stamp?) the best advice I can give any hobbyist regarding oddball Glosses is this: if it's rare, beware.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Old Mold Stallion

The past 48 hours were rougher than expected; I'll just say that I'm feeling a little vulnerable right now. Nothing to do with you guys or the model horse world at all; if anything, this blog is one of the few things that's kept me from losing it completely. Words are one of the few things I have some control over.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Old Mold Mare is easily the most popular topic on this blog: anytime I write about her, I get a steady stream of appreciative comments and e-mail. But not a lot of love or attention has been given to her companion, the Old Mold Stallion.

I’m not referring to the Family Arabian Stallion that he became, but the model he was before.

There isn’t much difference between an Old Mold Stallion and a run-of-the-mill Family Arabian Stallion. Except for the extensive remodeling of his male anatomy (which didn’t occur until much later) most of the changes that were made to the model now known as the FAS were subtle, and probably the result of mold maintenance over its 50 year history.

The only thing that really distinguishes an Old Mold Stallion from an FAS is the mold mark: the FAS has one, and the Old Mold Stallion does not. Some Old Mold Stallions do have a very partial mold mark - you can just make out the “MOL” from the word MOLDING, but that’s about it.

Old Mold Stallions come in the same variety of colors that the Old Mold Mares and Foals do: Alabaster, Bay, Appaloosa and Woodgrain. Most hobbyists don't go out of their way to add Old Mold Stallions to their collections, though, so it's hard to tell if any one of these colors is more rare than the others; if they do happen to have one, it's either by sheer accident, or because he happened to tag along with the rest of his family.

There's some evidence that the Old Mold Stallion is probably a little more common than the Old Mold Mares and Foals. While he's very similar to the large Hagen-Renaker Amir, the match is not quite as close as the Mare and Foal are to Zara and Zilla. Unlike the Mare and Foal, who were yanked from production until suitable replacements were created, the FAS was probably allowed to continue production uninterrupted throughout 1959 and 1960.

The Old Mold Stallion probably premiered in 1959, about a year after the Old Mold Mare and Foal; I often wonder why that was. Was he an afterthought? Cash flow issues? Did they have problems with the mold? Or did they catch wind of the impending trouble brewing in California, and make some preemptive changes to the mold?

That's all speculation: there's no evidence for any of it. It could have been something as simple as a strong sales report: if the Mare and Foal are selling really well, just imagine if we added the Stallion!

But how does one go about acquiring this creature, especially on the Internet, where photographs and descriptions of dubious quality are the norm, if not the rule, and the presence or absence of a mold mark is rarely noted?

There are a few subtle distinctions in the paint jobs that can provide clues. Alabasters tends to have lipliner, and (more rarely) muscle shading; Appaloosas have the fine speckle spots, butt blankets and charcoal gray legs with black hooves; Bay usually have lipliner and eyewhites.

(Your eyes are not deceiving you: this fellah really does have factory shaded "boy parts"!)

It's no guarantee, of course: the Stallion never ceased production, and the paint jobs were never completely consistent. I've owned Old Mold Alabaster and Appaloosa Stallions with paint jobs indistinguishable from a run-of-the-mill FAS counterparts. If you do notice these characteristics in a model-of-interest, though, it'd definitely be worth your time to investigate him further.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blue Charcoal, Brown Charcoal

I took a well-deserved day off yesterday. I puttered around the house in my PJs, baked some cookies, got caught up on my teevee watching, and even worked up the courage to restart the biggest, scariest quilt project in my craft closet. (Google "Double Wedding Ring Quilt" and you’ll see what I’m getting myself into.)

I see the Cream and Cocoa sets are starting to ship. Very pretty! The price seemed a little on the high side to me; combined with my ongoing space issues, I decided to take a pass on these two for the time being. If I see them in the NPOD next year I’ll definitely reconsider, in spite of my reservations about the whole "Gloss Smoke" thing.

Ah, such is the power of Gloss Charcoal.

Although I’m not a big fan of online polls - they’re far too easy to manipulate - whenever there have been polls about Decorator colors, Gloss Charcoal always comes out on top, or darn near it. And it’s easy to see why: black is very dramatic, and gloss black? Doubly so!

Such was the selling power of Gloss Charcoal that it continued to be produced even after the transition to Matte finishes ca. 1967. Both the Fighting Stallion and Mustang continued being produced in Gloss until they were discontinued in 1970. And one model, the Running Stallion, was actually introduced in Gloss Charcoal in 1968. (If any of these three models exist in a Matte version, it’s darn rare. Or it’s a test color.)

The color did undergo a bit of a shift, however: later Gloss Charcoals are darker, blacker, and less dramatically shaded than their earlier counterparts. No less beautiful, I would argue, just different. Sometimes I refer to the two different hues as "Chocolate" and "Blue," though the only blue tinge detectable in the later, blacker versions is in comparison to the Chocolates.

As always, I speak in generalities: there are earlier Charcoals that are profoundly black, and later Charcoals that have a definite Chocolate hue. You see that tendency more in the Matte finish Charcoals than the Gloss, and with Family Arabians more than any of the other vintage Charcoals.

There’s even a variation of the Matte Charcoal Family Arabians that are very, very brown, with shocking hot pink hooves. I suspect that they are very late variations, possibly among the last batches produced; all of the ones I’ve seen had the characteristics of models produced in the early 1970s (the mold marks, the trimming idiosyncracies, the painting style, etc.)

I’ve cut back considerably on my variation addiction, but the Matte Chocolate Charcoal Family Arabians are still on my want list. It’s just something about that color combo that tickles my fancy. (I've been watching way too many home decorating shows, I'm sure that's it.) But they've been darn hard to track down.

It’s not that they’re particularly rare, but that they’re Family Arabians. Aside from the condition issues that plague these models, most hobbyists don’t pay that much attention to Family Arabians generally, especially the matte-finished ones (except the Five-Gaiter Sorrels) and don't bother making note of their variations, outside of chalkiness or mane wisps.

The brown variation is also pretty hard to photograph accurately. Here's a Chocolate Charcoal FAS I picked up at the flea market recently; even with some extensive color correction, the brownness of coat isn't readily apparent:

Stand him next to a standard Matte Charcoal, in natural light, and you'd swear they were from completely different releases. But all the hot chocolate in the world isn't making me go outside to take that picture today, nuh-uh.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pottery Barn Strapless

Something real short today - still recovering from an especially rough work week. Next week should be better.

I was really surprised at how much I really like the new Pottery Barn Strapless. Isn’t it nice that a simple bay paint job on an unfussy, undramatic mold can be so pleasing?

When she first came out, I wasn’t super-impressed with the mold. I thought she clean and elegant, but a little on the dry side, like an anatomical model in a biology textbook. I guess the folks at Reeves got that impression, too, releasing her as an actual anatomical model - the 1228 Anatomy in Motion - a couple years later.

I’ve warmed up to the mold considerably. I like the mane and tail options that they’ve given her, and the colors she’s come out in have been pretty awesome. And best of all, simple: if you've got a good base to work with, any color - even the plainest ones - will shine. The liver chestnut on the Sidesaddle Set? Mmm, yummy!

I love an eyecatching paint job as much as the next hobbyist, but sometimes simplicity is better. I guess it’s just years of observation that have made me skeptical of overly complex colors or patterns: it always makes me think that the artist or manufacturer has something to hide. Neck too long, shoulder too stiff, or the legs are bending in positions not seen in nature? Eh, distract the judges with a dappled sooty buckskin frame overo paint job. And don’t forget the tri-colored eyes and mapping!

She’s another one I’ll be putting on my wait list: I discovered earlier this week that I really have reached the limit of my storage capacity: I spent a half an hour wandering around the house trying to find a spot for my Pony Gals Stablemates. (My set is at last complete! Yes!)

I spent a large portion of yesterday (the part when I was awake) cleaning, reorganizing and making tough decisions on who and what will be going into storage. I’d love to sell some stuff, but the market for anything but test colors, sub-50 piece SRs and Glossies is dead, dead, dead.

Maybe I’ll have better luck selling some of my quilts, instead; I’ll have to look into that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Mysteries of Shermie Love

I’m not really getting the craze over the Fall Dealer Promo Model Autumn. Part of it is undoubtedly my aversion to the season from which he takes his name: for reasons I will not discuss here, it is not my favorite time of the year.

The Sherman Morgan has never been a huge favorite of mine anyway. I have him in his original release of chestnut, the lovely alabaster JAH SR Pride and Vanity, and the original black, but I haven’t been highly motivated to get the rest of them. The Dapple Gray Tobiano test piece in the 2008 BreyerFest Auction was a beautiful thing, I’ll grant you, but well beyond my price range.

But Autumn is a 2000 piece run: that’s significantly more than your average JAH Special (typically 1500) or BreyerFest Special (500-1500). The color is more appealing (it’s a rare mold that’s not improved with a bit of gloss), the SRP is more reasonable, and the distribution model seems a little more fair than last year’s attempt. Even if we factor in his higher popularity rating and the gloss factor, I still don’t think the prices some dealers and collectors are trying to charge will hold up in the long run.

I wouldn’t be surprised, even, if a few batches of them show up in the Tent next year. Not as many as the Medalist Ponies, but a few cases, at least? Yeah. We’re talking 2000 pieces here. That’s a lot of horses, no matter how you divvy them up.

I’m sure most of the current craze for him is just due to him being the newest, shiniest bauble on the table. Happens every year at BreyerFest: a model’s awesomeness is extolled, crazy-mad prices are charged (and sometimes, received), then the inevitable collapse of both praise and price a few months - or even weeks - later.

There have been a few exceptions to the rule, but there's usually been a mitigating factor. And the possible migitating factor for Shermie is his strangely potent popularity.

I’ve always wondered if all the Shermie love was a consequence of his extended absence from the Breyer line: the mold was taken out of production at the end of 1992, and did not return until 2000, slightly remodeled and with a brand new tail, as the #1105 Carpe Diem.

The story was that the mold was damaged beyond repair. The word "destroyed" is casually bandied about when the discussion turns to damaged or altered molds; Breyer was the first to use that term, in reference to the 1984 JAH Saddlebred Weanling’s pending mold change to the Rocking Horse. I don’t know when the word "destroyed" came up in reference to the Sherman Morgan mold, but any time a mold is put on an extended vacation from production, it inevitably enters the discussion.

I hate that word, because it’s pretty clear that the way the company uses the word is quite different from the way hobbyists do. In hobbyist circles, the word destroyed evokes cataclysmic imagery: tossed from a high-rise and shattered into a million pieces, drop-kicked into the Pacific Ocean, or melted down and recycled into parts for your Subaru. Gone forever and ever, amen and goodbye.

Breyer uses the term its more technical or artistic sense, generally, to describe a mold that is no longer in its original state. Kind of like art prints: an earlier state of an artistic etching is considered "destroyed" when changes are made to it. But it is not gone, only changed. Halla was "destroyed," but the "Bolya" mold lives on. The Saddlebred Weanling was "destroyed" but we had the "Rocking Horse" instead. (Until they restored it, more or less.)

Parts may go missing, or be retooled and remodeled, but molds are rarely discarded or destroyed entirely. (Alborozo being a notable exception.) They’re just too darn expensive and time-consuming to build from scratch: it’s better to keep an unusable mold in storage until it’s possible to repair or salvage it somehow.

His color is beautiful: that’s the only thing that’s keeping me from dismissing him entirely from my want list. But until I get some money and space issues resolved here, I’ll have to opt out of the Shermie Love Fest for now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Christmas Decorators, Part III; or, What’s the Deal with California?

As many of you are aware, Breyers are not uniformly distributed throughout the country, much less the world. Breyers are easier to find in the Upper Midwest than they are in the Deep South, particularly Florida, both first and second hand. Some of it has to do with regional demand, and some with the socio-economic mix. Suburban, semi-rural and rural areas will have a bigger demand than urban areas, as will areas with concentrations of families with young children, or with more disposable income.

But then, there’s California. Sure, California is big, and has lots of the right kind of consumers, so the fact that Breyers are relatively plentiful there is not unusual. What is unusual is that there’s been an awful lot of …odd Breyer stuff coming out of California. Way more than you’d expect for a market so far away from the original factory in Chicago: the Gray Appaloosa Shetland Pony, In-Between Mares, the Palomino Adios, a higher than normal percentage of Decorators.

So it’s no surprise that there have been reports of Christmas Decorators coming out of California.

It may just be coincidental that one of the few pieces of documentation we have about the regular, run-of-the-mill Blue and Gold Decorators was from a long-time Breyer Representative in California: J.C. Unger and Associates. (How long-term? They’re mentioned as a Sales Rep for Breyer in advertisements from 1953!)

But in addition to being product representatives, Unger also worked in product development and marketed their own toys under the Unger Toys line. If the name sounds familiar to any of you, it’s because they were the ones who developed and unleashed the original Brenda Breyer upon the world. And the infamous Puffy Stickers! What total Breyer nerds didn’t go out of their way to get those crazy Puffy Stickers?

(I have no idea where mine are! Actually, I think I do, but I’m not in the mood for digging, so the pic from the 1980 Dealer Catalog will have to do.)

Is it possible that Unger might have collaborated with Breyer before Brenda? That might explain why all those strange Breyer things keep turning up in California. There might have been some collaborative efforts going on, or test marketing, or maybe they were the go-to people for the dumping of less-than-successful items. Could it be that they had a hand in the creation and marketing of the Decorators too - both the Blue and Gold, and the Christmas?

I have no idea, since I haven’t had the time or the moxie to do any further research about their relationship with Breyer. (They’re still around as Henry Unger and Associates, if anyone else wants to do the leg or phone work.) There’s definitely something more to the story there, though.

If we go with the supposition that the Christmas Decorators were a failed regional product launch or dump, limited to California or other parts of Unger’s territory, then that might explain why the documentation is still lacking. If the catalogs exist, then they’d be regional ones with limited range and low distribution: in others words, might be just as rare - or moreso - than the actual models themselves.

So, that’s all there is to know about the Christmas Decorators, including where my current speculation stands.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Christmas Decorators, Part II

Someone on Blab recently referred to Christmas Decorators as Breyer’s version of Bigfoot. The description is apt: just like Bigfoot, all of the evidence we have for the existence of Christmas Decorators is either circumstantial, or secondhand.

As of today, there are still no confirmed vintage Christmas Decorators in anyone’s possession. There are a few Christmas Decorators in Reeves’s sample room, but these are relatively recent test colors, and definitely NOT vintage. If Reeves has any vintage, pre-1985 models in their possession, they were purchased secondhand. As far as I know, any test colors or samples that did exist in the Breyer factory in Chicago prior to Reeves’s purchase were sold off, in bulk, to either Marney or to the Bentley Sales Company, and I can’t recall anyone finding anything particularly Christmassy back then, either.

(I haven’t been in the factory since 1992, so I have no idea what’s actually there right now.)

As of today, there is also no known paper evidence for the existence of Christmas Decorators. Since then, we’ve filled in most - but not all - of the gaps in our knowledge of the early 1960s Holiday catalog releases, and so far no Green or Red Breyers of any kind have revealed themselves.

Yet, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: all it takes is one photograph, one document, or one model to move something from the realm of the imaginary. Documentary evidence for many early Breyers is exceedingly sparse; we only have one piece of evidence acknowledging the Buckskin Running Mare and Foal as Regular Runs. The only concrete evidence we have of the existence of the Copenhagen Belgian is a single photograph.

Even though there’s no physical evidence, there’s just too much independent, circumstantial evidence floating around. If all we had was a single witness or account, it’d be much easier to dismiss them as the product of wishful thinking. But my account was independent of Gale’s account, and Gale found another collector with a report independent of her own.

But that’s not the sum of all of the circumstantial evidence, either. There’s a lot more evidence that seems to point to a Christmas Decorator-shaped hole in the Breyer Universe.

First, let’s examine the Christmas part of the story.

Contrary to what many collectors believe, Breyer was making and marketing Special Run Christmas items for mail-order catalogs as early as 1954: that’s when the Palomino Western Pony Grooming Kits debuted in the Sear Wishbook. The Musicbox Prancers arrived a year later; a couple of years after that, so did the French Poodle Sewing Kit.

Sometime in late 1960 or early 1961, Breyer added the Modernistic Buck and Doe to their product line. The story behind the Modernistic Buck and Doe and how Breyer came into their possession is a long and complicated one, and not entirely relevant to the discussion at hand; that’s another post, for another time. What’s important here is that the promotional documentation of the Buck and Doe - the ca. 1961 insert sheet, and the 1963 Dealer Catalog - touts their suitability as decorative items for "Christmas and other special occasions." And they can be found in a few Christmas catalogs, the earliest being the 1961 Alden’s.

So it’s clear that Breyer was at least thinking about expanding into Christmas-themed or Christmas-specific items in that time period. (The time period that, coincidentally, we have very little Breyer-issued ephemera from.) Painting some of their regular run items in decorative, non-horse colors would have been the next logical step.

In my next (and I hope, final) post on the subject, we’ll discuss the Decorator part of the equation.