Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Plum Brown

I’m still suffering from a motivational deficit. I tried to brush it off with a marathon of paper shredding yesterday, but the enthusiam didn’t stick. I think it’s the weather: not the lack of sun, but the lack of heat. I don’t get a lot of projects done in the wintertime, because it’s incredibly difficult to get anything done when your swaddled in a half dozen blankets and quilts (unless what you're working on is actually a quilt!)

Laugh if you must, but I was secretly hoping I’d get a zebra-print Snuggie from Santa this year. Nope, just a peachy keen new laptop and some fancy chocolates. And speaking of chocolate…

Here are two different pre-1960 Western Ponies. Notice anything different between the two?

It's a little hard to tell, but the one with darker hooves is dark brown. It’s a color hobbyists call "Plum Brown" because it often comes with purplish undertones, though mine is more dark chocolate-colored. The base color is colored plastic that, as we’ve discussed before, was not an uncommon Breyer painting shortcut in the 1950s.

There are only two models known that came in this brown color: Davy Crockett’s Fury/Prancer horse from the Horse and Rider set, and the Western Pony. Both are painted with masked facial markings, 4 stockings and dark gray hooves.

For the longest time, we didn’t know anything at all about these Plum Brown models, and just assumed that they were a color variation of the Black. We didn’t learn that they were separate and distinct releases until copies of an undated catalog page/flier started circulating among collectors. From the reverse:

It was widely presumed that Breyer also made a Brown Western Horse. It was a logical presumption to make: they did make a brown Fury/Prancer and Western Pony, and our fragmentary documentation from the 1950s didn't rule out the possibility. Why not a Western Horse? Some collectors even claimed that they had one in their herds.

Then I saw one of those alleged Western Horses in person and realized it was just a copy, and not a very good one at that. The plastic was wrong, the color was wrong, the hooves were poorly sculpted - even the reins were wrong! They also have metallic gold shading that’s not seen on either the Plum Brown Fury/Prancer or Western Pony. It’s as if they were actually trying to imitate a bronze finish; I believe the manufacturer of these odd and early knock-offs was probably taking its design cues more from pot metal carnival horses than the plastic Breyer versions.

The Fury/Prancer is far more common than the Western Pony in this color, possibly because the Plum Brown Fury/Prancer was not only used with another Horse and Rider set - the Canadian Mountie - it was also sold separately. The Western Pony mold was used on a few Horse and Rider sets, such as the Indian, the Cowboy, and Kit Carson, but I can’t recall ever seeing an original set with the Plum Brown Pony.

Not much is known about the Plum Brown Western Pony, other than its appearance on that single, undated (ca. 1956) catalog page and his hasty retreat: he was gone from the 1958 catalog and price list. Maybe, as I hypothesized with the Pink and Blue Elephants, he was designed to use up the colored acetate they had lying around the factory.

It may be that the Plum Brown Western Pony’s rarity isn’t as profound as we perceive it: in low light, and at first glance, they can be indistinguishable from the somewhat more common Black Beauty version. None of the Black Beauties are really "common" either, but I’ll discuss that in my next post.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Heavy Metal Horses

Ach! I am so completely unmotivated. It's my reflective time of the year; I'd rather sit and contemplate the greater mysteries of the universe, than the smaller ones of Breyer History. I'm not going to force it, because I have faith that this deeper contemplation will lead to something productive in the end. Like Douglas Adams's "holistic detective" character Dirk Gently, I believe it doesn't matter where I start, because eventually I'll end up where I need to go. From The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul:

"... A few turnings later and I was thoroughly lost. There is a school of thought which says that you should consult a map on these occasions, but to such people I merely say, 'Ha! What if you have no map to consult? What if you have a map but it's of the Dordogne?' My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it is going and follow it. I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere that I needed to be. So what do you say to that?"


"A robust response. I salute you."

Not a terribly useful line of thinking if you find yourself wandering around the parking lot of Target the day after Christmas, in the rain, wondering where the heck you parked the darn car, but perhaps moreso in more intellectual pursuits. Like running keyword searches on Google for cast iron doorstops.

Like this one:

It's part of an extended series of Breyer knockoff doorstops. In one of my luckier days at the flea market, I found a small collection - five pieces, to be precise. I sold most of them off for my own safety: they were extremely heavy, and I am extremely clumsy and value my feet.

I did keep the Old Timer: I have a modest interest in Breyer knockoffs, and I was a little obsessed with the Old Timer at that moment in time. He was also in the best condition of the bunch, and he still had his hat. (Cast Iron Doorstop with removeable hat = cool. 'Nuff said.)

I do know a little bit about these cast iron knockoffs For the record, there are at least eleven of them:

4510 St. Bernard
4511 Horned Hereford Bull
4512 Bassett Hound
4513 Appaloosa Foal (Lying Down Foal)
4514 Tennessee Walking Horse (Midnight Sun)
4515 Fighting Stallion (Alabaster)
4516 Arabian Stallion (Palomino FAS)
4517 Famous Thoroughbred (Traditional Man o War)
4518 Clydesdale Stallion
4519 Jumping Horse
4520 Old Timer

I know this much about them because I have multi-generational copies of two pages from a catalog that lists them by these names and numbers. It's obviously some sort of wholesale or manufacturer catalog, because the copy states: This new handsome group of animal reproductions in Cast Iron is becoming a popular and fast-moving line among our customers.

There's some truth in the statement about their popularity, because they do turn up with some frequency in antique stores, on eBay, and on antique web sites that don't know what they are talking about.

Those antique websites usually identify them as being very old. They can't be: they're all copies of models made from the 1950s onward; the St. Bernard wasn't introduced until 1972! My guess would be that they date from the mid- to late 1970s: cross-reference the manufacturing dates, and you'll find that these models were all current and available from 1972 through 1980.

Who the manufacturer is, is the mystery here. The antique web sites and references sometimes identify them as Hubley, which is impossible since Hubley stopped manufacturing in the mid-1960s. They did make a few horses, but they don't look anything like the Breyer knockoffs. It's just wishful thinking on the antiquers' part: Hubley pieces are very collectible, and often very pricey.

The only clue to the real manufacturer is a logo that appears in the upper corner of the two catalog pages: a Currier and Ives-styled horse with the letters ASC.

I've done several different keyword searches looking for this company, with no usable results. At this point I think randomly typed keyword searches would probably be just as fruitful.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

2010 Previews and Stuff

It looks like I'll start the year with a truly clean slate: there was honest-to-goodness dusting performed in the office yesterday! I have no idea what got into me; I'll chalk it up to work avoidance and the absence of a cat to vacuum.

The work avoidance issue: dealing with the big black hole that is my research data entry slush pile. I'm always incorporating new data into my files, but not at the same rate that I research it. Then I find some unexpected lead, and off I am again on some other crazy topic. I think I'll probably spend most of my free time in the beginning of the new year dealing with the consequences of that foolishness. (In addition to working on the nascent hobby advocacy movement that seems to be coming into being – finally!)

The new year is almost here, and photos of the 2010 releases are already being floated about, and analyzed to death. I'm not going to be one of those people today: we should all know by now that it's not a good idea to judge a Breyer horse by its stock photo. Especially the new G4 Stablemates; it's pretty clear that a number of those photos are of prototypes, and not to be trusted. The two resin prototypes we had a sneak peek at BreyerFest this year looked just fine and dandy in person, and I suspect that most of the rest will be, too. There might be a clunker or two, but it's nothing worth fretting over until we have them in hand.

I'm glad to see a new Nokota and a new Peruvian, though – now there's a couple of favorite molds that might make me break my vows of model horse austerity. The Treasure Hunt Othellos are very nice – I like the mold a lot, but I'm not sure I like him enough to participate. I may reconsider, depending on the color and quality of the redemption horse. (Gloss Charcoal = YES! Another shade of gray = meh, not so much.)

I have a lot of reservations about the Breast Cancer Benefit horse. Normally I'd be attempting cartwheels at the thought of a mass-market transparent Traditional-scale horse; one of my few, true model horse grails is to track down and possess the Transparent Belgian I once saw in Marney Walerius's basement. I have all of the other transparent, or mostly transparent Breyer releases, except for the unaffordable Connoisseur Tortuga.

Benefit horses of any kind are good; I just wish it could have been targeted towards an orphan cancer that doesn't quite get the same level of funding or media attention.

You know, like pancreatic cancer.

Hell yeah, it's personal. Some of you may know, but others do not: I lost my Dad to pancreatic cancer almost two years ago. PC has a 5% survival rate after five years; we had 28 days, which is not untypical. There hasn't been much research done, because there's no money in it: there are virtually no survivors to campaign for it.

Now that they have the painting template for it, we can hope that maybe the idea will carry through to other causes, in other colors. (PC's color is purple.) And at least with PC, there would be a logical connection of the horse to the cause: Patrick Swayze was an Arabian horse breeder and enthusiast. I think there's even some footage of him competing at the Kentucky Horse Park on YouTube somewhere.

(And intriguingly, the Tempur-Pedic company is also doing a PC fundraising effort with a limited-edition teddy bear: their headquarters just happens to be in Lexington, Kentucky. BreyerFest attendees would much appreciate some comfy mattresses in a nap station in the Covered Arena, dontcha think?)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Saving Hobby History

One shift turned into two back-to-back shifts, thus playing havoc on my schedule. Fooey. It'll be worse in January, when the part-time job temporarily turns full-time, with overtime, and insane. (It's not as awesome as it sounds. Trust me. Other income-making opportunities are welcome.) Not sure if I'm going to cope with it here – write shorter posts, pre-write a bunch, or some combination of the two. We'll cross that proverbial bridge when we come to it.

Back to the Hobby History project.

When I talk to “outsiders” about the model horse hobby, many of them get the impression that it's a relatively new phenomenon, like PEZ collecting. PEZ dispensers have been around for about the same amount of time as Breyer Horses – since the early 1950s – but there wasn't an active or huge PEZ collecting/hobby community until the early 1990s. (I should know: I was one of attendees of the first PEZ convention, the famed Dispens-O-Rama, in 1991! Yes, it was several different flavors of awesome, including Anise.)

So when I tell them that the hobby has been around in some form, in the U.S., since the late 1950s, I get the usual eye-rolls and incredulous looks. So I'll go to my archives and pull out a couple of pieces of documentation to straighten out the wiseacre, including this neat article from the September, 1961 issue of Western Horseman:

Yup, that's an Old Mold Mare they are holding. There's a App FAM and several H-R minis visible, and that's a pot metal Western Horse on the shelf. A favorite quote from the brief article beneath:

“The miniature saddle maker's artistic talents also include pencil sketching and refinishing horse statutes in such colors as real animals.”

Unlike Breyer History, we actually have quite a lot of Hobby History ephemera out there. Prior to the Internet, the hobby was a paper-intensive affair: letters, newsletters, photo shows, the occasional newspaper or magazine articles brought us together and bound us together. I can remember stalking the mailbox on a daily basis, anxiously waiting for the next precious communique from the Model Horse Universe. A big, fat envelope with my name on it = much happiness!

As a student of history, I'm also interested in saving the hobby's collective history, not just of Breyer Horses. Aside from the research opportunities it would provide (i.e. being able to track when certain terms were invented, when color and mold changes occurred, etc.) it'd also provide us some standing and credibility to the Outside World. Showing the Outside World that we've been around for about fifty years will go quite a ways towards taking us more seriously, and proving that we're not a fad, and we're not going away.

Besides, other avocations with papery origins, most notably Science-Fiction and Comic Book Fandom, have made vocal and visible efforts to preserve their history and ephemera, so why not us? Science-fiction fandom just celebrated its 80th anniversary, in fact! (And some are celebrating by trying to find out what happened to First Fandom's first club president. Cool!)

There's just one problem: most hobbyists shared my sentimental attachment to this paper, and are loathe to give it up.

I've been trying for some time now to save the physical remnants of our collective history and create at least the rudiments of a hobby archive. I've made a few excellent recoveries and discoveries, but most hobbyists don't want to surrender the tangible evidence of their fondest childhood memories. Then there's the contentious question of who becomes the repository: everyone who has a bigger than average pile of stuff wants to be home of THE archive (including me!)

I first became involved on Blab when my name came up in a potential hobby history project; our initial efforts didn't get very far, for a variety of reasons. The topic came up again, in connection with the epic “future of the hobby” thread, and it looks like we might get a little bit further along this time. For one thing, a Facebook page has already been created to help collect and coordinate our collective efforts, and begin the effort to collect oral histories. A link to that page has been provided in my Links of Interest, to the right.

Next post – back to plain ol' Breyer History. Promise!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Face Time with Old Friends

I actually have to work tomorrow! It's not much, but it's something. Unfortunately I have to be up and on the road at some unheavenly hour when most of the world is sleeping, except for vampires and truck drivers. So something short again, today.

Finished the latest quilt, finished the descriptor project. Now moving on to my 2009 paperwork and cleaning up the office for some near-future remodelling. And some stray crafty things: I bought some Aves Apoxie Sculpt from a local hobby store recently, and I'm having a little fun with that, too. (Yes, I do a little customizing, just for fun. Nothing beats dremelling a FAM body for stress relief!)

Lots of positive goods came out of the collection excavation. Aside from finding the inspiration for even more blog posts, I now know where all the models are that I need to photograph to illustrate those blog posts.

Another positive result is that's it has definitely put a damper on my acquistive desires. I did a thorough purge a few years ago, so it's not that I've found a lot of my models wanting – if anything, the process has made me want to see these guys more, not less. After being in storage for a while, they've become fresh and new again, and I miss their company. Buying a lot of new horses would mean less face time with old friends I want to get reacquainted with, y'know?

(Though the “refreshened” new horse smell put me out of commission for a couple of days this week with migraines. Holy moley, I didn't realize one could actually overdose on it!)

There are still an number of newer molds and models I'd like to get, and I won't turn away any potential herd members if I should happen to stumble on them during my daily routines. But I will definitely shifting more of my modest discretionary income towards model horse ephemera, and a lttle less on actual model horses.

Speaking of which, it looks like the hobby history project is getting back on its feet again – ironically, as a result of a discussion about where we need to take the hobby in the future (which actually started out as a discussion about realism. Gotta love thread drift!) I'll discuss that endeavor in my next post, when I actually have time to do it; in the meantime, I really think it's worth your while to at least lurk in the discussion. It takes a couple of pages in before you get to the meat of it. Good stuff – something we've needed to get out in the open for a while. Let's hope the momentum for change lasts:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ephemeral Things

I've had to reference Marney's book a couple of times in the past few weeks. It felt strange using it as a reference book: it's become more valuable as an artifact of Breyer History than as a Breyer History.

There's still value in it as a history: Marney knew what she was talking about. She had unprecedented access to the factory and to everyone in the know. It contains unique and otherwise unpublished photographs. The sections on early Breyer history provide data and insights you can't get anywhere else. There's just one problem, and it's a big one.

She couldn't write.

I'm not talking about style or flow, I'm talking about simple coherence. She couldn't organize her thoughts on the page. She'd stop and just start rambling, or ranting. Unrelated captions and marginalia are embedded within paragraphs. Some concepts are left completely unexplained, and others are expounded upon, again and again.

Dates and data changes from page to page. She contradicts herself, frequently. On one page she spends an entire paragraph describing the horse and rider packaging, stating that she couldn't reprint them out of respect for Breyer's copyright: on the next page is a Breyer promotional picture showing the boxes she just described!

It's an almost textbook case against the concept of self-publishing. Some people need editors, and some books shouldn't be published. This shouldn't have been published, at least in the condition that it's in.

I know she had significant health problems, which probably affected her writing, and prevented the necessary editing from occurring. Whenever I find myself skimming through it, frustrated, I tell myself: It's probably just a first draft. There wasn't time to fix it.

But even if there had time, who would have volunteered to edit? I know I was too intimidated to even ask. We were all too intimidated to ask: she was our guru, our buddha, the queen of all Breyer History. Who were we to question her in the completion of her sacred task? She knew it better than any of us could have; it would have seemed presumptuous of any of us to have asked if she needed help.

If any good came out of it, it made me realize that I had to get somewhat serious about collecting and preserving Breyer History. This blog, and the history in it, might not exist because of it.

I often wonder what happened to Marney's stuff. Not the horses, but the paper: the research notes, the ad slicks, stock photos, correspondence: everything that did (and didn't) make it into the book. Part of the reason is because I'd like to see it preserved, as part of our greater hobby history. But part of me hopes that by looking at this otherwise unknown source material, some Breyer mysteries will finally be revealed, or at least be better explained. We have a better framework now to interpret whatever data it might contain, things she might not have noticed, or thought unimportant at the time ...

I know it was not all thrown out, or destroyed. I actually have some inkling of where and to whom some of it went; it was through one of those folks that I managed to secure one of Marney's photo albums. I'd love to have more of Marney's stuff – or access to it – but there are rather delicate issues involved, most of which are probably not prudent for me to discuss, except in this most general of terms.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Etymology and Decorators

My fingertips are so raw and sore right now – the consequence of trying to finish another big quilt project by the end of the year, in addition to the descriptor project. (And a couple of small, crafty projects, too – I just noticed the gesso on my fingernails.)

Attention Deficit Disorder runs in the family, and I suspect I have a mild, manageable form of it: it manifests itself in a need to multi-task. I do crash from time to time, but I know my tolerance levels, and I'm operating well within them. If anything, I could probably take on another project or two...

Back to the project at hand. Today's topic will be the spare, rare history of the Decorator.

As I hinted before in our 3-part discussion about Christmas Decorators, documentation for actual Decorators is also extremely sparse. In fact, we have only four pieces of documentary evidence:

  1. A “Supplemental Price List” dated April 1, 1964, that lists all of the models we now call Decorators. There are actually two near identical copies of this pricelist, one printed on light blue paper, and the other, on yellow (blue and gold, get it?)

  2. A picture in the 1964 Alden's Christmas Book, featuring a pair of “Copenhagen Dappled Horses” for the hefty sum of 6.99. The catalog copy: “magnificently detailed of china-like fine quality plastic. Break-resistant! Lovely mare with foal for her novelty shelves or a favorite youngster's room.” (The Running Mare and Foal, obviously.)

  3. A full-color photograph showing the entire Decorator line, complete with numbers. Stamped on the back of this photo is the notation “Please mail your order to J.C. Unger ...”

  4. The photograph of the Copenhagen Belgian that appeared in an issue of JAH back in 1980.

That's it. It doesn't seem like a lot – and it isn't – but it's a lot more than we have for many early Breyer releases. But did you notice what's missing from the paper evidence?

On none of these pieces of evidence is the word “Decorator” even used.

Looking through my early ephemera, the closest we come to the word Decorator is in the Dealer Catalog references to the Modernistic Buck and Doe, who are called “Delightfully Decorative.” Marney labels them as “Modernistic/Decorator” and includes them in the Decorator section of her book, but provides no other evidence or documentation linking the two together, only noting that the Deer were “originally created as Christmas decorative pieces.” The two existing catalog pages that feature the Deer also note this, seen here on the ca. 1961 catalog insert page:

They are metallic gold – and predate the horses by at least a year – so it's possible that this is where the term originated. But was the term “Decorator” itself an internally-created one that we simply don't have the documentation for – yet – or was it a term that just arose in the hobby organically, like “Chalky” did?

Marney was pretty much the source of all Breyer knowledge back then, so I'm inclined to believe that the origins of the term, or its popularization in the model horse lexicon, are with her somehow.

It's possible that Marney may have overheard the term from someone at the factory, or may have seen the word used in conjunction with a local store's advertising campaign, or had access to a document, now lost, that used it specifically. Or maybe Marney just made it up – based on the promotional stuff for the Buck and Doe – and the hobby just adopted it as a matter of course. (Who were we to doubt Marney's knowledge then?)

I also remember – I truly can't say where or from whom I heard this bit of information – that the term Decorator was also used to describe Woodgrains. (Marney, again?) The earliest references I have for Woodgrains – the sepiatone ca. 1960 Dealer Catalog, and two Mission Supply House fliers, ca. 1961 – only refer to them as “Wood Grains” or as part of the “Wood Grain Series.” If true, it might be a point in favor of the “in-house” theory for the origin of the term: maybe it was just the word they used around the factory to describe all of the “nonrealistic” finishes. (Charcoal, at the time, was probably considered “realistic.”)

By the way, the term didn't become the single word “Woodgrain” until 1970, and only then on the pricelists. The Fighting Stallion – the only remaining regular run Woodgrain, seen in the Collector's Manuals from 1968 through 1973 – was always described as “Wood Grain.”

Oh, to have had access to Marney's original research notes and documentation. What new discoveries could be made there, what mysteries could be revealed, with fresh eyes? If only, if only.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Arabian Crosses

My Anniversary FAS came yesterday – ooh, so pretty! I think he'd look great on this year's gold and burgundy tree (we have a different "theme" every year), but the rest of the family will probably beg to differ:

Don't you think he'd make a fabulous topper? (The tree is actually white with purply lights, not hot pink. We did have a hot pink tree one year, though. Made entirely out of poinsettias. Truth!)

Speaking of palomino quasi-Arabians, I just encountered a Breyer Mini-Me situation here. Not an exact match – not even the same sculptor – but close enough to make you wonder. The G3 Target Palomino Arabian, labeled an “Arabian Cross”:

And of course, the Palomino Make A Wish, also labeled an “Arabian-Cross” (from the May/June 2009 JAH):

Most of my horses are loose, but I do try to keep one example of every version of the Stablemates packaging. I've thought that a history of Stablemates packaging might make a nice display someday, when I'm finally in a situation to have all of the horses out and about. There is no rhyme or reason to who gets to stay in the packaging; it just happened to be the G3 Arabians luck. It sits next to my computer, along with a few other Stablemates in their original packaging.

A few days ago, I was just blankly staring at it, when I remembered the big stink some hobbyists made about the Make A Wish mold when it was making the rounds earlier in the year. Something about the typography on some of the signs made it “obvious” that Reeves had made a “huge” mistake and had initially called it an Arabian, but discovered the mistake at the last minute and tried to fix it in the text, inserting the word “Cross” after it, but of course we weren't fooled!

Thus proving yet again that Reeves is full of equine know-nothings, etc. and so on.

Oh, please. Give it a rest. They've been using the “Cross” term to denote partbreds for a while now – anyone remember the Bay Tobiano Peruvian Cross from the #5971 Stablemates 4-Piece Gift Pack, the Paso Fino Cross from the 2005 Parade of Breeds Set, the Duchess as a Buckskin “Thoroughbred Cross,” the #740 Percheron Cross Roy in Black...

The little dash between Arabian and Cross in the Fest promo material isn't sufficient evidence, in my eyes, of a conspiracy to cover up a mistake. It's just clumsy typography that got carried forward. (And there's lots of inadequate typesetting in your average issue of JAH. I used to do that sort of thing for a living, y'know.)

There are enough actual people at Reeves that know enough about actual horses – and the sturm und drang associated with the Palomino Arabian issue – that I'm sure it wasn't an “oops, we forgot that there weren't no such thing as Palomino Arabians” mistake. It was, at most, just a case of someone just making a run-of-the-mill typo correction rather awkwardly.

Especially since they had released a Palomino "Arabian Cross" Stablemate on the G3 Arabian not that long before.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

That Seventies Catalog

Let's talk about that jobber/distributor toy catalog I mentioned last time. It's the Orgill Brothers and Company 1977 Illustrated Toy Catalog, and it's like a window into my childhood toyland: everything from Barbie, to Bicycles and Breyers, and Beyond! (Literally - Space: 1999 action figures!)

Jobber is a slightly antiquated word for a distributor or wholesaler. A middleman. They'll sell dozens of lines from dozens of manufacturers to simplify and streamline the retailer's ordering process – for a price, of course.

Every page of it is full of awesome, but the Breyer pages are going to be our focus, naturally. There's nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the selection – a couple dozen Traditionals, a few Animals, the Classic Racehorse Assortment, Stablemates Assortment, a few Gift Sets. No secret, previously unknowns special runs or oddball items that I can see. (The Donkey and Elephant are present, but that's overstock from the previous year's Election/Bicentennial promotion, and not really a huge surprise.) Just the kind of horses you'd find in your locally-owned hardware store, the market that Orgill primarily caters to.

Yeah, I did buy some of my models at hardware stores back then! Didn't you?

What's nice about a catalog like this is the ability to compare the wholesale prices with the suggested retail prices. Midnight Sun would cost the retailer 4.39, with a suggested retail of 6.59 – a 33% markup. That's about the same markup Orgill was making: per Breyer's own wholesale pricelists, the cost to the distributor for that same Midnight Sun would have been 2.97!

I have no idea what the markup is now: I'm neither a distributor nor a retailer. Even if I was, there would probably be some contractual mumbo-jumbo about the pricing structure that I would bar me from discussing it in a public forum anyway. But we're talking about 30 year old prices on merchandise that's been long discontinued.

For those of you pining for the days of the Six Dollar Traditional, don't forget that this was in 1977 money. As a genuine chronological youngster of that time period, I can assure you, Six Dollars was not a small sum. Saving that kind of money took herculean effort, especially when you're constantly tempted by one dollar Stablemates and 35 cent comic books.

The most fascinating part of this catalog, though, is the photographs: a I mentioned in my previous post, some of them are OLD, and many don't match the product that's being sold. Here's the Running Stallion:

The Alabaster Running Stallion was discontinued, oh, around 1971. The text under the photo notes that it's the Appaloosa you'd be buying. Likewise with with the Indian Pony, shown here in long-gone Buckskin version:

My favorite is the Fighting Stallion; the stock photo used to illustrate the Alabaster is actually that of the Gray Appaloosa, dating back to at least 1961!

We have our share of vintage prototype pics, too, including our old friend Yellow Mount, taunting us yet again:

Several of the newer items – like Lady Phase, the Charolais Bull, and Hobo – have more contemporaneous photos, so Orgill obvious had access to them. So, what was up with the outdated, incorrect stock photos?

The answer is simple: this catalog is pre-digital. It had to be manually pasted up. Every chunk of text and every photograph had to be physically cut and pasted into place. Lines had to be hand-drawn with a technical pen. Mistakes and cut lines had to be touched up with white paint, with a paint brush. If you look closely at the scans, you can still see a few blotches and cut lines.

It's about as much fun as it sounds. I managed to get into graphic design at the very tail end of the “manual” era, so I did get to experience that fun first hand, briefly. (My first semester in art school included a digital prepress class – in Aldus PageMaker! It was my favorite class, by far. I miss doing digital prepress, I really do...)

So the overworked table jockeys who had to put the toy catalog together probably reused old pages, or cut and pasted chunks of old stats into the new pages. Wherever there was a possible discrepancy, they'd paste in a line of text underneath to cover their behinds, just in case.

I'm sure that shortcuts like this probably led to at least a handful of post-production runs on some of the models in question, unless Breyer got lucky and just happened to run across a box or two of old stock hiding in the factory somewhere. No matter how thoroughly the search, there's always a box or two of some old somethings lurking in the warehouse. Look at the kind of stuff that still turns up in the Ninja Pit every year!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stock Photos and Stock Horses

I did a quick box count last night and realized that I was one-third done with my big “descriptors” project – considerably further along than I had anticipated. It helps that I'm not working, I guess. I have lots of time to occupy, and I might as well do it constructively.

The not-working part is not by choice. And not something I want to talk about right now.

What I do want to talk about is the catalog photography problem. No, not the recent phenomenon of lackluster lighting and color correction, but Breyer's bad habit of reusing and recycling old stock photos.

It was a particularly bad problem in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the product line changed at what now seems like a glacial pace: models and colors were issued not for months or years, but for decades. It made sense for Breyer to get as much use out of the stock photographs they had on file, rather than retake photos of the same models from year to year.

The only problem was that these paint jobs didn't necessarily stay the same over time. Markings changed, or the color or shading may have been tweaked over the years. Sometimes only the prototype of the model was available for the initial photo shoot, and the production model was significantly different. The Yellow Mount was famous for this discrepancy. For years, Breyer used photos of the prototype, which looked little like the actual production model. Here he is again, in the 1975 Collector's Manual:

He was his actual normal self in other PR materials, including the picture box he came in – here illustrated in the 1975 Dealer's Catalog:

Many of us were quite disappointed back in the day when we realized that the model we received only bore a passing resemblance to the one we saw in the catalog – because it was the photo in the catalog that we had formed our hopes and dreams on!

It's a huge problem when it comes to documenting color and mold changes. Most of the photographs in the 1968 Collector's Manual weren't taken from models that were fresh off the line: they were stock photographs that had been sitting around, sometimes for years. They retook a lot of them for the 1969 Manual, but a lot of those same photos were still being used in the 1975 Collector's Manual, even though many paint jobs changed dramatically in that timespan. We have to rely on other sources – contemporary photographs and accounts, and non-catalog promotional materials – to date those changes.

Stock photos are still useful research tools; look at how far it got us with the mystery of the Sorrel Fighting Stallion. It helped establish an earliest possible date: that model in that color had to exist by 1963. Stock photos cannot be used to establish a latest possible date, because as long as the photos exists in some form, somewhere, it may get used. For example, I have a very amusing toy jobber catalog from 1977: some of the photos they use to illustrate then-current Breyer products date back to the 1950s! (And don't necessarily match up to the product advertised!)

I'll have to talk about that wonderful old toy catalog another day – it really is worth its own post.

The stock photo problem doesn't happen as much as it used to, because the turnover is so high that individual releases don't have the opportunity to change over time. The markings or masking might be a bit different, or they might switch the finish from matte to gloss, but the photographs they release are a lot closer to the final production pieces than they used to be. We still hear griping and moaning about the models don't EXACTLY match the photographs, but compared to what we had to deal with in the 1970s, those complaints seem almost comical.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

He Who Must Be Possessed

Yes, I succumbed to the power of the almighty FAS. There it was, a quarter to three in the afternoon, and suddenly wave of nostalgia washed over me, and I realized I was in desperate need of my credit card. I slept through Music City, and hesitated on Frappe: I wasn't going to miss this pretty boy.

I'm another old fart who grew up with the Palomino FAS. And an Alabaster FAS is partially responsible for getting me in the hobby. (Not my own: it's a long story, best told by itself.)

It seems pretty remarkable, given the Family Arabians 50 some years of history, that this model represents the first official release in any kind of pinto. Plenty of Appaloosas, but no true Pinto releases: all we've had before were some test pieces, and the ultra-elusive Ford Pintos, seen here in a photo from Marney's album.

There are believed to be two complete Families, and an unknown number of Foals, distributed to team members who worked on the Ford Pinto Design Team. I live in an area filled with current and former Ford employees, some of whom probably knew and worked with those guys, so I still have a tiny sliver of hope that I'll run across one of those Foals locally.

That airbrushy style of pinto is best known for its appearance on the ever-popular Indian Pony, though it has cropped up on test pieces since then. I know crisp, tightly masked pintos are all the rage among the young whippersnappers right now, but I certainly wouldn't bypass a small SR or two of airbrushy chestnut pintos, especially of the older molds. (QH Gelding, or Stretch Morgan, or dare I say it, even Old Timer himself?)

There haven't been many intentionally unrealistic colors on the Family Arabians either: Charcoal and Woodgrain are the only two that come to mind, and I'm not so sure that Charcoal wasn't considered “realistic.” Being something that was probably targeted more towards the younger set, I don't think its likely they were even considered for inclusion in the original Decorator experiment. (Actually, we don't know much of anything about the original Decorators, period. Another post I'm working on, coming soon.)

Some hobbyists have gotten pretty jaded about piece counts, and thought that 200 pieces was a “high” piece run for this model. Piece counts are all relative: 200 might seem like a lot for a hoity-toity exclusive event, but not so much for a wider release. That was a non-untypical piece count for Specials in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and many of those model had little problem selling – and still don't. Prices may not be what they once were, but you can still get a decent return on your money for something like the Chestnut Congress PAM, especially if you purchased it firsthand.

Poking around the online hobby community, I saw all the right kind of reactions; factoring in the nostalgia, I figured the Anniversary FAS would be a brisk seller. And he was: gone in less than four hours.

Not as brisk as the Silver Snow from last year, but the online model horse community had an entire weekend to freak out about him, not a single weeknight. There were also no order limits back then like there are now – something that had to be instituted because of what happened with Silver Snow.

Now to make room for my sparkly little pony. I wonder if I can hide him in the holiday decorations somewhere...