Thursday, August 26, 2010

They Can’t All Be Beautiful

You know, sometimes I think hobbyists take the word model in the term "model horse" a little bit too seriously. I’m not talking about anatomical functionality (a topic of which I think a few artists and customizers are a wee bit militant about) but sheer physical attractiveness. Not every horse in the world is beautiful and realistically, not every model horse should be, either.

Which brings to mind poor, homely little Sea Star. He was modeled (admittedly, not well) after one of the Wesley Dennis illustrations done for the interior of the book. You may recognize it, because it eventually replaced the original dust jacket art:

And here’s the original dust jacket, if you haven’t seen it before. (From my collection - it’s a first edition, too!) I like the original cover better, but the "lonely little thing on the beach" probably pulled at the heartstrings more:

His inherent pathetic quality may explain why I’ve had so many of the original release #16 over the years. I’m down to just three right now, but that’s because I weeded out a few variations that I really needed to upgrade anyway.

Variations, you say? Of the more than ordinary Sea Star? Yes, of both mold and markings.

The markings are the easiest to spot: there are multiple versions of his star. The earliest versions have a roughly rectangular shape to them, while later versions have stars with more distinctly defined points - usually four, but sometimes more. Some are large, some are small; the one on the right is a larger one:

I haven’t tracked the relative scarcity of each star variation, so I couldn’t tell you which ones are rarer than others. It’s kind of a moot point anyhow, seeing as there’s never been a huge secondary market for Sea Stars.

On the other hand, I can say that one of the mold variations is actually quite rare: the "Pre-B" version.

Sea Star came out in 1980, right around the time Breyer was experimenting with that funky form of Tenite. Since that Tenite couldn’t be mixed with the original form of Tenite they were using, the molds had the "B" mark added to them to distinguish the new plastic pieces from the old, and prevent regrind accidents.

I had assumed that since he came out shortly after the switchover to the different plastic began, that all the earliest Sea Stars would have come with the B mark. Being a new mold you’d think the B mark would have been integral to the mold from the beginning, correct?

One day, while comparing my multitude of Sea Stars, I noticed that some of them didn’t have the B mark. That’s not really noteworthy in itself, since he was available through 1987, and the B mark was removed from the mold by 1983 or so. What was noteworthy was that there were two different versions without B marks: some had a smooth spot - and one didn’t. The ones with the smooth spot I assumed were the "Post-B" version: the mark was removed, and that spot was just evidence of the repair.

The one without that spot, without the B, but with its original sculptured roughness? It has to be a "Pre-B" version!

Just how scarce are these "Pre-B" Sea Stars? It’s hard to say; It’s another one of those topics I haven’t followed up on. The only alleged "Pre-B" I have is the one that I got for Christmas in 1980, and I have no idea how long he had been sitting on the store shelf or in the warehouse prior.

It’s possible that they could have molded the first batch of Sea Stars with the last bit of regular Tenite before they completely switched over to the other stuff. A little bit of plastic can go a long way when you’re molding something as small as Sea Star.

But I’m not so sure that’s what happened.

What’s complicating the matter is that I think the Sea Star mold, for whatever reason, was either temporarily shelved or delayed. Why do I say that? Even though the Sea Star was officially released in 1980, his original box is copyrighted 1978. I could understand a year earlier, perhaps to capitalize on the gift-giving seasons, but two?

What happened? Copyright problem? Mold issues? Cash flow? Or was it just a really elaborate typo?

If the Sea Star was originally planned for 1978, it raises the possibility that these "Pre-B" versions had been molded as early as 1978, and sat in the Breyer warehouse prior to its official release in 1980. Those first batches would have hit the shelves first, followed shortly after by newly molded, "B" marked pieces.

Now there’s a strange, sad image in my head: barrels and barrels of abandoned, unpainted Sea Stars, sitting in some disused corner of the Breyer warehouse. Ah, almost too much to bear! If only I had a time machine to know for sure.


GWR said...

Aw, Sea Star! I love the little guy. He and Phantom Wings can come join Misty and Stormy in my herd of "not exactly sought-after" vintage Breyers from the 70s and 80s any day. <3

Little Black Car said...

I finally got one of these a couple of months ago--"rescued" from an antique shop--after thinking about getting one for, oh, 25 years. I got "Sea Star" and a glossy palomino FAM in remarkably un-abused condition.

As far as taking model anatomy too seriously: I'm afraid I'm one of those people who wants biomechanical correctness, but I do draw the line at trying too hard to explain some OF paint jobs. Like, the old pinto Classic Mustang mare, or Hagen-Renaker's "doeskin", which is neither buckskin nor dun nor champagne nor anything else. Sometimes you just have to accept that your model's color or pattern wouldn't exist in real life, and pick any of several less-than-ideal approximations.

(Which is not to say that many of my sentimental favorites aren't also some of the least correct, just that, given the opportunity to fix them in the process of customizing, I always would. But I'm an unabashed lover of Running Mares, Stock Horse Mares, and FAM's.)

Kirsten Wellman said...

I'm in the biomechanically correct boat, too, but usually only in terms of judging breed halter in shows. My sense of equine aesthetic appeal is colored by what I perceive to be correctly structured models, though, and that's therefore what I tend to buy.

That said, I'm much more critical of the anatomy of new models than the old Hess molds. Many of those are sentimental favorites that I like regardless of ABCs, like Buckshot. (And I adore the new Ruffian despite her wonky shoulder.) >:D

ANDREA said...

I wouldn't consider either of you to fall into the category of "the militants." If you can appreciate a "less than perfect" original finish model for what it is, you're not.

The hobbyists of whom I speak are the ones who get annoyed at Reeves for even producing such a thing, who openly wonder why anyone would collect such-and-such a mold in the first place, who declare a certain mold or paint flaw as an unforgivable tragedy of the highest order, and use barfing icons whenever certain molds even get mentioned in polite conversation.

Rio said...

Poor little Sea Star. Being in love with the Misty story, Sea Star is one of my favourite models, yet I only own one.

I really need to get a copy of the Original Sea Star and also purchase a copy of the book.

In regards to models being beautiful, I just collect what I like. I adore John Henry even if some people think he is too lumpy or bumpy :)

Tehana said...

I'm a huge Sea Star fan and I as well cannot stand when people go off. They are toys people, seriously. We are very lucky as hobbyists to have some of the most talented equine sculptors sculpt for Breyer, the word "Spoiled" comes to mind.

Tehana said...
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Amanda said...

Glad I'm not the only one that loves Sea Star! I'd wondered at times... I have five at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I admit, I don't like this mold. Not just because he's so wonky, but that they could have done him so much cuter like the baby in the book!! lol!

I show, and I do like Conformationally correct horses. But I understand that these are only models and don't get bent out of shape about it. I do like some of the older molds for their style and presence, there are congas of Running Mares, running Stallions and PAS's on these shelves and the more militant consider them among the worst.

I consider myself more of a vintage collector anyway and there are several newer molds that just don't speak to me. Salinero and Goffert for example....

Helen said...

Amen to "they can't all be beautiful". Some, like Sea Star, have to settle for being so ugly that they're cute.

I've been a huge fan of Sea Star for years (it all started with Scribbles back in 1995) as he was a perfect choice for a conga line, since he's not released very often and is cheap to buy even when he IS manufactured.

Glad to see others love him, too. I'd like to know if there was ever a Sea Star Test Run produced. I remember contemplating buying one off of the HaynetExchange years ago since someone had one listed for sale, before I left the hobby (of course, now I'm back, and continuing my conga line has become my first priority).

Anyway, great sleuthing skills, and thanks for the history on him!

Sandra said...

I have a Sea Star with an almost perfect 5-point star and no B mark. When the spot was smoothed, would it be perfectly smooth? I wish I could find comparison pictures of smoothed versus pre-B.

Anonymous said...

I have one of these, but he has a misprinted eye. No black on it. I also don't think he has a star