Monday, November 29, 2010

Tracking Tack

Busy, busy, busy: shipping packages, making holiday ornaments, chasing down the dog. I spent a good half an hour today chasing her through the more wooded areas of our subdivision today - and another half pulling all the burrs out of my coat. No sweaters for Vita this Christmas - the little monster loves it cold!

In between the random moments of chaos, I’ve decided undertake another research topic: tack and accessories. (I have the week off, I might as well take advantage of it, right?)

I’ve pretty much ignored the subject of tack altogether: whenever I had a choice between buying more horses, or more tack, I almost always bought the horse. After a few half-hearted attempts at making my own, I came to the realization that I didn’t have that special kind of crazy in me to be a performance shower.

This lack of engagement also extended to Breyer-made tack and accessories, unless it came in a set with a particularly interesting horse (i.e. ill-fated Palomino Adios) or was being modeled by one (the never-released Slate Gray Smart Chic Olena.)

Although Breyers came with molded-on tack and accessories from the very beginning, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that they started selling tack and accessories independent from the models themselves. I’ll only have about 40 years worth of research to do, instead of 60+, and I’m not going to bother trying to track down every color or design change. I don’t think most people are interested in Breyer tack and accessories to that level of detail, yet.

I’m only doing it for my own peace of mind: if it’s a Breyer product, I have to keep track of it. Heck, I keep track of dealer assortment numbers, store assortment numbers, and mold numbers, so why not obsess over tack a while? Someone’s gotta do it, right?

Since I don’t have any great insights into the world of Breyer tack right now, I’ll just share a photograph of a model whose rarity is solely defined by its tack:

It’s the #P45 White Fury/Prancer, with the incredibly scarce English Saddle option: the Racehorse’s saddle, with the Canadian Mountie’s saddle blanket in red.

When the Fury/Prancer was originally released in 1956, it could be ordered with either a Western or an English saddle. The fine print on the original dealer sheet explains why more dealers didn’t go with the English Saddle option: they had to ask for it!

All mention of the English Saddle option is gone by 1958; considering its rarity, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was discontinued by 1957. If you’re lucky, you’ll see maybe one of these turn up in any given year, where they’re sometimes mistaken as a variation of the Canadian Mountie’s horse.

That’s what I assumed when I found mine at the local flea market, until I showed a picture of mine to Marney, and she set me straight. That 1956 dealer sheet - something I didn't have access to, then - is the only paper evidence we have of what it really was.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Appaloosa Yearlings

I’ve never been much of a Black Friday enthusiast; aside from the horses, there’s never been anything I needed so badly that I was willing to stand in line for hours in the rain or cold. There are a few things I intend on picking up today, but there is nothing I need to stand in a line for.

I briefly considered making a Toys R Us run to pick up the half-priced Stablemates set, but then I remembered the mistake I made a couple weeks ago. I had a half an hour to kill before work, the TRU was right across the street, and I thought what the heck, I’ll go check out the Breyer selection.

Not realizing it was the same night as their "Midnight Madness" sale.

That sort of thing happens to me all the time. It’s like I have an internal flash mob GPS. (Have you ever asked yourself "How on Earth did I end up in the middle of a Jesse Jackson rally?" I have.)

With absolutely no segue whatsoever, I present to you my Appaloosa Yearling chorus line:

(You’ll just have to pretend that the Palomino Western Pony is my Chalky Yearling, who for reasons unknown even to me is apparently detained somewhere else for the duration.)

I hardly ever find Liver Chestnut Yearlings, and Palomino ones aren’t super common in these parts, either. But at any given time, I always have at least one Appaloosa Yearling either on my saleslist, or in my body box. If I manage to sell one, the Universe manages to put in an automatic restock order.

That’s how come I have about a half dozen in my collection. You get that many passing through, and you’re bound to find variations. Big blankets, small blankets, different blazes, differently colored spots? Yup, gotta keep 'em.

There’s only one I consciously sought out - the two sock variation. She was a tough one: it took me a while to find her, and she’s not minty mint. It’s definitely an earlier variation, but it’s not one seen in any catalogs or other contemporaneous PR materials: all of the pictures of her from 1971 onward show her with those solid, Sandy Bay legs.

The Appaloosa Yearling is the only Breyer model to come in this peculiar shade of bay-that’s-not-bay. I can’t even recall seeing any vintage test colors that might have sported it. The closest match is the #154 Bay Blanket POA, whose color tends to be much warmer and more orangey.

The fact that the color is peculiar to the Appaloosa Yearling makes me wonder if they were modeling it after a specific, real-life horse. I haven’t found any evidence of that, but it’s another one of those notions I keep in the back of my mind as I mine old horse magazines for other precious nuggets of Breyer info.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Glosses. Whatever.

All this whining about the Winter Othellos is starting to turn me off Glosses. Reeves should have made the Winter a Gambler’s Choice: if the off-the-shelf models in the series were available in Matte and Gloss from the very beginning, the Winters should have been too.

Then the whining would have been confined to individual tales of personal bad luck, instead of devolving into tedious arguments about the incompetence of Reeves’ marketing strategies. There’s much to be criticized there, no doubt, but the level of discourse rarely rises above "I didn’t get exactly what I wanted" = BAD.

I fall into that trap sometimes, myself: it wouldn’t take much effort on my part to construct a fairly righteous rant about my inability to secure a reasonably priced Diamond Jubilee, and the crazy way they seem to have distributed them. (No rhyme or reason, there.)

Speaking of crazy distribution patterns, I have no idea how the whole Gloss Valentine & Heartbreaker thing is going to pan out, either. Is this just a one-time thing, or all year/run long? Totally random, or a true one to five ratio?

It’d be nice if they did stick to the "one gloss for every five matte" ratio. That’d mean 1000 Gloss sets for every 5000 Mattes produced. If we peg the sales at a conservative 18,000 pieces, that’d be 3000 gloss sets out in the wild - more than enough to satisfy demand.

(Yes, really.)

It’s still too early to tell what Reeves is doing at this point. Trotting over to your favorite online dealer and placing an order for a Gloss one seems a little presumptuous to me.

It’s clear that they’re tinkering with different distribution patterns. I’m all for that: the more equitable or random the system, the better. The way it is now, some hobby-specific retailers have sort of gamed the system, and taken the "hunt" out of the treasure hunts.

I like the possibility that any given store might contain some rare or random treasure, even if it means that I might not get everything I want - like a Diamond Jubilee. The trick for Reeves is going to be in finally finding just the right plan - and hoping they won’t have ticked us all off by the time they do.

I do feel kind of sorry for the dealers: this should be the time of the year when everyone starts to get excited about the next year’s releases, tour stops, and the first real news about BreyerFest. Instead, everyone's having another meltdown about another glossy that may or may not be all that rare. And taking it out on them.

If I get lucky, I get lucky. I don’t have the time or the money to chase every shiny object waved in front of my face.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Awesome Thing, Revealed

Behold my awesome thing:

No, it’s not a cash register drawer. It’s a Vanity Organizer, manufactured by the W.F. Goodell Co. of Louisville, Kentucky. Says so right on the front:

The most exciting part of this object is not what it says on the front, but on the back:

It's the old Breyer logo! Told you I wasn’t imagining it!

One of these Vanity Organizers came up on eBay several years ago, but I was outbid, and not by a small amount. The vendor who listed it mistakenly identified it as Bakelite, or Catalin, or some other buzzword that vintage plastic collectors lose their minds at the mention of.

Fortunately, the vendor on eBay who listed my newest treasure actually did his research, and even went into some detail in his listing about the likelihood of this being a Breyer-molded piece. I’d like to think that my earlier blog post about it might have been part of that research, but I haven’t gotten around to asking him yet.

This thing isn’t just huge - 13 by 15 inches - it’s heavy, too: it weighs almost exactly two pounds. If it’s not Tenite, it’s something with a similar density - you could definitely do some damage to someone with it. It’s a little hard to tell from the photographs, but the color is sort of a slightly mottled, swirly brown - think burled wood, not tortoiseshell. It’s not too different from my clock with the same mold mark.

I haven’t found much information about the W.F. Goodell Company, yet. If you Google the name, you’ll find a couple of pictures of a William F. Goodell in the University of Louisville’s online archive. The pictures are from ca. 1930-1932, and mentions that he was a manager for Equitable Life of Iowa, an insurance company.

I don’t know how or when he took the leap from insurance to manufacturing. Or why he would have chosen a custom molder in Chicago over someone more local.

Breyer might really have just been the closest, or the closest one with the lowest bid. More local molders might have turned him down for various reasons. It could have been a friend of a friend thing, too. I really don’t know. There weren’t a lot of custom molders back then to choose from - according to Jeffrey Meikle’s American Plastic: A Cultural History, there were only about 370 molding and fabricating companies operating in the U.S. by 1946.

You might have noticed that each compartment on this tray is labeled for various vanity-type objects - combs, brushes, manicure equipment, curlers and pins. You can tell that a man designed this thing: there are not one, but two separate compartments for "miscellaneous" items! Was Mr. Goodell too embarrassed - or too intimidated - to ask the missus for a little advice about the average contents of a lady’s vanity?

(Her name was Gladys, by the way. Her picture is in the University of Louisville’s online archive, too.)

You know what this latest acquisition means, don't you? I’m only an International Harvester steering wheel and a couple of Money Managers short of a totally rad "Before Breyer was Breyer" Collector’s Class entry.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Rarity, Again

I just got a supercool thing in the mail, but since I’m a little crunched for time today, y’all will have to wait a couple of days before I can discuss it in full.

Many of us have gotten used to the using the term "rare" or "exclusive" only when referring to items of exceeding rareness. Since I am somewhat in between topics here, I guess it’s a good time to address the discrepancy between the way I use those words, and the way the rest of the online hobby community does.

Hobbyists who have become blasé about sub-100 piece special runs have forgotten that what they consider "rare" is not what either the greater hobby or the general public considers "rare." The online hobbyist community - and here I refer to those who actively participate in the online community, and not just everyone who has access to a computer - sometimes forgets that it does not encompass the entire hobby.

There are lots and lots of passive, part-time or casual collectors, whose interactions with the hobby may be limited to a subscription to Just About Horses, standing orders with their local toy stores, or lurking online. For many of them, attending BreyerFest - and acquiring any of the special runs distributed there - is out of their reach, physically or financially. All of those special runs, to them, are rare.

Dealer Specials, Web Specials, Treasure Hunt Redemption Horses, and Connoisseur models also fall into this category. If they can’t just walk into a store and buy it when they want it, it’s rare.

That’s why I so often rail about the lack of precision in Reeves’ language. The words they chose were calibrated to a certain segment of the hobby - ironically, to the ones always complaining about Reeves not catering to their specific wants and desires - but did not take the members of the larger hobby into consideration.

Like a certain acquaintance of mine.

I just made a rather big sale (nearly half my saleslist!) to a very nice gentleman whose interaction with the greater hobby is rather limited. He subscribes to JAH, corresponds with a few other hobbyists, but buys most of his models locally. I’m not sure how he managed to get my name, but he always calls me after BreyerFest for the latest gossip - and my sales list.

Most of the stuff that populates my sales list, at any given time, consists of items that most of the online hobbyist community does not consider rare, like this rather nice #103 Appaloosa Yearling. I get most of my "stock" from the flea market, thrift stores, and occasionally from online auction lots: super-rare stuff doesn’t turn up in those venues very often. When it does, I tend to keep it.

(I almost kept this Yearling, incidentally. I already have six other variations, so she had to go.)

While the items I sell to him aren’t considered rare and desirable to us, they are to him. His notions about rarity are shaped by what’s available to him. In his sphere, rarity is a word that can extend to items manufactured in the thousands, not merely the dozens.

So yes, many items sold at the warehouse sale would definitely fall into his definition of "rare."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

8 Buck Hucks

Good gravy Reeves, just when I thought you were starting to "get" it, you pull this kind of nonsense on us again. Here you had us - and me - convinced that this wasn’t going to be anything more special than recently discontinued merchandise, old XMAS stock, and maybe a little of the WEG stuff. You made a big fuss about there not being many "highly limited" SRs.

You might want to review your dictionaries, too. I don’t think the term "highly limited" means what you think it means. Color Crazy Hucks and Fun Foals qualify as "highly limited" SRs to a lot of folks.

Marking stuff up to 80% off was not an endearing move, either. It’s not an incentive, it’s an irritant: $30 Dances with Wolves or $8 CC Hucks do not magically make a 12 hour commute any more plausible.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against the concept of a warehouse sale. It’s the execution that leaves so much to be desired.

Onto other things. I think I’ll clear up a couple of issues that came up in the comments section recently.

First, about Shrinkies: yes, I am aware of the existence of more recent Shrinkies. Unlike the late 1980s Shrinkies, the more modern ones occur more randomly - a batch here, a batch there. That suggests to me that the problem is more a result of faulty plastic, than faulty molding. (Bad molding certainly wouldn’t help, though.)

All Cellulose Acetate models will shrink eventually, it’s just a matter of when. If your models manage to make it through the first decade or so of their lives without exhibiting any unpleasant behaviors, I think they’re safe for the long haul, however long that may actual be.

Now, a few more words about shipper boxes.

We call the early, corrugated cardboard boxes shipper boxes because they were designed to be shipped as is. One side typically had the spaces marked out for the shipping and return addresses:

The other side would have the shipping details and instructions:

If you can’t read it, it says:

Contents: Merchandise - 4th Class Mail
Postmaster: This parcel may be opened for postage
inspection if necessary. Return and forwarding
postage guaranteed.

The example illustrated above (from a #22 Brown Pinto Shetland Pony) was obviously never mailed, but some were. I once owned an old Family Arabian Stallion with a used shipper box. (The best part was the return address: Mission Supply House!)

The shipper box was the standard packaging for virtually all Breyers prior to 1973. There were some exceptions - Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, the Horse and Rider sets all came in fancy shelf boxes - but most models didn’t merit that kind of treatment. It was cheap, and practical, especially for mail-order businesses like Mission Supply House. Address it, stamp it, and it’s ready to go!

Shipper boxes worked for retail businesses, too. In the 1950s, 1960s, and into part of the 1970s, most toy stores would have a display of horses on a shelf or a case. You’d make your selection, and the store would then go to the stock room and get you a still-boxed one. A fancy box wasn’t necessary to make the sale.

I imagine that the shipper box might have even been a bit of a selling point, especially to grandparents with distant grandkids. Straight from the toy store to the post office - no muss, no fuss!

I’m guessing that my bull was either old store stock, or a gift that was purchased, and never given. Doesn’t matter either way, he has a happy home on my shelves now.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Little Boxes

My sales were rather excellent this week, so today’s post is going to be more pictures than words. (I’ve got about a half dozen packages to get wrapped up and out of here by tomorrow.) Don’t fret, I’ve got some nice, meaty posts in the pipeline.

Much fuss was made recently concerning the petite size of the Giselle Melange’s shipping box. Fortunately, there did not seem to be any issues with damages above and beyond the usual amount of spoilage, aside from the mental duress experienced by collectors world wide upon seeing those boxes for the first time.

This isn’t the first time that Breyer has used boxes that seemed, shall we say, snug. Take a look at my most recent acquisition, an upgrade of my #72 Semi-rough cut Walking Polled Angus Bull, mint in his original illustrated shipper box:

I had been hoping to upgrade my Semi-rough cut for quite some time, but I wasn’t expecting one quite that grand. (An illustrated shipper? Awesome!) He’s so minty-mint, the wrapping tissue is still intact:

In case the snugness of the fit doesn’t boggle your mind, here’s the box in comparison to a Family Arabian Mare. No special reason for the selection of a FAM, other than her ubiquity:

It’s teeny-tiny! (Yeah, yeah, she’s a Sorrel FAM. She’s part of the office herd.)

I already knew how small the mold is (he’s only slightly larger than Classic scale, more or less) but it still blew my mind to see how comfortably the whole package fit into a standard 12 x 12 x 8 Priority Mail box.

The only damage incurred in his 50-year trip through time and space? A pair of very slight eartip rubs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Metropolis, and Vinegar Syndrome

I was flipping through the channels on the TV machine last night, looking for something to keep me company as I labored on my quilting project. Wouldn’t you know it, the restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was on TCM.

I just about plotzed with joy, until I realized that I had already missed the first hour. I’ve made a point of not watching a film that I’ve already missed a significant portion of, unless I’ve seen it before. While I’ve seen Metropolis - several times, actually - this near-complete version, with nearly a half an hour of previously lost footage, might as well be a completely different film.

That film and I have a history. It was one of the first films I obsessed over. An influential science-fiction masterpiece of the silent era, the original cut lost shortly after its original release? It seemed so romantic, mysterious and alluring: I pulled my first all-nighter in my early teens just to watch a blurry, incomplete print on a fuzzy UHF channel. (Only rich folks had VHS machines back then.)

I didn’t see it again until college, when an electronics company gave a presentation about their latest newfangled video player, using the Giorgio Moroder version. I had only seen snippets of that version in the video for Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, one of my favorite music videos then or ever.

That song eventually inspired Lady Gaga, and then Lady Gaga inspired me at this year’s BreyerFest.

Let that be a demonstration of my ability to weave Breyer into virtually any conversation about anything.

Actually, there’s a much less roundabout reason here for discussion old films and the restoration thereof: vinegar syndrome. The topic of shrinkiness and ooziness came up again on Blab a few weeks ago, and much mention was made of "vinegar syndrome," which is the term that film archivists use to describe the breakdown of film stock. Film stock that’s made of almost exactly the same stuff that Breyers are made of.

"Almost exactly" is the operative phrase here. While the base materials are the same, the manufacturing processes and plasticizer ratios are different, as are the conditions each product is subjected to. Even the most banged-up of carpet herds lives a far more genteel life than any given film print.

I know from personal experience: I worked in a movie theatre for several years. That whole "frame melting on screen" thing? Saw it live, ladies. (We had old projection equipment, so I got real handy with the splicer.)

The irony of it all is that acetate film stock was invented as a more stable and less explosive alternative to nitrate stock, which had a habit of spontaneously combusting. (Metropolis's original negative was on nitrate stock. The fire that destroyed it, however, was not spontaneous.)

Breyer shrinkiness and ooziness are undoubtedly the effects of a form of vinegar syndrome, but it’s also obvious that the Shrinkies of the late 1980s were outliers, rather than the norm. There are far more models that are just fine, and will continue to be for some time to come.

We don’t really know what the shelf life of an average Breyer model is, or will be. It took about 25 to 30 years for vinegar syndrome to become a problem in the film industry, but it hasn’t been all that much of a problem with Breyers - yet.

Some of that can be attributed to the fact that hobbyists are already doing everything "right" in terms of mitigating acetate degradation - storage in cool and dry places, away from extremes of heat and light. We’re only about 60 years out on this product, and only time will tell if vinegar syndrome becomes a more widespread problem.

For what it’s worth, I’m not worrying too much about it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I went against my better judgment and bought a couple of things online this week. That’s what I get for doing research on the Internet - you start playing around with obscure keywords searches, and the next thing you know there are invoices in your inbox.

So I decided to take a break from research yesterday and get stuff ready to sell - taking photos, writing descriptions, pulling out packing materials, and all that. I already managed to list a bunch of stuff on MH$P today - nothing spectacular, but decently priced. (And as an extra incentive - it's all postage paid!)

It probably wasn’t a good idea to list it today, with everyone freaking out about the Breeders Cup and Zenyatta, but at least it’s done and out there. Anything that doesn’t sell there is going to get dumped onto eBay eventually, along with all my other bric-a-brac. If I’m really motivated, I might even get an Etsy shop going and finally put some of those spare quilts of mine online.

I see that Reeves is having a warehouse sale of its own coming up. A little too far away for me to cash in on, but a nice gesture for anyone in the area, I suppose. I do like how they put that little disclaimer on the bottom about the absence of extra-special stuff. I’m sure a lot of folks who go to the sale will conveniently ignore that last sentence anyway, and get miffed when they don’t find it.

They’ve got one Black Friday sale and it ain’t in November, folks.

I think, at most, they’ll have some leftover Holiday stuff and maybe a little bit of WEG merchandise. The rest of it will just be recently discontinued merchandise and overstock - all the fun stuff that usually ends up at Tuesday Morning or T.J. Maxx.

Here’s another thing I found while poking around the Internet the other day, in the middle of my research on the Dapples/Ponies line: another Little Debbie Snack Cake Special!

I don’t normally collect the Dapples/Ponies items, but if I happen to end up with a dash of extra cash somehow, I just might spring for a Swiss Roll. The previous two sets in the series - Ginger and Oatmeal Crème - were cute, but the customized saddle pad with the blue gingham trim on the Swiss Roll sets off my squee-meter.

I think it’s because I’ve been experimenting with gingham in some of my recent quilts. Gingham’s not the easiest material to work with, because the checked patterning tends to overpower most conventional designs. I’ve managed to come up with a few satisfying solutions to the "gingham problem," so a Swiss Roll might be a nice little tribute to my artistic triumphs.

Has fewer calories, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The weather is cold, damp and generally yucktastic - the perfect time to work on warm, fluffy things. So I pulled out the quilt that Vita the Destroyer almost killed and ate over the summer, and popped it into the "new" hoop I got over the weekend. The quilting is going to be of the quick and dirty kind - it’s not going to look as lovely as I hoped, but it will be done.

Imperfect, but completed > perfect, but unfinished.

Speaking of the unfinished, I continue to slog through the research note pile. It’s getting there. As usual, it’s the newer stuff that’s slowing me down - it’s all those itty-bitty details I failed to note when I had the chance. Details I didn’t think I needed, or thought I had written down, and didn’t.

I’ve been trying to clean them up as I go by spot checking on various Internet sites, with limited success. Three different sites will give me three different answers - or even worse, the same answer I know is just flat out wrong! The most disheartening part is many of the things I look up - obscure, and sometimes not so obscure SRs - have vanished entirely on the Internet. Not just things I’ve taken notes on, but things I’ve owned.

I often complain about the gaps in the historical records, but the bigger problem isn’t the gaps, it’s the volume. There’s sixty years of history, several hundred molds, several thousand releases, and variations after variations. With so much data to be known, it’s no wonder that so much data gets lost in the shuffle - or that so many hobbyists totally zone out of the subject altogether.

Until they run across something they think might be worth something. The assumption is always that previously unknown = rare. No, sometimes unknown is just unknown, or unrecognized: just because you’re not familiar with it doesn’t make it rare.

On the flip side, some of the things we deem as familiar and common are anything but. I’ve always been amused, for example, that the Brown Pinto Indian Pony with Indian markings is considered more desirable than the one without, because it’s the ones without that are more scarce.

One example from my personal experience is the original SR Affirmed. Not the Traditional release on Cigar, or the "accidental" SR Gloss, or the ornament: the one from the Classic Triple Crown Set, released through Hobby Center Toys in 1988. Here’s mine:

Notice something different about him? Yeah, he’s got a couple of hind stockings, something the real-life Affirmed did not. Since he was purchased shortly before my brief hiatus from the hobby - where my contact with other hobbyists and their models was rather limited - I made the assumption that that was the way all the Affirmeds had been made. The other horses in the Triple Crown Sets weren’t very accurate representations, either, so I shrugged it off as just one of those things.

A few years later, when I actually saw other sets that weren’t mine, I realized it wasn’t. It didn’t make that big a difference in the way I valued the model: the "real" Affirmed was one of my great loves back in the day, and I cherished this representation of him, rare or not.