Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spring Cleaning: Getting the Funk Out

Honestly, I have no idea if I got one of the Mother Lode models listed on the Breyer web site tonight. Like everyone else I spent 10 minutes trying to log on, and then having it taken out of my order queue when I went to pay.

Then they reappeared again, about an hour later, and my order allegedly went through. I figured that the worst that could happen is a cancellation phone call or e-mail from Reeves, right?

Look, I can accept not getting a super-limited model. I’ve been really lucky the past couple of years, with the Glossy War Horse, the White Moose, the Buried Treasure Lusitano, and the first Vault Sale. So missing out on a pretty gold Lady Phase would be no biggie. (My favorite was the Gold Buckskin! The "common" one of the three, allegedly.)

It’s the waiting that kills. If I’m going to be disappointed, I want the pain and suffering over with quickly, like pulling a Band Aid off. That’s all I’m asking.

Moving on…

I had an interesting experience with a piece of vintage fabric over the weekend. I wanted to give it a quick rinse or two to get the flea market "funk" out of it, but it turned into a two-day-long ordeal to vanquish the "Old Lady’s Ashtray" smell emanating from the washtub. I’ve had stinky fabric before, but this so bad I was having flashbacks to a particularly odoriferous family road trip in 1979.

(Four chain-smoking adults in a GMC Jimmy with the windows rolled up most of the time because of the rain. Good times!)

"Destinkifying" is a topic that comes up with regular frequency in my e-mails, and since flea market season is in full swing, it’s probably a good time to bring it up here again, for reference.

The Cellulose Acetate that Breyers are made of is semi-synthetic, and semi-permeable. In other words, it can absorb stuff it comes into contact with: water, grease, oil, cigarette smoke, perfume, and all manner of airborne pollutants.

Cigarette smoke is among the worst: not only does it make the model smell bad, the nicotine from the smoke also makes the plastic look dingy - and in more extreme cases, darkly yellowed.

The first step should be a basic cleaning: dunking and soaking in very warm water with a good amount of high quality dish soap. Dawn seems to be the brand of choice among most hobbyists, but if some other brand works well for you, it should work for your horses, too.

This should get the top layer of grime off, and unyellow the model slightly by consequence. I wouldn’t recommend a dunk any longer than overnight, because the model will start to absorb the water as well, possibly lifting the finish. (Glossies are especially prone to this!)

Naturally, this is not an ideal solution for any model with labels or stickers. And surprisingly, anything with metallic paint - either as tack trim, or as the base body color. If you’ve ever had any experience with vintage Decorators, you know that the gold paint that Breyer has used in the past has been of variable permanence: it fades, it tarnishes, it corrodes.

It’s not that those models can’t be cleaned or unyellowed, but they should be done with extreme caution.

Squirt bottles are a useful tool for those models that can’t or shouldn’t be dunked. Mix up a solution of warm water and a little bit of dish soap, and set to stream. Spray and blot quickly, as necessary; a cotton swab comes in handy for the nooks and crannies of the mane and tail. But again, be gentle: there are some finishes that are prone to rubbing (Alabasters and Dapple Grays), and the less pressure you put on their finishes, the better.

Once the initial cleaning is done - by dunking, or by spray bottling - put the model in a sunny window with cool exposure: this should dissipate the remaining odor after a couple of days. If not, either repeat the procedure, or take the cleaning process to the next step: baking soda.

Sprinkle the model liberally with baking soda and seal it in a plastic bag, preferably with the rest of the box, and let it set for several days. Periodically pull it out and check to see if the funkiness has reached an acceptable level.

I’ve also been told that dryer sheets could do the trick, but this is something I haven’t risked yet, as Vita finds them to be a treat of the same level of desirability as the "candy" the deer leave on the lawn. She hasn't shown any interest in my horses lately, no need to give her any incentives, right?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Brick Pavers

Another quiet day at the flea market; it’s not that there wasn’t anything to buy, but that I’ve been in more of a selling mode than a buying mode, and I already have plenty to sell. I have a rather big expense coming up this week too, that helped stay my hand the few times.

I guess there was a big model horse auction down in Indiana on Saturday; I was momentarily tempted, only because a Raffle Model Fiero was involved. It’s a long story, about a debt I’m not obligated to pay, but weighs heavily on my mind nonetheless.

The interest it generated on Blab quashed that idea almost immediately. I think it ended up going in the neighborhood of $600 - "cheap" in a relative sense, though not sufficiently for me. Good for the seller/estate, though, which is all that matters.

I’ve spent most of the weekend so far taking care of other old business, some of it model horse related, but mostly not. (The garden looks…better. Not good, but not embarrassing.)

I did a quick survey of my Polled Hereford Bull situation, and I have six, not five: one I had thought I sold I apparently didn’t. He’s very similar to another variation that I have, as in both of them appear to be made of one of those bright white, almost-Chalky Tenites they were messing around with in the early 1970s. (I haven’t found a "true" Chalky of the PHB - yet.)

The one I’ll be keeping is a very bright cinnamon color with high airbrushed socks, and the one that I’ll be selling (eventually) has shorter socks and more of a brick-red tone. Even thought they’re easily distinguishable, and not one of those only-I-can-see-it variations, I’ve gotten to the point where more subtle variations aren’t that much of a big deal to me anymore.

And besides, the PHB mold is BIG. He’s like a brick paver with legs. He has an almost Othello-like quality for eating up shelf space. There's only so many I can keep around.

One of my Polled Herefords who is not going anywhere for quite some time is this oddball that I picked up from Bob Peterson a while back:

He wasn’t too expensive, actually, because there’s not a lot of competition for rare and/or weird Polled Hereford Bulls. I’m not too sure what he was supposed to be - a touched up cull, maybe? Someone goofing around with the airbrush on their lunch break? A straight up test color? Something associated with the Robbins Weathervane program?

I tend to think that last supposition is the most likely, because he has a "piggy bank" slot cut out of his back that was done prior to painting, not unlike the drill holes that were done on the Weathervane models. I find his slot incredibly appropriate: if any model had sufficient interior space to store spare change, it’s the Polled Hereford Bull.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ephemera and Granular Data

Sorry about that; it’s been a rough week, personally. Nothing you need to know about, other than it involved lots of heavy lifting, both literal and metaphorical. My workload will be lighter next week, so I hope that helps.

One thing that did lighten my load a little was the arrival of this beefy fellow, who I hope is the last thing I "have to" buy from That Guy in Arizona:

Polled Hereford Bull, with gray hooves and tan, not pink naughty bits. (Looks pinkish in photo, but definitely not in person!) I bid on the first one he had listed, and lost, but then he listed another using the same photo. I won him at a significantly lower price - low enough that it didn’t matter if he was a perfectly ordinary Polled Hereford, which is what most auction watchers probably assumed he was going to be.

So yay, tiny little victory for me. I sold a couple of my (duplicate) Polled Herefords recently, so I’m not 100 percent sure how many I have now. (Five, I think?)

I’m also warming up to the theory that my brother posited to me the other day, about these Arizona models: it could simply be the retirement stash of a Chicago-era Breyer employee.

This Arizona distraction aside, I’ve been trying to focus on the ephemera lately, anyway, due to my time and space issues. As you might have guessed from my earlier post about the 1973 Bentley Sales flier, I’ve come into a few more decent stashes. I won’t say my collection of Bentley Sales fliers is anywhere near complete, but it’s now big enough to merit a decent-sized binder of its own.

It’s neat and fascinating reading, especially when combined with the copies of the monthly sales tally sheets that Nancy Young sent me, years ago. It’s almost the very definition of granular data.

Yet, it’s not quite as helpful as you might think. Very few mail-order house Special Runs were truly "exclusive" back in the 1980s and early 1990s, so adding up the monthly sales figures for any given item for just one company isn’t going to give you a nice, neat number of items sold.

The numbers for special runs - especially pre-Reeves era - are also extremely fluid, more like estimates than hard numbers. They made what they could sell: if that meant making a few extra dozen - or cutting a run short that wasn’t moving - that’s what they did. 

Which ones that happened to, and to what degree, we will likely never know. No matter how finely grained our data on Breyer History get - and believe me, in places it’s positively silt-like - it will never be perfect.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


The flea market was lots of fun today, though it was mostly a "catch and release" kind of day. I’ve been attempting to reprice/rebag all my stock for BreyerFest over the past week, and it has made me extremely particular about the kinds of things I want to buy: not a whole lot.

I did find some nice china pieces, including a Ceramic Arts Studio Pomeranian who’ll probably be sticking around. If you had seen the box I found him in, you would be as amazed as I am at the fact that all his legs are intact and unbroken:

I also almost - almost! - bought a camel saddle. It’s not something you see every day, even at this flea market. The fact that I didn’t buy it is now bugging the heck out of me. That, and a big pile of African batik fabrics. I need more fabric like I need more horses at this point, though. (Oh, the quilts I could have made with them!)

I will be selling off some stuff via eBay and MH$P over the next few weeks, mostly because I doubt I’ll have the space or resources to haul it all down to BreyerFest. There will be actual choice items for those of you unable to go, for whatever sundry reasons.

Since I am too tired to go on any further today, I will conclude with a picture of a Chicago-era Test Color:

Awesome, ain’t he? Not sure what he was a test for - either for one of the Christmas Classic Appaloosa Quarter Horse Sets, or for the Traditional Stock Horse Family in Gray Appaloosa. His status - coming or going, selling or staying - is also currently undetermined. Just more unfinished business on my part, alas.

(Reeves, take note: now THIS is how I like my Gray Appaloosas.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Another Episode of Obscure Variation Theatre

Gosh, I’m in a weird mood today. Don’t know if it’s the nice weather, or the entire bag of Haribo Gummi Smurfs I ate earlier.

(FYI: Smurfs taste like raspberries and strawberries!)

Didn’t get an Apollo. No surprise there. He seems way more popular than I thought, though it might be the proximity to BreyerFest that’s making it seem so. (Folks trying to drum up travel cash.)

I’ve been more jealous of all the big flea market scores people have been bragging about on the Internet recently. I’ve found a few odds and ends, and while I’m not doing too shabbily in other venues, there’s just something to finding goodies in the wild, you know? Even if it’s something you already have, in multiples.

I don’t think there’s any shortage of stuff in my area, I just haven’t been as motivated as I usually am. I already figured on drawing whatever sales items I need for BreyerFest from my ongoing herding culling - and from the duplicates/upgrades/box lot purchases I’ve been scoring on eBay.

My nifty late-night Buy It Now purchase arrived yesterday, but it’ll be another day or two before I finish "processing" it. I already had most of the contents within, but there were variations and stuff, my favorite being:

Another Western Prancing Horse, in Black Appaloosa! With the original box this time! Something I did not realize I had a pressing need for until I saw him. (Funny how that works.)

The "gold foil sticker" boxes were another one of the numerous box types Breyer was experimenting with in the 1970s. In this case, it was a box type unique to 1973: they’re the earliest form of the lidded "white boxes" used throughout the 1970s, and remembered with great fondness by hobbyists of my generation.

The only difference is that the earliest boxes had gold foil stickers with the number and color of the item printed on the sticker, instead of being printed on the box itself.

The thinking was that they’d save money by printing up a single "generic" box for each mold, and just slap a sticker on it. It seemed to make sense at the time. Until they discontinued most of the multiple color options at the end of 1973, rendering the idea kind of silly. Why spend the extra case to print up separate stickers for items that came in only one color, anyway?

I suspect that consumers were also confused by the packaging as well. If you see a Smoke Western Prancer on the outside of the box, you’re going to assume that that’s what you’re getting on the inside of the box, gold sticker or not.

I’ve been tracking the gold foil sticker boxes - just like all the other box variations - and this is the first Western Prancer box I’ve found with a "No. 115 Appaloosa" sticker on it. I suspected they existed: I’ve collected enough data to conclude that most, if not all the Traditional horses issued in 1973 came in some sort of stickered box.  

Still, me being the dork that I am for the Western Prancer mold, I just had to have it. The horse himself is pretty nice, too - just enough of a variation to add an extra layer of "justification" to the purchase.

The rest of the stuff that came with it wasn’t bad, either, though most of it won’t be sticking around, if I know what’s good for me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Shades of White

Okay, so now the scuttlebutt is that the Shetland Ponies I mentioned last post might/will be a Vintage Club release, so the reference to last year’s e-mail photo was probably the correct one.

I am a little ambivalent about the concept only because, duh, there never were any Decorator Pintos. There were rumors of Decorator Pinto Test Colors floating around back in the day, but I found those rumors even less substantial than the Christmas Decorator ones.

(I swear Reeves does these sneaky reveals on the "Kid Tours" just to mess with us, knowing the kids are going to be fixated on the newer molds in more realistic colors.)

I found some charged batteries, so here’s the Calf I mentioned previously, with his Regular Run cohort:

So now you see why I am not so eager to send the little bugger back!

Yes, I know my Regular Run Calf is yellowed, but it looks worse than it actually is because the Oddball is very stark white - not Chalky or Opaque White Plastic, but I could see how some people could mistake it for such.

That sort of thing happens, from time to time: someone at the factory - possibly by accident - came up with the perfect mix of virgin (fresh) plastic, plasticizer, and colorant. I have an Alabaster Western Pony that’s so white it almost glows in the dark. (Discontinued in 1970, if you’re trying to do the math at home.)

It’s been recently reported on Blab that someone found an older Chestnut Belgian that was actually made of a mix of standard white and Chalky white plastic, which only really reveals itself when held up to a strong light. (Ooh, swirly!)

This does not surprise me at all. Breyer was experimenting with whatever plastic they could get their hands on in the early 1970s (the Chalky Era), and it undoubtedly included many different colors of white in addition to all those funky reds, browns, grays, purples and greens.

In the sometime questionable light of a factory, the mixing of these various whites would become an inevitability, if not an economic necessity. 

It’s even happened more recently, with some of the Stablemates molds: at some point, the Glow-in-the-Dark plastic that was used to make the Giveaway Andalusian Keychains was mixed in with the standard white stuff, giving some later releases a faint luminescence.

Other colors sometimes got swirled into the standard white plastic, especially in the Chalky Era, but they generally got painted over - either by a solid dark (or black) paint job, or with a Chalky basecoat first. Reeves does this even today, as many faux finishers have discovered first hand.

And…I just opened up my Yellow Mount that I bought from That Guy, and guess what? Aside from being one of the nicest Yellow Mounts I’ve ever seen, his plastic is also snowball-white.


(His variations are pretty subtle - tan instead of pink shading, more gray on his muzzle - but I bought him mostly because I wanted a nice Yellow Mount at a nice price. Done, and done.)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rumor Roundup

I really need to learn how to estimate my time better: I’m still dreadfully behind on my To-Do list. And so much has happened in the past couple of days in model horse land, it’s like a whole new landscape every time I log on.

Since I still haven’t located the thumb drive with those extra posts I wrote during my Illinois excursion, we’ll do a brief roundup of that news…

The latest Collectors Club Web Special is the Show Jumping Warmblood in a Glossy Solid…Chestnut? Palomino? Dunalino? Something warm and sunny, appropriate for the god who totes the Sun around in his chariot: Apollo. A solid color on a Web Special is a nice change of pace, and he is quite handsome, but my even my emergency fun-money fund is completely tapped out. I hate to pass on him, but I just might have to.

I made a late-night semi-awesome Buy It Now purchase on eBay a couple days ago. You’ll see why I jumped on that BIN button like Vita on a bone when it gets here in a few days.

In other eBay purchases, another one of my lots from That Guy with That Stuff on eBay has arrived, in another painfully small box. The Cow and Calf set I bid on was not the Cow and Calf set I received. Normally this would be an automatic return, but it’s a little more complicated than that: they were not the oddities I bid on, but they were still oddities nonetheless.

The auction pictures showed a Holstein Cow with a gray udder, and a Calf with tan hooves. What I received was a Holstein Cow that appears to be a cull, and a Calf with gray ears, gray muzzle, and a solid black tail.

(I’d show you all a picture, but my battery charger for the camera is packed away. Also.)

So yeah, kind of a weird situation. I don’t have time to deal with any extra drama at this point, so I think I’ll just let it go. At the price I paid, they could have been ordinary Regular Runs, and I still would have been a good deal. Anything after that is a bonus. (I also don’t think there was any genuine malice intended: That Guy, like so many of our friends and family, might not be able to tell one subtly different set of Cows from another. So it goes.)

Reeves released the BreyerFest 2013 App, which would matter to me more if I did anything more with my phone than send and receive phone calls. (I’d rather not even have one, but that’s another issue entirely.) Half the hobby is complaining about having to pay a whole 99 cents for it, and the other half are complaining that it’s not available on Android.

My brother actually downloaded the 2012 App to his phone last year just for kicks (allegedly) and found it quite admirable, and I generally take his word with these sort of things. (BTW, my brother is fully BreyerFest-trained and knows what Woodgrains, Decorators and Hagen-Renakers are. And he’s single. If you're looking.)

Per intel from the Mother’s Day Kids-Only Breyer Headquarters Tour, the previously announced mid-year release of "Trooper" is going to be on the Cleveland Bay mold. The photographs I’ve seen are all fuzzy and somewhat unreliable, so there’s no way I’m going to pass judgment on him based on that. A Dark Bay/Sunburnt Black Cleveland Bay seems like a winner to me, at least conceptually.

Also speaking of unreliable, the same source just happened to spot what appeared (to them) to be some Decorator-y Shetland Ponies. That’s all there really is to that bit of news, Everything else is speculation - including the initial reports that you have, or will run into in the next several hours that they might be somehow related to this year’s BreyerFest Surprise/Gambler’s Choice model.

It must also be noted that the much-circulated photo of proposed Vintage Club SRs from last year also featured a Copenhagen Pinto Shetland Pony, so it might also be related to that. Or any number of things. Might not even be a Shetland Pony at all, for all I know. 

There was more than that, I'm sure, but that To-Do List is not going to complete itself. Unfortunately.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Road Trip, Part Two

If I were sensible, I’d be in bed right now. But sensible is not a word that really applies to anything I’ve done in the past three days. Road trip to a location I’ve never been to before, on a week’s notice, to help someone I haven’t seen in a couple of decades, driving an ancient, high-mileage station wagon?

Sensible? No. Was it worth it? Yes, but we’ll have a bigger discussion of that some other day. All I can say today is that I think the experience will be very useful for dealing with future auctions of this type, which - not to get too morbid or maudlin about it - may be a not-too-distant inevitability for many of us.

First, I’d like to thank: my boss, who allowed me the time off on such short notice, and in spite of a heavy schedule; the weather, for cooperating; my Russian mechanic, who keeps my ancient car (aka "Sherman") in good enough shape to drive to Illinois and back; and to the people at Munda Auctions, who allowed us to do the work we requested to do, and were actually quite nice to work with.

We didn’t quite get to do quite as much work as we wanted, due to the sheer volume of stuff and the limited amount of time we had at our disposal, but we got the most of it and the worst of it done.

That included sorting, boxing, tagging and reassembling families and gift sets, and recovering a few small items that were mistakenly sent there in the first place. (Mostly sentimental pieces of nominal value.) Nothing could be done to match up sets that had already been broken up and listed, and I only had a limited amount of time to evaluate each model for condition, quality, variations and all that.

There were a number of really fine pieces - many of them Live Show Quality, or darn close. (A couple of Lady Phases and an Adios come to mine.) Lots of Special Runs from the 1980s and early 1990s: Belgians, Bucking Broncos, Hanoverians, Balking Mules. Lamps and Clocks. Boxed Christmas Run items, boxed Just About Horses Specials, and an entire carton  - 15 to 20 pieces, give or take - of factory unpainted models, including some of molds that have since been altered. (Don't worry, they'll be listed separately!)

I’m guessing that there will be at least two more sets of auctions that will be majority-Breyer, and that’s not including the other plastics (mostly Hartland) and the chinas, which we didn’t even bother opening or evaluating. I didn’t bring my Hartland or china reference materials, anyway.

I don’t know which items will be listed when.

I did get a chance to get a quick look-see at the auction set up for this Friday: seeing all 300 lots set out in the main auction room was oddly thrilling, even if the bulk of them were relatively common items. Felt like a mini-BreyerFest! There were definitely a few that caught my eye, but I’ve been rather carelessly bidding on those crazy eBay lots from that Arizona seller, so my "fun money" well is currently dry.

(Wish I could be there on Friday anyway, but even my boss is not quite that understanding.)

We talked briefly to the proprietor Doug Munda, and as I mentioned before, everyone there was very nice and very accommodating. (The lady who packs the items to ship? Has relatives in my hometown!) They were quite pleased with the response and progress of the auctions so far, and we also informed him of the kinds of things hobbyists of our sort look for, and might be asking about. They've already had some experience dealing with our type in previous auctions, and with other serious collectors of serious collectibles, toys and figurines, so I don't think anything we said was particularly out of the ordinary. 

That’s all for now, folks. I actually wrote a couple of posts at the hotel about other topics, so you’ll be seeing more actual history stuff in short order.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Great Breyer Graveyards

They just listed a few more items from the Big Hobbyist Auction on the Munda’s web site (May 24th) so I’ve decided to temporarily add the Munda’s Auction site to my link list, for your convenience. The listings this go round are slightly better, though much amusement will still be found there. ("Bat Pinto"? Batman had a horse?)

Like a lot of people, I’m currently intrigued and baffled by the eBay auctions of a vendor out in Arizona: what looks like variations, oddities, culls and outright test colors are being auctioned off in rapid succession, and in great quantity. I’ve already bought a couple of what I’d consider
"safe" lots, where I think my potential loss of investment will be minimal if they don’t turn out to be what I think they might be. The first one has already arrived:

A Fawn without spots, and a Doe with darker than normal ears? Yeah, I know, not the most exciting lot of Breyers ever, but remember who you’re talking to here. This is the kind of stuff I eat for breakfast.

There’s been much speculation about these models and their origins. I’ve done a little of it myself over on Blab, but I’ll expand and continue my thoughts here, for the benefit of a wider audience.

There are several locations that seem to be harbors or wellsprings for rare and odd Breyers. Chicago is the first, of course: that’s where the factory was for the first 35 years or so of production. Then there’s New Jersey, the current location of Reeves International, and where full-scale production continued for the next 15 years, give or take, and still continues on a minimal basis.

California is sometimes seen as another one of the Great Breyer Graveyards, though I think its plentitude is exaggerated, a bit. California is BIG, in every sense of the word, so it’s only natural that there’d be slightly more rare and unusual stuff coming out of California than, say, Kansas or Wyoming. I do think that the Decorator saga has its roots out there, due to the Ungers, toy development gurus and longtime Breyer Sales Reps who were also partly responsible for bringing us Brenda Breyer.

The location that has always fascinated me, however, has been Arizona. When I was just getting into the hobby in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I kept hearing stories about crazy things being found at the flea markets in Arizona. I had relatives out in Las Vegas, and whenever it was casually mentioned that we might go on a road trip to visit them, my thoughts always turned to those magical flea markets I heard so much about.

(The furthest west we got was Arkansas. It involved Elvis, the Kentucky Horse Park, a liquor store, and Breyers. Of course.)

A few years ago - when I was working for an antiques dealer, who also was a story unto himself - a number of lots came up on eBay from a seller in Arizona. Lots with multiple pieces of the same item - a half dozen Bassett Hounds, or Benjis, or Charolais Bulls - and one spectacular collection lot with multiple bulls in colors I had never seen before: Brick Reds and Browns and Chocolate Milk Sorrels.

I tried for the lot, but naturally failed: I think it went somewhere in the $4000 to $5000 range, which isn’t as outrageous as it sounds, considering that there were at least 10-12 of those bulls in it, not including the more "normal" looking stuff that was thrown in for good measure. Even at that price, money could have been made.

They looked authentic to me, and apparently, it did to a lot of other people, too.

Since then I’ve always kept a lookout for auctions in the Arizona area, just in case. I’ve come across a few treasures, but I missed this vendor’s auctions earlier this year because I’ve been trying to keep my eBay shopping to a minimum. I was doing so good, until this week!

As to why Arizona, that’s still something of a mystery. Longtime mail-order company Horses International was based in Phoenix, and had many unique Special Runs of its own: perhaps these were samples from the warehouse that somehow came into someone’s possession?

Another theory that I’ve been mulling over is that these were somehow connected to Breyer’s little adventure in Mexico in the late 1970s. Peter Stone got a wild hair and thought that they could move production to Mexico, an endeavor that likely failed due to infrastructure problems. Most - though not all - of these models seem to be from that time period.

It could be that there’s a more mundane reason. Like all of the other Sellers of Unusual Breyers of Dubious Provenance, this seller is not being terribly forthcoming about their origins. Whether it’s because he’s got something to hide, or is just bluffing to cover his lack of knowledge, we also do not know.

All I know is that I performed the Lestoil test on the two most peculiar pieces in my Deer Lot - the Doe with the dark ears, and the spotless Fawn - and nothing but a little dust and dirt came off. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Paint Them Black

Couple things before I get to the Black Family Arabians.

First, the Sunday BreyerFest Raffle Horse, which is a Liver Chestnut Pinto Brishen. All I’ll say about him is that my computer monitor is defective, because I really don’t see what’s so horrifying about him.

It’s one thing to dislike something, but it’s quite another to take pride in that dislike. Some of the commentary I'm seeing seems to be veering off in that direction.

Second, the One-Day Stablemates are all new molds, in various "Denim"- and "Diamond"-themed Decorator colors, including (gahh!) a Silver Filigree. (They're all on the BreyerFest Blog page, on the Breyer web site.)

They are all awesome, but my favorite is the Icelandic, doing a full tilt tölt. A plastic Icelandic, at last! The Angry/Bucking Horse is pretty neat also, though I’m wondering what to call his color, which is Copenhagen on a clear plastic body. (Clearpagen? Copenclear? Blue Raspberry Snowcone?)

I’m liking them so much I’m seriously considering actually buying some one-day tickets this year, since judging from the reaction I’m seeing online, I’m kinda doubting there will be many - or any - left to sell in the sales tent on Sunday.

Anyway, back to our program.

Here’s the originaluncropped photograph of the Black Family Arabians I showed you previously:

As you might have noticed before, these pieces have hooves that are distinctly nonblack. The vast majority of Black Family Arabians are of the completely black variety. I had heard of Black Family Arabians with brownish or tannish hooves before, but I had assumed they were Test Colors, and not specifically a part of this Special Run.

Someone on Blab opened up a topic in one of the subforums about the hoof color of Black Family Arabians, and I had just archived that very photo above. It now appears that a small percentage of the Special Run - the first batch or so, more than likely - did come with nonblack hooves.

Why did they change to solid black, later on? There are a couple of possibilities. One, Solid Black is easier and cheaper to paint: one color, with no need to worry about overspray issues.

Second, Breyer might have seen it as an opportunity to use up the discontinued Family Arabians in various colors that had been cluttering up the warehouse since the "Implosion" of 1973. Why paint over fresh bodies, when you could paint over unsold leftovers, instead? And since they all came with different hoof colors - gray, pink and black - it might have been easier to deal with that minor issue by getting rid of it altogether.

It was long assumed that the Black Family Arabians were a Special Run for Model Horse Congress in 1978 - one of the first true "Special Runs" targeted towards collectors. And that only about "200" sets were made.

None of that was true, either.

If you look at the photograph more closely, you’ll see a poster on the wall of the comedian Steve Allen, promoting "National Hobby Month". The smaller text on the poster reads "For relaxation…for edification…have a hobby."

Steve Allen became National Chairman for National Hobby Month in 1977, and there’s a 1977 Collector’s Manual on the tabletop display, in front of the Family Arabian set. It's clear that the Black Family Arabians were designed to be a part of a promotion for National Hobby Month, and to be sold in stores.

It was a nationally marketed Retailer Special Run.
There had been "Special Runs" before, technically, in the Christmas/Holiday catalogs, but they weren’t specifically marketed as Special Runs until a few years later.

This photograph was taken for a flier sent to retailers about the Breyer’s participation in the National Hobby Month program. (I don’t own a copy of that particular flier, but I have seen a one.)

Since they were part of a retail program large enough to merit a printed flier, there were obviously more than 200 pieces made. The exact number is unknown - I’ve heard the rumor of around 700, but I don’t have any confirmation of that. Most Special Runs from the late 1970s and early 1980s were in the 100-200 piece range, so a 200 piece count run seemed about right. I don't know how many pieces the Bentley Sales Company ever had in their possession, but whatever amount they had to sell to hobbyists at Model Horse Congress in 1978 were leftovers from a bigger promotion.

While they certainly seen like they’re as rare or rarer than many of the Special Runs that followed, it has to be remembered that a large portion of them were distributed nationally, to toy stores, and not directly into collector hands. It’s very easy for even a relatively "large" special run to disappear into the public market, especially if nobody is looking for them - or has any idea they were all that "special" in the first place.

Think about this: 500 pieces translates into about 10 pieces per state, give or take.