Tuesday, March 31, 2015

French Impressions

I took five years of French lessons, dreamt about getting lost in the Louvre, wrote a paper in high school about Georges Melies (in French!), and often fantasize about shopping in the Flea Markets of Paris. I can’t visit the real Lascaux caves, but I hope to see the reproduction caves someday. I want to visit a fromagerie and sample weird stinky cheeses, and hang out with the ex-pats (and make fun of the hipsters) at Shakespeare and Company.

This year’s "Vive La France" theme? I can get into it.

So it makes me a little sad to see other hobbyists complain about a lack of enthusiasm for this year’s BreyerFest. For a hobby that offers us so many creative and expressive possibilities, too many of us fall into the "princess/cowgirl" paradigm, too easily.

It’s good to venture out of your comfort zone once and a while! I promise I won't make you eat the cheese, if you don't want to.

The Parkour demonstration they just announced on the blog is a little bit out of mine. (I did not know it originated in France!) As possibly one of the world’s clumsiest humans, I find Parkour both fascinating and a little terrifying. Note: If you see me doing anything resembling Parkour in Kentucky, please call 911, because it’s likely an accident in progress.

I guess I should get to a little bit of actual Breyer/BreyerFest model horse talk now.

This year they’ve decided to not give us any hints or clues at all about the Surprise Special, named Quelle Surprise! ("What a Surprise!")
The name says it all. Another Surprise Special Run! We're not telling you anymore. It's a complete mystery! But you never know what you might get!
Most of the Surprise Specials have been somewhat tied to the theme, so I’ll go out on a limb and guess it’ll be something that can pass for a Selle Fran├žais. That brings to mind molds like Lonesome Glory, Giselle, the Show Jumping Warmblood, Newsworthy and possibly the Cleveland Bay. The SJW, Newsworthy, and Cleveland Bay have interchangeable manes and tails, something that they used to great effect with the Surprise Roxies a couple years back. That might be a point in their favor, I think.

The next actual reveal of another Special Run will be later this week, and it’s strongly hinted at that this one may be a Decorator:
This horse pays homage to a little village nestled in the northwest of France. It leaves quite the impression on everyone who visits. Some visitors go back time after time to see how the landscapes change throughout the seasons.
This one is a little easier to work with. The town in northwest France could be Giverny, home of both the Impressionist Museum, and of the artist Claude Monet’s famous gardens. So my guess is that we’re getting an Impressionist-themed Decorator - possibly a translucent like the Connoisseur Andalusian Swirling Sky?

My personal preference for this one would be the Cleveland Bay mold, who could make a passable Norman Cob - or Anglo-Norman, if they want to go historical with it. (If they passed him over as the Surprise Special. He can't be both, obviously.) This is Normandy, after all. That area of France is known for its Percherons also, so the Wixom mold is another strong candidate. Except for the Guest of Honor, there aren’t any other Drafts in the lineup yet. No Percherons at a French-themed BreyerFest? Inconceivable!

I was a bit annoyed in 2003 when they teased us with the Tie-Dyed Wixom on the Program cover: I was hoping she was a Special Run, but alas, she was an (unattainable) auction piece. Via Identify Your Breyer: http://www.identifyyourbreyer.com/images/bf2003lot22.jpg

Now imagine the same mold and concept, except in lavenders and greens? That could work!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Post-1966 Glosses

Around 1967, Breyer began to phase out Gloss Finishes. Some releases, such as the Family Arabians, were transitioned over to a Matte Finish. Others, like the Alabaster Five-Gaiter and the Gray Appaloosa Fighting Stallion, were discontinued altogether.

A few - well, more than a few, when you think about it - Gloss-Finished models continued to be produced through the late 1960s and well into the 1970s.

A few examples? The Palomino Five-Gaiter continued in Gloss through 1971, the Running Mare and Foal was produced in Gloss Dark Dapple Gray through 1973, and the Horned Hereford Bull was released in Gloss throughout almost the entirety of the 1970s. The Dapple Gray Old Timer and the Brahma Bull didn’t transition to a Matte Finish until much later in their runs.

What didn’t happen as often after 1966 were entirely new releases in Gloss Finishes.

The first, obviously, was the Charcoal Running Stallion in 1968. All of his other original release colors - Alabaster/White, Red Roan, and Black Appaloosa - were Matte-Finished, and at least nominally realistic. I don’t know why they went with Gloss Charcoal for him, other than he looked awesome in it. (A perfectly valid reason, by the way.)

Some of the Family Foals were apparently rereleased in Gloss in the late 1960s, though the reasons why are unknown. Perhaps by customer order or request, as I’ve speculated with other Post Production SRs/Reissues?

In the mid-1970s, some of the newly-released Stablemates came in Gloss Finish variations. The rumor heard way back when was that in the mid-1970s, Breyer was trying to use up the last buckets of the old Gloss varnish lying around, and as a consequence some of that may have been applied to random batches of early (1975/76) Stablemates.

The same theory also apparently explained that coveted handful of Gloss Chalky Dapple Gray Shires, who appeared around the same time, per a ca. 1975 sales flier:

That wouldn’t explain the continued existence of the Gloss Dapple Gray Old Timer and the Bulls, unless they were pulling them from warehoused backstock until their supply ran out. Which is possible.

What’s always baffled me are the Gloss Misties. What was the reason for releasing her that way initially in 1972, especially after obviously committing to a more realistic - and more Matte-Finished - aesthetic five years earlier? Other than she, too, looked awesome in it?

My hand-airbrushed, possible Salesman's Sample or just super-early Gloss Misty. Beautiful little girl, isn't she? I never tire of looking at her.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bay + Pinto

The latest Vintage Club pictures are out, of the Gloss Bay Pinto Misty and Stormy, Coral and Reef:

Here’s an interesting little fact: prior to the early 1980s, all Breyer pintos were either Black, or some form of Chestnut ("Brown", Sorrel, Red Dun, Palomino, or actual Chestnut).

The company that brought us Decorators, Smoke, Charcoal, freckly Red Roans and multitudes of odd Appaloosas didn’t get around to producing a Bay Pinto production model until 1982, with the introduction of the Regular Run #230 Overo Pinto Stock Horse Mare.

Later in that same year we received a few more in the form of Christmas/Holiday Special Runs - the Thoroughbred Mare and Suckling Foal, and the "True Bay" Clydesdale Family (who were technically cropouts).

An argument could be made that the #88 Overo Pinto release of the Stud Spider mold, in 1979, could be considered earlier; in the 1960s, Breyer used the same "Five-Gaiter Sorrel" color interchangeably on some of its nominally "Bay" releases.

Even if we accept that line of reasoning - which I don’t, on the premise that Breyer seemed to have finally figured out what "Bay" was by then - that still only gets us to 1979. The only Bay Pintos that existed prior were the famous Gloss Bay Pinto Western Prancing Horses, made for a small group of hobbyists in the early 1960s, and some Test Colors.

Strange, isn’t it? Especially since it is not an uncommon color scheme in the real-horse world, unlike some of the more obscure or trendy that we get so worked up about today. It’s Bay plus Pinto: Breyer had the know-how and the technology to pull that off by the late 1950s.

I wonder what the thinking behind it was that led to this absence? Pintos were not all that common back then, since it necessitated creating elaborate, expensive and delicate metal masks specific to the mold. But did it really never occur to them to airbrush points and maybe a little black to the mane and tail?

Did they not think that consumers would be interested? Was it related to the fact that they had had such a hard time distinguishing between Chestnut and Bay, initially? Or was it as simply them being clueless, and not realizing they hadn’t done it before?

I don't know. I tend to fall into the "they were clueless" camp. It’s as good an explanation as any for many of the brand’s "Huh?" moments, then and now. And the correct one, more often than not.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fishing Expedition

There is absolutely nothing special about this horse, other than I found it on the clearance section of the store I stopped at on the way home from work last night:

He’s only my fourth "new" model this year, and two of those have already been relegated to the future sales list. I figured I was entitled, especially at 75 percent off!

This regional store chain has in recent years carried a small but decent selection of Stablemates and Classics. Since it appears that we're facing a shortage of some of the newer Stablemates molds (the Chrome/Andalusian, and the Rivet/Mustang), I thought I’d check and see if this store had ‘em.

I had some reason to hope: a similar situation occurred here a few years ago, when a local farm store chain was apparently hoarding all the Zenyattas the rest of the hobby was desperately clamoring for. And several years ago there was a local Toys ‘R’ Us that Reeves apparently consigned all of its oddball stuff to. ("Is this supposed to be glossy?")

No such luck on the Stablemates, at least not yet.

As far as the shortage of Chromes and Rivets go, I don’t think it’s a permanent or long-term one anyway. Reeves just underestimated the demand for those two, and is probably parceling out what little supply they have left until the next batch comes in.

They might have also been conservative with their initial orders, too, on the notion that it’s better to have a shortage of a high-demand item, than an abundance of low-demand items that they’d have to stuff into grab bags for years to come.

If something is selling well, you solve the shortage problem by making more. Getting rid of unwanted merchandise is the bigger problem. Though it’s one that Breyer has dealt with in the past several times before - and solved primarily with repainting, rather than by price-cutting or box stuffing.

Like what they did with the leftover Family Arabians in the late 1970s: all it took was a little - okay, a lot - of black paint, and voila! A new and exciting Special Run! (Relatively speaking. We weren’t all that picky back then.)

And, as we now know, it’s what they did with all those unsold 1960s Decorators they had inhabiting the warehouse: they "chalkified" them, slapped on better-selling colors, and away they went.

Though I do wonder exactly how long those Decorators sat in storage. Another topic, for another day.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


I was relieved that they didn’t do a Gloss Prize model of the new Fjord GVF Sjokolade at some point last year. I’ve grown quite fond of my cartoonish little Henries lately, and I had visions of completing my collection, sans the impossible-to-get 18-piece Special Run World Equestrian Games Reissue from 2010.

But now I have to deal with Truffles, this year’s Diorama Contest Prize:

He’s another "thematic" rather than realistic Special Run; according to designer Sommer Prosser (via Blab), he is/was supposed to be Silver Dapple Pinto - in other words, a "Chocolate" Truffle!

I had some reasons to believe that we’d be getting another Fjord Special Run sooner rather than later, especially after the mold’s return last year on Sjokolade.

Prior to the WEG Reissue, we hadn’t seen much of him since the original #482 Henry was discontinued in 2004. All of the other Special Runs of the mold - including the Silver Dun "Silver Wolfe" (in 2000) and the Just About Horses Gambler’s Choice Specials Naughty and Nice (in 2001) - were done during Henry’s generously long run (1996-2004).

Although mostly ignored by the hobby during his initial release, his popularity has grown in recent years. The appearance of Fjords in the insanely popular Disney film Frozen certainly hasn’t hurt the breed’s popularity either, especially among the youngest of us (chronologically, or otherwise).

And maybe influenced Reeves’s decision to promote the mold again? Especially now that they just announced a sequel to Frozen?

Breyer did have a brief dalliance with Disney, circa 1979-1981: they made a Special Run Black Percheron on the Belgian mold for the Disney theme parks. He can be distinguished from the other mail-order Black Belgians SRs by the color of his tail ribbon: Blue and White - as opposed to Red and White, or Red and Yellow. He's not super-duper rare, but he's definitely a harder-to-come-by Special, since a significant portion of them were sold to the general public first.

Just something to keep in mind. And an eye on, I suppose.

I was imagining a more conservative color for the now-not-imaginary Truffles, since the breed itself has a rather limited range of colors to choose from, about a half dozen variations of Dun: http://www.nfhr.com/catalog/index.php?colors=1

There used to be more: because of a genetic bottleneck in the late 19th/early 20th century and breed standardization, those colors have largely disappeared. At best, Truffles could be considered either an "historical" color or a crossbred.

I am more than fine with Sooty Palomino/Pale Silver Dapple Tobiano Pinto. (Or Silver Filigree!) My only complaint is that I wish they had made him a little easier to obtain. Time to go rooting around my body box for more and better ideas...

Monday, March 16, 2015

In the Beginning

The Western Horse is one of the handful of Breyer-related topics that I defer to others; most of my research on Early Breyer History tends to focus on Breyer’s pre-equine proprietary products, like the Checkers, Poker Chips, Cigarette Host, Money Manager et al.

It’s not that I have less interest in the Western Horses per se, but that I believe - for want of a better word - that the pre-equine products and their history are more "endangered".

Whether or not a model horse is classified as a Hartland or a Breyer, it will be collected and treasured regardless. Funky things like plastic humidors or vanity organizers, and the lesser-known clocks? Maybe not as much.

For the definitive guide to the Western Horse and the disentanglement of most of its mysteries, I send you here: http://www.myhartlands.com/pages/MastercraftersClocks.html

I mostly concur with the research, outside of a few minor quibbles. The one I want to discuss today is the assertion that "Breyer’s own documentation says they started in 1950."

Well, yes and no. Breyer does assert that start date - and is using it to celebrate its "Fanniversary", but the reality is far more complicated than that. "Breyer" has several different start dates, depending on how you want to define it.

The Breyer Molding Company itself existed several years prior to the introduction of the horses; though the exact date is not known, with some research it is probably knowable. (Per Nancy Young’s Breyer Molds and Models, it’s likely pre-1943.) I do not know if Reeves does, in fact, have any documentation at all in their archives prior to the early 1950s.

Back then it was a standard plastic injection molding shop, molding whatever they happened to win a contract on. That included government contracts; when many of those contracts disappeared after World War II, Breyer decided to position itself as a toy and novelty manufacturer in order to keep the shop running even as the contracts themselves ran out.

Documentation for these early products is scarce. The Cigarette Host appears in the 1950 Sears Wishbook, and a brief article/PR piece in the February 1952 issue of Playthings magazine, entitled "Attractive Items from Breyer" mentions that the Money Manager had been "[o]n the market for 3 years".

That Breyer started molding the Western Horse in or around 1950 for Mastercrafters appears to be true, but the Western Horse as a product independent of the Clocks? We’re not as sure; the similarities between the Hartland and the Breyer Western Horses are such that it’s sometimes difficult to determine which is which in early magazine and catalog advertising. Neither company, at that point, was a recognizable enough "brand" that advertisers saw it necessary to call attention to it.

I presume that Breyer’s Western Horse made its formal/official debut in 1951, with a brief article in the March 1951 issue of Playthings, entitled "Breyer Molding Co. Announces ‘Palomino’". It’s possible that the model may have been in production for several months prior; it wasn’t uncommon for Breyer to do such a thing later on, as was the case with the "Big" Poodle mold.

The brand known as "Breyer Animal Creations" seems to have debuted in 1952: prior to that (such as in the March 1951 article, above) all Breyer-manufactured items - animals or otherwise - are referred to as products of the Breyer Molding Company.


For what it’s worth, I’m a bit of a pedant, and consider the Breyer brand to have formally started in 1952, with the apparent creation/registration of the "Breyer Animal Creations" brand. Reasonable arguments could be made otherwise, for any number of dates.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Almost Forgotten

Another surprising sales cull from my herd:

You’d think that a Woodgrain Racehorse would be precisely the kind of model I’d keep without a second thought. I like Woodgrains and I love old, rarely used molds, but I find myself with no particular attachment to this model.

He came to me in a group lot on eBay a few years back, but I can’t recall if there was anything otherwise noteworthy about his arrival or provenance. In other words, he came without incident or story.

The same can be said of his condition and overall quality.

I’d like to think of myself as the forgiving sort when it comes to Woodgrains and their condition and quality issues; the scarcity of Woodgrains in my area has made me that way. Usually I’m so overjoyed to find any Woodgrains at all that I’m willing to overlook a few skips, drips and smudges. Heck, I have a Woodgrain Fighting Stallion who is nothing but smudges!

This guy is in better condition than the handful of other Woodgrain Racehorses I’ve had in my possession - a few bubbles and minor scuffs, nothing major. The woodgraining is a little funky, but not in a sufficiently weird or interesting way like that Fighting Stallion.

Still, a model like this shouldn’t have been buried in one of my storage boxes, largely neglected and almost forgotten. All of my other vintage Woodgrains - aside from a couple of Family Arabian variations and a Clydesdale with some condition issues - are out and on permanent display.

The Racehorse is not recognizable to most antiquers as a Breyer, so when they do show up, they are often identified as the "not a Breyer" of whatever little collection they may happen to be in. That’s because aside from the fact that it doesn’t really look like most Breyers (the lack of detail, the smaller scale), the Racehorse doesn’t come with any mold marks, either.

There are quite a few early Woodgrains without mold marks, come to think of it. The earliest Poodles, the earliest Clydesdales, the Western Pony, the Boxer, the Old Mold Family (Stallion, Mare and Foal), the Fury/Prancer, and some of the Bulls can all be found without mold marks, in the Woodgrain finish.

Their lack of mold marks doesn’t seem to make them any easier to find. Like most everyone else, when I do find Woodgrains they tend to be Family Arabians and Fighting Stallions, not the oddities or the rarities.

The #936 Racehorse is something of a minor exception to the rule, but that’s because he’s "common" compared to some Woodgrains - with a decent run from ca. 1959 through 1965 - and not as desirable as most. While he does have his fans, he’s definitely an acquired taste.

I wouldn’t mind adding another Woodgrain Racehorse to the herd, but I feel like I’ve let this little one down somehow. I’m letting him go because he deserves a better home than the one I’ve given him so far.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cream and Colors Like It

My first reaction to the newest-latest-greatest Web Special "Orion" (on the Desatado mold) was "Ooh, daring!" I have no idea what color it’s supposed to be (Champagne- or Pearl-something? Or just straight up Perlino Dun?) and I kind of like how Reeves didn’t specify, either, leaving it up to our imaginations and mad research skills.

Although Palominos and Buckskins were an early staple of the Breyer line, double dilutes and other more exotically modified colors are a much more recent addition to the color palette. I believe the first official one was on the #906 American Cream Draft "Goliath" in 1995, a model I may or may not have had a hand in creating. (Long story, because of course it is.)

Breyer "Creams" existed before then, but they all started out as Whites or Alabasters and turned that way due to yellowing. (Often, not unrealistically so!) Every time I see a listing on eBay for a "Cream Colored Breyer Horse", it’s almost always an Alabaster who has seen brighter days.

There are a couple of reasons why it took so long for Creams and Colors Like It to show up intentionally.

First and foremost is the technical issue: the visual cues that make these colors distinct were - until recently - difficult to achieve in a production environment with any consistency. Even many actual and aspiring customizers have difficulty capturing the subtle qualities that make a Perlino Dun, an Amber Ivory Champagne, or a Bay Pearl.

Second, there were (and continue to be) prohibitions and biases against certain colors within some breed registries, which in turn influenced what both real- and model-horse people considered acceptable and/or beautiful. While some of these restrictions made sense (some colors simply don’t exist within certain gene pools) others were completely arbitrary. Horses in these "off colors" were not as desirable as horses in more conservative colors. 

Even though we’ve largely overcome those biases in the model horse world (thanks to the many genetics-nerds among us) you can still see some traces of in the general lack of acceptance for pintaloosas, and in discussions about show judging philosophies (i.e. how closely we should hew to those real-world norms and biases).  

Generally, though, we don’t raise as much of a fuss when we’re presented with something different. If we like it, we buy it - and find the necessary documentation later.

Alas, there are still too many horses in the house, and a couple of financial obligations I need to meet first: if my single entry into the drawing for Orion somehow makes it through, I might not be able to follow through.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

French Connections

Such a long week, but capped off nicely with a picture of the latest and greatest BreyerFest release - this year’s Platinum Star, Haute Couture:

It’s the Marwari with a few mold modifications: different mane, different tail, and the much-rumored-about "normal" horse ears. And one of the most fabulous leopard appaloosa paint jobs ever.

"Runway-thin" and sporting a bold and daring print? High Fashion, indeed! It makes sense to me, thematically. Plus, I think he’s pretty, and a lot of other hobbyists apparently think so too. 

It’s funny, just a few days ago I remembered I had a scrap of vintage rayon fabric with stylized pink and brown racehorses; I pulled it out to see if I could repurpose it into a scarf, since I can’t afford my own (real) Hermes. I wanted to find a few pieces of haute couture to wear around BreyerFest with this year; while I have (we have some pretty fashion-forward people in these parts) I’ve found nothing I could squeeze into my modest budget.

When I first saw the sneak peek photo earlier in the week, I assumed that it’d be a different "French Connection" being played up with it: the Georges Seurat-themed pony I was hoping for. How better to honor the artist who created Pointillism than with an Appaloosa, right?

Seurat did do a few paintings with horses, most famously The Circus, ca. 1890-91. Maybe they're saving the artists for the Stablemates or something....

There’s a third possible "French Connection" that could be made to work with this release: the possibility/likelihood of the French cave painting horses depicted spotted (rather than dappled) horses. There are several articles online about it, but I like this one because they used an actual - and accurate! - Leopard Appaloosa as a reference model:


So while Haute Couture itself doesn’t specifically depict a French breed, a little bit of research and creative thinking can make it (quite) French in spirit.

While I understand the desire for more French breeds (I want a Merens Pony!) I’ll take a nicely executed "theme" horse like Haute Couture over an existing mold made to "fit" a specific breed. Or a new mold that will be nitpicked to death before it even gets officially released.

Want? Yes, want. Like everyone else, I’m fluttering between hope and dread over the possibility that this one gets the half gloss/half matte treatment.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Whew. Glad those Grab Bags are gone; the one with the Night Mare (Glow-in-the-Dark Goffert) and the Woodgrain Clock Saddlebred was becoming unbearably tempting, as was the miniscule potential of a Silver Charm Sherman Morgan. But now that the offer is off the table, I have the Vintage Club Murphy to contend with:

There are a couple of minor mistakes in the offer e-mail, though both are obscure enough to give Reeves a pass on them. Can my fellow history mavens spot them in the opening sentence?
The Cleveland Bay mold, sculpted by Karen Gerhardt, debuted in 2006 while the beautiful vintage glossy dapple grey color was inspired by the Running Mare and Foal released in 1963.
The second mistake first: we don’t actually know if the Running Mare and Foal were released in 1963. Undated Red Bird Sales pages that feature the Buckskin Running Mare and Foal - and a subsequent notice of their discontinuation - suggest that they may have been released earlier, since the Buckskins do not appear on any dated ephemera from 1963.

It’s possible that they might have been late 1962 releases - released in time for holiday shopping - and discontinued prior to their formal release in 1963. This theory would explain their incredible rarity. The scarcity of ephemera from 1959-1962 prevents us (again) from knowing for sure.

It is been becoming clear that in the pre-Modern Era, Breyer released models when the mold was ready, and didn’t stick to strictly defined release dates. If the mold was ready for production, it was put into production, and subsequently issued an updated sales list, letter or PR about it. Such was the case with the Davy Crockett Horse and Rider Set, which was announced in the August 1955 issue of Toys & Novelties magazine.

In fact, Breyer frequently got themselves in trouble in the 1970s and 1980s when they did promise models by a certain date and didn’t deliver. The Classic USET horses were a prime example of this: they were supposed to be an early or mid-1980 release that didn’t actually materialize until September of that year. Because the molds weren’t ready in time, Test Colors stood in for the actual models in the Christmas catalogs, and much confusion and pouting ensued.

(I still want a Dapple Gray Classics Ruffian, dagnabit!)

The first mistake is a little more obvious: Murphy’s color isn’t merely "Glossy Dapple Gray", it’s "Dark Dapple Gray".

It was very rarely truly "dark"; the primary distinguishing feature of Dark Dapple Gray is that the dapples are exclusively situated on the hindquarters. It’s a fairly rare vintage color; other than the Special Run releases of the Running Mare and Foal in the early 1980s, I’m having a hard time recalling any other releases. There are a few variations - like the "Gray Appaloosa" version #85 Foundation Stallion/Azteca, and some of the Black-pointed Dapple Gray Proud Arabian Foals - that come close, but aren’t quite.

Hobbyists and nonhobbyists unfamiliar with the nomenclature often refer to it as "Gray Appaloosa", which drives me crazy, because that term refers to something else entirely.

Though both the Running Mare and Foal and the Cleveland Bay would look good in that color, as well.