Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Man o' War: The Centennial

It’s the centennial of Man o’ War’s birthday, today.

I think most of you are aware that the original #47 Man o’ War was my very first model horse, purchased with my birthday money. It was at a toy store called Circus World, across the street from the Kmart where Mom worked. Here he is, just a little worse for wear:

In case you cannot tell from the photo, he is also a Chalky. The blaze was not original: it was an attempted repair at a seam split, gone wrong.

(Yes, a store-bought Chalky. I am old!)

 “Has a nice head on him.” Dad said, nodding in approval of my selection. He had been a horseracing fan, too, as a kid, listening to the races on his radio. (His favorite racehorse was Native Dancer.)

I have since acquired many Breyer Man o’ Wars, of both the Classic and the Traditional variety. One of my most recent and treasured acquisitions being the 1991 Gold Charm Raffle Horse, at last year’s BreyerFest:

For as many as I have, there are still more I would love to own: a Presentation Series one, one in the Showcase packaging, a MIB Chalky one, one with a Large Blue Ribbon Sticker, one in the original corrugated shipper…

…and any other Test Colors or Oddities, if I can find them. I have a few of the later, and one of the former – depicting another famous racehorse, Phar Lap:

The Kentucky Horse Park will be hosting a Man o’ War Celebration from now through November 1 – the 70th Anniversary of his death, in 1947. (The likely origin of his original issue number, in case you hadn’t made the connection before.) Here’s a link:

And gosh, look at what’s on the list of events:
JULY 14TH, 15TH & 16TH
As part of the annual Breyerfest event at KHP, a collector’s edition Man o’ War horse has been commissioned. This replica of the greatest Thoroughbred of all time will prove to be a popular addition to the heavily attended model horse festival for fans from around the country.
That’s all there is to say, really. I’ll be spending the rest of my afternoon doing a Snoopy Dance of Joy.

Happy Man o’ War Day!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Some Recent Shopping

A sampling of recent purchases:

A Border Fine Arts piece with original hang tag, an addition to the Duchess collection, a signed (!) first edition of Mr. Limpet (yes, the book that the film The Incredible Mr. Limpet was based on) and another sari.

It is hard to tell from the photograph, but the sari is handmade and of the most beautiful green and orange shot cotton. It’s more likely I’ll be cutting it up for a quilt than wearing it.

There have been a few other items – another Duchess, a body for my Diorama Contest entry, some interesting variations – but they’re either not ready or not suitable for prime time. I’ve been trying to keep the shopping excursions to a minimum, as some bills and the flea market will be coming up soon.

I also had the chance to see the new 2017 horses in person late last week, as work took me past one of the stores that carries the full line – including the Pocket Animals and CollectAs (though this is the one that stocked CollectAs before the deal with Reeves.)

They had a clean, perfectly masked Paint Me a Pepto, but the two new releases that almost came home with me were Xavier (the Unicorn Othello) and the Decorator Geronimo Bandera.

The Xavier was so iridescent it glowed, and the Bandera was really well executed and almost exactly how I imagined it was going to be: a plastic representation of a potmetal carnival prize horse. But after seriously considering them and a couple of the newer CollectAs, I managed to walk away from the store unscathed.

The new Reeves-CollectAs, if you haven’t already seen them, have the Breyer logo imprinted on their bellies in addition to the paper tags. Other than my Australian Stock Horse, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time examining the earlier pieces to see if there are any other subtle (or not so subtle) changes to the “new” pieces.

It’s good to know that we’ll be able to distinguish the Breyer “in the wild” sans paper tags, though.

The only other thing worth noting about the shopping trip was that they had BreyerFest brochures, that I happened to see a couple little girls pick up as they were shopping. Other than inform them that the CollectAs they were also looking at were now being distributed by Breyer, I left them alone; I figured they were already well on their way and Mom wouldn’t want some rando at the toy store to evangelize.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Happy National Puppy Day!

Since it is National Puppy Day, here are a couple of happy puppies to celebrate! Specifically, a pair of  eternally joyful White Breyer Poodles:

Even though the mold has come in only four colors, officially – Black, White, Silver and Woodgrain – I think I have about a dozen total and alas, no Woodgrain! (Yet.)

The Black and White ones were made for about a decade, ca. 1957 through 1967/68 (both the beginning and ends dates are a bit fuzzy, so an exact measurement there is difficult) so there are a lot of variations to keep collectors occupied, if they so choose.

And I am apparently one of them. I am considering trimming off a pup or two, for the sake of space and my sanity. (Do I really need five different White Poodles? Wait, don’t answer that!)

Anyway, the reason I’m spotlighting these two is to note the variation on the collars: some are painted on by brush, and others are clearly masked. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the variation: there are early and late pieces of both the masked and brush painted varieties, in both the scarce early Blue Collar and the later and more common Red.

The two Poodles here are both later pieces with USA mold marks, with the Masked piece on the right dating to ca. 1965. (Yes, there is a story there, soon to be told.)

There’s even a sub-variation of the collars without the white painted buckle and keeper details, and that was also inconsistently applied, too. Just to keep us on our toes I guess, like a dog will do.

Thank goodness that the Black and Whites are, by and large, plentiful and cheap. Now if they only weren’t as heavy as an average doorstop…

Monday, March 20, 2017

Quality Control and Production Thresholds

Here’s my Wailua:

Not quite as dramatic or showy as some I’ve seen, but otherwise I have nothing to complain about here. I especially like the subtle warm hints in his mane and tail, and the slightly different shade of gray on his hooves.

(Those details at the edges get me again!)

As for the conversation going on about the fact that this run appears to have been manufactured in New Jersey and not China, there’s something to be said about that. But as you might suspect, my line of thought runs a little contrary to popular opinion.

I am a little concerned about mold maintenance, especially with older molds (the Hesses) that are basically handcrafted artisan pieces. (Most of the “loss of mold detail” that gets complained about is actually overly-enthusiastic post-molding finish work, though.) And I do wish that they had another layer of Quality Control to catch a higher percentage of the garden variety “oopsies” before they get on the boat.

While I am not happy with the idea that the bulk of production has moved overseas, I haven’t had any significant issues with models made in China either – or at least, not any more problems compared to U.S. production pieces, on average. (I’ve sent a few things back, but it’s not a regular occurrence.)

Some of the issues we do see are a result of higher expectations, and the ever-more-complicated paint jobs that are a consequence of that.

Part of the research that I do on a semi-regular basis (i.e. when I get time to do it) is writing down detailed descriptions of the paint jobs for each release. Early releases can get summed up in a couple of sentences. A typical vintage Charcoal:
Body-shaded Charcoal, brown undertones; masked white mane and tail; four stockings, airbrushed, with pink hooves; extensive bald face, airbrushed, with pinked muzzle and nostrils, with some gray shading in nostrils; gloss black eyes, sometimes with hand-painted eyewhites.
But Darjeeling’s color description? That one’s going to be so long it might have a subplot. The more complicated something is, the easier it is for things to go wrong.

As to why some Web Specials – like Wailua, and previously the Croi Damsha Bramble of Berry Pony fame – are now being made here, I think it’s simply a matter of math.

It’s not cost-effective to do paint jobs at that level and (relatively) error-free on higher production Regular Run models that are supposed to retail in the 40-50 dollar range.

For a low production Special Run that retails for 160-180 dollars, however? Then it would be, especially since the purchasers of those particular pieces are expecting something close to perfect. Producing those items in the U.S. will cost more, but the extra costs will be offset by the reduced number of returns and customer service calls.

So no, I don’t see this as a harbinger of large-scale production returning the U.S. any time soon. All I am seeing is that the maximum quantity threshold for U.S. production has increased from around 200 to around 350. Maybe even a little higher than that (up to Club-level quantities?) but not much.

Friday, March 17, 2017

And Now For Something Completely Vintage

Criminy, Reeves is crushing it this year with the BreyerFest Special Runs:

When they made a reference on the blog to “one of Chris Hess’s most iconic sculpts” I assumed it was going to be one of the “Decorator Five” – the molds used for the original Decorator releases in the 1960s: Mustang, Five-Gaiter, Fighting Stallion, and the Running Mare and Foal.

I figured it had to be either the Mustang or the Running Mare: the Gaiter would have been too hard (even for Reeves!) to reconcile with the theme, the Fighter they seem to reserve for extra-special rarities like raffles and giveaways, and they rarely have a Foal Special independent of a Mare.

I thought it’d be the Mare, because (a) the Mustang recently had a pretty nice release with the 2015 Exclusive Event My Kind of Town, and (b) there was that Translucent Sample Chinese Running Mare that showed up on eBay a little while back that made me think we’d be getting something extra special on that mold in the near future.

But I am completely fine with Darjeeling, who is very reminiscent of the 2015 Western Horse release Glitterati. I am so fine with it, in fact, that I’ll probably be spending the next few days trying to reconcile myself to the notion of having to buy two tickets, instead of the “just one” I promised myself.

It makes me glad, in a way, that the Elephant Holi is a Pop-Up Store Special: while the “Tent of Despair” has its own challenges, at least I won’t have to buy another ticket.

The only thing that has me worried is that I think the Elephant will be fairly popular and may even sell out at the event this year. The Elephant is one of those Nonhorse molds that is a reliable and consistent seller with hobbyists and nonhobbyists alike – and, come to think about it, the ideal kind of Special Run for a venue that’s supposed to be geared (in theory) more towards the tourist/casual collector crowd.

Also, if there is one item in the Breyer lineup – aside from the Celebration Model – that is directly and obviously relevant to the Indian theme, it’s an Elephant.

And it has freckles and gold toenails! Gah! Prior to Holi, most of the previous production releases on the Elephant have had minimal extra detailing, outside of the eyes, mouth and tusks. It’s not something that’s noticed or noted much, because the mold’s plethora of lumps, bumps, wrinkles did most of work in the past.

But now that they’re there, they make such a difference! There is some pretty nice actual shading in the gray paint, too, underneath those decals.

I have no idea if we’ll be getting any more Vintage molds in the lineup, or another Nonhorse Ticket Special. I certainly wouldn’t mind either, though I’m sure my bank accounts would…

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

An Elephant of Another Color

And right on cue, an all-too-obvious Elephant clue:

Gray with painted decorations, in the same manner Elephants are decorated for the Elephant Festival, which happens a day before the Festival of Colors – Holi – that (not coincidentally!) just wrapped up.

And that’s just about what I expected. I know a lot of people were hoping or expecting a White Elephant, but the more I thought about it, the less likely it became.

First, although a White Elephant named Airavata was the mount of Indra, King of the Gods, White Elephants are more closely associated with the history and mythologies of Southeast Asia (Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia).

Second, the term “White Elephant” has some rather negative connotations I think Reeves might not have wanted to associate with a Nonhorse Special Run. Wikipedia, again:
The expressions “white elephant” and “gift of a white elephant” came into common use in the middle of the nineteenth century. The phrase was attached to “white elephant swaps” and “white elephant sales” in the early twentieth century. Many church bazaars held “white elephant sales” where donors could unload unwanted bric-a-brac, generating profit from the phenomenon that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Many organizational and church fairs still use the term today. In general use a “white elephant” usually refers to an item that’s not useful (decorative) but may be expensive and odd.
Considering some of the issues they’ve had in the past few years with Nonhorse BreyerFest Specials not selling as well as they hoped, marketing an actual “White Elephant” could be a, uh, little problematic?

The 1950s Pink Elephant was a bit cringe-worthy in retrospect, too. I tend to be somewhat more forgiving of that one since believe that that release – along with its Blue friend – were a one-time/one-run deal designed to use up colored acetate that had been earmarked for another project that had gone by the wayside.

Since the first BreyerFest Elephant Special Run – 2006’s Nimbo – was a straight-up Decorator of the Copenhagen Blue variety, it also seemed unlikely that they’d go with another, unless they were going to do the Surprise SR on it to “complete” the set. But I really doubted they would go for a Nonhorse Surprise.

Decorator Ageless Bronze – like the Commemorative Edition Durango – might have worked, and would have been a nice callback to the infamous “Bronze Glo” models that turn up from time to time, a club of whom the Elephant is a member. (Side note: I am skeptical of many “Bronze Glo” models I’ve seen. Like Gloss, it’s a finish that’s very easy to fake.)

I would have been all-in on another release with the rarely-seen plastic Howdah, but that would have been a little too “Modernistic Buck and Doe”-level obscure, I think. And I say that as someone who has advocated for another release on the Modernistic Buck and Doe.

So an Elephant in fancy festival makeup it is. The only question remaining is whether or not it will be a Ticket Special, or a Pop-Up Store Special? A difficult decision for me, either way.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Different Kind of Black Beauty

Next up: a Black Rabicano Sabino Yasmin, named Kaalee.

I haven’t seen the mold in person yet, but I am slightly obsessed with the breed she’s supposed to represent (Shagya Arabian), it’s an Eberl, and her paint job (designed by Lesli Kathman) is unique and interesting, so all signs so far point to her being a “Yes” here.

Kaalee is also very reminiscent of the original release of the Traditional #89 Black Beauty, except prettier and more correct. Allegedly she’s just as much as a shelf hog, but since I also collect the Pacer mold, I know how to deal if it becomes a deal.

Just when I thought I had made peace with my “just one ticket this year” rule. Sigh. Time to do some budget number crunching again…

I have nothing further to say about Kaalee or the Yasmin mold, other than noting that she’s the third of the last year’s three Premier Club molds in this year’s lineup. (And will make a mighty fine ladyfriend to Polaris!)

It’s good that they got the new Premier molds out of the way early for the sake of the Special Run speculations, I guess? Maybe that means the rest of the Specials will be on older molds, for balance?

While it’s pretty much a given that we’ll get the Elephant at some point, beyond that I’m going to stick to my minimal public speculating rule for the year. I’ll just go with the flow around and let it all be a surprise, more or less.

And how’s this for a surprise – I actually “won” a Wailua! It’s been two years since I’ve won a Web Special of any kind, so I was a bit gobsmacked when the e-mail showed up in my In Box. I only have the one official account and my luck is typically about average luck, but that dry streak was just starting to make me think otherwise.

The only downsides to winning are that I have to push the BreyerFest ticket buying two more weeks down the road, and I have to scale back some of my eBay bidding ambitions. (Darn it, and just when it was starting to get interesting there!)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Oh Sweet Christmas, will you look at that:

A Bay Roan Pinto Shannondell with silver and purple braids, named Vahana. And believe it or not, it’s not a Raffle or Contest prize but a honest-to-goodness BreyerFest Ticket Special!

As for the connection to India, I’ll let Wikipedia explain:
Vahana (Sanskrit: वाहन, Vāhana, literally “that which carries, that which pulls”) denotes the being, typically an animal or mythical entity, a particular Hindu deity is said to use as a vehicle. In this capacity, the vahana is often called the deity’s “mount” […] The vahana and deity to which they support are in a reciprocal relationship. Vahana serve and are served in turn by those who engage them. Many vahana may also have divine powers or a divine history of their own.
He’s basically supposed to represent a horse glorious and powerful enough to carry a Hindu deity. Judging from the almost-reverential reaction to him, I think they nailed the concept! So I doubt that they’ll do multiple mane/tail options or the Gloss/Matte split on it: Vahana won’t need any help selling out.

I haven’t a Shannondell in person yet (and judging from the prices, I’ve been seeing them go for, it’ll be a while) but I think I prefer the braided version anyway.

I still think I’m sticking to my one-ticket plan this year, but if this is just the start of the Special Run parade, I might be in trouble.

I wasn’t too crazy about the cutesy stunt they used to “reveal” it, though, or the fact that they were redirecting people to visit their Facebook page for the news. I think the world – not just the model horse world, but the world-world – would be better served if more people were encouraged to venture off of Facebook, not on.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Wailua, and Other Business

Today is going to be a bit disconnected, since I’m still recovering from a bit of who-knows-what from last week. (There have been a lot of unexpectedly extended naps over the past few days!)

First up is Wailua - Second release in the America the Beautiful Series, all designed by Sommer Prosser:

Ooh, a Gloss Legionario! It is true that Gloss Finishes are a rare feature on Legionario releases; other than Tests and Samples, the only ones I can think of are Decorators like the 1991 Gold Florentine Raffle piece, and the Silver Filigree Grane of Gotterdammerung.

My only (tiny) quibble with him is that it’s yet another flavor of Gray. It is in keeping with the theme of the series – his mane is like a waterfall, and the dapples like water bubbles – but darn it, it’s still left me pining for a nice Dark Dappled Bay or Pinto!

On the plus side, the appearance of a relatively low-quantity piece run does suggest that more Legionarios may be in our future. The last widely available Legionario release (excluding the Exclusive Event Excalibur in 2014) was 2009’s Spanish Flamenco Set.

If there’s a Legionario SR at BreyerFest – Surprise or not – I am all in. I’ve entered every day for Wailua, too, but I haven’t been picked for a Web SR since Astru, so I am not hopeful.

Second, another previously unknown In-Between Mare has appeared on eBay. Needless to say, I won’t be participating in that exercise of financial futility.

It appears to have surfaced in the Chicago area, which is in keeping with the history we think we know about it: that a small test batch was made, whatever was made was mostly destroyed/reground when they did not pass muster, with a handful of survivors circulating locally.

The slow drip-drip of IBMs into the marketplace is just more fuel for the fire that that understanding of its history is wrong, or incomplete. (I still favor the notion that whatever was made was not destroyed, but simply mixed into the earliest distributed batches of the “new” Family Arabian Mare.)

Third, there’s the news that this year’s NAN has been cancelled.

In this house, whenever things get real quiet, it usually means that Vita has been up to some serious no-good – stripping the guest bedroom bed, eating an umbrella, or picking your coat pocket for cough drops and candy wrappers.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was thinking the same thing about NAN and NAMHSA.

I can’t say that I necessarily saw it coming, but it is also not a surprise, given the lack of meaningful communication and what recent changes and announcements have been made (like the switch to a one-judge system, and keeping the event in Kentucky for multiple successive years).

I don’t know if I’ll attend the event that they have planned for the Thursday before BreyerFest, since Thursday is already the busiest day of that week for me. I might just to attend the Open Meeting, but like the last time there was a serious controversy, I think by then it will be too late, with opinions too calcified for any progress to be made.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Bay Shetland Ponies

I have to say that I’ve been impressed with Reeves doing the daily (during the workweek) posts on their BreyerFest blog. Way to step up the game, guys!

My only concern is that at the pace they are going through material, I might find myself either the subject or illustration to a post. The latter is much more likely than the former, since I’ve actually found pictures of myself on their web site multiple times. (They have more pictures of me than my family does, I think!)

But anyway, back to the Dally and Spanky set:

Cute! And again, not entirely unexpected, since they were mentioned on the web site as guests.

I have mixed feelings about it: I’m glad the Merrylegs mold is not being used for this – that mold’s tippy ways vex me so! – but I’m not sure I am up for another Matte Bay Shetland Pony, either. It is significantly different than the original #23 Bay release, though. From the 1973 Collector’s Manual:

And it does have a Jack Russell in a kerchief. Darn it Reeves, stop making it so hard to decide!

The Matte Bay Shetland Pony is one of the most common and ubiquitous of Breyer releases, having been in production from 1973 through 1988. Everyone has one, or has had one at some point.

I’ve had several, though none of them have “stuck”: like the Palomino Western Prancing Horse, I just haven’t found the right one yet.

Even though she’s probably the most common Shetland Pony release ever, the Matte Bay was a relative latecomer: the mold itself debuted ca. 1959/1960, in Gloss Alabaster, Gloss Black Pinto, Gloss Brown/Palomino Pinto, and possibly Gray Appaloosa (either as an obscure Special Run, or an extremely short or cancelled Production Run like the Buckskin Running Mare and Foal).

Gloss Bay was a vital part of the Breyer color repertoire in the early 1960s, so it is a bit of a mystery why we never saw a Gloss Bay Shetland Pony. It might have been proposed, but for whatever reason they decided against it producing it.

Not flashy enough? Lukewarm response from the sales reps? Dunno.

The #23 Bay was in production long enough to generate a number of unique variations: Chalky is the best-known, but it also came in a Solid/No Bald Face variation, a four stocking variation, and in every color in the Bay rainbow from light reddish to dark bay-brown.

There was a really pretty bright Red Bay variation on eBay that had been tempting me for a few weeks, until someone else (whew!) bought her.