Monday, March 26, 2018

Just another Manning Monday*

Breyer history nerds will know where this post is (eventually) headed, and in my defense, this was originally intended to be strictly a discussion of the Breyer Modernistic Buck and Doe. But as is so often the case, the more you dig into something, the more interesting it becomes, and simple posts spiral out of control. Such is the case here. The more I dug for answers and evidence, the more I came up with new questions instead! So rather than a simple post about the Breyer Buck and Doe, I present you with what became an accidentally encyclopedic post about Don Manning, Nosco Plastics, and how they tie in with Breyer.

Manning madness
Early on in my time spent scouring flea-markets and antique malls for model horses, I became aware of what I assumed were copies of Breyer's Modernistic Buck and Doe. I saw a few sets over the years---clear plastic, translucent blue, etc. I paid them no mind because they weren't gold, and therefore I knew they weren't Breyers. When Nancy Young published her Breyer history opus in 1997, I read it voraciously. She described the clear versions of the Modernistic Buck and Doe, some marked with the names of Don Manning or Nosco Plastics, but she was unsure which had come first, the Breyers or the Nosco pieces. 

In the intervening years, I picked up a few of the little horses Don Manning designed, but never gave a great deal of thought to them. I occasionally looked for more on eBay and bought a few that spoke to me. My sister Sarah was also intrigued by the little beasts, and she too began to acquire a modest collection. This past Christmas, she gave me a clear Buck and Doe pair, and what had been an idle fancy suddenly became a serious obsession. Finally having a Nosco Buck and Doe actually in hand made me realize that there was more to this mystery of which came first than probably anyone realized. And so, down the rabbit hole I went!**


Who was Don Manning?

To do this subject justice, we must begin at the beginning. When I started writing this post back in December, Don Manning was very much an enigma. I couldn’t find anything about him online other than the fact he was a designer with a studio in New York. Hardly much to go on! The frustrating lack of information about him only made me more curious and determined. Who was he? What was the story behind the charming little plastic animals that bear his name? What was his connection to Breyer? I found a few more snippets about him by looking at copyright records, but the real breakthrough came only recently with access to an archive of old newspapers. I finally found the information I was seeking in the pages of the Democrat and Chronicle, a Rochester, New York newspaper.

A May 1938 article about a local Rochester art exhibition mentions that Don Manning won an award in the decorative sculpture category for "a group of six pieces in plaster, brass, and bronze."1 The article went on to say that "Mr. Manning has an undeniable flair for the decorative and has endowed his small figures of elephants, dogs, etc, with a streamlined sophistication that is most effective."2 The author of the article even declared that Manning's little animals were one of the most appealing works in the exhibition. 


Don Manning
A January 1950 article in the same newspaper offers a more in-depth biography of the man. Don Manning and his brother William were artists and engineers from a young age. According to the article, "while still in high school, they were selling designs and ideas to established companies."3 Both attended the University of Rochester where they took engineering and business courses, and Don spent an additional two years at Johns Hopkins University "specializing in engineering, metallurgy, and the chemical spectroscopy of metals."4 Together, they established Don Manning and Company, a tool and die shop, in Rochester, New York, in 1936. (This would put Manning’s birth year at about 1911 or a little earlier.) In 1939, Manning was awarded the National Modern Plastic Award “for his giftware designs.”5 During World War II, the unique skills of the Manning brothers were put to work for the war effort, and afterwards, they decided to branch out into a new and burgeoning industry, plastic injection molding.

They made items for a variety of well-known companies such as Kodak and Bausch & Lomb, but they also designed and produced a variety of toys, everything from little vehicles to wacky fish bowls to an assortment of small colorful animals. And this is where the plot begins to thicken. According to the 1950 Democrat and Chronicle article, "a series of a dozen artistic animal figures carved by Don as a basis for one of their first molds for plastic objects continues to sell steadily in the art shops."6 The article makes it clear that both Manning brothers were talented artists, but their true interests lay chiefly in designing and making the molds for creating products rather than in the products themselves which is likely how Nosco Plastics comes into the story.

Nosco Plastics

In 1936, the National Organ Supply Company, a maker of replacement parts for electric pipe organs used in theatres and churches, found that the demand for organs and thus their products was on the decline.7 They therefore diversified their business, purchased plastic injection molding machines, and opened a new division, Nosco Plastics, which specialized in "slum." These were small plastic toys that could be made quickly, cheaply, and in large volume to be sold as prizes for carnivals, charms, drink identifiers, cake decorations, etc. Nosco made a variety of brightly colored toys---soldiers, cars, trucks, various animals, and more. They are best known as the original producers of the Cracker Jack box toys.

The popularity of these toys really took off in the boom years following World War II, and in 1946, Nosco acquired the copyright to produce a variety of the animals designed by Don Manning. Presumably, these are some of the same animal designs referenced in the 1936 newspaper article mentioned above. From the articles, it sounds as though Manning produced these pieces from his own factory for a while before licensing the designs to Nosco.

1946 Catalog of Copyright Entries

In January of 1959, a variety of Pennsylvania newspapers announced that Nosco Plastics, Inc, pioneers of the plastic injection molding industry, had been acquired by Holgate Brothers Company, a former wood-working firm turned toy manufacturer.

Article from The Kane Republican, 1/9/59
Holgate had sold its toy division in 1956, however,8 and molded plastic only for industrial uses. Only two years later, in May 1961, Holgate and its subsidiary Nosco Plastics were bought out by another plastic injection molding company, White Eagle International, Inc, of Midlands, TX. A Kane Republican article at that time noted that Nosco, which had plants in Erie, PA, and Los Angeles, CA, made components for “appliances, pharmaceutical, air conditioning, radio, television, aeronautics, and automotive industries.”9 There was no mention of toys, so presumably Nosco’s toy production likely ceased with the Holgate buy-out or even before. By May 1962, the same newspaper was reporting the demise of Holgate, alluding to the closing of their factory. In 1964, a further merger of Nosco and Holgate was announced with “the name of the surviving corporation [being] Nosco Plastics.”10 Confusing to say the least.

I found little about Nosco or White Eagle after 1964 other than a citation for Nosco for dumping waste in Lake Erie in 1971, and the final dissolution and sale of the property and machinery in 1977.11 White Eagle International hung on until 1983 when it, too, ceased operations.

With all of this in mind, as mentioned above, I would guess that Nosco stopped producing toys, and Manning’s animals specifically, by the time Holgate bought the company in 1959, if not before. Their copyright agreement with Manning began in December of 1946, so Nosco’s production of Manning’s animals likely only lasted about 10 years, if that. Manning himself seems to have produced some of his designs in the late 1930s and early 1940s, though likely in smaller numbers than Nosco. Manning’s own company seems to have ceased operations in 1955---advertisements in the local papers indicate that he and his brother sold off all of their equipment and closed up shop. A 1947 article reported that the Manning brothers had set up factory operations in Haiti, and planned to do so in Brazil and Thailand, so perhaps they finally did so and left the country.12 Whatever the case, their trail goes cold in 1955.




The Manning Animals

Figuring out the timeline of Manning’s life helped resolve an issue that had puzzled me, to wit, the range of artistic design elements exhibited by Manning’s animals within the fixed style he created. His sculptures are all narrow and nearly all of them are bilaterally symmetrical. They all have a flat inner surface to their legs. A few pieces like the Borzoi and stork have fluid, curvy Art Nouveau stylings while some of the horses, the terrier, and elephant have a carved, geometric Art Deco feel. A couple of his pieces even seem to be a blend of both styles, such as the giraffes and unicorn. Later pieces attributed to Manning have a certain level of mid-century modern kitsch.

The Manning animals were molded in a fabulous assortment of colors, both opaque and translucent. The opaque models seem to be a bit more common than the translucent ones, but both can be found for reasonable prices with patience. The opaque animals appear in a variety of pastel shades like white/cream, tan, pink, sage green, and aqua. Bolder colors like red, maroon, yellow, blue, and black are also common. Some of the opaque pieces test as Bakelite or celluloid using the hot water method though not all. Presumably the celluloid pieces are the oldest, probably molded by Don Manning before Nosco acquired the rights to them. That may be true of the Bakelite pieces as well, but this is only speculation on my part.

Opaque pieces
The translucent animals are frequently blue, but you do also see clear, smoky quartz, pale yellow, amber/orange, red, and green as well. I assume the translucent pieces were made from Lucite or a similar kind of acrylic plastic.

Translucent pieces
Some pieces were molded in two-color swirled plastic, a technique that was popular for Bakelite jewelry.

Swirly black and swirly red
Both the opaque and translucent models can sometimes be found with painted details---I have seen some with gold accents and some with opaque polka dots, swirls, and flowers.

Translucent blue and opaque pink with gold trim

Opaque red with painted details
Two translucent bucks. The frosted version has painted details.

Some Manning animals were also electro-plated with a chrome-like finish.

Bright chrome camel and slightly tarnished horse

Most were just colorful tchotchkes or decorations, but some were made into pins or charms. Both Manning and his brother designed jewelry, so these pieces may be their handiwork.

Pin
Charms
Keychain or charm

The ornament hooks on these camels may not be original

The Nosco animals can be divided roughly into the three sizes. Because I have found no other collector resources about these pieces, I’ve taken it upon myself to formalize the names for the scales and the molds. For the latter, I’ve done the best I can to use the names given in the copyright licensing records, and where there are gaps, I’ve used the names that seem to be the most logical.

I have dubbed the three sizes Traditional, Curio, and Mini to help differentiate between them. Categorizing them in terms of size by inches or by generic terms (small, medium, large) is problematic because the antlers on the Curio Buck and Doe pair make them several inches taller than the horses of the same scale, and listing small and medium giraffes implies there must be a large one as well, but there isn’t. My frame of reference is of course the model horse world, so I chose terms that would make sense in that context.
Traditional, curio, and mini scale


Traditional Molds

The largest scale consists of just two molds, a Buck and Doe. They look familiar, huh? 


A 1946 entry in the Catalog of Copyright Entries (pictured above) lists a license for a buck and doe designed by Don Manning to Nosco Plastics. Presumably this is that pair. They seem to be most commonly found in clear translucent plastic, but I have also seen them in translucent blue, as well as opaque black, red, cream, and faux-chrome-plated. Other colors likely exist as well. They stand approximately 8 inches tall at the highest point. Mine are marked "Nosco Plastics" on their bellies, "Designed Don Manning" on the inside of one leg, a C in a circle (presumably a copyright symbol) on the inside of one foot, and an N in a circle on the inside of another foot. I have heard that some are not marked, and some unscrupulous sellers have tried to pass them off as Breyer test runs which of course they are not. There are several key differences between the Nosco and Breyer versions, and if you would like to skip ahead to these, just scroll down the Breyer Connection section below. 

Curio Molds

The curio scale consists of a 8 molds: a Buck (5.25 inches tall), a Doe (5”), a Rearing Horse (4”), a Standing Horse (3.75”), a Unicorn (same mold as the Standing Horse) (4”), a Giraffe (4.25”), a Stork (4.75”), and a Borzoi dog (2.25”). The Borzoi is scaled to fit with the other molds in this group, hence his inclusion here despite his height. These pieces are sometimes marked USA, usually on the outside of a lower leg or hoof, and a few are marked Don Manning as well, usually on the outside of a hind leg. My sister’s Curio Rearing Horse is marked Nosco Plastics on the belly.


Curio giraffe, buck, standing horse, and rearing horse
Curio unicorn, giraffe, standing horse, buck, and Borzoi
This copyright excerpt seems to refer to the Curio Buck, the Mini Rearing Horse, and the Curio Stork based on the measurements of pieces in my collection and extrapolation from photos of pieces I don't yet have.


This photo gleaned from Pinterest shows the Curio Buck and Doe pair as well as the Curio Stork in the back row. (Also pictured are the Curio Rearing Horse, Mini Standing Horse, Giraffe, Terrier, and Elephant.)



Mini Molds

The smallest Nosco size seems to be the most common. It also consists of 8 molds: a Buck (2.75”), a Camel (2.75”), an Elephant (2.5”), a Giraffe (3”),  Rearing Horse (2.75”), a Standing Horse (2.25”), a Monkey (2.75”), and a Terrier dog (1.75”). These pieces are sometimes marked USA, but many of them aren't marked at all.



Tiny 12

There is a fourth category of Nosco animals that may or may not be Don Manning designs, but I have not yet found any evidence to direct me one way or the other. I personally am inclined to think that while they are obviously based on Manning's designs and style, they may not be his work (or only some of them are his). I could be wrong, but that's my gut feeling. These Nosco animals were sold in boxed sets  labeled "Tiny 12 Ornamental Figurines," and they are described as "distinctively different what nots." How perfectly apt! The pieces are all around 2.5 inches tall, and the only sets I've seen so far have been molded in translucent plastic---clear, red, turquoisey-blue, and green. One of the clear sets I have seen has painted details. I believe they were meant to look like the glass animal figurines that were so popular in the 1950s.

Boxes came in blue or red and say "Mfg. by Nosco Plastics - Erie, PA, USA" along the side

A clear set with painted details
A close up of the 12 molds

Stylistically, the animals in this set do bear a resemblance to pieces we know to be Don Manning designs---they're quite narrow and the insides of the legs have the typical flat, unsculpted surface you expect of a Manning piece. And some of the pieces are clearly derived from his designs. The doe and stork are scaled down versions of the curio size pieces discussed earlier. The giraffe, horse, antelope, and camel are decidedly similar but not quite identical to the mini sized equivalents discussed above. The monkey alone appears to be the same as the mini opaque versions I have seen. The key design difference, though, is that almost all of these pieces are much more detailed than Manning's typical work. These have fur, feathers, and textures whereas Manning's pieces are sleek, smooth, and mostly lacking in detail. Manning's work is meant to give only a stylized impression of the animal while the Tiny 12 molds are more realistic, albeit in a rounder, cartoony way. Did Manning sculpt them? Did another designer copy his style for these pieces? When were they made in relation to the Manning Nosco animals?

Because they are clearly based on Manning’s style, whether or not he himself had a hand in the design of these specific pieces, I think it’s fairly safe to assume they must date from the 1950s. The packaging does have a certain mid-century modern sort of feel to it. If someone reading this blog happens to have a set in the box, I'd love to see more pictures of the text, especially if there's a copyright date.

Copies of Nosco and Don Manning's Animals

Interestingly, like so many other products in the '40s and '50s, Nosco's designs were copied by various competitors. Some of these copies are apparently still being made in China and Hong Kong.

Copies of Nosco animals (source: eBay)
More copies used as drink identifiers. I have seen close-ups of the monkeys,
and they are deliberate (although crude) copies of the Nosco monkey.
(source: eBay)

Which leads us to the elephant Buck and Doe in the room.

The Breyer Connection

As described above, Don Manning’s company seems to have gone out of business in 1955. Where he went or what he did after that is a mystery. Nosco Plastics, to whom he licensed some, if not all, of his animal molds, was subsumed by Holgate Brothers in 1959, which was in turn subsumed by White Eagle International. News articles at the time indicated that Nosco was making plastic objects with commercial and industrial uses rather than toys. What then became of the molds for Don Manning's animals? Were they sold? Were they scrapped? Are they sitting in a dusty storage building somewhere waiting to be rediscovered?

Whatever the case, of the many molds discussed and pictured above, only two have ever resurfaced, and very briefly at that. The Breyer 1961 catalog supplement pages feature a Golden Buck and Doe that are clearly based on Don Manning designs. Likewise, the 1961 Catalog of Copyright Entries lists the Breyer Buck (#101) and Doe (#102) with copyright dates of March 7, 1961. Interestingly, there is no mention of Don Manning or Nosco.



Breyer catalogs and price lists from the early 1960s are not complete, so some of the dating on this pair is guess work. The Breyer Golden Buck and Doe, generally referred to as the Modernistic Buck and Doe by collectors, may have been available as early as late 1960 to cash in on the Christmas decoration idea despite the 1961 copyright date and catalog. They appear again in the 1963 catalog, but not in the 1966 catalog, the next known full catalog. (The 1964 and 1965 "catalogs" are in fact just supplement pages meant to be added to the previous year's catalog as far as we know.) The last known mention of them is the 1964 price list, so that is likely the last year they were offered. Whatever the case, Breyer's Golden Buck and Doe were only available for a few years at most, and then they disappeared. The molds have never been used again.

It has long been assumed that Breyer bought the Manning molds and used them to produce their own Golden Buck and Doe, and I had no reason to think otherwise until this past Christmas when my sister gave me the translucent Nosco pair mentioned at the beginning of this post. I noticed right off the bat that not only are they slightly larger than Breyer's pair, but most significantly, they also have turned heads. Breyer's pair is facing straight ahead.

The head turn on the Nosco pieces is easy to see in person, but it's often very hard to discern in photos unless they are seen directly from the front or back or from above. Despite having been collecting and looking for these Nosco pieces on and off for several years, I never noticed this distinction until I had a pair in hand. Now that I know to look, all of the other large bucks and does I've found pictures of appear to have turned heads as well.

Breyer buck on the left and Nosco buck on the right
The Nosco buck's head turns to the left
Nosco doe on the left and Breyer doe on he right
The Nosco doe's head turns to the right

If Breyer had purchased the Nosco molds at some point, why would they have gone to the time and expense to retool them to straighten the heads? And furthermore, why would the Breyer pieces be smaller than the Nosco pieces if they came from the same plastic injection molds? The only answer that fits is that Breyer never purchased the Nosco molds. They simply altered existing Nosco pieces they acquired and made molds from them as we know they did with so many other pieces in the 1950s and 1960s. That would explain the smaller size for sure---mold reduction is a well-known result of the re-casting process. The heads may have been straightened to make molding easier and/or because Breyer was still somewhat wary from having been recently sued by Hagen-Renaker for copyright infringement in 1959. With both Manning and Nosco seemingly out of business or at least no longer in the toy business, Breyer may have felt they could fly under the radar with close-but-not-quite copies.

As far as we know, the Breyer Modernistic Buck and Doe were only ever released in gold---they were molded in white tenite acetate plastic and then painted gold, just like the decorators. They also have the round Breyer mark on the inside of one of the hind legs. As I mentioned above for those who skipped ahead to the Breyer part, beyond the obvious critical differences (size and turned heads), the Nosco pieces are molded in colored or translucent plastic. Breyer rarely molded anything in colored plastic until the 1970s oil crisis necessitated it, and they used tenite acetate plastic, not Bakelite or celluloid. Furthermore, Breyer never released any translucent pieces until 2006. So while some of the Nosco bucks and does apparently do not have any identifying marks, don't be fooled by uninformed or dishonest collectors trying to pass off unmarked Nosco pieces as Breyer test runs.

I hope you've enjoyed this (unexpectedly) in-depth post about Don Manning, Nosco, and their connection to Breyer. I would love to know more about Manning's Nosco creations, so please feel free to comment below or email me at mumtazmahal (at) gmail (dot) com if you know more. I would be especially interested in old documents pertaining to these pieces like catalog, newspaper, or magazine ads; old packaging; price lists; a boxed Tiny 12 set, etc. I am also very interested in buying Nosco pieces I don't have like the Curio Stork, Rearing Horse, and Doe (and Unicorn for my sister). I'm also interested in colors I don't have on other molds (as is my sister), so please also feel free to contact me if you have any pieces for sale.


* (Sorry, Bangles, I won't apologize for this pun. It's awesome.)

** Many thanks to my chief enablers, my sister Sarah who helped me with my research and
my friend Diana who helped me track down Manning pieces on eBay under unlikely titles!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sources cited:

1. Herdie, Isabel. “Eastman Chorus, Symphony to Present Choral Work; Art Awards Announced.” Democrat and Chronicle. (Rochester, NY), May 8, 1938.

2. Ibid.
3. Record, Don. “Manning Brothers, Artists, Experts in Metallurgy Operate Unique Mold Shop.” Democrat and Chronicle. (Rochester, NY), January 8, 1950.
4. Ibid.
5. Staff. “Firm Here Gets Contract to Build Industry in Haiti.” Democrat and Chronicle. (Rochester, NY), October 4, 1947.
6. Record, Don. “Manning Brothers, Artists, Experts in Metallurgy Operate Unique Mold Shop.” Democrat and Chronicle. (Rochester, NY), January 8, 1950.
7. Staff. “Erie Firm is Sold to Holgate Bros, Co.” The Kane Republican. (Kane, PA), January 9, 1959.
8. Staff. “News of the Past.” The Kane Republican. (Kane, PA), April 11, 1966.
9. Staff. “Holgate Brothers, One Time Kane Leader, Is Listed in Erie Deal.” The Kane Republican. (Kane, PA), May 26, 1961.
10. Notice for merger, The Pittsburgh Press, (Pittsburgh, PA), January 29, 1964.
11. Public auction advertisement, The Los Angeles Times, (Los Angeles, CA), January 9, 1977.
12. Record, Don. “City Firm Starts Industry in Haiti.” Democrat and Chronicle. (Rochester, NY), May 4, 1948.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Friday Photo Featurette: Lakewood, Part 2

Jennifer Buxton regularly posts photo-based entries called "Wordless Wednesdays" on her popular Braymere Custom Saddlery blog. I am busy working on a pretty substantial post that is not yet ready to go live, so I thought I'd borrow her idea in the meantime. Please enjoy some photos on this, uh, Photo Friday!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the first model horse I found "in the wild" at the old Lakewood flea market south of Atlanta. I had so much fun reminiscing about it with my parents and sister that I thought I'd share some more of our finds. Most of what we picked up over the years there was fairly mundane, but we had many gaps to fill in our collection then and the prices were usually good. A number of our vintage glossies were found at Lakewood including probably half a dozen sets of glossy palomino Family Arabians (they were all different shades, what could we do).

We also found some rather spectacular rarities. Most of these were purchased for less than $30, but this was of course well-before eBay and the internet were really a thing. The first two horses pictured here---the Proud Arabian Mare grooming kit and Fury with the paper saddle---were actually picked up at Lakewood by a friend of ours, but we later bought them from her, so I'm including them here because they're so cool. Enjoy!

Breyer Proud Arabian Mare Grooming Kit. The only two I'm aware of both
surfaced in the Atlanta area.
Breyer Fury with the original paper saddle
Breyer Woodgrain Poodle with the original gold tenite sticker
Beautiful and hard to find Hartland 11" Copper Saddlebred
Breyer Western Horse Clock
Glossy variation of Breyer Sorrel Five-Gaiter
Hagen-Renaker matte DW Von
Hutschenreuther trotter
Hartland 11" Arabian in greenish buckskin with original sticker
Hard to find Hartland 9" Polo Pony in metallic blue
Breyer Brahma Bull night light
Breyer matching chalky donkey lamps

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Featurette: My First Liberation

Scouring garage sales, flea markets, and antique malls has long been a great way for collectors to find and add model horses (and animals) to their collections. True, the rise of the internet over the last 15 or so years has changed things---prices are higher and dealers are savvier about what they have---but there are still bargains and great models to be found. Many of the models in my collection were sourced this way, and I've had a number of neat finds over the years in out of the way places.

One of my favorite hunting grounds was the old Lakewood Antiques Market, a monthly extravaganza on the south side of Atlanta. My whole family used to frequent it every month beginning in the early 1990s. Four huge Spanish Mission style buildings, several smaller pole buildings, and every inch of open space between the buildings was covered in antiques, collectibles, vintage clothes, art, jewelry, and sometimes straight-up junk. It was heavenly. 


Lakewood flea market in its heyday (Photo from Lakewood history page)
My mom, sister, and I made our first visit there in spring of 1989 or 1990. We had looked through antique stores on occasion, but we were still pretty new to the vintage scene. We arrived early on a Saturday morning to get in as soon as it opened, and to say we were mind-boggled by the amount of stuff was a bit of an understatement. Once through the gates, you climbed a steep hill to get up to the main entrances to the buildings, but there were dealers with tables set up along the hill and there was even an entrance to the lower level of one of the buildings, also crammed full of dealers. In those days, we were on a mission just for model horses, so were able to run the gauntlet up the hill without becoming too distracted.

At the top of the hill was a table full of vintage 1970s Breyers. I'm pretty sure a ray of light from above illumined the table as we hurried over. I still remember it quite clearly because I'd never seen so many old Breyers outside of the catalog pictures before. There was an Adios, a Yellow Mount, a palomino Quarter Horse Yearling, some matte Family Arabs, a Lady Phase, an Old Timer, and more. I honed in a mahogany Proud Arabian Mare who became my first ever flea market purchase. She set me back a whole $12. I still have her.   

Such a pretty PAM, too!
We saw many more models that day and bought a few more, too, most for $10 or less. We went to Lakewood pretty much every month after that for years until it closed down. My parents started going on Friday mornings after dropping my sister and I at school to start the hunt early, and eventually, they even went on dealer set-up day on Thursdays. They were really dedicated to helping us build our collections, and I know they had fun looking, too. My mom in particular made a lot of friends and branched out into buying original art work there. And she used to always come home with grocery bags full of models because they could be found so cheap in those days. It was pretty amazing! We all miss it.

What was the very first model you found at a garage/estate sale, antique mall, or flea market? I'd love to hear your stories! Please feel free to comment below and include a picture if you want to!

Happy hunting!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Effective Judging: Time Management and Informed Criteria

I promise I will get back to my collectibility judging test series in the near future, but in the meantime, here are some thoughts on judging in general inspired by a recent Facebook conversation. It's a subject I've wanted to tackle for a while, but I've kept it on a back burner because other (easier) subjects were at hand. This is going to be a long post and possibly a bit rambling in places, so I've done my best to break up the text with hopefully relevant (or at least interesting) photos. What I discuss here can be applied broadly to most show divisions, but it's especially relevant to OF breed classes and collectibility classes.

I recently had the pleasure of judging at Breakables, a china show sponsored by Breyer and held in conjunction with BreyerFest in Lexington, Kentucky. I have showed several times at Breakables, but I had never judged there until this year, so it was a fun change of pace to be on the other side of the clipboard, so to speak. Breakables is always an enjoyable show because the clinky community is relatively small and close-knit, so rather than a competition, it often feels more like a show-and-tell session among friends. (Which it pretty much is.)


The show was extra fun for me this year because my sister Sarah judged with me. Sarah is a long-time collectibility shower and collector, but she hasn't had the opportunity to judge a lot, so the show was a great experience for us both. In the week leading up to BreyerFest, just to get our heads in the game, we spent some time chatting about judging procedure and what to expect on practical matters like calling and closing classes, remembering to put out NAN cards, what order to lay down ribbons (I like last to first, personally), etc.

The most important thing we discussed was judging philosophy, both in terms of what our criteria are for picking winners, but also how we approach a class and sift through the models on the table to find those winners. In other words, what we felt constituted good and effective judging. For me, this boils down to two things: 1) time management, and 2) well-informed judging criteria.

Time management sounds simple enough but it is absolutely crucial to a smoothly run event and happy showers. Live shows these days regularly have extensive class lists that start early in the morning and can run well into the evening. Speaking from experience, late-running shows can be exhausting for both judges and showers. To make sure I keep the divisions I judge moving along at a reasonable pace, I have literally started doing the math---I count the number of classes I'm responsible for and measure that against a reasonable finish time for the show. For example, a show I judged several years ago had 55 OF Breyer classes. Based on a start time of 9:00 AM with a goal to be done by 5:30 PM (so we could all go out to dinner together) while also factoring in an hour for lunch made for approximately 7.5 hours of judging time. That translates to only 8 minutes per class which includes not just looking at the models but also writing down the results, laying down the ribbons, announcing that the class has been pinned, calling the next class, and waiting for entrants to pick up their models and replace them with new ones for the next class. Not to mention periodically squeezing in a few extra minutes to pick sectional champs! That's a LOT of action to cram into a small amount of time. Of course, some classes will be small and easy to judge quickly in less than the allotted time, but popular classes like Arabians or Quarter Horses will likely be large and take up more than the allotted time.


Therefore, it behooves a judge to know exactly what their judging criteria are for a given division, i.e. anatomy and biomechanics for breed classes or rarity and age for collectibility classes, in order to optimize their judging time. And while this seems like it should be fairly straightforward, it can be be fraught with etiquette landmines. Very often, judges are given the advice that they should carefully examine every model on the table, for the obvious reasons of course, but also in part so that no entrants can accuse them of overlooking their models, deliberately or otherwise. On the surface, this seems like reasonable advice. Showers pay good money to travel to shows---gas, lodging, entry fees, etc---so as judges, we should give all models equal consideration and time, right?

Well, yes and no.

The mark of a good judge in my opinion is one who can look over a table of models and quickly have an idea of which ones will be the top picks before giving them all a closer look. In fact, a really good judge will already have some idea of what models are likely to be in a given class and will be mentally sorting them before the class is even called. With this in mind, and given the time crunch of finishing at a reasonable hour, it is not the best use of time to expect the judge to look minutely at every model on the table. A quick once-over will suffice for the models that are not strong contenders, allowing the judge to allocate more time to the best models in the class.

For example, the average OF Breyer Arabian class would likely have a mix of molds in various colors---Proud Arabian Mares, Justadream/Make A Wish, Weather Girl, Huckleberry Bey, Sham, Yasmin, the Love Classic Arabians, and probably a variety of stablemates by Love, Moody, and Lunger. A knowledgeable breed judge will immediately focus on the Love and Eberl molds for the top ribbons because they are much more anatomically correct than the others. If there are not enough of those models to fill out the placings, the judge then moves on to the next most correct (or least flawed, depending on your point of view) model.

Similarly, a collectibility class can be sorted into potential winners and models less likely to place fairly quickly as well. In a Breyer Woodgrain class, for example, the rarest models---Proud Arabian Mares, Furies, Belgians, etc---will be considered and placed before moving on to the more common Fighting Stallions or Family Arabians.


These examples are simplifications, of course, because not every class will have obvious stand outs or sometimes the stand outs will have some flaw that may knock them out of contention (warped legs, rubs, poor restoration, etc). And of course, this method of finding winners while also managing one's time in an efficient manner is more applicable to some divisions, such as OF plastic, than others, like customs. But the basic tenets can be applied in some fashion to most divisions. In custom or resin classes, bodies with known, uncorrected anatomical flaws are fairly easy to sort out from the more correct sculptures. Likewise, inaccurate colors or patterns are also easy to spot and dismiss.(Performance is a division I have very little experience judging, so I will leave that subject to more knowledgeable bloggers.)

The ability to narrow down a class quickly based on the criteria described above may seem surprising and even intimidating, especially to newer showers and collectors, but it is something that can be learned with patience and experience. In the past, this method of judging has prompted arguments that showers shouldn't even bother bringing certain molds to shows anymore because they won't place. "We should just all agree upon a ranked list of molds and be done with it!" they say sarcastically. "Pick your mold, place it by your favorite colors, and then move on to the next mold. Why even bother showing?" It's an old argument, one I've heard since I got started in the hobby in the late 1980s, and I'm sure it predates me by a number of years. And while I will always advocate that a person buy and show whatever they like, I'll come right out and say it: yes, certain molds are more correct than others, and the less correct molds should not place over them. I love Sham as much as the next girl (truly), but he has no business placing in a breed class when there are Eberl and Love molds on the table. We may not have a hobby-wide list of molds ranked by anatomical correctness, but I have one in my head, and every competent, knowledgeable judge does, too. It's the only fair (and sane) way to maintain consistent criteria while judging.


Before I wrap this up, I will add that it should go without saying that fast judging does not necessarily equate to good judging. And likewise, a judge who deliberates over a class for 30 minutes minutely examining every model may be doing so because he or she does not yet have a firm idea of their judging criteria, and they're looking for simple and expedient (but incorrect) ways to weed out a class (i.e. dust between the ears or tiny hoof rubs). 

With all of this in mind, don't feel discouraged if you're reading this and worrying that you don't yet have a solid idea of how to sort a class into potential winners and models less likely to place. We all have to start somewhere, and becoming a good judge takes practice, good observation skills, a willingness to listen and learn, and hopefully, friendly hobby mentors to help learn the ropes. It doesn't happen overnight, and we all make mistakes along the way. I know I have some cringe-worthy placings in my past!

Showers should also always remember that judges are volunteers who give up their free time and sometimes their own chance to show to help others hold successful shows. Showers absolutely can ask judges about their placings in a polite and respectful manner, and judges in return should be prepared to answer such questions with an explanation of how their judging criteria was factored into their placings. Dialogue between judges and showers can be a learning experience for both.

Thanks for reading!