Tuesday, August 27, 2019

HRCC Fellowship 2019

My annual pilgrimage to Lexington for BreyerFest kicked off a bit early this year. My sister, Sarah, and I decided we both wanted to attend the Hagen-Renaker Collectors Club Fellowship event in Dandridge, TN, so I flew down to Atlanta to meet up with her the weekend before. On Monday of BreyerFest week, we hit the road, stopping to look through some antique stores along the way. We found a few fun things, including a rare sighting of this fellow. Who knew there were Sasquatch in Georgia? And damn fine stuff for that matter.

Speaking of good stuff, Sarah and I were idly talking about this blog as we wandered through a large antique mall, and I mentioned a plan for a future post about Hartland Champs, Breyer Western Horses, and the various knock-offs of both that you see regularly. She gets out and about more often to hunt for horses than I do, so I asked her to keep her eyes peeled for reasonably priced copies. The words had barely left my mouth when we turned a corner and were confronted by this handsome fellow. He's a nice copy of the Hartland Champ (note the pointy Hartland-style conchos on the bridle) made of some sort of heavy tenite-like plastic. He's cast in brown plastic with painted gold highlights. (I've seen these identified as having been made by Ohio Plastic, but based on an actual OP horse I own, I doubt very much they were made by the same company. There are radical difference in quality, but that's a matter for a future post.)

We checked into the host hotel right around dinner time and then headed over to HR TN for the festivities. All attendees received adorable HR mini milk pails that Kristina Lucas-Francis had custom glazed as spilled slip buckets. And everyone was given a ticket to enter one of several raffles. Prizes included a Cabellas gift certificate, HR Little Horribles "Moose" figurines, and other fun stuff.

HRCC members who had ordered Frosty, the beautiful new bay roan Crusader, were able to pick up their models that evening, and Debut, a new release on the old Mini Head Up Horse mold was available for sale as well. Needless to say, one came home with me. His shaded grey color is a wonderful homage to the early days of Hagen-Renaker, and the mold detail on these guys is just incredible.

Besides shopping, touring the HR museum, and socializing, one of the evening's activities was glazing soothing stones. Kristina made these from an impression of the DW Love's head.

Later that evening, some of the raffles were drawn, and I had the good fortune to win this ridiculous Little Horribles piece, my very first from that line. The Little Horribles were made in 1958 and 1959 only, and all were issued with a little illustrated card with a saying or pun about each piece. Moose's saying was "I think I'm over the hump." Most of the jokes fall a bit flat these days, but humor does evolve like everything else. Moose is weirdly cute all the same.

The following morning, we rolled out of bed early to grab some breakfast before the sales room opened at the host hotel. We had a lovely time chatting with old and new friends while we sipped lots of coffee. (Because who doesn't want to load up on caffeine before handling fragile clinkies, right?) The room was small, but there were so many lovely things for sale. Sarah and I each found a few pieces to add to our collections.

Kristina L-F, Kim B-T, Barb N, Lisa E, and Ed Alcorn with his table of goodies
Kaylene W shopping at JoEllen A's table
Janet H minding the Share the Love table for Dawn S
Jane C and Rhoda W
Heather Wells brought along 21 of the Cartoon Horse (the ultra rare Sleeping Beauty Sampson mold) re-releases glazed in the wrong shade of brown to raffle off. Sarah and I were thrilled to both be drawn to buy one.

My loot!
When lunch time rolled around, we decided to head into Dandridge to see the sights and get some food. The reservoir next to downtown is lovely and peaceful.

We ended up driving along the reservoir for about 10 miles until we reached the lock and dam. The views with the Smoky Mountains across the lake were spectacular!

Because we had to head back to Georgia to pick up our parents and our BreyerFest showstring, we couldn't stay late at HR TN that evening. We said our good-byes, grabbed a sandwich for the road, and headed back south.

A lovely TN sunset
BreyerFest passed in a sleep deprived blur, but I do at least have some pictures to share on my next post. I will try not to take a month to post it!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Desert Orchid by Albany Fine China

Back in 2002, someone who attended the Bring Out Your Chinas event in southern California posted an album of photos to HayNet. BOYC was a gathering of all of the serious china heads in the hobby, and there were some incredible models on display. I poured over the photos, amazed by the variety of makers and exquisite horses. One of the pieces that really struck me was an Albany Fine China portrait of the great steeplechaser Desert Orchid. I had never seen one before and was dazzled by his dynamic galloping pose and substantial size. At 12 inches measured from hoof to eartips, he's on a scale with other enormous china pieces like Hagen-Renaker's Nataf.

At the time, I only dabbled a bit in chinas. I had a small collection of Hagen-Renakers, and I was familiar with Beswicks, Royal Worcesters, and some of the German makers, but Albany was largely a mystery. (Even now with all the power of the internet at our finger tips, there isn't a great deal of information to be had about the company or its products.) Still, I resolved to find an Albany Desert Orchid for my collection if I could.

Surprisingly, within a few months, I stumbled across a custom glazed Desert Orchid on eBay. He had been glazed by Lyne Raff to a rich chestnut frame overo, and as a fan of Thoroughbreds, especially colorful ones, I had to have him. (Lyne has since left the hobby, but she was a well-known customizer and sculptor with a deliciously quirky sense of humor.)

A short time later, an OF Desert Orchid came up for sale on eBay, and my sister had by that time fallen in love with the piece as well, so he quickly joined her collection. (We suspect this is the piece that was at BOYC.)

In retrospect, we both feel fortunate to have acquired our Dessies when we did because Albany horses, particularly Desert Orchid, have proved to be quite scarce over the years. Having done some research on the company for this blog, I finally know why.

The company was founded in 1972 by three former Royal Worcester employees, and they made a variety of porcelain figurines---people, horses, dogs, birds, etc. They made several famous racehorses including great English champions like Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard as well as a few pieces representing various breeds like a Thoroughbred, Arabian, Palomino, Welsh Pony, and Tennessee Walker. As far as I know, all of the horses were sculpted by David Lovegrove except for Desert Orchid which was sculpted by Lorne McKean. The horses were intended to be produced in limited runs of 100 to 500 pieces, but given their scarcity, most collectors and dealers agree that none of the runs were ever completed. In fact, I've seen estimates of 50 pieces or less for some of the the horse molds.

There are several factors that contribute to the rarity of these models. One is undoubtedly their size; large ceramic pieces are prone to slumping when molded or fired. The complexity of poses is also challenging. Mill Reef and most of the others are at least balanced with "a leg at each corner" as Thelwell so aptly put it, but Desert Orchid rests on only two small points of contact. I have not been able to find good information on production dates for the horses, but based on articles and ads I read in a British newspaper archive, most of Lovegrove's horses were available by the end of 1973. How long they were actually offered beyond that is anyone's guess. After the late 1970s, the only references to Albany pieces I have been able to find refer to the dogs, and more often the birds, rather than the horses the company produced.

This November 2, 1973 advertisement in the Illustrated
London News lists most of the Albany horse molds.

Desert Orchid is most definitely an outlier, both in terms of who sculpted him and when he was made. The real horse was foaled in 1979 and didn't reach the zenith of his career until the late 1980s, retiring finally in 1991. Even if Lorne McKean sculpted the piece for Albany while Dessie was at the height of his fame, the piece couldn't have been ready before 1990, nearly 20 years after the other horse molds were released. However, it seems more likely that the Desert Orchid model wasn't released until after the horse retired, so probably 1992 at the earliest.

Which brings us to the primary reason that Dessie is so rare. In 1995, Albany suffered a catastrophic fire at their Lowesmoor factory. Sadly, most of the horse molds were destroyed in the conflagration. 
With all that in mind, it's not surprising that my sister and I saw only one other OF Albany Dessie in the intervening 15 years since we purchased ours. And that one was already in the hands of another collector. (Interestingly, if you click on the link, you'll see that that Dessie is positioned in a more upright pose and has slightly different shading and coloration than my sister's piece pictured above.)

Then, out of the blue in the summer of 2017, another custom glaze Desert Orchid came up for sale as part of a collection dispersal sale. This one had been glazed to a soft dapple grey by Anthony Tomson, an extraordinary artist who got his start working for Royal Worcester. His glaze work is quite rare and highly sought after. Needless to say, my sister went for broke to acquire it.

By that time, I had more or less resigned myself to never finding an OF Desert Orchid for myself. The likelihood of me acquiring one, especially at a price I could afford, wasn't high. I still wanted one for sure, but I was content to live vicariously through my sister's OF piece.

Until last month.

Of all of the crazy things to turn up at an estate sale in Georgia---which is a veritable wasteland for model horse liberations, especially china horses---an OF Albany Desert Orchid appeared in a sale listing for an upscale Atlanta neighborhood not far from where my sister lives. Needless to say, I frantically called her to see if she could go check it out. Being the awesome person that she is, she got the morning off work (her boss thinks we're really weird now) and rolled out at the crack of dawn to wait in line for the sale. Given how expensive the house was (it had just sold or $2.75 million) and how classy and obviously expensive the decor was, we were worried that Dessie might be priced pretty high. We agreed to a budget and crossed our fingers. Luck was with us though and I was thrilled to receive a text from my sister shortly after the sale started that read, "I GOT HIM!"

My Dessie's former owners were British, and they had a great deal of other horse art that was not part of the sale, so we think they may have had a connection to racing in England. Perhaps they were part of a syndicate or maybe they were just ardent fans? Whatever the case, this fellow brings the tally of Albany Desert Orchids known to me up to 3 OFs and 2 custom glazes. I wonder how many others might be out there lurking in the collections of Thoroughbred fans or owners?

P.S. Anyone looking to sell an Albany Mill Reef? I need one. :D

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Breyer Bronze Age

When Nancy Young's Breyer history books were published in the mid-1990s, I poured over them for hours and days and weeks. I pretty much read the first book (and the later updated book for that matter) cover to cover including all of the weird minutiae about variations, stamps, mold flaws, and other oddities in the footnotes about each mold. I found answers to all sorts of questions I'd had over the years and learned many new tidbits as well.

One particular oddity that stuck with me was an anecdote about an experiment with bronze paint that Peter Stone and Chris Hess conducted.1 According to Nancy, sometime in the 1970s or early 1980s, Peter and Chris experimented with a bronze-colored rub-on finish called Bronze Glo (or something similar---Peter couldn't recall the name for sure). They tried it on a variety of molds---Peter mentioned the buffalo, some bulls, and possibly the Quarter Horse Yearling.2 Because the finish was applied by hand, it seems likely that it was deemed too time consuming for regular production and nothing ever came of the experiments. Peter could not remember what became of the test models, but presumably, they were taken home by Breyer employees or reground.

Over the intervening years, a few models that seem to be the results of Peter and Chris' experimentation have found their way into collectors' hands. The first one I became aware of was a bronze Jasper the pig that a friend of mine turned up at a flea market in the mid-1990s.

Bronze Glo Jasper
A few years later, my family acquired a bronze donkey and elephant. Two or three other bronze elephants have surfaced since then as well. Interestingly, at least two of the elephants have black painted eyes while some of the other Bronze Glo pieces do not. My elephant, another I have seen, and the one Nancy describes in her book also have a bit of dark shading that gives them an antiqued finish.

Bronze Glo donkey (photo taken with flash)

Note how the paint was not rubbed into the tight wrinkles on the head

A few years ago while surfing eBay, I spotted a bronze-colored Breyer bighorn ram in a lot of miscellaneous models. I was pretty sure it was one of Peter and Chris' experimental models, so I took a chance on it. Sure enough, it was!

(Another photo with flash; the true color is not quite this bright)
Until this past year, however, no bronze-colored equines from these experiments had come to light. Once again, while idly eBay surfing, I unexpectedly turned up a model that had the right look, so I took a chance. This Family Arabian Mare appears to be part of the same experiments, but she is a little different from the other examples I've seen.

As you can see from the photos, she's had a rough life, and while she does have some rubs, the vast majority of the areas missing paint are recessed areas---muscle and tendon grooves, that hard to reach spot behind the elbow, etc. This is consistent with the paint having been rubbed on rather than sprayed on. (I assume her feet lack bronze paint because she was being held by her hooves while being painted?) The same incomplete finish is visible on the head and in the deeper grooves of our bronze Elephant. The peculiar thing about this FAM though is that she is the only bronze model I've seen that was painted over an already finished model, an alabaster FAM. More on that in a minute.

According to Nancy, Peter couldn't remember exactly when he and Chris had experimented with the bronze paint, but based on the extant models themselves, I would guess it was sometime around 1974. The Donkey mold never received a Breyer mold mark or the USA stamp, so that model can't really tell us anything. The Elephant mold did not receive the round Breyer mark until 2000 (or possibly later), but sometime between 1970 and 1974, the USA stamp was added. (The USA mark was added to most Breyer molds around 1970.) Our bronze Elephant has no mold markings, so it probably falls somewhere in that 1970-1974 window. The Elephant mold was discontinued at the end of 1974, resurfaced briefly in 1976 with a USA stamp for the election year, and then was not produced again until the 1990s, so the bronze model probably wouldn't be later than 1974 (unless an old stock model was used which is certainly possible).

The Bighorn Ram mold was introduced in 1969, and while it has a round Breyer stamp, it never was updated with the USA mark. We can narrow the timeline even more with the bronze Jasper pig model---Jasper was not released until 1974. 

The monkey wrench in this bit of logic is the bronze FAM. We know the underlying alabaster FAM was made until 1973, but this mare has only the round Breyer stamp, no USA stamp, which would suggest she was made before 1970. My best guess is that she was perhaps still sitting around the factory as a sample or display model or even as unsold stock when she was grabbed for the bronze paint experiment.

So my guesstimate pegging these models as having been made in about 1974 is reliant on a couple of factors. Jasper was first released in 1974, but molds take about a year to be made, so it's possible some Jasper samples were available by the end of 1973. That gives us a terminus ante quem date---the models can not have been made before late-1973 at the earliest.

The terminus post quem date is a little fuzzier in that it's possible Peter and Chris used an Elephant that had been sitting around for a while as they seem to have done with the FAM. So we can't say for sure they were made no later than 1974, but at the moment, circa 1974 (or even circa mid-1970s) seems like a reasonable guess given the evidence we have from the models that have been found. 

This post is of course predicated on the notion that the bronze/antiqued gold models pictured above are all the result of the same experiment. They do all look similar enough that it seems probable that they are part of the painting experiment that Peter Stone related to Nancy Young. If anyone reading this has a potential bronze glo Breyer, especially on a mold other than the pig, donkey, elephant, ram, or FAM, I'd love to know about it! Please feel free to comment with photos or email me at mumtazmahal (at) gmail (dot) com Thanks!

1. Young, Nancy A. Breyer Molds and Models: Horses, Riders, and Animals. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1999), 322.

2. Ibid.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Blame Kristina, a Tale (Tail?) of Two Honey Girls

Alternate titles: "I Don't Collect Cocker Spaniels, Part the Second," a sequel to this post, or "Blog and Ye Shall Receive...Again!" more coincidences like this post.

As I mentioned in the afore-linked blog post about my collection of Cocker Spaniels that I don't actually collect, I bought a Hagen-Renaker DW Honey Girl a while ago because I was entranced by the lovely examples and variations thereof owned by my friend Kristina. I chose my Honey Girl for her incredibly crisp detail and beautiful coloring, but I had hoped to find one that had character eyes and a sticker as well. I said as much in my blog, and look what turned up on eBay?

The new Honey Girl is not as crisp as her sister, but she's lovely all the same, and it's interesting to observe the differences in color, shading, and crispness between the two. (Click the pictures for a larger view.)

First Honey Girl on the left, new HG on the right
First Honey Girl on the left, new HG on the right
Now if I could just find the mini Cocker Spaniel with Newspaper (A-255) in black...

Monday, September 17, 2018

Pretty Pony Pix: Meows and Minis 2018

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the pleasure of judging at Meows and Minis, an all mini-scale model horse show held in the Chicago suburbs. The show is a fundraiser for Cat Guardians, a no-kill, cageless shelter for cats in Lombard, Illinois. They not only adopt cats into forever homes, but they also permanently house and care for cats that have not been adoptable because of their age, health, or behavioral issues. I showed once at M&M several years ago and had a blast, so I was really delighted to be able to come back and judge.

I arrived Friday afternoon to help set up the show hall and unpack the many auction and raffle donations. But first, I made a quick visit to the local hobby shop and toy store conveniently located right next to the hotel to check out their Breyer selection. The temptation was great, and I happily added the new grey Shannondell to my herd.

Saturday started bright and early with a full room---the show drew in many of the local regulars as well as friends from as far away as New Jersey, Colorado, and Oregon!

I judged chinas, both OF and custom glaze, and the competition was fierce. Here are some of the OF lovelies from the breed classes.

The breed champ call back table
Marcherware Rose Oberon and Hagen-Renaker Thoroughbred Mare
Hagen-Renaker Morgan Foal and Rearing Stallion
An exquisite HR Saddlebred
Stunning HR Arabian Mare in rose grey
Another shot of the call back table
Oberon was the overall breed champ
And the lovely Saddlebred was the reserve overall champ
The gaited class boasted no less then four white HR Saddlebreds. The variations in shading, ribbon color, and detail was fascinating. 

The show was running on a pretty tight time line as we had to be completely out of the show hall by 5pm, so unfortunately, I didn't get any pix of the fabulous custom glaze entries other than my breed champs. Both of them were Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig's incredible Imp sculpture. I wish I had more pictures of the CMG pieces to share because just about all of them deserved rosettes. The workmanship and level of artistry on these horses was mind-blowing.

Overall CMG champ
Overall reserve CMG champ
The raffle gods were kind to me, and I came home with a few fun goodies.

Hagen-Renaker anvil
Breyer Mini Whinny chase piece
I was also pleased to win the auction for the Hagen-Renaker Starlite cat custom glazed by the late Karen Grimm of Black Horse Ranch. The piece was generously donated by Heather Wells and the BHR estate. The kitty, now christened Maud, will soon be joining my sister's clowder of Starlites to take part in the Adventures in Cosclay shenanigans with Georgette, Henrietta, and the incorrigible Clarice. You've been warned!

She looks like a trouble maker.

Friday, August 24, 2018

I Don't Collect Cocker Spaniels...

I don't intentionally collect Cocker Spaniels. I'm not especially partial to the breed---I usually prefer leggier, more athletic-looking canines. But I have somehow managed to acquire a small pack of them, and I'm not really sure how this happened.

Even Butch is rolling his eyes at me
I suppose it all began with the funny little dog pictured below. I've written before of the Hagen-Renaker collection my paternal grandmother gifted to me and my sister, but my maternal grandmother also contributed a piece to my HR herd. This little pup, the A-97 Cocker Spaniel Puppy, sat in my grandma's china hutch with the Queen of Hearts (made by Wade of England) when I was a little girl. He lived in a wooden nutcracker, and whenever I visited, I was allowed to carefully play with the pup, the Queen, and their nutcracker house. These two are the only things I have from my grandma's estate, but they were exactly what I wanted most. They always make me smile and think of  happy afternoons spent in her apartment eating M&M cookies and watching the Price is Right together.

I eventually realized the dog was a Hagen-Renaker (made from Spring 1950 to Spring 1954). I'm not sure how my grandma came to have him or the Queen, and my mom doesn't know either. They were just always in the hutch. Given that the pup has a little heart-shaped spot on his chest, I'm sure Grandma thought he was an appropriate companion for the Queen of Hearts.

Sometime in the 1990s, I came across the matching A-98 Cocker Spaniel (Standing) dog in an antique store, and he of course had to come home with me. Like the pup, he was designed by Helen Perrin Farnlund and was made from Spring 1950 to Spring 1954. I have since realized there is a third dog to this set, a seated adult (A-205), so I imagine I will have to find one for my Collection of Cocker Spaniels That I Don't Actually Collect one of these days.

I had no intention of buying a Designers Workshop Honey Girl (H-1518). None whatsoever. My interest in DW HR dogs is pretty limited (that sound you hear, incidentally, is my sister laughing uproariously and asking, "How many HR dogs do you have now? Twenty? Twenty-five?"), but then I saw one owned by my friend Kristina Lucas Francis that had a beautifully detailed face and soulful character eyes, and I was smitten. So I started looking casually on eBay.

The one I ended up with does not have character eyes or whisker dots like Kristina's, but I couldn't resist the exceptionally crisp detail and rich shading. I wish she had a sticker, because I am an ephemera nerd like that, but I really should not be looking for variations. (Or should I?)

Naturally, Honey Girl needed her pupper Patsy (H-1519), and I got lucky and found one that had great shading, character eyes, and a sticker. Both Honey Girl and Patsy were sculpted by Maureen Love which I'm sure is part of their appeal for me. Maureen had such a gift for sculpting every sort of animal, not just horses. This pair was available in matte and glossy, and given the mid-century popularity of Cocker Spaniels, it's not surprising that Hagen-Renaker issued these pieces for quite some time (Fall 1955-Spring 1958, Fall 1961-Fall 1962, Fall 1966, and Spring 1968). Both are quite common and can often be acquired for as little as $25 on eBay.

This adorable DW Butch turned up not long after I had read an article about the real dog who inspired the piece. Butch was owned by the Saturday Evening Post artist Albert Staehle, and the mischievous dog was often featured on the cover of that publication and elsewhere. As cute as Butch is, I confess I bought him for the hang tag. Paper ephemera is generally rare from most all companies in the model horse universe, and especially so from Hagen-Renaker. As a collectibility fan, I could not resist.

My Butch (H-1542) also has a name sticker as seen above. It reads "Butch © A. Staehle" in reference to the artist. Hagen-Renaker's licensed design was sculpted by Don Winton and was made from Spring 1957 to Fall 1959. Winton also sculpted a Butch mini-me.

Mini Butch (A-1542) is posed and decorated nearly identically to the larger version, and most examples also bear the same sticker as the DW version. Mini Butch was made in 1957 only.

The (wonderful) trouble with Hagen-Renaker DW dogs is that a number of them were made in large quantities, often for a reasonable number of years, and they are therefore pretty easy to find and cheap to acquire. Pip Emma (H-1013) and His Nibs (H-1014), both with lovely shading and perfect stickers, joined my clinky dog pack for about $15 each. Neither are rare, but I just love their highly detailed coats and sweet expressions. Both were sculpted by Tom Masterson, and as far as I know, Emma was available in this colorway for both season in 1954 and again in Fall 1955. Nibs was also made in this color in Spring and Fall 1954 but in Spring 1955 rather than Fall.

My passion for rare bits of paper ephemera is also responsible for the presence of this Disney Lady (5001) in my collection. Most mini HRs were and still are sold on little squares of cardboard with Hagen-Renaker's name and address on them, but Disney-specific cards, of course, only came with Disney pieces and are not seen all that often. Mine has seen better days, but I thought it was pretty neat. Lady was also sculpted by Don Winton and was made from Fall 1955 to Fall 1959.

While traveling this summer, I stopped into an antique store in a small town, and though I didn't find any horses, I did find this pretty mini Cocker Spaniel with Newspaper (A-255). I picked it up and literally thought to myself, "Do I really need this? I don't collect Cocker Spaniels." But I was really taken with the juxtaposition of the shaded, glossy coat of the dog and the stark matte finish of the newspaper, and this dog has pretty Monrovia bi-eyes, too. For $3, how could I resist? This piece was sculpted by Maureen Love and made from Spring 1956 to Fall 1957. It also came in black, and there is a cute wiggly puppy to match in both tan and black. I may be on the look-out for them...

Just two weeks ago, my parents were out and about, and they decided to check out an antique store on their way home. They texted me this picture of an A-98 Cocker Spaniel (Standing) and A-205 Cocker Spaniel (Seated) in tan. "Do you need these?" they asked. I sighed. Yes. Yes, I do. Apparently, I do collect Cocker Spaniels after all!