Sunday, April 14, 2013

Adios: Bronze, Boehm, and Breyer

Before I get started, I should warn you that while I am a Thoroughbred racing enthusiast and have been all of my life, I am but a novice when it comes to harness racing. The same goes for my knowledge of Breyer and Boehm; the history of the former I have been immersed in all my life as a collector, but the latter I have only admired from afar. Doing research for this post however has given me a greater understanding of both harness racing and Boehm porcelain, and it has offered some fascinating insights into the lives of two men who greatly influenced their respective fields, Delvin Miller (harness racing) and Edward Marshall Boehm (American fine porcelain). The story, though, begins with a horse.

The famous Standardbred pacer Adios was born January 3, 1940, at The Two Gaits Farm in Carmel, IN, just north of Indianapolis. His sire Hal Dale, a tail male great-great-great-grandson of Hambletonian, was a successful pacer and producer of speedy horses, and his dam Adioo Volo had a regal pedigree. Though nearly 50 years have passed since Adios died, he is still considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Standardbreds of all time, both for his talent on the track and for the legacy he left as a sire of champions.

Adios setting a world record in 1945 

Adios won 43 of 87 starts over 4 seasons of racing, and set a number of world records at 1 mile and 7/8ths of a mile. One record set in Shelbyville, IN, stood for 43 years. As a sire, Adios produced an unprecedented number of champions, including two pacing Triple Crown winners, Adios Butler and Bret Hanover. 

  Adios at stud

Adios was owned and raced for a time by Harry Warner of Warner Brothers studio, but after being retired to stud, Adios was purchased by Delvin Miller of Pennsylvania, to stand at his Meadow Lands Farm. Miller was a trainer and driver of harness horses, and he was a champion of the sport all his life. His competitive driving career spanned eight decades, from the late 1920s to the early 1990s, a feat unequaled by any other driver. He raced in 40 countries and won a total of 2,442 races including the Hambletonian, the Yonkers Trot, the Kentucky Futurity, the Fox Stakes and the Messenger. Miller also worked tirelessly throughout his life to improve safety standards in the sport both for the people and the horses, and from all accounts, he was a thoroughly likeable, friendly guy with tremendous enthusiasm for his sport.

So it is to Mr. Miller that model horse collectors owe their gratitude for the Adios models that exist today. Shortly after Adios' death in 1965, Miller commissioned equine artist James Nelson Slick to sculpt a life-size bronze statue of his great stallion. It was unveiled on August 12, 1967, at the Meadows Racetrack, which Miller helped found, to coincide with the first running of the Adios Pace, a prestigious race for 3 year-olds. Smaller versions of the statue were and still are presented as trophies to the winning owner. 

Slick's Adios statue stands at the entrance of the Meadows, and it should look familiar to model horse collectors.

(Photo by Eric Warren)

(Photo by Fredhead)

For a number of years, Breyer collectors assumed that the Breyer Adios model had been copied from the Boehm Adios which had itself been copied from the Slick statue. After all, in the 1950s, Breyer copied several Boehm pieces, such as the Walking Hereford and the Boxer, not to mention copying other pieces from other companies including Rosenthal (Poodle), Hagen-Renaker (PAM, PAF, FAS, etc), and Grand Wood Carving (Racehorse and Man O' War).

But the fact is that the Boehm and Breyer Adios models were both independently inspired by the Slick statue and were produced concurrently. Nancy Young's research for her Breyer Molds and Models books revealed that Delvin Miller had lent a copy of the small bronze trophy statue to Peter Stone and Chris Hess to copy for a plastic version in the fall of 1967. By July of 1968, the mold for Adios was being perfected as per letters between Breyer and Miller. Reading between the lines, it seems that Miller may have been the driving force behind the addition of an Adios model to the Breyer line. The model was released in plastic in  1969.

 The Adios Pace trophy (Photo by Bobby Z)

Breyer Adios (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Diamond)

The Boehm model in comparison was also released in 1969. Edward Marshall Boehm was an avid animal lover, and.though he is best known for his exquisite bird sculptures, he also created a number of stunning horses, of which Adios was the last. Boehm was a self-taught artist who revolutionized the production of English-quality hard-paste porcelain production in America. He owned and bred harness racehorses, and Miller may have similarly encouraged him to produce a porcelain version of his great horse based on Slick's statue. (It's also possible that Boehm simply worked from some of the same photos of the horse that Slick used.) Whatever the case, the first Boehm Adios cast was presented to Miller on October 14, 1968, which indicates that the Boehm company's Adios was being sculpted and molded at the same time as Breyer's.

Boehm died only three months later on January 29, 1969, at the age of 55. His studio continued production in the capable hands of his wife Helen, and as I mentioned above, the Boehm porcelain Adios was also released in 1969. It was intended to be a run of 500 pieces, but Reese Palley wrote in his book The Porcelain Art of Edward Marshall Boehm that the edition was closed in June of 1974 when only 130 horses had been made.


The Boehm Adios

The Breyer Adios enjoyed a longer run, remaining in production until 1980. It was also featured as a part of the Presentation Collection in the early 1970s. These models were mounted on wood bases with metal name plates.
 Ad from the November 1971 issue of Western Horseman

A Presentation Collection Adios. The nameplate reads only "Adios." (Photo from IDYB)

In 1969, actually predating the Presentation Collection, Delvin Miller ordered Adios models from Breyer to sell himself through various magazines and retail outlets. These models were also mounted on bases, but the bases have a shallower beveled edge, and their name plaques read "Adios 1:57 1/2," a reference to the world record time for a mile set by Adios in 1945. Miller ordered more models in 1981, and because Breyer has discontinued the Adios model, a small special run edition was created specially for him because of his long standing friendship with the company.

A 1969 Delvin Miller Adios (Photo from IDYB)

My sister's 1981 Delvin Miller Adios which was mounted in reverse

While Breyer's regular run, freestanding Adios is quite common, the Breyer Presentation Collection Adios, the Delvin Miller SR Adios, and the Boehm Adios are quite rare. The prices vary, but roughly $300-400 will buy a Breyer PC or DM Adios, and the Boehm models run anywhere from $400-850 or more. 

The hardest to acquire of them all, though, is the bronze trophy. You'll need a fast horse, a good trainer, a smart driver, and a lot of luck to acquire one of those!

2 comments:

  1. What a beautiful history of such a beloved horse and the sculptures of him! Thank you for delving further into this subject and uncovering truths to replace all of the common misconceptions held by hobbyists (myself included).

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  2. Bronze plaque was originally mounted on a granite base in the long-gone Steamboat Square near the foot of Madison Avenue (not to be confused with the modern public housing building of the same name located a few blocks south).

    Donor Walls

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