Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday Featurette: Elephants with Howdahs

One of the rarest Breyer oddities is #94, the Elephant with Howdah. This model appears only in the 1958 Breyer catalog and price list, and though records from the 1950s are spotty and incomplete, given the scarcity of the howdah, it seems to be a safe bet that this set was made in 1958 only. In fact, it's so rare that I would postulate it was probably only in production for a few months (if that) in 1958.


The 1958 catalog does not specify the color of the howdah (nor the baskets carried by the companion #82 Donkey with Baskets), but until quite recently, it was presumed to be red and only red. The handful of known examples of both howdahs and baskets are molded from slightly soft reddish plastic. (And by "handful," I mean that I'm aware of approximately 4 elephants with red howdahs and 2 donkeys with red baskets. These pieces are seriously scarce.) To date, all examples have been found on the battleship grey variation of the elephant (or donkey in the case of the baskets). Both the howdah and baskets are sculpted to appear as though they are woven of straw. The belly band on the howdah is patterned, perhaps to simulate cloth or tooled leather?

Owned by Kim Haymond (Photo by me)
In June of 2014, my friend Ellen Vogel found an elephant and howdah set that turned the "only red" theory on its ear. She attended an estate sale near Chicago, and based on the models she purchased there, the estate was very likely that of a former Breyer employee. Several of the models Ellen acquired were vintage tests, seconds, and unfinished models. Included in her stellar haul was this amazing elephant with a blue howdah! To date, it is the only example known in this color, and presumably, it's a test.

Owned and photographed by Ellen V.
An elephant with a howdah has long been a Breyer grail for me, my sister, and my mom, so we were beyond thrilled to win an auction lot earlier this spring that included one. Interestingly, it too was molded in a previously unknown color. Our set features a yellow basket with a red belly band---perhaps the design intent was a straw colored basket set off by a red cloth- or leather-like band? As with the blue howdah, this is the only known example in this color, and it too came from a Chicago-area estate. Some of the other models in the lot were odd variations and production seconds, so I believe the original owner must have been a former Breyer employee as well.

Photo by Sarah W.
So this begs the question---are there donkeys with non-red baskets floating around out there somewhere? Wouldn't that be an exciting find!

Thanks for reading! Hope you all have a great weekend!

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