|Hartland Victor on the left (courtesy of Barrie Getz); |
copies in the center and on the right
The first one I came across was not exactly what I expected, and it proved to be quite an intriguing mystery. While driving up to the Hagen-Renaker Fellowship event before BreyerFest last summer, my sister and I stopped to do some antiquing along the way, and just after I mentioned to her that I was looking for Western Horse copies, we turned a corner and found one waiting for us in the next booth. The horse was a dark brown shade with bronze-gold highlights, and it had a nice Breyer-like heft to it. It was clearly a well-made piece even if it wasn't a Breyer. Later that evening when I examined the model more closely, I realized that it had pointed conchos on the bridle and was therefore a copy of the Hartland Victor rather than the Breyer Western Horse. I knew it wasn't a Hartland either though because it lacked facial veins, the forelock and tail shape and contours were a bit different, and the ears and coronet band were less carefully sculpted. The horse was completely unmarked though, so I had no way to know who might have made it.
|Dark brown mystery horse|
When I compared both horses in hand, I realized that while they are generally lumped together by collectors as Ohio Plastic creations, they had some interesting differences that made me skeptical of that assumption. Just as with the Hartland Victor and Breyer Western Horse, the differences are subtle, but they were enough to convince me that not only were the horses produced from two different molds, but that the black horse appeared to be a copy of the brown horse, making it a second generation copy of the original Hartland Victor. (The brown horse is on the left in all pictures below and the black horse is on the right.)
|The brown horse has a distinctly sculpted breast collar. The black horse's |
breast collar is barely there and also has the characteristic embossed stars.
|Strange pyramid shaped lump behind the ears on the black horse. The ears on|
the brown horse are also more finely sculpted.
|The brown horse has nice round hooves and stands square while the black |
horse has misshapen hooves and stands with his legs akimbo.
|Note the crisper detail on the brown horse and the stars on the bridle of|
the black horse.
|The brown horse has a tendon groove on his legs and a hint of the|
coronet band while the black horse has neither.
But this still left me with a mystery as to the origin of the brown horse. I embarked on a serious crawl of Google, eBay, and other sites in hopes of finding out more about it. In September, I caught a break when I came across an example of the brown horse on eBay mounted on a brown base. I took a chance on it, hoping that there might be some sort of identification marks on the horse or the base. When it arrived, I immediately turned it over, assuming that any maker's mark or copyright information would be on the underside of the base. No such luck. Disappointed, I flipped the piece back upright and I realized there was a great big block of text on the top of the base right under the horse's tail. Eureka!
|The base is somewhat warped|
|"Superlon Product CHGO."|
Further searching turned up a variety of Superlon items made by Superior Plastics. In the 1950s, their product line seemed to consist of primarily kitchen and home goods such as lazy susans, kitschy salt and pepper shakers, dishes, utensils, coat hangers, and bathroom items.
|Superior Plastics salt and pepper shakers (photo from eBay)|
|Manufacturer info on the bottom of the above salt and pepper set |
(photo from eBay)
|A 1951 advertisement for a lazy susan made of|
"shatterproof Superon" (from the Montgomery Sun
courtesy of newspapers.com)
|Another cute S&P set with the original box (photos from eBay)|
By the 1960s, Superior Plastics had moved on to making educational models like a small articulated skeleton, a human skull, a lobster, a build-your-own Lincoln Memorial, and more.
|(photo from eBay)|
|(photo from eBay)|
|1947 Sears holiday catalog listing|
Having two saddles and a set of reins in hand allowed me to compare them to the Ohio Plastics versions, and there were again some notable differences between them. The reins on the brown horse are made of a thin, flat strip of plastic that has become brittle-feeling over the years. The Ohio Plastics horses have a wide, flat strip of flexible plastic for reins. The Ohio Plastics saddles have shorter seats and skirts than those on the brown horses, and they have different molding artifacts (from sprues) on the undersides as well. Most importantly, the saddles that came with the brown horses are marked "SP" on the undersides. Other collectors who have owned these models with the original saddles have reported the SP makings as well. Presumably, it's short for either Superlon Product or Superior Plastics.
|Note the differences in stance and general quality|
|Differences in shape, seat and skirt length, and sculpting|
|Different placement of molding artifacts (from sprues)|
|The tiny circled "SP" is hard to photograph, but it's there. Also note the |
way the stirrup is attached versus on the Ohio Plastics saddle on the right
in the above photo.
Superior Plastic Horses (presumed)Now that I've made what I think is a pretty compelling case for Superior Plastics, let's talk about the company itself. Superior Plastics was located just a few blocks southwest of Breyer on the industrial west side of Chicago. The earliest ads I can find for it in the Chicago Tribune are from 1947 and the latest were from 1973. After that, advertising disappears. Several other companies using the same name (or something very close) existed simultaneously or later in other states, but as best I can tell, they were all unrelated. Superior Plastics may have gone under or it may have been subsumed by another company. (I intend to venture downtown to look through business and property records for more information once the COVID-19 lockdown ends.)
Whatever the case, I believe these horses date to the early to mid-1950s based on several pieces of evidence. Because they are copied from the Hartland Victor horse, we know they can't be any earlier than 1949, and given the approximate dates of the glove box bases as predicated by their entry in the holiday catalogs, the horses were likely available by 1952 or 1953. A second piece of evidence dating the models to no later than about 1955 is discussed in the Wells Lamont section below.
To the best of my knowledge, they were issued in two colors, a dark brown shade with bronze-gold highlights and black with gold hooves. I have four examples of the former but have only seen one picture of the latter. Both of my free-standing brown horses are molded in a swirly dark blue-grey plastic. The horse mounted on the partial base (bottom of the glove box) is molded from red plastic, and the horse mounted on the full base (top and bottom of the glove box) is molded in the identical medium brown plastic as the base, further evidence in my mind that Superior Plastics made the horses.
The odd thing about these models is that they don't appear to have been painted dark brown; rather, they appear to be coated in a very thin veneer of dark brown plastic. They can get rubs through this finish, but at least one of my horses has a spot on the leg where the dark brown surface is curling back. Perhaps it's some kind of plasticized paint that bonds with the models? I'm not sure. The bronze-gold highlights are airbrushed on however, and the gold detailing on the tack may be hand-painted.
|Red plastic showing through ear rub|
As I said above, I don't have an example of one of the black Superior horses, but Nancy Young mentioned owning two in her book, one molded in green plastic and the other apparently molded in black plastic.2 They have gold hooves and tack detailing. Another longtime collector shared a photo with me of one of these black horses beside a clock that has also been found with Breyer Western Horses on it. The clocks are cordless and are marked "Chicago" and "USA." They might be Mastercrafters products, but I'll cover those in the fourth installment of this blog series.
Collector Sande Schneider also related that Nancy Young had observed one of the black horses bearing a sticker that read "Red Ryder Gloves/Wells Lamont Corp/Chicago." I'll address this fascinating tidbit in the Wells Lamont section below as well.
Ohio Plastics HorsesTo reiterate, the horses made by the Ohio Plastic Company appear to be copies of the Superior Plastics horses, so they are second generation copies of the original Hartland Victor model. All of the examples I've seen are on the crude side and are made of cheap, light-weight plastic. They are not marked, but they can be easily recognized by the stars embossed on the bridle and breast collar.
The company was located in Frazeysburg, OH, and began business in July 1938 although actual production seems to have begun the following year.3 Like most other early plastic manufacturing companies, Ohio Plastics began with industrial items, especially things needed for the war effort in the 1940s. By 1946, they had reportedly branched out to "plumbing fixtures, sporting goods, office supplies, and toys."4 A 1962 news item about the company indicates that plastic horses were one of their primary products at that time.5
|Image from 1962 Times Recorder article|
(downloaded via newspaper.com)
|The ball chain reins on this model may not be original|
|And the uniquely shaped box some of these horses came in|
|Shrink-wrapped Ohio Plastic model owned and photographed by Kristin Chernoff|
|Shrink-wrapped Ohio Plastic model owned and photographed by Kristin Chernoff|
|Original shipping box owned and photographed by Kristin Chernoff|
Wells Lamont and Red RyderI've known about a cheap knock off of the Hartland Chubby model for some time that is marked "Red Ryder" on the saddle blanket and "Wells Lamont" on the inside of one hind leg. It was sold with a copy of the Hartland Chief Thunderbird molded in light-weight plastic. Not being a collector of Hartland horse and rider sets, I assumed the models were made by Wells Lamont and never gave much thought to them.
|(Photo from eBay)|
A brief bit of Googling and a few emails later, I had the answer. Wells Lamont is a Chicago-based glove making company that began in 1907. They have never been in the plastic injection molding business, and they never made model horses. They did however create some promotional gloves in the 1950s as a merchandising tie in with the popular comic strip-cowboy-turned-movie hero Red Ryder.
|Red Ryder promotional gloves made by Wells Lamont (photo from eBay)|
|Allan Lane as Red Ryder|
I sent an email to Wells Lamont knowing it was a long shot that they'd have any records from the 1950s that might shed some light on the models bearing their name. They responded promptly, and while they did not have records stretching back that far, they could confirm that they had never done any plastic molding. Furthermore, a longtime employee did remember the glove and toy horse promotion, and he said that the company bid out the job of creating the toy horses. Given that Superior Plastics was also a local Chicago business, it makes sense that the company would have won the contract and produced the black horses. Presumably, they were meant to represent Thunder.
And sure enough, eBay came through for me with the confirmation I needed. I recently acquired this set of Red Ryder gloves made by Wells Lamont, one still sealed in the original packaging with the most fascinating promotional offer card tucked inside.
I suppose it might be sacrilege, but I opened the gloves carefully to extract the little card. The packaging is in pretty rough shape, but I was interested to note that this particular design was copyrighted 1953. And the card itself not only confirmed that the horse was made by Superior Plastics as can be seen from the photo (positioning of the legs, presence of a forelock bump, etc), but also that the horse was indeed a model of Thunder, and that offers were only good through May 1, 1955, meaning production must have ceased not long after that date.
This information begs several questions. We know the Ohio Plastics horses were copied from Superior Plastics horses. Did Ohio Plastics simply copy the black and gold paint scheme, too, or did they perhaps make horses for the Wells Lamont promotion, too? Perhaps Wells Lamont and Superior Plastics parted ways just like Mastercrafters and Hartland did, and Ohio Plastics stepped into the void? And where do the black and gold Breyer Western Horse and Pony fit into this timeline? Did they copy the paint scheme, too, or was it just coincidence?
Regarding the first question, at least two palomino Ohio Plastics horses are known that were shipped in cardboard mailers with a Wells Lamont return label, so there was some connection between the companies. When it began and how long it lasted is anyone's guess until more information comes to light. As for the dating, we know the black Superior Plastics horses date to about 1954-1955. The promotion may have run for more than a year, so they may have been made as early as 1952 or 1953, too. The Ohio Plastics horses therefore probably only date from late 1955 at the very earliest. This intriguing September 22, 1955, ad from the Conneautville Courier (Conneautville, PA), mentions a coupon that could be sent in for "a plastic Red Ryder and horse." To the best of my knowledge, no riders have been found in association with Superior Plastics horses, but some generic cowboys have been found with various Ohio Plastics horses. I wonder which horse would have been shipped?
|9/22/55 Conneautville Courier ad|
Which brings us back to the pinto Hartland Chubby copies. Based on the way they're painted, and particularly based on the distinctive way said paint tends to wear and rub, I suspect these models were made by Ohio Plastics. The company did make a copy of the Hartland Chubby with the characteristic stars on the tack, and the pinto model is quite similar. It has a cocked front leg, a roached mane, and no bridle or breast collar, but everything else about it suggests Ohio Plastics to me. Once again, I can't conclusively prove it, but it seems like a reasonable hypothesis. After all, Ohio Plastics had no qualms about copying other companies, and given the quality of their models, they probably could produce their models for less. They may have underbid Superior Plastics at some point or simply lucked into the contract when Superior Plastics moved on to non-horse production.
Interestingly, I did find this October 11, 1955, ad from the Haleyville, AL, paper The Advertiser that mentions the pinto horse and Indian rider. They represent Chief Flying Cloud and his horse from the Red Ryder comic strip or movies (or both).
|10/11/55 The Advertiser ad|
|Ohio Plastics copy of a Hartland Chubby (photo from eBay)|
1. Young, Nancy. Breyer Molds and Models: Horses, Riders, and Animals. (Schiffer Publishing Ltd: Atglen, PA), pg. 263.
3. “Plastic Company at Frazeysburg Begins Huge Expansion Program Designed to Double Manufacturing Capacity.” The Zanesville Signal. (Zanesville, OH), January 13, 1946.
5. “Ohio Plastics is Town's Top Industry.” The Times Recorder. (Zanesville, OH), August 26, 1962.