Sunday, August 9, 2020

Western Horse Shaped Objects, Part 3: Breyer, Textured Tack, Kroll, Hong Kong, and more!

As discussed in the previous two installments of this series, the Breyer Western Horse, while much copied, is in fact itself a copy of the Hartland Victor model. Now that we've covered the Hartland Victor copies, it's time to move on to the Breyer Western Horse and its many, many copies.

Technically, the first copy of the Breyer Western Horse was the Breyer Western Pony. Other than a few small differences such as the number of studs on the browband and how the breast collar is overlaid by the mane, the Western Pony is nearly identical to the Western Horse, only smaller. We know the Western Horse debuted in 1950, and the scaled down Western Pony followed by late 1953.1 A number of the manufacturers that copied the Western Horse also copied the Western Pony, so I'll include those in this post, too.

To begin with, here are the Breyer Western Horse and Pony with snap saddles and slip on saddles as both versions have been copied. The snap saddles were made from 1950 until their last appearance in a Breyer catalog in 1966. There was no 1967 catalog, only a few insert pages introducing a handful of new models. The 1968 catalog shows the new slip on saddles, so the change-over happened sometime in 1967 or at the start of 1968, but we don't know exactly when.

Early Western Pony and Horse with snap saddles
Later Western Pony and Horse with slip on saddles

Textured Tack Horses and Ponies

The earliest Western Horse and Pony copies I know of were dubbed "textured tack" horses by Breyer  historian Nancy Young. The "textured tack" moniker comes from the distinct pattern found on the bridles, breast collars, and saddles (to a lesser degree) on these models. Nancy likens it to a chicken wire pattern. The saddles are similar to Breyer's snap saddles but lack girths. The reins are ball chains. There are both textured tack horses and ponies.


Textured tack horse and pony in brown pinto (the horse is yellowed)
A close up of the textured breast collar
Besides the textured tack, these models differ from the Breyers in several ways. Their legs are a bit thinner but their hooves are bigger and slightly oblong. The tails are also a bit different, but the pony's is more noticeably so, being thinner and pointier than the Breyer original. They do have a nice, very Breyer-like heft to them, and they seem to be well-made compared to some of the other copies out there.
Textured tack horse (left) and Breyer Western Horse (right)
Textured tack pony (left) and Breyer Western Pony (right)
The textured tack horses and ponies have been found in several colors so far: brown and white pinto, black and white pinto, palomino, alabaster, and black. The pintos have an unusual sort of reverse splash white pattern like white paint was spilled along their topline. Some collectors refer to them as "snowcaps" because of this.

A black and white "snowcap" example (photos from eBay)
A palomino textured tack horse (photo courtesy of Deirdre Price)
The white plastic on these models tends to fall into two types, a very opaque almost chalky looking plastic and a softer, more luminous, slightly translucent plastic. This difference is easy to spot in person, and I hope it can be seen in this photo despite the softer-toned plastic model being yellowed everywhere except where his saddle was. The model on the right is the chalky-plastic type model.


Even though they have the same paint pattern, the paint is also softer and slightly muted looking on the non-chalky plastic model as seen on the model on the right below and the palomino pictured above.

Chalky plastic on the left, softer, more luminous plastic on the right
Interestingly, even though these textured tack horses are copied from Breyers, they have been found with cowboys copied from Hartland's Large and Small Champ series. They are made in nicely weighted plastic just like the horses, and both have their guns molded into their holsters. The larger cowboy is copied from the early version of Hartland's cowboy that had a cigarette in his right hand. The examples I own and have seen are also made in the softer-looking plastic mentioned above and have a soft, diffused quality to the paint. I'm not sure if other colorways exist for these riders besides these shown below. They might have (I would guess probably did) come with hats.


I suspect these models date from the mid-1950s for two reasons. The first is that the maker seems to have copied the earliest colors used on the Breyer Western Horses and Ponies which were all available by 1954 or 1955. And secondly, the riders associated with these models were only made by Hartland from about 1954-1957. Given how hard they are to find, I would guess they were made for a relatively short time.


So all that said, while the textured tack models are easy enough to identify, the maker of these models is still a complete mystery. They were thought to be Lido products at one time, but no evidence has come to light to support that. Having owned several Lido horse and rider sets, I would be very surprised if Lido was the manufacturer based on the quality disparity between them. As I said above, the textured tack models seem to made of nicely weighted plastic and are nicely painted. Lido in comparison specialized in cheap "slum" toys---usually small items molded quickly, easily, and cheaply in one color of plastic. They primarily made small cowboy and Indian play sets, but they did make some larger horse and rider sets as well. Like their smaller counterparts, the larger pieces are molded simply in cheap, light-weight plastic, the reins and saddles are not separate pieces, and the paint jobs are uncomplicated and usually in bright, primary colors.
A typical Lido horse and rider set
Stablemate scale Lido "slum" horses and cowboys
So who made the textured tack models? Unfortunately, we don't know. The horses, ponies, and riders are all completely unmarked. The only hints I have found are the letter "T" on the underside of the textured tack horse saddle I have and the letter "A" on the underside of a pony saddle owned by another collector. (My own pony saddle is unmarked.) The marks appear to be deliberate, and if it were just a sprue or molding artifact, I would expect it to be round, like the mark above and to the left of the "T." It's a mystery for now.

"T" mark is just above my fingernail
Palomino and alabaster examples of textured tack horses have been found mounted on pink marbled bases beside clocks in a style very similar to the Breyer Mastercrafters horses beside the clocks. The shape and design of the clock housing is a bit different from Breyer clocks, and the base has a distinctive ruffled edge. Also, the horses are mounted in line with the clocks rather than at an angle. The clock movement is by Sessions, but unfortunately, the clock housing is not marked. Both Mastercrafters and United sometimes used Sessions movements. (In fact, United eventually merged with Sessions.) I'll discuss the various knock off clocks in the fourth installment of this blog series.

Palomino textured tack horse clock (photo courtesy of Carrie Brooks)


Kroll Ponies

We do at least seem to have a company name for this next bunch of copies, but unfortunately, very little is known about it. These models are copies of the Breyer Western Pony only, and they are marked "KROLL" on the belly. While that seems like a great clue, I have had a frustrating time coming up with any information about the company. Two Kroll ponies have been found with what are believed to be original boxes. One is marked Kroll Trading Company of New York, NY, and the other may be marked Kroll Entrerprises, but I can't be sure because I don't have a clear photo of it. (You can see it here on the Model Horse Gallery site about two-thirds of the way down the page.) The addresses on both boxes lack a zip-code, dating them to pre-1963.

As far as I can tell, the Kroll pony manufacturer does not appear to be related to the Chicago manufacturer of Kroll baby cribs, nor, frustratingly, to board game inventor Fred Kroll who worked for Pressman, Milton Bradley, and others, and most famously invented Hungry Hungry Hippos. Fred Kroll did work in the toy business in New York at the right time, and Pressman did loosely copy some Breyers in the 1960s, but Fred's obituary does not mention the company. His only venture in his own name was Fred Kroll Associates, a consulting firm, not a manufacturer.

Kroll models are not painted but rather are molded in colored plastic. I have seen brown, black, gold, white, and several varieties of swirled plastic. They are quite close copies of the Breyer Western Pony, but they have two key differences. Kroll ponies have their mane on both sides of the neck, and they are marked "KROLL" on the belly. Some have been found with slip on saddles and ball chain reins.





Interestingly, metal copies of the Kroll ponies have been found. They are unmarked, so who made them and when is a mystery. I suspect they're probably Chinese copies from the last decade or two. I would love to find one of these!

Photo courtesy of Deirdre Price

Hong Kong Western Horses and Ponies


A variety of Breyer (and Hartland) models were copied in the 1970s by a Hong Kong manufacturer (or possibly several). Among them were the Western Horse and Pony. They are marked "Made in Hong Kong" and have a diamond shaped mold mark with the letter "P" inside. Some also have a three digit number. Some collectors refer to these models as "diamond P" horses, but we don't actually know if that mark has any bearing on the name of the manufacturer. Many early Hartlands, for instance, are similarly marked with the letter "I" inside a diamond, and it simply stands for Iolite, the trademarked name for the kind of plastic used by Hartland at the time.



These Hong Kong models are very close copies of the Breyer originals, but they are ever so slightly taller and wider. The ponies also tend to have slightly splayed legs. The Hong Kong models are molded in lighter plastic than Breyers.

Breyer Horse on the left; Hong Kong on the right 
Breyer Pony on the left; Hong Kong on the right 
Because they have slip on saddles (copied directly from Breyer), they can date no earlier than about 1969. I'm not sure how long they were made, but they can be found pretty easily, so they seem to have been produced in fairly large numbers in the 1970s and possibly into the 1980s. The horses however, in my experience, seem to be more common than the ponies. Most of the Hong Kong models appear to have a thin white chalky basecoat under their various paint jobs. I have seen black and white pintos, brown and white pintos, black leopard appaloosas, bays, smokes/charcoals, and more.

Photo from eBay 
Photo from eBay
Photo from eBay
Interestingly, at least one copy of these copies exists, this strange Western Horse/Pony knock off with a molded on saddle. It is also marked Hong Kong, and it is roughly Little Bit scale.

Photo from eBay

Ringling Bros Circus and Disney On Ice Horses

Both the Ringling Brothers Circus and the Disney On Ice shows have sold Western Horse copies as souvenirs in the last 10-20 years. I don't have an example of either in my collection (yet), but from the pictures I've seen, they appear to be the same mold as the Hong Kong Western Horse. They have the same  distinctive wide face, and their tags indicate they're made in China. (A circus horse is on its way to me, so I'll update this post once I have it in hand.)

The circus models are opalescent white with a little shading to outline the hair detail in the mane and tail. They have bright gold bridles and breast colors and metallic purply-green color shifting saddles. They also feature stretchy cloth pink or purple leg wraps and a fluffy pink feather for the crown of the bridle.

Photo from eBay (missing feather)
Photo from eBay
The Disney models are also opalescent white, but they have iridescent purple manes and tails. They also have gold bridles, and the saddles are pink with purple accents. I have seen versions with either a "Disney on Ice" hang tag and "Disney Princess Classics" hang tag, but the horses are identical, and the saddles on both say "Disney on Ice" on the seat.


Photo from eBay
Photo from eBay
Photo from eBay
Photo from eBay

Made in China Minis

Stablemate scale copies of the Western Horse also exist. These pieces are marked "Made in China," and they seem to have been made sometime in the last ten or so years. They have chain reins and cute slip on saddles. They also have molded on plastic rings on the their chests as if they were designed to be chained together like you see on some '50s and '60s ceramic and plastic toys. I have seen other colors like pinto besides those in this set of black, grey, and bay. The painting is a bit sloppy, but these are very cute copies all the same.




Breyer Ornament

In 2006, Breyer released their own mini Western Horse as a holiday ornament. Sadly, it is a less skillful reproduction of the Western Horse than the made-in-China minis.


Photo from eBay

Tiny HO Scale Western Horse

Jordan Highway Miniatures copied the Western Horse in HO scale (approximately an inch tall) for a tiny popcorn wagon in recent years. Interestingly, the company also copied the Breyer Old Timer, the Clydesdale Mare, and a couple of Hartland models for other HO vehicles. The owner of the company, Jordan Jackson, passed away in 2015, so his kits are no longer being made, but the family apparently still owns the molds.





Miscellaneous

The Western Horse seems to have been wildly popular with copy cat companies, and not only are there plastic copies, but there are also ceramic, metal, and even wall art copies. I'm sure there are more, but here are some fun examples I've seen or bought over the years.


A Japanese ceramic Western Horse. These come in varying sizes.
Photo from eBay.
A metal Western Pony copy (mane only on one side with this pony)
Photo courtesy of Rachel L.
Embossed Western Horse art, a fun antique store find of mine

In the next and final installment of the Western Horse Shaped objects series, I'll discuss the miscellaneous plastic and metal horse clock knock offs that are out there.

Also, if anyone has any textured tack horses, ponies, or clocks, or Kroll ponies for sale, especially a gold one, please email me at mumtazmahal (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks for reading!


Sources:

1. Young, Nancy. Breyer Molds and Models: Horses, Riders, and Animals. (Schiffer Publishing Ltd: Atglen, PA), pg. 265.

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