Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Hagen-Renaker: 1945-2021

At the end of this year, Hagen-Renaker will be closing its California factory for good after 76 years in business. It's the end of an era. While I am terribly sad about this news, it's not entirely unexpected. I've known for some time that there was no one else in the younger generations of the Renaker family interested in continuing the business when the present owners retire, and material and labor shortages during the pandemic have only hastened an inevitable end. (Before anyone panics too much, Hagen-Renaker Tennessee will continue to produce Hagen-Renakers under an official license from the family, a pretty amazing silver lining! More on that later in the post though.)

Hagen-Renaker has offered an amazing array of products over the course of their remarkably long history. In the model horse community, they are of course best known for the incredibly beautiful and lifelike horses sculpted by Maureen Love. Hagen-Renaker produced many other animals, both large and small, like the handsome Pedigree Dog line sculpted largely by Tom Masterson, as well as a variety of domestic and wild animals and even fantasy creatures. The comedic arts of Don Winton, Nell Bortells, Martha Armstrong Hand, and Helen Perrin Farnlund were put to excellent use with the Disney and Little Horribles figurines, and even Moss Renaker, mother of company founder John, designed pieces as well. 

Hagen-Renaker began in 1945 in the garage of John and Maxine (née Hagen) Renaker in Culver City, CA. The company started by making simple dishware and shadow boxes, but they quickly found that the real bread and butter of the pottery business was small ceramic animals, both realistic and whimsical.

An early Hagen-Renaker butter pat (photo by Sarah Wellman)

A handsome couple I like to think of as Elizabeth Bennett
and Mr. Darcy (early
Hagen-Renaker shadow boxes)

An early Miniature lamb

Early Miniature chickens

In the boom years of the early 1950s, Hagen-Renaker moved their production to several buildings in Monrovia, CA. This added space allowed them to branch out and add the larger scale Designer's Workshop line to their production. It featured exquisite horses...

many different dogs...

clowders of cats... 

a variety of domestic animals like chickens...

and much, much more. 

The 1950s also saw the introduction of the Disney line, considered the finest 3D renderings of Disney characters by Walt Disney himself, as well as other imaginative designs like Black Bisque, faux-stone plaques, the Zany Zoo, and the Little Horribles.

A sampling of Black Bisque pieces (photo by Sarah Wellman)

Double horse plaque designed by Maureen Love

Zany Zoo lion

By 1960, however, competition in the form of cheap unauthorized copies from Japan nearly put Hagen-Renaker out of business. They were forced to lay off the majority of their artists, and the company limped along with a skeleton crew. In about 1966, sales and consequently production began to pick up again, and the company moved 15 miles east to San Dimas, CA, where they had more room to expand. Though both the Miniature and Designer's Workshop lines continued at San Dimas, the decoration style was simplified to be more cost efficient. Pieces in the DW line at this time tended to have short production runs, so San Dimas pieces are often more rare than their Monrovia counterparts.

San Dimas Daisy in rare buckskin color 
(photo by Sarah Wellman)

San Dimas Ferseyn in rare steel grey color 
(photo by Sarah Wellman)

In 1980, Hagen-Renaker purchased the Freeman-McFarlin factory almost 100 miles south of their San Dimas location. This new factory had the space and facilities to devote to the production of larger scale ware, and some of the biggest and most spectacular DW pieces were made at San Marcos. 

Nataf, one of the largest DW horses at 12" tall

Sadly, the Designer's Workshop line was never as profitable as the Miniatures line which had remained in production at San Dimas. In 1986, the San Marcos factory was closed up and sold, and all production returned to San Dimas where it remained for more than 30 years. 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hagen-Renaker added the Specialties line, featuring slightly larger and more detailed sculptures than the usual Miniature pieces. They even experimented with stoneware finishes for a short time.

Stoneware birds

In 1993, Hagen-Renaker began to make a new line of small DW scale horses, beginning with Jamboree based on a sculpture Maureen had issued independently under the name Maureen Love Originals. A new sculpture for the line followed almost every year, and in 2000, Hagen-Renaker announced the return of the old DW horse molds in a fun variety of colors.

Jamboree issued in 1993 (photo by Sarah Wellman)

Encore issued in 1994

Reissue Large Zara in black produced in 2018

In Fall 2018, Kristina Lucas Francis opened Hagen-Renaker Tennessee, an officially licensed offshoot of the main company. Kristina learned the ceramics trade from HR-trained artists and their pupils, so I can't imagine a more perfect steward of the company's body of work. She has been producing small editions of DW and Mini pieces in exquisitely detailed colors for the last few years. As expected, the Hagen-Renaker Tennessee line has mostly consisted of horses so far, but Kristina has offered tantalizing sneak peeks of animal figurines coming in the future (and of course, the resurrection of the delightful Dead Bird as seen below).

Models produced by Hagen-Renaker Tennessee

Though Hagen-Renaker California will officially shut down in the next few weeks, Hagen-Renaker Tennessee will carry on. Kristina has already begun the process of moving a number of the molds to Tennessee, and she is offering exciting hints to members of the Hagen-Renaker Collectors Club, the best source for information on upcoming pieces. 

Some Hagen-Renaker Tennessee pieces are only available to HRCC members, and membership is only $29 a year. Not only does it allow purchase opportunities for exciting new runs, but members also get access to the Hagen-Renaker Field Guide, bi-monthly online newsletters, a printed annual at the end of the year, and fun Hagen-Renaker swag (mugs, T-shirts, etc). The HRCC is doing a membership drive right now through December 15th, so if you have not already joined, I highly encourage you to do so. (And if you mention my name as the person who convinced you to sign up, I'd very much appreciate it!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

What is a Breyer pearly?

Ever since I published my Breyer chalky post in 2015, I've been getting periodic requests to write about pearlies as well. Chalkies and pearlies share a similar history, so this is a logical follow up. Sorry it has taken me so long to get to it!

So what is a Breyer pearly? Like most chalkies, pearly models date to the oil crisis years of the mid-1970s. They are models molded in opaque iridescent, pearlescent plastic rather than plain white plastic. They are therefore akin to chalky plastic models, not basecoat chalkies, because their unique nature is inherent to the plastic used, NOT the paint. (Breyer has used pearlized paint in many modern paint jobs, but those models are not considered pearlies by collectors because only the paint, not the plastic, is pearlescent.)

Factory unpainted pearly Rearing Stallion

Many pearlies have a faintly yellowish cast to the plastic. In my experience, the plastic also looks dense and opaque, not translucent. The regular color for the model was painted directly over this plastic, hiding the plastic for the most part except where there are white markings or where the paint is thin.

Pearly bay Rearing Stallion

A close up of the pearly plastic revealed by his white socks

While just about every model available in the mid-1970s can be found as a chalky, pearly models were confined to just a handful of molds, most of them small. I'm not sure if pearly plastic didn't lend itself well to being molded on a larger scale or if it was primarily used on smaller models because it was less obvious. Known pearlies include:


Confirmed Pearlies

Classic Arabian Foal (chestnut and palomino)
Classic Rearing Stallion (bay and palomino)
Classic Quarter Horse Foal (chestnut and palomino)

Traditional Family Arabian Mare (bay)
Traditional Lying Down Foal (black appaloosa)
Traditional Quarter Horse Yearling (liver chestnut)
Traditional Scratching Foal (black appaloosa)
Traditional Thoroughbred (Nursing) Foal (chestnut)


The foals of both scales and the Rearing Stallions are the most common pearlies and can be found fairly easily. The Family Arabian Mare and Quarter Horse Yearling however are both exceedingly rare, and very few examples of either are known (only 1 or 2 as of this writing).

Based on which models are known to be pearlies, the years they were made, and given their relative scarcity, I suspect that the vast majority of them date to late 1974 or 1975. I date this based on the fact that the chestnut and palomino Classic Arabian and Quarter Horse Foals were not issued until 1975, and they are reasonably common in terms of pearlies. The bay Family Arabian Mare, probably the rarest pearly, was last issued in 1974. Had pearly plastic been used earlier, you would think a few more examples besides the one or two I'm aware of might be known. It's also telling that, as far as I know, no models that were new in 1976 (or later) have turned up as pearlies.

Very rare pearly liver chestnut Quarter Horse Yearling
(owned and photographed by Sara Roche)

Several other pearlies that I have not personally observed are rumored to exist. They are as follows:

Unconfirmed Pearlies

Classic Arabian Foal (black)
Classic Quarter Horse Foal (black)

Traditional Grazing Foal (bay)
Traditional Rough Coat Stock Horse Foal (black appaloosa)


The classic foals and the Grazing Foal are plausible given that they were available at the right time. I would love to see some pictures to confirm it though. I am skeptical of the Rough Coat Stock Horse Foal though as it was not made until 1978 which puts it several years beyond the likely pearly window. If anyone has photos of these models or knows of others not listed, I would love to see them! Feel free to email them to me at mumtazmahal (at) gmail (dot) com.

Pearlies can definitely be tricky to identify in photos, but like chalkies, they're usually obvious in hand. That said, there are some models from the late '70s and early '80s made of very shiny plastic that have been know to fool collectors. It's always best to compare them to a known pearly to see the difference. Many traditional scale models made of this shiny plastic are confused as being pearlies, but they are not.

I am also aware of a handful of fake pearlies that are not molded in pearly plastic but are instead either painted or sprayed with a clear pearlescent finish to mimic the look of pearly plastic. The ones I have observed are a bit too shimmery finish-wise when compared to a real pearly, and the biggest give away is the look of the painted areas of the models. The pearly finish is obviously on top of the paint. On a true pearly, because only the plastic is pearly, the paint almost entirely obscures the pearly nature of the plastic except in white areas.

And as I mentioned above, in recent years, Breyer has utilized pearlescent and metallic paint in many of their paint jobs, but as far as I know, no models molded in pearly plastic have been made since the 1970s. Perhaps a true pearly will be part of the Vintage Club line up in the future? Wouldn't that be fun!


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The White Horse of Uffington

"Beneath my hands the planes
Of his bleached shoulders move,
And the bow of his neck bends to the flint-shaped head.
I ride the chalk-white horse
That moves over bone-bare hills,
And from his streaming mane time falls away.

Between the thighs of kings
Who are now chalk-bare bones
His ancestors, the stallion-herds once strode,
Who, bending their bird-beaked heads,
Are now a shrinking scar
Across the downs from which time ebbs away."
~ Margaret Stanley-Wrench, 1958


About 20 miles southwest of Oxford, England, on a line of rolling green hills, an ancient 360-foot long white horse strides across the landscape. For nearly 3,000 years, the highly stylized chalk-cut horse has guarded the Vale of the White Horse and the Iron Age hillfort just beyond it on the top of the hill. The White Horse of Uffington is one of many figures cut into the hillsides of England, but it is by far the oldest of them all.

The White Horse of Uffington from the air via Google Maps

The White Horse of Uffington has long been a source of mystery and wonder for locals and travelers alike. Its origin and meaning have remained shrouded in mystery for centuries with various theories about its creation put forth by succeeding generations. The earliest know mention of it can be found in a medieval Welsh text which referenced only the fact of its existence, and that in passing. Seventeenth and eighteenth century gentlemen scholars speculated that Hengist and Horsa, the brothers who led the invasion of England by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the fifth century AD, had carved the horse to commemorate their victory.Others claimed that King Alfred the Great had dug out the horse four centuries later to celebrate his own victory over Viking invaders. A few later scholars, aware of similar equine designs found on Celtic coins, correctly surmised that the horse likely predated the presence of the Romans in England in the first century BC at the very least.
 
Modern archeological methods however have proven that the horse is far older than Alfred or Hengist and Horsa or even the Romans. Unlike other chalk figures in Britain which were created by just scraping off the turf and lining the soil with chalk, the White Horse of Uffington was deliberately dug about three feet deep, and the resulting trenches were filled with crushed chalk. Using optimal stimulated luminescence, a method of measuring when soil was last exposed to sunlight, archaeologists have thus dated the horse to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, somewhere between about 1300 and 600 BC. The hill figure is therefore usually attributed to the Celts, though interestingly, it is situated in a landscape littered with earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age sites. Uffington Castle, a classic Iron Age bank and ditch hillfort, sits just out of frame to the right in the photo above. Neolithic long barrows, sarsen stones, and prehistoric trackways can be found scattered throughout the area within a mile or two of the horse as well. It seems likely that the site may have been chosen because it already held great cultural significance to the people who lived there before the arrival of the Celts.

Celtic horse coin from the Henley Hoard in the collection of the
Ashmolean Museum (photo by Ashmolean)

The figure of the horse has been scoured by locals for almost thirty centuries to keep it from becoming overgrown. Stratigraphy of the area immediately around the horse has shown that while its beak-like mouth has shifted in position a bit over the millennia, the general outline of the horse has remained true. It has always been a highly-stylized image of a horse rather than the remains of a more realistic figure.

As I mentioned above, it is located a short distance from Uffington Castle, and while hillforts absolutely served a defensive, militaristic purpose, they were also active centers of farming, storage, and trade. Excavations of hillforts have revealed dwellings, granaries, and animal pens within the ramparts. With that in mind, the notion that the White Horse symbolized some great victory in battle in the past may have some credence, but given the multi-purpose function of hillforts and the role of the horse in Celtic life and mythology, it seems much more likely that there may have been a religious or spiritual purpose behind the creation of the White Horse.

The Celts revered horses, considering them a symbol of high status and wealth. Horses were used as riding animals for hunting, as draft animals to pull carts, as war horses to pull chariots, and sometimes as sacrificial animals as well. The earliest princely Celtic cart burials date to around the seventh century BC and chariot burials appear a few centuries later. Classical writers like Caesar mentioned the great skill with which the Celts drove their chariots and rode their horses in cavalry charges. Images of horses abound in Celtic art adorning coins, sculpture, jewelry, drinking vessels, sacred objects, and more. 

A section of the Aylesford bucket featuring stylized horses, 
circa first century BC © The Trustees of the British Museum

Likewise, Celtic religion and mythology is full of horses, often white horses. Epona, the "Great Mare," whose very name is derived from the Celtic word for horse, was a goddess of horses and fertility and the cycle of life. She was usually depicted as a woman riding sidesaddle on a mare with a foal at their side, a symbol of fecundity. Worship of Epona sometimes included an aspect of death as well, portrayed in sculpture as the goddess leading a horse and departed souls into the afterlife. Epona was originally a deity of the Celts of Gaul, but so great was her popularity that her worship spread to various Celtic tribes along trade routes into Britain, Germany, and elsewhere. The Roman cavalry even claimed her as their patroness, and the cult of Epona was spread across the length and breadth of the empire. 

The Welsh goddess Rhiannon and the Irish goddess Macha bear strong similarities to Epona though their stories in the Mabinogian and the Táin Bó Cuailnge must be interpreted through a veneer of Christianity. (The Celts had no written language, so most of their stories were not put to the page until monks did so in the early medieval period.) Both however have strong associations with horses, fertility, and the cycle of birth and death. The Welsh and Irish myth cycles are rife with tales of horse races, magical horses, shape-shifters who become horses, and so on. Celtic life, both in reality and mythologically, revolved around horses to a great degree.

As I wrote in anticipation of the Celtic-themed BreyerFest last year, I've been fascinated by Celtic mythology and culture since I was a kid. As a lifelong horse girl to boot, I long ago took the White Horse of Uffington as a kind of personal totem. It's the perfect representation of my main passions in life, hence my studio name and logo. So you can imagine my intense nerdy delight when Breyer announced Uffington as a special run this year. He is a lovely shaded iridescent cremello on the new Altynai mold, and he is magnificent. His striking pearly finish perfectly captures the unique metallic sheen so often seen on Akhal-Tekes. 
 
 
This handsome Teke has been making the internet rounds as
the world's "most beautiful horse." He absolutely glows!

I ordered two Uffingtons, planning to keep the better of the two and repaint the other. Breyer however had sneaky plans afoot, and the first Uffington I received was actually this incredible holographic pewtery-black model. All of the special runs this year had secret variations, this one being a run of 200 pieces made in addition to the 1800 cremello Uffingtons. He's the first rare variation BreyerFest special run I've ever pulled, and I am beyond thrilled with him. 
 

I can't get over how gorgeous these two are together. All of the surprise variations this year were stunning, but this one is definitely my favorite.



Seeing this pair of Uffingtons galloping together puts me in mind of two of the most famous horses from Irish mythology, those that pulled the chariot of the great hero Cúchulainn. Legend says that he found the two horses in a mountain pool, a gift to him from the goddess Macha. Cúchulainn rode the horses around Ireland for a day until they were tame, and then they became his prized chariot horses who were loyal to him until the bitter end. The horses, Liath Macha and Dub Sainglend, were grey and black respectively in the tale, and they of course would have been much closer akin to ponies than Akhal-Tekes, but I'd like to think Breyer had those two in mind when they dreamt up these magnificent models.


References:

Green, Miranda. Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. London: Routledge, 1992.

Green, Miranda. Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins, and Mothers. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1995.

Miles, David, and Palmer, Simon. "White Horse Hill." Current Archaeology, No. 142, XII (1995): 372-378.

Newman, Paul. Lost Gods of Albion: The Chalk Hill-Figures of Britain. Stroud, UK: The History Press, 1997.

Rees-Jones, Julie, and M. S. Tite. "Optical Dating of the Uffington White Horse." Archaeological Sciences: Proceedings of a Conference on the Application of Scientific Techniques to the Study of Archaeology 64 (1995), 159-162.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Of Mycenaeans and Men

This post will be more about the Minoans than the Mycenaeans, but I'm sure you'll agree the pun was utterly irresistible. I'm also thoroughly delighted that Breyer has given me another opportunity to use my Classics-adjacent degrees to nerd out about historical subjects I never expected to discuss on a model horse blog. And yet here we are! 

BreyerFest is once again virtual because of the on-going coronavirus pandemic. Happily, things on that front have dramatically improved in the last few months with the release of several vaccines, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to gather in person in Lexington next year. In the meantime, I have really been enjoying the Horse of a Different Color theme for BF this year. Along with unusual equine coat colors, the theme is heavily interwoven with art history, and the inspiration for the special runs in particular runs the gamut from man's earliest cave painting art to pointillism and abstract expressionism. I plan to blog about a couple of the models, but I thought it would be fun to start with Knossos, the fantastic brindle pinto bull.    


(Photo by Breyer)

Students of art history and fellow Classics nerds will recognize the source of this piece immediately, the stunning Bull-Leaping Fresco (or Taureador Fresco) from the palace of Knossos (pronounced kuh-NOSS-us) on the island of Crete. The fresco is one of what is believed to have been a series of bull-leaping panels in that area of the palace. It famously depicts two women and a man in the act of leaping over the bull by pushing off the horns and flipping backward over the animal. One woman has already landed behind the bull while the man is in mid-air and the other woman is preparing to make her leap.  


Photo by Jebulon - Own work, CC0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99294843

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Who were the Minoans? What is Knossos and why are those people engaged in such a bizarre and dangerous activity?

The Minoans were a Bronze Age civilization centered on the island of Crete in the Aegean Sea off the southern coast of Greece. Minoan civilization is generally broken up to an early, middle, and late period spanning from around 3000-1100 BCE, well before the rise of the Greek city-states. The Minoans were the first major power in the Aegean and in the wider Mediterranean as well. Their trade network extended not only to mainland Greece and the nascent Mycenaean civilization there but also to the Levant and Egypt and possibly as far as the Iberian peninsula. 

Unfortunately, the earliest Minoan writing systems, Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A, have not yet been deciphered, and what we know about the earliest periods of Minoan civilization have been pieced together from the archaeological record, such as it is. Minoan life seems to have been centered around several large "palaces" on the island of Crete, and while they do appear to have been centers of political power, they also were cultural and religious centers as well as practical locations for storehouses. 

A digital reconstruction of Knossos as it might have been in its heyday (Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/62670487/Knossos-palace-1350-BC)

By around 1700 BCE, power in Crete seems to have become centralized at the largest palace, Knossos. Fans of Greek mythology will recognize it as the supposed home of King Minos and his infamous labyrinth and Minotaur. The sprawling palace with its many rooms and corridors certainly could have inspired the legend of the terrifying maze, and bulls were unquestionably important in Minoan society. Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who is responsible for much of the excavation and restoration of Knossos, coined the name for the civilization because of this mythic association. 

Minoan art and material culture had a huge influence on Aegean civilization, especially the Mycenaeans, and Knossos was an important center for both art and religion. Evans believed that the Minoans were a matriarchal society that worshipped a mother goddess, and the archaeological record seems to support this to some degree. There is also evidence of a consort for the goddess, perhaps akin to Cybele and Attis, Ishtar and Tammuz, etc, as well as a larger pantheon of gods, goddesses, and genius loci. 
  
Minoan goddess or priestess (Photo by C messier -
Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99541769)

Snakes are traditionally associated with the mother goddess and her priestesses, but bulls also seem to have played an important part in Minoan ritual. In addition to the bull-leaping frieze, the roof-line of Knossos was decorated with stylized bull horns, and depictions of bulls, bull horns, bull-leaping, and bull sacrifices are common decorative symbols found on pottery, sculptures, frescos, drinking vessels, jewelry, and more. Why Minoan youths leapt over bulls is anyone's guess. Some scholars argue that the famous fresco simply depicts a scene from Minoan mythology and never really happened, while others believe it may have been a sport, a religious ritual, or both. (It is however perfectly physically possible to leap over bulls in various fashions. Youtube it at your own risk.)

Around 1450 BCE, the other Cretan palaces and some of the settlements surrounding them were destroyed by fire. Scholars speculate that earthquakes, an eruption of the volcano at Santorini (Thera), or invading Mycenaean Greeks from the mainland, if not a combination of all of these factors, had a hand in these events. Knossos seems to have thrived for about a hundred years longer, but the presence of Linear B tablets written in a proto-Greek script indicate that the Mycenaeans were indeed in control by that time. Minoan culture and power waned after this point, superseded by the Mycenaeans and eventually the mainland Greek city-states.    

Happily, though we don't know much more than the broad strokes of Minoan history and culture, much of their incredible art survives. It clearly has Egyptian influence, especially in the positioning of human figures and the way men and women are differentiated by color. But it also has a certain exuberance that breaks away from the rigid styles of Egypt in a way that is completely unique. I highly recommend looking through this Flickr album to see more examples of the friezes from Knossos (now in the museum at Heraklion) as well as a number of photos of the ruins of the palace as it stands (partially reconstructed) today.

Frescos at Akrotiri, a Minoan outpost destroyed by volcanic eruption
(Photo by Ricardo André Frantz

I am very much looking forward to adding Knossos to my collection, and combined with Boudicca from last year and Uffington from this year, I'll have quite a nice little archeologically themed herd. I just need to get my hands on a Lascaux now! 
 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Five-Gaiter Sorrel Phenomenon

Questions about "five-gaiter sorrel" models arise often enough that I thought it would be an interesting subject to tackle for this blog. As the phrase suggests, the color is named for the first Breyer model to wear it, the #52 "Commander" Five-Gaiter.

The model pictured in the 1963 catalog is a typical
shade of "five-gaiter sorrel." (Yes, it's reversed.)

Produced from 1963 to 1986, the sorrel Five-Gaiter comes in many variations. Most are a matte medium brown color with a darker brown or charcoal mane and tail with grey hooves. The body color however can range from a light cafe-au-lait shade to very dark chocolate and just about everything in between.

Light, medium, and dark sorrel Five-gaiters (Light and medium from ebay,
dark courtesy of Carrie Brooks)

Though the sorrel Five-Gaiter was only ever pictured in matte in the Breyer catalogs, a handful of glossy examples are known. The mold was still available in glossy alabaster and palomino when the matte sorrel was released in 1963, so it's possible that the earliest sorrels produced were also glossy. Or they may have been factory goofs. Whatever the case, they probably date from the beginning of the run in 1963. The earliest sorrel five-gaiters in both matte and glossy often have factory hand-painted eye whites. Semi-gloss examples are also known.

A glossy variation with eye whites

Only a few models were officially released in this color, and oddly enough, they each were assigned a different name for the color. The first was the #114 "Cheyenne" Western Prancing Horse which was also first produced in 1963. Though the color is basically identical to the sorrel Five-Gaiter color, it is listed as bay in the catalog. Aggravatingly, this "bay" colorway was never pictured in the Breyer catalogs, but we know from extant models that they are generally medium brown horses with darker brown or charcoal manes and tails and grey hooves. Some have reddish tones to their color. 

Photo courtesy of Identify Your Breyer

The #96 Shire was introduced in essentially the same color in 1972 as "honey sorrel." They differ only in that their hooves are not painted because they are obscured by the leg feathering of the mold. 

The Shire as pictured in the 1975 dealer catalog

It should be noted that in the early years, Breyer did not understand the distinctions between chestnut, sorrel, and bay, and used them more or less interchangeably for models that were uniformly brown, models that were brown with darker brown manes and tails, and models that were brown with black manes and tails. For the purposes of this post, regardless of what Breyer called the color, sorrel is brown with a darker brown or charcoal mane and tail and grey hooves. Bay is brown with a black mane and tail and black hooves.

This confusion may be the source of the oddball "five-gaiter sorrel" models that have turned up in a couple of runs that were supposed to be bay. The rarest and most desirable of these is the five-gaiter sorrel Fighting Stallion. Very few are known to collectors, leading to speculation over the years that they may have been a very small special run. However, the 1968 collectors manual, though sepia-toned, distinctly shows a sorrel model with grey hooves, not black.


Breyer seemed to prefer the alabaster Fighting Stallion for their catalogs, and the bay colorway does not appear again until 1972. The model pictured then clearly has black hooves. 

In color photos, the difference is quite clear. The grey-hooved sorrel is a clear, lighter shade of brown while the black-hooved, black mane-and-tailed bay is a richer, often redder shade of brown. Variations of both colors exist although neither seem to vary quite as dramatically as the sorrel Five-Gaiters pictured above.
Sorrel on the left (courtesy of Steffanie Bodamer) and bay on the right (eBay)

The fact that the five-gaiter sorrel Fighting Stallion was pictured in the catalog doesn't disprove that it was a small special run, but it adds credence to the idea that the color may have been a variation, accidental or otherwise. While it is possible the color was intentional, it's equally likely to have been a simple mistake. The bay Fighting Stallion had been available since 1961, and the bay Western Prancer since 1963. It's possible that someone who had been painting "bay" Western Prancers was asked to also paint some bay Fighting Stallions, not knowing that "bay" meant something different for each model. Perhaps Breyer simply decided to alter the color shortly after production began. We'll probably never know. But the catalog evidence does at least give us a rough idea of when these models were made.

The other five-gaiter sorrel models are the Family Arabian Mare, Stallion, and Foal, and while they are hard to find, they are more easily found than the Fighting Stallions. 

Five-gaiter sorrel Family Arabian Mare

Like the sorrel Five-gaiters, the Family Arabians vary in shade.

Sorrel Family Arabian Stallion variations
(courtesy of Kindra Rader)

The five-gaiter sorrel Family Arabians can be distinguished from the bay Family Arabians not only by their grey hooves but also by their bald faces. The bays all have black hooves and stenciled face markings.

While the glossy bay Family Arabians are pictured in early 1960s Breyer catalogs, the matte versions were never shown. The change-over from glossy to matte varied depending on the model and color, but matte (palomino) Family Arabians first appear in Breyer catalogs in 1966. This likely gives us a rough idea of the production for the five-gaiter sorrel models---the mid-1960s. No examples that I'm aware of have been found with USA stamps, so they can't have been made any later than 1969. (The USA stamp was added in 1970.) And they may have been made as early as 1963 like the Fighting Stallion. 

As with the sorrel Fighting Stallions, no evidence about the origins of the sorrel Family Arabians has come to light, so we don't know for sure if they were accidental variations or a special run. I personally am inclined to think they were a deliberate run of some sort since a fair number have been found by collectors. But why the run was made and who it might have been for is a mystery.

I also know of two extra special oddities from the five-gaiter sorrel Family Arabian run, a glossy version of the mare and foal. The foal is a test from the late Marney Walerius' collection. Marney was a hobbyist who did consulting work with Breyer beginning in about 1969. She was allowed to bring many test runs home from the factory, including this foal. The glossy mare was found by a collector in the Chicago-area many years ago, and it's a pretty close match to my foal. I can't help but wonder if there's a stallion out there somewhere, too!


 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Breyer Mysteries: Christmas decorators

Since I have a bit of extra free time this week, I thought it would be fun to tackle another holiday related blog topic, the infamous Breyer "Christmas decorators" rumor. While Breyer has blessed us with a variety of modern holiday decorator offerings in the last few years, everything from dappled red and green horses to clearware to candy cane striped zebras, the subject of vintage Christmas decorators always sparks a debate. Do they exist or don't they? Has anyone really seen one? Can anyone prove it one way or another?

Before we tackle that subject, it's useful to consider the history of the traditional Breyer decorators, the blue and gold beauties that collectors prize so much. In 1964, Breyer offered four decorator colors---gold charm, florentine, wedgewood, and copenhagen---on five molds, the Running Mare and Foal, the Five-Gaiter, the Mustang, and the Fighting Stallion. Very little documentation for them exists, but they were offered for sale in holiday catalogs like Aldens, in department stores like Montgomery Wards, and in five-and-dime stores like Ben Franklin. They did not sell well however, and were probably discontinued by 1965. Despite not having been made very long, the Breyer decorators do seem to have been issued in fairly large quantities. They remain rare to be sure, but a patient collector will find multiple decorators for sale every year on eBay or social media. 

Gold charm Mustang, copenhagen Running Mare, 
wedgewood Running Foal, and florentine Five-Gaiter

Which brings us to the purported vintage Christmas decorators. By the late 1990s, a few collectors reported rumors of Christmas decorators possibly spotted when they or someone they knew were children in the 1960s. These models were either dappled red and green much like the florentine and copenhagen models, or they were solid red and green with white points like the gold charm and wedgewood decorators. Nancy Young mentions these observations in her Breyer Molds and Models books with some skepticism, and interestingly, there is no mention of them at all in Marney Walerius' book published several years earlier. Marney did not shy away from including information that trended more toward rumor than observed fact, and it's interesting to me that the Christmas decorator rumor was apparently not circulating at that time. I myself never heard it until I read about it in Nancy's book though I was familiar with other persistant hobby rumors at that time (more on those in a future post). 
 
As of this writing in December 2020, not one credible scrap of evidence of the existence of vintage Christmas decorators has yet come to light. No models have ever turned up, no photos have been discovered, and not a single ad, price list, or catalog entry has been found. There are of course gaps in the paper trail of Breyer history, especially in the early years of the company, so it is possible that any documentation has simply been lost to time. After all, only a few documents pertaining to the blue and gold decorators are known.

1964 decorator dealer sheet

But while the lack of documentation is not surprising, I do think it's odd that no models have turned up in the last 55+ years. Other small runs from the 1960s are known, even in multiples, like the wedgewood Fury Prancers, the wedgewood Longhorns, and the In Between Mares. Had red and green decorators really been available in stores as reported, you would think at least one or two would have survived and turned up in an estate sale or antique mall. Also, given that the traditional decorators were only available for about a year and given that they did not sell well, would Breyer really have added red and green horses to the unsuccessful blue and gold line up?

It has been suggested by other collectors that the Christmas decorators may be the hobby's equivalent of the Mandela effect, and I suspect they're right. Human memory is of course fallible and definitely persuadable and changeable. The power of suggestion and confabulation of memories are common and well-known phenomena, and they are something pretty much all of us experience. I know I have absolutely misremembered things I thought I was certain of!

So with all of this in mind, I remain skeptical of the existence of vintage Christmas decorators. We can't prove their existence any more than we can disprove it, but as more time passes without one coming to light, the less likely it seems that any ever will. I sure would love a dappled red or green Five-Gaiter like the modern test pair that exists in the Breyer sample room. Maybe Breyer will bless us with some some vintage molds for their Christmas morning special run one of these years. Maybe even tomorrow? A girl can dream!