Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Dog Gone (It): A Breyer Rin Tin Tin Mystery

Though I've never had a dog of my own, I've always loved German Shepherds. My grandparents had several of them when I was growing up, and they were playful, affectionate, loyal dogs. I loved them dearly. Because of this, I've collected German Shepherd models by several makers---mostly Hagen-Renaker, Hartland, and Breyer. In particular, I'm happy to have a number of vintage variations on Breyer's Rin Tin Tin/German Shepherd mold, but I wish there were more releases to collect. The mold unfortunately had only two though, and the last one was over 50 years ago now.

The story of Breyer's Rin Tin Tin model begins on a battlefield in northeastern France in September of 1918 during World War I. Twenty-five year-old Corporal Lee Duncan, a native of California, had been sent to the town of Flirey to see if the surrounding countryside might be turned into an airfield for his unit. Like so much of that part of France, the area had been destroyed by shelling. While searching a bombed out kennel that had housed German military dogs, Duncan found one living German Shepherd and her newborn litter of five puppies. He gave the mother and three of the puppies to his superiors and friends in the unit, and kept the remaining two pups for himself. The following year, he managed to finagle passage for the dogs aboard his transport ship home. 

Duncan named them Rin Tin Tin and Nanette after yarn dolls given as good luck charms to soldiers by French children. Nanette unfortunately developed pneumonia and died (and was subsequently replaced by another puppy with the same name), but Rin Tin Tin made it safely to California with Duncan. 

Lee Duncan had a hard and lonely childhood, and he got along with animals far better than with people (something I think a lot of us can relate to). He spent several formative years as a child in an orphanage while his mother worked to save up money to be able to retrieve Duncan and his little sister and provide a home for them. They all eventually settled on a remote ranch where Duncan learned he had a knack for training animals, especially dogs.

When Duncan returned to California after the war, he intended to show Rin Tin Tin and eventually sell puppies from breedings with Nanette II. German Shepherds had become wildly popular due to their athleticism and usefulness in the war, and footage of Rin Tin Tin leaping a 12 foot wall at a dog show eventually made it into newsreels. Realizing he had a star in the making, Duncan worked tirelessly to break into the burgeoning movie business with Rin Tin Tin. They eventually scored a part with Warner Brothers, then only a small, struggling studio. But the partnership eventually spawned 23 silent films and made Rin Tin Tin a household name. In his films, Rinty wrestled villains, saved damsels in distress, rescued babies, thwarted bootleggers and claim-jumpers, and outwitted gangsters. Rin Tin Tin was expressive and athletic, and audiences loved him no matter what his role. His popularity made millions for Warner Brothers and was instrumental in turning the studio into the powerhouse it is today. 

Warner Bros., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The advent of "talkies" in the late 1920s mostly ended Rin Tin Tin's acting career, but he still remained popular with fans who flocked to see him at vaudeville shows. When Rinty died in 1932 a month shy of his 14th birthday, he was still such a celebrity that newspapers and radio stations around the country shared the sad news in obituaries and special broadcasts. In the years that followed, Duncan tried to recapture the Rin Tin Tin magic with several of the dog's offspring, but they lacked the intelligence and appeal of the original. Rin Tin Tin III did help keep the name alive during WWII when he and Duncan helped promote the war effort, and they had moderate film success after the war. But Duncan and  Rinty's heirs return to fame didn't come until 1953 when one of his old Hollywood friends pitched a new television series aimed at children. 

Breyer's model was based on this show, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, a Western for children that aired from October 1954 to May 1959. The TV show, despite the name, bore no resemblance to the life of the real dog. According to Wikipedia, the show centered on an orphan boy, "Rusty. and his dog, Rin Tin Tin (Rinty), [who] are the only survivors of an Indian raid on their wagon train. The boy and his dog are adopted by the 101st Cavalry at Fort Apache, Arizona, where Rusty is commissioned as an honorary corporal. Throughout the series, Rusty and Rinty help the cavalry and the nearby people to establish order in the American West." Duncan, who recognized echoes of his own lonely childhood in the premise of the show, enthusiastically supported it, and he trained Rin Tin Tin IV to be the titular star. 

Unfortunately, this latest Rin Tin Tin lacked the charisma and talent of the original, and producers chose a dog named Flame Jr, usually referred to as JR, to be the lead acting dog. Rin Tin Tin IV instead received visitors and fans at Duncan's ranch. The name and legend of Rin Tin Tin had come to encompass more than just one dog.

Photo via

The baby boom years after the war meant that the huge new generation of children, the first to have regular television access, were a highly receptive audience for licensed toys, and Westerns were hugely popular at the time. Promoters of the show raved about the "outstanding merchandising plusses for juvenile audiences" [1] and banked on the childrens' parents remembering their own fondness of the original silent films starring Rin Tin Tin.

Though Breyer was slow to cash in on licenses for other Westerns at the time, they did become official licensees for the Rin Tin Tin franchise. This was announced in the December 1955 issue of Toys and Novelties, and production had started earlier that year, meaning toy Rinty's were available for Christmas that year.

Toys and Novelties, December 1955 issue

Breyer's Rin Tin Tin was sold in a colorfully decorated box with a hang tag. Badge shaped and square hang tags have been found. The tag references the "Fighting Blue Devils," the nickname for Rinty's cavalry unit at Fort Apache on the TV series.

Rin Tin Tin was made from 1955 to 1965, and not surprisingly, several variations are known. The most common variations are the "saddle" patterned dogs. They are molded in white or creamy-toned plastic and have a dark saddle down both sides of the barrel and along the topline onto the tail. They usually have a bit of shading around the eyes and on the ridges of the neck ruff. The saddle color ranges from a ruddy brown color to dark chocolate to nearly black. All Rin Tin Tins are glossy or semi-glossy.

Creamy and white plastic versions

Less common are dogs with shading only along the topline but not on the sides of the barrel.

Non-saddle and saddle versions

The etching on this saddle version Rin Tin Tin is after market, but it's fun to see all the same. This dog was someone's souvenir of a trip to New York in 1956 during the height of the TV show's popularity.

The saddle version of Rin Tin Tin is shown in all extant Breyer catalogs until 1963. That catalog featured another more thoroughly painted variation with color on the ears, neck, hind quarters, and upper legs in addition to the usual saddle pattern.

Images from the 1958 and 1963 Breyer dealer catalogs

This pretty variation (pictured on the right in the photo below) is much less common than the earlier saddle version. Like the earlier dogs, they vary a bit in terms of color and how much of the dog is painted. I have seen some that are lighter brown toned or have little color on the ears, neck, or shoulders while still having fully painted barrels, hind quarters, and upper legs. 

L to R: Non-saddle, saddle, and late run variations

Dogs that appear to be transitional between the earlier and later styles are also known but hard to find.

Photo from Worthpoint

Nearly all Rin Tin Tins have painted tongues ranging from red to pink. The dog with the unpainted tongue in the photo below may be unfinished or may have just been an oops.

L to R: Non-saddle, saddle, fully painted, and 2 more
saddle versions

Rin Tin Tin was last issued in 1965 which coincided with the end of the TV show which had continued to air as reruns from 1959-1964. The mold was released for a second time a few years later, from 1972-1973, as #327 the German Shepherd. Like Rinty, this dog also came painted in various ways. They can be found in shades of matte brown, charcoal, and black.

Black and brown variations

Some are painted almost solidly while others have white on the neck, legs, or belly.

Unlike Rin Tin Tin who only had a painted tongue, the German Shepherds also usually have painted teeth.

The later run Rin Tin Tins are easy to confuse with the German Shepherd because of their more extensive paint job. The German Shepherds are very matte however while Rinty is glossy.

L to R: German Shepherds in black and brown and
a late issue Rin Tin Tin

And as mentioned above, the German Shepherds usually have painted teeth while Rin Tin Tin does not.

German Shepherd on the left, Rinty on the right

Since 1973, Breyer has reissued most of their other large dog molds like Lassie, Jolly Cholly, the Boxer, the Saint Bernard, and even the rare Small Poodle (after its rediscovery). The Rin Tin Tin mold however has been noticeably absent for the last 50 years. So too has the Large Poodle, but we do at least know the fate of that mold. According to Breyer historian Nancy Young, the Large Poodle was discontinued in 1973 as a cost cutting measure at the beginning of the oil crisis. The thick legs are solid plastic and a molding flaw on the left side has a tendency to crack. [2] It makes sense therefore why this mold has not resurfaced.

What has become of the Rin Tin Tin mold however is a mystery. Collectors have speculated for a number of years that the mold must be damaged or even lost. I had hoped that if it was still usable or at least could be fixed that it would have been released as a special run at the German-themed 2023 BreyerFest, but alas, no such luck. 

Given that Breyer still has the molds for the Small Poodle and the In Between Mare, neither of which were officially released until more than 40 years after their original creation, one would think the Rin Tin Tin mold must still be in their warehouse somewhere, too. Perhaps the damage is just too costly to repair? It's a shame if that's the case because I know many collectors besides myself who would love to have this mold in new colors on their shelves.

Lee Duncan used to say that "there will always be a Rin Tin Tin," and while fans have carried on breeding the Rinty line, the dogs are no longer stars of the silver screen nor even a household name. Except to us Breyer nerds who keep his memory alive in plastic form. I hope you have enjoyed this post, and if you're interested in learning more about the life of Lee Duncan and the meanderings of his dogs and fate, I highly recommend Susan Orlean's book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the horrors of WWI, the early days of Hollywood, and the baby boom years that were so formative for Breyer.

Works Cited:

1) Orlean, Susan. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2011), 234.

2) Young, Nancy. Breyer Molds and Models: Horses, Riders, and Animals. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1999), 325.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Breyer Production: USA vs China

Certain hobby topics seem to be cyclical on social media. Every time a new model is released, whether it's a web special or a Premier Club horse or some other collector exclusive, there will always be people lamenting tiny flaws and complaining that Breyers were better before production moved to China. There's honestly a lot to unpack in such a statement, not the least of which are the xenophobic undertones. I try to keep this blog upbeat and positive, but I am really tired of hearing this unfounded and frankly ugly invective.

I have been collecting for 40 years now (holy crap), and my collection definitely trends very heavily to vintage models. I am a huge history nerd, so of course the old, rare, and weird models have great appeal for me. But I am also an artist and a horse color genetics geek, and while I am very selective about the new models I buy because I have limited disposable income, I am an enthusiastic collector of the fantastic new molds and intricate, realistic colors Breyer has been producing lately. 

But first, a brief history lesson. As most of us know, Breyer started making model horses in 1950 at their Chicago, IL, factory. In 1984, Breyer was acquired by Reeves International, and production moved to Pequannock, NJ, for a few years. Plastic injection molding is an expensive business---each steel mold costs more than $100,000 to tool---and by the early 1990s, Breyer, like so many other American companies, began to move some of their production overseas. The move happened gradually with the Stablemates starting production in China in 1992. The Little Bit/Paddock Pal and Classic scale molds followed a few years later in about 1997. And 2001 marked the last year that the Breyer dealer catalogs mentioned that any of their models were still made in the USA, meaning that all of the Traditional and Animal molds had been moved overseas by the following year.

So how do we judge what constitutes "better?" The quality and intricacy of the paint job? The anatomical correctness of the sculpture? The quality of the molding itself? Factory flaws? Value?

The quality of paint work seems to be the most common complaint when the subject of where models are made comes up, so I thought it would be interesting to compare Breyer appaloosas across the decades. The appaloosa pattern, in my opinion, is one of the most difficult colors to reproduce accurately in miniature. I still struggle with it despite having been a customizer for almost 25 years now. 

Let's have a look at the models in the photo below. The two appaloosa models on the left were made in the USA (1970s and 1996 respectively) and the two on the right were made in China (2023 and 2021). The appaloosa Quarter Horse Yearling on the far left is a typical example of how most appaloosa models were painted for decades with flicked-on spots over a vaguely defined white blanket. It gets the idea across, but it's not very realistic. Eventually, Breyer did begin to produce a few Appaloosa models with masked blankets and spots like Stud Spider, but because the masks did not fit snugly, the models all had varying levels of overspray. Cinnamon, second from the left below, is truthfully a weird outlier for Breyer, but she's definitely not the only questionable paint job from the USA years.

Adonis (rearing) and Danash's Northern Tempest (far right) are far more nuanced and correct. In terms of realism and intricacy, there's simply no contest. The models produced in China have carefully masked patterns that closely recreate real horse patterns. 

Breyer Appaloosas from varying eras

In terms of anatomical and biomechanical correctness, most of Breyer's new molds made in the last 20 years have been better than those of the past. That is not meant to be a knock on Chris Hess, the artist who sculpted the majority of Breyer's models from 1950-1987. He was a serious artist in his own right having studied at the renowned Art Institute of Chicago. In addition to sculpting, he was also the craftsman and engineer who tooled all of the original Breyer molds. While many of his models do suffer from some common anatomical flaws---eyes set too high, incorrect musculature, etc---some of his pieces are still highly regarded by collectors for their timeless correctness, like Lady Phase.

But horses are incredibly complex anatomically, and as much as I love a number of Hess' sculptures, they simply can't compare to the dialed in accuracy of the models sculpted in the last 20 years by the hobby's premier artists. While none of these new sculptures are perfect, the artists creating them have been better able to specialize in equine anatomy. They have had better and easier access to reference materials, and molding technology has improved to allow finer details and more intricate poses.

Morgen Kilbourn's True North mold (left) and Chris Hess' 
Quarter Horse Yearling mold (right), both lovely in their own way

When it comes to molding quality, once again, there's just no contest. Most older models have prominent seams pretty much all over---back, belly, up and down the legs, across the chest, and even on the face. Because I customize as well as collect OFs, I have become very well-acquainted with the seams on most molds, and I have found that prepping vintage models is usually a bit of a nightmare. The old mold Proud Arabian Mare pictured below was made in the late 1950s, but seams like this were typical on pretty much all models well into the 1980s and 1990s. 

Photo by Lindsay Diamond

Molding models in dynamic poses is a challenge, and the technology was just not there yet for some models molded in the USA-years like this Scratching Foal from the 1970s.

Photo by Jen Boss

In addition to prominent seams, many older models show evidence of careless seam cleaning and lax clean-up of the model in general. This can be seen in the form of chatter marks from dremels skipping over the surface of the model and sometimes extraneous bits of plastic that should have been sanded off but that were instead ignored and painted over.

Dremel chatter on a Clydesdale Stallion (Photo by
Jennifer Tirrell)

Excess plastic gunk on the belly of a Shetland Pony
(Photo by Matt Hanson)

Excess plastic on the neck of a Clydesdale Stallion
(Photo by Mel Grant)

Many older models, especially some of the Classics, are also more likely to need details sculpted back in when prepping, especially on the heads and legs. For example, I love the Classic molds sculpted by Maureen Love, but they take much, much longer to prep because of the poorly cleaned seams, misshapen legs, hooves, and faces, and often crooked, blobby ears. This is frustrating to deal with as a customizer because it means many hours more work to make the model suitable for painting. But as an OF collector, too, it's sad to see careless prep work on otherwise exceptional sculptures. The Classic Arabian Stallion pictured below is not at all unusual in terms of how poorly the seam across the face was cleaned, the blobby ears, and the shallow, barely there nostrils. And as if this poor guy didn't have enough problems already, his star is completely off-center.

Photo by Levi Kroll

In contrast, it's a breeze to prep modern, made in China molds because they hardly have any seams to clean. Most only need a little clean up on the manes and tails and behind the pasterns. These molds also have better sculptural detail such as well-shaped, concave ears and nostrils and realistic heel bulbs and frogs. Most older molds need to have those details carved or sculpted by the customizer, adding to prep time. In the OF show ring, most judges will excuse seams because that is just the nature of OF models, but cleaner seams and better detailing on an excellent sculpture is hard to beat.

No seams!

None here either!

Most older Breyers were made for many years, sometimes decades, so paint colors often varied over the course of the run. Collectors generally don't mind this kind of inconsistency because variation collecting can be a lot of fun.

Three variations of the #216 Mahogany Proud Arabian Mare

However, one of the common complaints about models made in China is a lack of consistency in painting, and I personally just haven't seen it. I often buy multiple examples of models I plan to repaint---one to keep OF and the others to paint and sell. For at least the last 10-15 years, I've been finding it much harder to pick out the nicest model to keep because the shading and detailing is pretty consistent across the board. There are nuances, but they're much more subtle than they were 20+ years ago.

I still can't decide which one to keep OF

Painting flaws like overspray, misaligned masking, or missed spots are another common complaint about models produced in China. And while those problems definitely occur, they were just as common on models produced in the USA. I would argue the mistakes made on new models are generally not as egregious or weird as some of the ones found on older models. For example, someone was having an off day when they painted the eyes on this Clydesdale Foal. Did they sneeze? Or have the hiccups?

Photos by Beau Schenfelt

The buckskin Quarter Horse Gelding sometimes had a thin partial dorsal stripe, but this poor guy has a giant dorsal blorp. This kind of mistake would be relegated to the regrind bin these days.

Photo by Kelly Weimer

Splatter dapples and appaloosa spots have a definite nostalgic charm, but I suspect most collectors would not find these streaks acceptable now. We give it a pass on vintage models because we know quality control was pretty lax for a long time, and there's nothing to be done about it now.

Photo by Sara Parr

Poor Cinnamon's ultra precise polka dots and pinking shears blanket go too far in the opposite direction. She's kind of cute in a "bless your heart" sort of way, but this too would never fly for modern collectors. (We definitely laughed about it in 1996 when she was released, too.)

Dani, the 2021 BreyerFest celebration model, meanwhile is perhaps the most ambitious, widely-available, mass-produced OF model horse ever made. For the price of a virtual BreyerFest ticket (early bird tickets were $72.50), collectors received this absolutely stunning model. That's hardly more than one would pay to buy a regular run model online or even in a store. It still blows my mind that Breyer offered a hugely complicated, BreyerFest auction model worthy paint job like this to thousands of collectors as a large, easily obtainable run. 

We have come SO FAR, my friends. This model just makes
my heart sing. She is so lovely.

In terms of value, regular run and special run models made in the USA and China have been a mixed bag. Some continue to appreciate in value while others can be hard to sell even below cost. Mold, color, and rarity have much more bearing on value than which country the models were made in. Prices on rare models from both countries have been trending up significantly in recent years, and while they seem to have peaked during the pandemic, the market doesn't seem to have cooled much on true oddities. 

With all this in mind, I think it's fair to say that both nice models and flawed models have been produced in the USA and in China. That is simply the nature of mass-production. But that said, it would be disingenuous to suggest that Breyer horses are regressing in quality and have been for the last 20-30 years. It's very clear to me, both from an artistic standpoint and from a showing and judging perspective, that Breyer models have only been getting better every year, especially the last 5 or so years. The technology for molding, masking, and painting has improved markedly in the last 20 years. Sure, there have been bumps in the road here and there, but by and large, the product Breyer is putting out is phenomenal for a mass-produced, still hand-painted-by-actual-human-beings toy. The models coming out of China, whether regular run or special run, are straight-up amazing. And to deny that is a slap in the face to all of the artists in our community whose sculptures and design work for Breyer have driven this renaissance in OF quality.

One last thing to consider is that Breyer moved production to China for a very good reason---cost, both production cost and consumer cost. For 50 years, they were rightly proud to declare that their products were American made, but when the choice is to either go out of business due to high production and consumer costs or move production overseas and stay in business, there really is no choice at all. It was cheaper for Breyer to move all of their molds to China and then pay to import the finished products back to the USA to be able to offer consumers a reasonable price-point for purchasing rather than to keep production in the USA. Obviously, that speaks volumes about how broken the manufacturing laws and incentives are here in the USA and also, even worse, how poorly workers in China are paid. (I am not a student of economics, so I'll leave a deeper dive on those subjects to others.) But I do have to wonder how many collectors who complain about the quality of Breyers made in China would still buy them at 5 to 10 times the price if manufacturing were returned to this country? I'm guessing not many.

So, with all that in mind, the argument that models made in China are not as good as those made in the USA is absolute bunk. As the photos in this post show, the models made in China are better in easily quantifiable ways. They're much better prepped before painting, and the paint jobs themselves are more complicated, more consistent, and more realistic. The sculptures are more correct, more dynamic, and more diverse in terms of represented breeds. It is of course absolutely fine to prefer older models stylistically; I too am nostalgic for the models I grew up with, and I thoroughly enjoy collecting older pieces and learning about their history. Who doesn't love a beautifully shaded old glossy after all? But declaring USA-made models "better" with no tangible examples as to why makes one wonder what these anti-made-in-China collectors are really complaining about. Why not just enjoy both for the positives they each possess? 

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Hartlands Oddities: It's Not Easy Being Green

If you grew up watching the The Muppet Show and Sesame Street like me, you probably remember Kermit the Frog lamenting in his signature song that being green meant he "blend[ed] in with so many other ordinary things." While green is indeed a normal color for frogs and leaves, in the world of model horses, green stands out as pretty weird, especially when it's unintentional! Such is the case with certain early Hartland models made in the 1950s and 1960s.

Exactly why these models have turned green isn't entirely clear, especially since some, but not all, from a given run have shown a tendency to turn green. But the most likely explanation is that something in the paint was sensitive to UV radiation in sunlight. UV is well-known to have deleterious effects on paint and plastic, especially with prolonged exposure.

The earliest green Hartland horses I know of are the aptly nicknamed "bile green" Victors made from roughly late 1948/early 1949 to 1950.1 (The Victor is the model Mastercrafters Clock and Radio Company commissioned for their clocks that was subsequently copied by Breyer for the same purpose.) Breyer historian Nancy Young dubbed the color thusly, and it is quite apropos. Originally, the horses were a sort of shaded chestnut or sorrel color with grey, dark brown, or even black shading. Their saddles were painted to match. Nearly all examples, whether over a clock or freestanding, have turned a rather bilious shade of yellowy-green.

Hartland Victor and Mastercrafters Clock

My own Victor over the clock pictured above retains some traces of his original color under the saddle. This lends strength to the idea that a reaction to light is the culprit for the green color everywhere else.  

Finding Hartland Victors that are still the original brown color is quite rare, but I was lucky enough to snag the freestanding model below on eBay a few years ago. He does have a faintly yellow cast to his plastic which is probably age-related, but the contrast against the now-green clock Victor behind him is pretty striking.

Interestingly, this odd color was dubbed "palomino" in this June 1950 spotlight in Toys and Novelties. I'm not sure if Hartland ever called the color that or if it was assumed by the non-horse savvy writers of the magazine.

In the early 1950s, Hartland replaced the Victor with the Large Champ mold. It was released in several colors including palomino, and the earliest palominos had an unfortunate tendency to turn green as well. Most are not quite so dramatically green as the Victors, but they still stand out when compared to their non-green brethren. The Champ on the left below is the earliest of the three, and both he and his saddle are faintly green. The chalky palomino in the middle shows no signs of paint discoloration, and neither does the second version palomino Champ on the right. I'm not sure if the saddle is original to that horse, but it has turned a greenish-grey color. These horses were all made sometime between about late 1953/early 1954 until about 1957.2

Other palomino models from the '50s and '60s have turned green as well, but unlike the Victors which have nearly all turned green, with these somewhat later models, green is the exception rather than the rule. The ones that have turned green are painted in a similar, thin yellowy palomino color, and even a few bays and chestnuts have been affected as well. The greenish ones tend to also look slightly faded in intensity compared to other examples of the same models that have not changed color.

Here are some other fun examples of green ponies. This little horse on the base dates to around 1950, and very few painted examples of this mold are known.3 His color is similar to that used on the sorrel-turned-green Victors.

Some of the palomino 800 series horses that were made as part of the horse and rider sets in the late 1950s and early 1960s have turned a semi-neon green color like this poor guy. The lighting is not great in these photos, but the horse is indisputably green. Note the thin, faded look of the paint.

Photo from Etsy

Photo from Etsy

Horses from the later 1960s were affected as well. The 6" palomino weanlings shown below were made from 1964-1968, and while most have retained their proper palomino color, a few are definitely green.

Photo on the left by Lois F; photo on the right from Etsy

As I mentioned above, a few non-palomino models have been known to turn rather green as well. My 7" Tennessee Walking Horse family (made 1965-1967) which includes a palomino stallion, a bay mare, and a flaxen chestnut foal, have all turned green, but only on one side. Presumably, they all stood in a window for a time and changed color on the light exposed side.

I couldn't resist picking up an extra TWH foal at BreyerFest this year. He is exquisitely green all over. 

Technically, the state of green-ness of these Hartlands is the result of damage, but I personally find them fascinating and quirky. My green Hartland Victor clock is one of my most favorite oddities in my collection. Even Kermit realized that being green is beautiful, and these neat old models are, too.


1) Mike Jackson's Hartland Site, Mastercrafters Clock history:

2) Mike Jackson's Hartland Site, Champ History:

3) Fitch, Gail. Hartland Horses and Dogs. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Limited, 2001), 169.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Pottery + Model Horses = Nerdy Bliss

My friends, I have a confession to make. I am a pot head. Yes, you read that right.

I. Love. Pottery.

There, I've said it. Now you all know my terrible secret. Model horses are (obviously) my main collecting passion, but I must confess to having a pottery addiction as well. There are pots all over my apartment. I seek them out to admire in museums. I even want to make my own. The horror!

Zuni, Hopi, and Acoma pots

I'm not sure I can quantify what it is I love about glazed ceramics. I am drawn to soft, matte glazes...

As well as brilliant glossy finishes.

I definitely have a thing for earth tones---shades of brown, grey, blue, and green.

I have pottery that was made near my home town.

Red Wing Pottery from Red Wing, MN

I even have a pot that once belonged to a famous person who owned a famous horse.

A pot from the estate of Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat

But my particular pottery interest is Puebloan pottery made by the Native tribes of the American southwest. I grew up surrounded by Native American artefacts---Navajo rugs, Chippewa beadwork, Zuni jewelry, and Acoma pottery---and I can finally afford to indulge my interest in Native arts on a small scale. 

(The Black Bisque Quail is Hagen-Renaker;
the pots and black horse are Native made.)

Sometimes, my model horse and pottery addictions intertwine---I do collect a lot of ceramic horses and animals after all---and they display beautifully together on my shelves. 

One of my ceramic horses is actually a piece of Native pottery.

Santa Clara horse figurine

I also have a great deal of interest in ancient pottery, especially Ancestral Puebloan (aka Anasazi) pottery, in particular the beautiful and enigmatic figural Mimbres pieces. Such pots are far out of my price range, not to mention the due diligence needed to buy legally collected ancient pots, but happily I live near the Field Museum which has an incredible collection I enjoy visiting regularly.

Just one of many display cases full of amazing Ancestral
Puebloan pots at the Field Museum

I have also had the pleasure of visiting the lovely Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum at Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado.

Me geeking out over pots

My second love when it comes to ancient pottery is what is generally lumped together as Greek. This includes the early Minoan, Mycenean, and Geometric styles as well as the later, better known black-figure and red-figure pottery of Classical Greece. As you can see from my Native pottery collection, in addition to earth tones, I am also drawn to patterns of black and white or black, white, and red.

In terms of ancient Greek pottery, I love the simple geometric designs of the oldest Minoan and Mycenean pieces (circa 2600-800 BCE)---concentric bands of alternating color, patterns of circles and spirals, key patterns, and more. I am also hugely enamored of the many wonderful figural Minoan pots covered in googly-eyed octopi and other sea creatures.

L to R: Photos by Wolfgang Sauber, Olaf Tausch,
and Marie-Lan Nguyen

Styles in Greece transitioned from patterns of predominantly black designs on white backgrounds to the Classical form termed "black figure" in the 600s BCE. These were pieces featuring black designs painted on a reddish-orange background with fine details picked out in white. The decoration also morphed to feature the human figure predominantly, especially scenes from mythology or athletic competitions. The finest examples of Greek pottery were very often prizes awarded at various athletic games held every 2 or 4 years depending on the location. Some would have been large bowls intended as vessels for mixing wine while others were beautifully decorated containers for olive oil, a valuable commodity.

Needless to say, I was hugely excited when I saw Nemea, the BreyerFest 2023 special run inspired by this black-figure amphora depicting a chariot race in the British Museum. This pot was made in Athens circa 410-400 BCE and was found in Cyrenaica (modern Libya). It would likely have been a prize for an athletic competition, presumably a chariot race.

Photo by Carole Raddato from Frankfurt, Germany, CC
BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Breyer artist (as well as fantastic artist in her own right) Heather Puleo did a magnificent job translating this work into a Breyer design.

Photo from

Breyer clearly has my number when it comes to all of the recent models inspired by historical figures or ancient art. I can't wait to add Nemea to my shelf along with Boudicca and Knossos!