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 though. 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!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Breyer Music Boxes

Since the holidays are just around the corner, this seems like a good time for a post about some of the earliest Christmas catalog special runs Breyer produced, the Fury Prancer music boxes. Issued for several years in the mid-1950s through the Sears holiday catalog, the music box Prancers came in three varieties---palomino with a Cowboy or Lucky Ranger, black and white pinto with an Indian Brave or Chief, and alabaster with an unknown rider.

The music boxes are fairly simple in construction. The musical mechanism itself rests inside the horse's chest and is held in place either by its own size and weight, or in some cases, by a pair of screws in the left shoulder and behind the left elbow that help secure it. A hole cut in the shoulder allows the owner to use a small metal key to wind up the music box mechanism to play. The music boxes were added to the models when they were fresh out of the mold and still in two halves. Once installed, the halves were glued together, and the horses were painted up and accessorized just like their non-music box Prancer brethren. 

The models are very clearly factory originals but some lingering confusion about them still exists, so I'll do my best to clear that up. When collectors first became aware of the Prancer music boxes, there was some thought that they were after market, an idea put forth in Marney Walerius' Breyer Models: Reference and Insurance Guide published in 1991.* Marney wrote that an enterprising Breyer employee took the horse halves home and installed the music boxes before bringing the models back to the factory to be finished. He then supposedly paid Breyer for the models and either sold them or gave them away to family and friends.1 At the time Marney wrote this, very few examples of music boxes were known, and no records about the pieces had surfaced, so she must be excused for what is likely an apocryphal account. 

By the time Nancy Young published her Breyer Molds and Models book in the late 1990s however, important documentation had come to light that revealed the music boxes to have been a rather larger endeavor. To wit, the 1955, 1956, and 1957 Sears catalogs advertised the Breyer music boxes. The 1955 and 1956 editions offered both the palomino and pinto music box Prancers while the 1957 catalog listed only the palomino. In the intervening twenty years since then, a number of palomino and pinto Prancers have turned up, so they're not nearly as rare as they were once thought to be. This combined with the knowledge that the music boxes were official Sears special runs pretty conclusively demonstrates that one employee could never have filled orders to meet the demands of a national catalog (and it makes no sense whatsoever that Breyer would allow an employee to sell as a middle man to Sears either). 

More evidence that the music box idea very likely originated with Sears can be found in the original catalog pages. The palomino and pinto Prancer music boxes are pictured with a variety of other music boxes, everything from dolls and stuffed animals to decorative teapots and purses. The page describes all of them as having Swiss movements which suggests to me that Sears sought out the various  manufacturers of these items and provided the music boxes to them to incorporate into items they already manufactured. The Breyer factory was only a short distance from Sears' main distribution hub and offices in Chicago, so it certainly would have been easy for Breyer and Sears to work together (which of course we know they did for decades).
 
1955 Sears catalog music box assortment

1956 Sears catalog snippet

The 1956 and 1957 catalogs clearly show a Lucky Ranger rider on the palomino Prancer, but the 1955 catalog may show a Cowboy (he appears to have a dark inner shirt rather than a white one). Given the pretty similar color schemes on the Cowboys and Lucky Rangers, it's possible they shipped indiscriminately regardless of the year. The music box in the palomino Prancers plays "Home on the Range."

Lucky Ranger and palomino music box Prancer

The 1955 catalog shows the Breyer Indian Brave with brown pants and squiggly war paint on his arms while the 1956 catalog, which is sepia-toned, appears to show the Indian Chief with turquoise pants and no war paint on his arms. The 1955 description said the brave came with both a plastic feather and the hard-to-find paper headdress while the 1956 catalog listed the single feather and the plastic headdress that replaced the fragile paper version. It's possible both brown and turquoise pants examples were available both years. The music box in the pinto Prancers plays "From the Land of Sky-Blue Water," the popular 1909 song by Charles Wakefield Cadman. 

Indian Chief on a black and white music box Prancer showing
 both styles of headdress and the original parts diagram

Both the palomino and pinto Prancers came in two variations---with or without support screws. The sets without the screws are probably earlier and seem to be slightly less common. The sets with the screws have two---one inserted at the top of the left shoulder and the other just behind the left elbow, presumably to keep the music box from shifting around inside the horse.  

With support screws (left) and without (right)

The alabaster Prancer music boxes however remain a mystery. No reference materials related to them have been discovered, and they are so scarce that for a time, many collectors (including me) wondered if they even existed. One or two were spotted on sales sites in the mid-2000s, though I'm not aware of any hobbyist who actually owns one. The only example I have seen a picture of sports an English saddle (identical to the Race Horse's saddle) and the very hard to find red saddle blanket that is typically associated with the Canadian Mountie. The red saddle blanket is the same design more commonly seen in blue with the Mounties. The red saddle blankets and English saddles were also sold as alternatives to Western Saddles on at least one 1950s price list, but they are so rare that they can't have been available long.

Image courtesy of Robin R.

Could this model originally have come with a Canadian Mountie rider then? If so, this begs at least two questions. One, could it have been offered by Simpsons-Sears in Canada since it was not apparently offered by Sears in the US? Simpsons-Sears did offer at least one unique Breyer special run, a Fury Prancer grooming kit, so it would not be surprising that they might have offered a music box, too. And two, what tune did the music box play? "Oh Canada" or perhaps a tune from the famous Musical Ride? Or just "Home on the Range?" The 1957 Simpsons-Sears catalog does not show a music box, and unfortunately, I have not yet been able to locate catalogs from 1955 or 1956, so I can't shed any more light on this theory yet.

I have heard of one other alabaster music box that had a Robin Hood rider, but it may actually have been the same model pictured above with some alterations to the accessories by the seller. (The history of the piece is a tad murky, and it was offered for sale several times.) Marney also mentioned such a set in her book and claimed the music box played the William Tell Overture. She named the rider as William Tell rather than Robin Hood which coincides with an old hobby rumor that the two known versions of the Robin Hood figure were actually meant to be Robin Hood (green hat and boots) and William Tell (red hat and boots). 

Robin Hood variations

No documentation has ever been found to support this however, so Marney's appellation may be wishful thinking. She did not say whether or not she had actually seen or heard the alabaster music box she references. Until one is found by a collector or until some documentation turns up, it will remain a mystery. If anyone reading this blog happens to have one, please let me know! And if anyone has a lead on the 1955 or 1956 Simpsons-Sears Christmas catalog, I would love to have a look.

(And obviously, even knowing what a long shot it is, I'd love to buy one of these alabaster music boxes if anyone is selling!) 


* For those not familiar with the name, Marney Walerius was a well-known collector who lived in the Chicago suburbs. She began visiting the Breyer factory in the late 1960s and eventually did consulting work for the company until it moved to New Jersey in 1984. Marney helped design and paint test runs and had an extensive collection. She is considered one of the founders of the hobby in the United States. 

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1. Walerius, Marney J. Breyer Models: Reference and Insurance Guide. (Barrington, IL: Self published, 1991), pg. 20.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Western Horse Shaped Objects Wrap Up

Now that I've completed all of the Western Horse shaped objects posts, I thought it would be handy to post a link to them all here in one place. Enjoy!

Part 1: Mastercrafters Clocks: A brief history of Mastercrafters horse clocks and their relationship with Hartland and Breyer. Also a discussion of the differences between the Hartland Victor, Breyer Western Horse, and Hartland Champ.



Part 2: Superior Plastics, Ohio Plastics, and the Wells Lamont Connection: An in depth discussion of the Hartland Victor and the models copied from it by Superior Plastics and Ohio Plastics.



Part 3: Breyer, Textured Tack, Kroll, Hong Kong, and more! Breyer Western Horses and Ponies and their many, many, many copies. 


Part 4: Weird Clocks, Metal Clocks, and Gladys Brown Edwards: Unusual Breyer clocks, Superior Plastics and textured tack clocks, metal horse clocks, and the Gladys Brown Edwards connection.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Western Horse Shaped Objects: Part 4: Weird Clocks, Metal Clocks, and Gladys Brown Edwards





(Part one can be found here; part two is here; and part three is here.)

As promised in the preceding installments of this series, this last post about Western Horse shaped objects will cover the oddball clocks that have popped up over the years. (I may eventually rewrite this and weave them into the first three posts as warranted, but for now, enjoy the new weirdness here!)


The Other Western Horse-Beside-the-Clock

Most Breyer collectors are familiar with the horse-beside-the-clock models made by Mastercrafters. They stand at an angle beside an enameled metal clock in a horseshoe-shaped housing on a brown marbled plastic base. Beneath the horseshoe is a bas-relief of a cowboy roping a steer. The clocks are electric and have been found with palomino or alabaster horses and date to about 1951-1953 right after the horse-over-the-clocks were made. The backs of these clocks feature the same six patent numbers (relating to the clock movements) that are found on the back of the horse-over-the-clock models.


A close up of the clock housing

 A couple of years ago, two examples of an unusual variation of the horse-beside-the-clock were posted on Facebook. Both were identical featuring grey-hooved palomino Western Horses with o-link reins and high-grommet saddles standing beside an unusual clock. The clock has an enameled housing (with no horseshoe) featuring a bas-relief of a cowboy on a horse, a cowboy hat, and a pistol and gun belt. Both of these clocks had "fancy face" Sessions faces and movements (which are found on other Mastercrafters clocks), and both were cordless, wind-up clocks..

(Owned and photographed by Jennifer Enslin)

(Owned and photographed by Jennifer Enslin)

Just a few weeks ago, I stumbled on a third example of these clocks, but mine seems to be a mix of both horse-beside-the-clock styles. Mine is electric (though the cord has been cut off), and it has a plain Sessions face and back identical to the horseshoe clocks while having the more unusual clock housing. It too features a grey-hooved palomino Western Horse with o-link reins and a high grommet saddle.




I'm not sure how these unusual clocks fit into the timeline. Mine is clearly a Mastercrafters clock, so I'm sure the other two must be as well. The grey hooves on all three examples would suggest that they are later than the black-hooved models typically seen on the horseshoe clocks. But the O-link reins date them no later than 1953 according to Nancy Young.1

With that in mind and given the scarcity of these clocks, they likely were made near to the end of the Western Horse clock production. They may have been available concurrently with the last of the horseshoe clocks as another stylistic ordering option. Electric versus wind-up may also have been an ordering choice (although I don't know of any wind-up horseshoe clocks). Or perhaps they were made just after the horseshoe clocks, and mine seems to be a transitional piece between the two styles. No alabaster examples of these unusual clocks have been found as of this writing, but they may exist as well. If these unusual clocks post-dated the horseshoe clocks, given how few are known to collectors compared to the horseshoe clocks, they probably were not made very long. But if that is the case, why?

A fourth version of this clock may hold the answer. I have seen a photo of one other clock with the same mounted cowboy, hat, and pistol clock housing. The housing is painted or enameled in gold however, and it is mounted on a reddish-orange marbled base to the right of the horse. The horse, which is a black Superior Plastics model rather than a Breyer, is mounted in line with the clock rather than at an angle. It appears to have the same Sessions face as my clock (and the usual horseshoe clocks), so it's probably a Mastercrafters product, too. (Nancy Young describes it as such in her unpublished book notes as well [cited with her gracious permission]). 

Perhaps having parted ways with Hartland and possibly then Breyer for whatever reasons, Mastercrafters turned to Superior, another Chicago plastic molding company for horse models for their clocks. It could be the reason that Superior Plastics copied the Hartland Victor horse in the first place and then went on to start selling free-standing horses, too, just like Hartland and Breyer did. We know the Superior Plastics horses were in production in 1955 (and very likely a year or two earlier), so this line of reasoning would fit neatly if the Breyer clocks were discontinued in about 1953. 


Textured Tack Horse Clocks

As I mentioned in the last installment, textured tack horses have been found mounted beside clocks, too. We don't know who made these clocks any more than we know who made the horses. The clock housing and base are made of matching pink marbled plastic. The clock housing has a scalloped edge and a bas-relief of a cactus, pistols, and cowboy boots. The base has a ruffled edge, and the horse stands in line with the clock rather than at an angle. I have only seen palomino and alabaster examples. The clock face is marked "Movement by Sessions, Made in the USA," but there are no other identifying marks on these clocks. Interestingly, the clock faces have Roman numerals rather than the usual Arabic numerals you see on Mastercrafters clocks.

(Owned and photographed by Carrie Brooks)


Metal Horse Clocks

So that brings us to the elephant in the room---what relation, if any, do the ubiquitous metal horse clocks have to their plastic brethren? No doubt most hobbyists have seen a clock like this while poking around in an antique shop or flea market. They're everywhere, made by the gazillions apparently, and in a variety of finishes on varying bases.

A typical "horseshoe" metal horse clock example

Most of the horse clocks are pot metal with a gold, bronze, or copper colored finish, but a few have  silver finishes, and a few appear to have been painted, too. They can be found on wood, metal, or plastic bases. The clock housing on the vast majority of them features either a horseshoe with a bas-relief of two horses below it or a ruffled frame with a bas-relief of cowboy boots, a hat, and pistols.

A typical "ruffled" metal horse clock

Other styles do exist though----there are almost as many variations as there are clocks. Some are on stylized rocky terrain bases (circa 1955 based on newspaper ads).



Some are paired with cowboys and/or cowgirls.


A metal Mastercrafters clock

Circa 1950 based on newspaper ads

A painted clock

Most metal horse clocks are arranged with the horse to the right of the clock facing it. A few are reversed.  

Another painted clock


A few are Mastercrafters products while others were made by United, Lanshire, Spartus, Carmody, Gilbert, and more. This particular example below is probably Mastercrafters---the horseshoe clock on this example is the version usually found with the Breyer Western Horses beside-the-clocks, but in gold rather than creamy white. (Most metal horse clocks with horseshoe frames have two horses under the shoe rather than the cowboy roping the steer.) The face and metal back of the clock are Sessions just like those seen on Breyer clocks, and the base itself is identical to Breyer clock bases. The question is did this piece come before or after the Breyer clocks?



Before I started researching this series of posts, I assumed the metal horse clocks were copies of the Breyer horses beside the clocks. But I have since found newspaper ads featuring metal horses beside clocks from as early as March 1949, so they clearly pre-date Breyer horses full stop and possibly Hartland's horses and clocks, too.

Ad from The Record (Hackensack, NJ), March 11, 1949

The earliest ruffled top horse-beside-the-clock ad I can find is from October 1949. Mastercrafters fans will recognize that company's popular ship clock in the ad. Perhaps the metal horse clock is Mastercrafters, too? 

Ad from the Daily News (New York, NY), October 14, 1949

And the first horseshoe clock ad I can find dates to December 1950. 

Ad from the Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA, December 22, 1950

The metal horse clock ads appear throughout the 1950s and peter out in the mid-1960s, but they were clearly wildly popular while they lasted. The clocks were most commonly sold in jewelry and furniture stores, and I found multiple news stories about burglarized jewelry stores that cited gold horse clocks among the stolen items. One thief even stated outright that a horse clock was his primary reason for breaking into and robbing a jewelry store.2 

As you'll have seen from the pictures above, the vast majority of metal horses on these clocks have their mane on the left side of the neck, their right hind foot placed ahead of the left hind foot, a flat-bottomed hollow tails, and elaborate parade-style Western tack. They are in fact all copies, though often crude, of a magnificent sculpture by renowned equine artist Gladys Brown Edwards referred to as the "Big Horse" by collectors. A photo published in Here's Who in Horses of the Pacific Coast, Horsedom's Hall of Fame in 1947 gives us a date for this piece, and many of the pieces are marked with that same date as well.3


Gladys is probably most famous for her expertise on and paintings of Arabian horses, but she was an immensely talented sculptor as well. She grew up in Los Angeles where she attended art school and eventually went to work for the famous Kellogg Arabian Ranch. She sculpted a variety of breeds besides Arabians including drafters, stock horses, Saddlebreds, and even cattle. A number of her pieces were issued by Dodge, Inc., a trophy company, as bookends, horse show trophies, and art pieces. Dodge began in Chicago, but expanded to Los Angeles and elsewhere in the 1930s. 

Which brings us back to the Big Horse. Collectors generally agree that he was probably inspired by a Morgan stallion (or stallions) that Gladys had sketched and painted in the 1940s. The fancy bridle and elaborate saddle depicted on Gladys' horse resemble those worn by parade horses in southern California at that time. Some have wondered if the Big Horse might be a Saddlebred, and while it's certainly plausible, especially if he was inspired by a parade horse, the sculpture more closely resembles Gladys' Morgan art. Whatever the case, the piece is of interest because it was issued by Dodge standing over a clock as seen below. Note the removable saddle. It most likely dates to 1947 or 1948. 



Copies of the Gladys Brown Edwards piece standing over a clock were advertised by May 1949. (We can identify the copies by the loose, flat-bottomed tail. (Gladys' horses' tails were attached to the left hock as seen above.)

Ad from the Pampa Daily News (Pampa, TX), May 1, 1949

Another horse standing over a clock pops up in June 1949, only this time in plastic. Does this guy look familiar? Though the ad states that the horse below is bronze on a mahogany base, it is unmistakably a plastic Hartland Victor on a plastic Mastercrafters clock base. (And in case there is any doubt, Hartland expert Mike Jackson found a Mastercrafters ad using the very same photo that describes the piece as plastic.)


Without a doubt, the miscellaneous metal horses on these clocks, whether standing over or beside the clocks, were copied from Gladys Brown Edward's sculpture produced by Dodge, Inc. The idea of the horse clocks themselves also seems to have been copied from Dodge. Interestingly, Mastercrafters was conveniently located only a few blocks south of the the Dodge factory in Chicago. Because Mastercrafters was apparently issuing metal horse copies beside clocks as early as October 1949, and given their close proximity to the Dodge factory, it stands to reason that their plastic horse clocks were inspired by Dodge's metal horse clocks as well.

So while it is clear that the metal horse clock figurines are copies of Gladys' Big Horse, we move into the realm of speculation when it comes to what inspired the plastic Victor models made by Hartland for Mastercrafters. The Victor horse pictured in the Hartland ad above stands square as opposed to with one hind foot forward like the Gladys Brown Edwards horse and its multitude of copies, but his mane is on the left side of his neck, his head and tail set are similar, and his tack also appears to be fancy Western parade style. His saddle is even removable, too. The Victor's slightly different stance may be simply a matter of practicality to ensure his legs clear the clock on the narrow plastic base, or it may simply have been for ease in molding (or both). The round clocks used by Mastercrafters for their horse clocks, both over and beside, were a standard size they used regularly for other clocks, and both the Breyers and Hartlands that stand over the clocks had to have their bellies pushed inward a bit after molding to fit over the clock. (Why the base wasn't sculpted a little taller on either side of the clock to fix this issue is unknown.) This extra step (and presumably the regular occurrence of seam splits) may be why Mastercrafters made only a small number of horses over the clock before switching to horses beside the clocks.

With this in mind, I think it's pretty likely that Hartland sculptor Roger Williams created the Victor not as a copy of the Gladys Brown Edwards' horse, but he certainly seems to have used it as a template of sorts. Mastercrafters presumably dictated what sort of horse figurine they wanted, and they may have offered up examples of their own metal horse clocks for him to study. Breyer's Western Horse of course was sculpted by Chris Hess as a nearly identical copy of Hartland's Victor. 

To the best of my knowledge, Hartland never assigned a breed to the Victor nor to the subsequent Champs. Likewise, Breyer never mentioned a breed for the Western Horse until this year when it was described as Saddlebred-like in their 70th anniversary promotional materials. While the Victor and Western Horse are pretty generic sculptures, the idea of them being Saddlebred-like does make some sense if we accept that these models were all ultimately inspired by the parade horses of the 1940s. 

There are a number of pieces to this puzzle, and some of them are lost, so I don't think we can ever say conclusively that the Hartland Victors and Breyer Western Horses were derived from the Gladys Brown Edwards Big Horse piece, but I think the evidence is pretty strong that it inspired a slew of metal copies and the plastic horse clocks were probably inspired by the metal copies if not directly by the original Big Horse. So in a somewhat roundabout fashion, there is a connection. 

I hope you've all enjoyed reading this series of posts about Hartland Victors, Breyer Western Horses, and other similar models, both copies and predecessors, as much as I have enjoyed writing them. I'm not sure what I'll post about next---I've got about a dozen different ideas---but stay tuned for information on how to vote for what you'd like to see. Thanks for reading!


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1. Young, Nancy. Breyer Molds and Models: Horses, Riders, and Animals. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1999), pg. 345.

2. "Police Arrest Man for Stealing From Local Jewelry Store." The Freehold Transcript and The Monmouth Inquirer, September 26, 1957.

3. Martin, Carolyn. Gladys Brown Edwards' Equine Works in Metal. (Galesburg, MI: Published by the author, 2008), pg. 22.