Thursday, March 16, 2023

Souvenirs and Bygones: Engraved Model Horses and So Many Stickers!

As of April of this year, I will have been writing this blog for 12 years (which is kind of hard to believe)! I thoroughly enjoy writing about the hobby and model horse manufacturer history, and I have absolutely no intention of stopping. I am also planning to reboot my Model Horse History website and start adding more content this summer. Building websites and writing posts for this blog however take a great deal of time, effort, and research, and many of the historical archives and databases (not to mention webhosting) I utilize are not free. With that in mind, I decided to set-up a Kofi page. Both the MHH page and this blog will always be free to everyone to read, but donations or monthly support are very welcome. Thank you!

* * * * * 

Now, back to blogging!

Most travelers, myself included, enjoy bringing home souvenirs from trips, whether photos or tchotchkes or pretty rocks (especially pretty rocks). Souvenirs have been popular for centuries (millennia even), and they continue to remain popular today. Just about anything you can imagine is available as a souvenir---I personally like to buy fridge magnets depicting the new places I visit. 

Travel today is relatively easy and convenient by air or by car (and to a lesser degree by train), but that hasn't always been the case. The vast interstate highway system that crisscrosses the United States really only began to take shape in the 1920s, and while car travel became more accessible, in the decades leading up to World War II, most vacationers tended to be well-to-do.

The end of World War II triggered an era of growth and prosperity in the United States, and further work on the interstate highway system in the 1950s encouraged more middle class families to get out and explore the country. Roadside attractions with their requisite souvenirs, especially near tourist destinations, were already well-established. Interestingly, some of the souvenirs on offer included model horses, everything from metal models to plastic to ceramic. Given the popularity of Westerns at the time, this was a smart choice by retailers.

Most of the models horse souvenirs I'm aware of date to the 1950s or 1960s although some of the metal ones probably date to the late 1940s. Enterprising entrepreneurs personalized items to their locale by engraving them, adding stickers, and other means. These additions are all custom, aftermarket  embellishments. They were not added by the manufacturers (i.e. Breyer, Hartland, etc) and are therefore not OF. But that said, these souvenir models are still fun to collect!

A variety of Breyers and Hartlands have been found with engraved city names and dates on them. A few are even personalized with their owner's name. Most of the ones I've seen are marked New York or New York City, but I've also seen some marked Niagara Falls, Seattle, and San Francisco. The majority have dates from the 1950s, but a few have dates from the early 1960s. The models were engraved by retailers at the request of their customers. On light-colored models, the engraved area was rubbed with something dark (perhaps ink?) to make the lettering standout. On darker models, the engraving stood out against the existing paint and needed no further embellishments. Collectors who received engraved models as children related visiting certain stores in New York or the World's Fair in Seattle where their parents' purchased the models for them. What fun memories!

A Hartland Victor engraved "San Francisco 1949" (Photo by
Stormfront Stables/2004)

A Shetland from the early 1960s (Photo by Lois F)

Not just horses were engraved! (Photo by Lois F)

 Some horses made of materials that could not be etched were inscribed with ink instead.

A ceramic souvenir horse from New Orleans (Photo from eBay)

A funny little metal horse from the Farmers' Market in
Hollywood, California (Photo from eBay)

Many other souvenir models were decorated with stickers listing the location where they were purchased. The stickers varied in color and design, but the majority seem to be gold or yellow in the shape of a fluttering ribbon. As expected, many plastic horses---Breyers, Hartlands, and knock offs---bear these stickers.

An early Western Horse (circa 1951-1952) with a
Cleveland, Ohio, souvenir sticker (Photo by Lois F)

(Photo by Lois F)

A yellow ribbon with red ends is the most commonly seen style. They reference the names of towns, tourist attractions, stores, and even national parks.

A Hong Kong copy of the Breyer Western Prancer with a
souvenir sticker for Grant's Farm (Photo from eBay)


(Photo from eBay)

These stickers show up on ceramic models as well, including Hagen-Renakers, both horses and animals. Here is my sister's Monrovia-era King Cortez with a souvenir sticker from the Libertyville Gifts and Lamps store in the Chicago suburbs.

(Photo by Sarah Wellman)

Hagen-Renaker frog with HR sticker on his back...

And a souvenir sticker from Colorado
Springs, CO, on the bottom!

And here's a bone china pair from Japan with a Detroit, Michigan, souvenir sticker.

(Photo from eBay)

 Metal horses also had fun stickers...

A souvenir of Delta, Colorado (Photo from eBay)

Another Colorado souvenir (Photo from eBay)

Because the engraving and stickers on these models are after market and not OF, I personally don't tend to seek them out for my collection unless I want the base model regardless of the souvenir add-ons. For example, I most definitely wanted the HR frog pictured above, and the Colorado sticker was a fun bonus, especially since it was on the underside of the piece. (I am crazy about Colorado and love to visit whenever I can.)

I did buy this Western Horse however, even though I already had several black pinto examples in my collection, because the souvenir sticker was for a tiny town just down the Mississippi River from where I spent most of my childhood. It's a reminder of home.

Souvenir of Homer, Minnesota

When it comes to showing, the engraved pieces would definitely be considered customized and could not be shown as OFs. The models with stickers, on the other hand, could be shown, in my opinion, provided both the entrant and judge understand that the sticker should be ignored when judging.

While these pieces are no longer entirely OF, they are still very collectible and fun. More than a few collectors enjoy tracking them down as mementos of fondly remembered places they have visited or just for the sheer variety of locations represented. Do any of my readers collect souvenir models? Do you have a favorite piece? Please feel free to leave a comment or a story. And thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Remembering Linda Walter

I did not expect to start off the new year blogging about another sad loss to the model horse hobby community, but alas, we have lost Linda Walter. I didn't know Linda well, but I had known of her almost as soon as I became aware of the hobby in the late 1980s. Linda was not only a founding member of the hobby---she was a talented artist, a dedicated publisher, an amazing font of knowledge, and a truly kind and good-humored person. I know she'd have had something funny and self-deprecating to say if she knew how many of us looked up to her as an icon of the hobby.

Photo of Linda from an article in her local paper
(Photo by Robbyn Brooks)

Linda became active in the nascent model horse hobby in the mid 1960s, and along with Marney Walerius and others, is considered one of the hobby's founding members. Like most early hobbyists, Linda was an avid photoshower, and in 1969, she started her own newsletter, the Model Horse Showers Journal. It featured ads for photoshows, sales lists, stallion ads for pedigree assignment, hobby news, and so much more. Linda drew all of the illustrations and produced all of the copies herself, first using a type writer and carbon paper and later a mimeograph. (Photocopiers were not yet widely available.) The MHSJ is one of the most important and influential early hobby publications, and by the time Linda stopped publishing it in 1980, she had a circulation of more than 700 subscribers.

One of Linda's hand-illustrated covers

Linda hard at work at her typewriter
(from the Spring 1978 issue of Just
About Horses)

The first 3 decades of the hobby largely revolved around communication through the mail. Many hobbyists met via classifieds ads in real and model horse publications and became pen pals. Others got to know each other through newsletters and photoshows. For a time, Breyer directed many of the questions they received about the hobby to Linda. She was even featured in their own publication, Just About Horses, in Spring 1978.

Linda on the cover of the
Spring 1978 issue of Just
About Horses

So it's no surprise that when I had questions about Hagen-Renakers that my local hobby friends couldn't answer in the early 1990s, I was told to contact Linda. It was not unusual to cold-call other collectors then, and with some encouragement from my parents, I gave Linda a call. She very sweetly chatted with me and explained that even though my HR Morgans looked sort of pinkish-grey, the color really was called "brown" by collectors. I don't remember what all we talked about besides HRs, but she was kind and enthusiastic and put my nervous teenage self at ease. She followed up the call with a letter which my mom happily saved. I'm pretty sure it has some of Linda's equine doodles on it.

I finally met Linda in person some 20 years later at BreyerFest. She brought loads of clinky minis to sell from her room at the CHIN, and I'm so glad I had the chance to buy a few and chat with her. She also graciously gave me permission to scan old copies of the MHSJ and post them on my Model Horse History website for the hobby at large to enjoy.

Linda's famous Beswick Appaloosa, Alconbury Hill
(Photo by Robbyn Brooks)

I am going to miss Linda's indomitable good cheer and clever puns at BreyerFest this July. It was always a treat to talk with her, and I wish I'd had more time to ask her about her involvement in the hobby in the early days. She was a treasure, and she will be much missed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Bleach Damage in Breyers

In the last few years, I've been seeing more and more bleach-damaged models popping up on eBay and social media, and I thought it was a worthwhile subject to tackle here since many hobbyists are confused by their appearance. A few unscrupulous sellers have even tried to pass these models off as rare tests or woodgrains because of the striping pattern caused by the bleach damage as seen on the Running Mare below.

Bleach damaged alabaster Running Mare (Photo from eBay)

But why on earth would anyone use bleach on a Breyer? Most hobbyists these days know that putting a yellow model in a sunny window is the best and safest way to whiten it up. In the past however, particularly in the '80s and '90s, many hobbyists soaked their yellow models in a mixture of bleach and water or even bleach and vinegar to brighten them up. (Obligatory PSA: For the love of all that is holy and/or unholy, DO NOT do this. Not only will it ruin your models, the latter mixture creates potentially deadly chlorine gas.) While bleaching models was effective in the short term, many models that were whitened in this fashion began to show damage from the process years later.

This delayed damage takes the form of brown discoloration and long parallel cracks in the top layer of plastic. The cracks usually look like fine, close-set striations, often with a bit of a raised texture. Sometimes these cracks open and the plastic begins to peel back. Some models are discolored and have striations all over from being completely submerged, and some are only partially damaged, indicating they were not bleached on both sides (or at least not for equal amounts of time).

Here is the other side of the Running Mare pictured above. While this side has developed some brown discoloration from bleach damage, it must not have been left floating in the bleach solution as long as the other side.

(Photo from eBay)

(Photo from eBay)

The mostly undamaged white stripe down the belly, back, and front of the neck shows the areas of the model that were exposed to the bleach the least while floating in the solution. The close up below gives a better view of the weird striations that are a tell-tale sign of bleach damage. They are absolutely not factory painted stripes.

(Photo from eBay)
Bleaching models to whiten them was a delicate game of timing. Collectors who left their models in too long would find the paint stripped from them. In fact, customizers often used bleach baths to deliberately strip OF paint off of models, especially for the creation of faux-OF paint jobs. Unfortunately, washing the model after subjecting it to bleach was not enough to prevent long-term damage. It was already done even if it wasn't apparent right away.

Because the bleach solution also couldn't be effectively rinsed and drained out of the inside of a model through the tiny airholes in the nostril or corner of the mouth, most bleached models, no matter how long they were subjected to the treatment, retained some amount of the damaging liquid inside. The model below was stripped to be repainted as a faux-woodgrain. The plastic is literally crumbling in strips.
Extensive bleach damage (Photo courtesy of Lucy Kusluch)

In addition to this weird peeling, some bleached models develop small holes in places where the plastic is thin. These are sometimes present when no other damage is yet apparent. In some cases, especially with models produced in the last 10-15 years which are usually made of softer plastic, bleaching can cause the model to disintegrate into pieces. Bleached models may take years to show the damage, but eventually, they will start to discolor and split or worse.

I hope this post has been helpful!

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Hagen-Renaker Black Bisque Imposters

The history of model horse manufacturers is full of copies, most of them unauthorized. Many are obvious knock-offs made quickly and cheaply. Very often, they are easy to spot because of crude sculpting, cheap materials, or poor painting or glazing. But some fakes are surprisingly cunning, so much so that they have confused collectors and even fooled company employees. One group of clever look-alikes has intrigued me for years.

Can you spot the imposters?

First, some backstory to set the scene. During World War II, material shortages and rationing meant that foreign imports---from dishes to toys to tchotchkes---fell to almost nothing in the United States, and many Americans sought to fill the void by opening their own cottage industries. In southern California, numerous small pottery companies sprang up during and right after the war. Hagen-Renaker was one of the most successful of these potteries, and they enjoyed booming sales of their animal figurines well into the 1950s. By the late 1950s, however, their sales were beginning to suffer because of a huge influx of cheap imitation imports from Japan.

Hagen-Renaker did their best to stay afloat by offering innovative new wares that catered to the mid-century modern aesthetic of the time, including the Black Bisque line made in Spring 1959 only. The Black Bisque figurines were a strange mish-mash of sculptural styles---realistic, elegantly stylized, and even cartoony. As the name suggests, they were usually finished with a soft, matte black earthenware underglaze (over white slip) mimicking the look of bisque. 

Part of my sister Sarah's HR Black Bisque collection

The Hagen-Renaker mold book (page 70 if you follow the link) lists 29 pieces for the line which features sculptures from almost all of HR's major artists---Maureen Love, Tom Masterson, Will Climes, Nell Bortells, and Helen Perin Farnlund. Several of the items listed never made it beyond the test molding phase however.

While the vast majority of Black Bisque pieces are matte, a handful have a satin finish.

Matte (left) and satin (right) Pick Axe Birds

Most of them were decorated with incised white details, or turquoise pebble glazing, or both.

Incised white detail on the Black Bisque Quail 

Only turquoise pebble glaze on the Bull

Incised white lines and turquoise pebble glaze on the Dodo

The pebble glaze on most Black Bisque pieces is usually turquoise, but some are more green-toned. A few are so dark that they have been described as "pine" green.

Examples of turquoise and medium green

Pine green (it's actually even darker in person)

In addition to the pieces with turquoise (or green) pebble glaze, several Black Bisque pieces with white pebble glaze are known to collectors, too. A Snail and a few other verified Hagen-Renaker pieces came from the archives sale after John Renaker died. (Many thanks to Kristina Lucas Francis for this info!) But a handful of other white pebble glaze mystery pieces have been found as well. For a number of years, they have been acknowledged as Hagen-Renaker pieces based on the recollections of former Hagen-Renaker employees and their striking similarity to known HR pieces. Because of this, they have been included in several Hagen-Renaker reference guides.

At first glance, these pieces appear to fit right in to the HR Black Bisque aesthetic, but they do differ in a few ways, chief among them being their size. As you can see from the picture below, they're quite a bit larger than most HR Black Bisque pieces. That said, while most Black Bisque pieces are around the same size, there are larger outliers like the nodder-headed Dachshund (about 9" long) and an unreleased Rooster.

Stylistically, the sculpting is pretty spot on. The squirrel, for example, looks markedly similar to the skunk sculpted by Maureen Love. They're both an intriguing blend of pointed feet and noses with rounded backs and plumy tails. 

Even the cat fits right in between the medium and small flat-faced cats.

The problem with the white pebble glaze pieces however is that they can't be accounted for in the mold book nor on the Spring 1959 order form. The mold book lists three flat-faced cats---small, medium, and large---but four flat-faced cat molds are known to collectors. Three are typical Hagen-Renaker pieces all posed the same way with turquoise pebble glaze and similar white line patterns on their chests. They look very much alike other than their staggered heights. The fourth is the whited pebble glaze cat which not only faces in the opposite direction as the other cats but also has a tail, something the other three lack. The large cat, despite being listed on the 1959 order form apparently never went into regular production, and only two molded examples are known (one in typical black bisque coloration and the other a custom glazed ginger). (Hagen-Renaker Collector's Club members can see them both on the HRCC Field Guide under the Black Bisque section.)

Similarly, only one pelican is listed in the mold book, but two molds are known. And there is no mention of the squirrel anywhere at all. 

In recent years, there has been growing doubt amongst Black Bisque fans, myself included, that the mystery mold white pebble glaze pieces were actually Hagen-Renakers. When I finally acquired the white pebble glaze cat, I was immediately suspicious that it was indeed an excellent copycat (pun intended) rather than an unlisted member of the Black Bisque line for several reasons. The pebble glaze itself is different in texture and style than what is usually seen on Hagen-Renakers---it is rounder and more raised, like little droplets. The underside of the piece however was the real giveaway. Note how the bottom of the Hagen-Renaker piece on the left is flat while the base of the white pebble glaze piece is recessed with a rim around the edge.

All of my "sitting" HR Black Bisque pieces are consistent with flat bottoms while all three of the white pieces have recessed undersides. (Two of the white pieces are white on the bottom and one is black, but all three are glazed matte black over white slip, just like Hagen-Renakers.)

Another clue that made me suspicious was the quality---or rather, slight lack there of---of the decorative line designs on the white pebble glaze pieces. On HR pieces, these designs are usually rendered cleanly, precisely, and elegantly.

On the white pieces, the designs are a bit crudely rendered and the lines are a little wobbly.

The conclusive proof came earlier this year when a white pebble glaze cat turned up on eBay with an original sticker still on the bottom. Voila! Kelvin Exclusives (made in Japan) is the culprit behind these clever copies! The design of this sticker matches an edge fragment of a sticker on the bottom of my white pelican.

When I saw the sticker, I had a nagging feeling that the name was familiar for some reason. And then it dawned on me that I owned another Kelvin copy of a Hagen-Renaker piece, this cute squirrel clearly inspired by Robyn Sikking's squirrel family. Even the name and sticker design are copied from Hagen-Renaker. This fellow is called "Lotta Chatter," riffing on the Hagen-Renaker family of Mr. and Mrs. Chatter.


Robyn Sikking was said to have been one of the most copied artists in California, so it's not surprising that knock offs of her popular figurines exist. It is however a little perplexing that a short-lived line like Hagen-Renaker's Black Bisque collection would have been available long enough to not only be noticed but also copied. I have seen a few other faux Black Bisque pieces over the years including a horse, a zebra, and a bull. Sadly, I don't have pictures I can share, but the pieces mimicked Maureen Love's minimalist style surprisingly well. All have white pebble glaze and are about the same size as the real HR examples. I haven't had a chance to investigate Kelvin Exclusives yet, but I would guess those other faux pieces are undoubtedly Kelvin items as well. They certainly appear to match the three pieces I have.

So all that said, while we now know the white pebble glaze black bisque pieces are not Hagen-Renakers, they are still fairly popular with fans of the real Black Bisque pieces. They are charming and display nicely with their pottery cousins. Like many of their real counterparts, the white pebble glaze pieces seem to be somewhat hard to find. I have seen a few examples of each, probably a few more of the cats than the pelican or squirrel, and only one or two of the horse, zebra, and bull. Their seeming scarcity may be real---perhaps the copies sold poorly or they were only available for a short time? Or they may simply be flying under the radar unidentified, especially if their stickers have been removed. Whatever the case, I'm glad to have these interesting imposters in my collection, and I'm glad to finally know who made them.



Many, many thanks to author and collector Nancy Kelly for hosting a scan of the Hagen-Renaker mold book on her website and to for hosting scans of decades worth of Hagen-Renaker order forms. Both sites are a treasure trove of information! And many thanks also to Kristina Lucas Francis, a fellow Black Bisque fan, for her insight on the glazes used and amazing HR recall!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Turning back the clock on the Breyer Western Pony

One of the perks of working for my alma mater, the University of Chicago, is access to its extensive library collection of more than 12 million volumes. Through it, I also have access to a variety of affiliate libraries in the area with interesting holdings of their own. Last May, I was finally able to visit one of these libraries to look through their issues of Toys and Novelties, a Chicago-based toy industry publication. My primary interest was in volumes from the mid-1940s through the end of the 1950s, seeking new information on the early days of Hartland, Breyer, and some of the companies that copied them.

Nearly 15 years of toy publications. I looked at
every single page.

Much of what I found has already been documented by earlier researchers, but I did turn up some fun new information that I don't think has been published yet. None of it is exactly earth-shattering, but it is the kind of minutiae that hobby history nerds like me live for.

First, some background---the earliest years of Breyer's history as a model horse manufacturer at the beginning of the 1950s are fairly murky. Very little in the way of early documentation has come to light, so collectors have made educated guesses based on the ads, catalogs, and price lists that do exist. We know the broad strokes, that Breyer started with the Western Horse in 1950 after taking over a contract with Mastercrafters Clock and Radio Company formerly held by Hartland. And we know that within a few years, they had added the Boxer, Western Pony, Fury Prancer, Lassie, Brahma Bull, and the Walking Hereford Bull to their line up along with a variety of riders. The earliest known catalog probably dates to 1954, but earlier company-issued catalogs, if they ever existed, have yet to come to light. We therefore have to rely on other sources of information such as toy trade publications like the aforementioned Toys and Novelties for glimpses into Breyer's beginnings.

I started with 1948 and worked my forward page by page over the course of several 8 hour days. The number of Hartland ads in the 1950s in Toys and Novelties far outstripped those by Breyer, but what Breyer submitted was at least colorful and visually appealing. Most issues featured a "New Toys on Parade" section which generally promoted products that had been on the market for a few months and were selling well. The Hartland Victor (free-standing) was listed in the new toys column in 1950, and the Breyer Western Horse (also free-standing) was likewise endorsed in the same column in 1951. (We know both models were available a year earlier respectively, but that has already been covered in my Western Horse Shaped Objects blog series.) I found this nice Western Horse advertisement in a 1952 issue (this is not a new discovery for collectors; it's just pretty). The back of the page features an ad for Breyer's Money Manager bank.

While it seems logical that Breyer's second model would be the Western Pony, it may in fact have been the Boxer which was featured in the "New Toys on Parade" column in February 1953.

The March 1953 issue is where things begin to get interesting. We know from Breyer historian Nancy Young's research that the earliest ad for a Western Pony she was aware of dated from the September 1953 issue of Western Horseman magazine (as per her published books in the late 1990s). According to Hartland expert Mike Jackson who collaborated with Nancy in the early 2000s, she had by that point come to believe that the Breyer Western Pony pre-dated the Hartland Small Champ, and likely dated to early 1953 if not earlier. The article below puts paid to that theory. Or rather, the photo does!

The article is about toy sales reps Walter and Arthur Krenzien, a father and son team who started their business in downtown Chicago in about 1930. They were one of the biggest promoters for Breyer in the early 1950s, and their ads featuring Breyer models can be found in a variety of 1950s Toys and Novelties issues. This particular issue from March 1953 mentions Breyers only in passing as one of many lines promoted by the Krenziens. It's the photo combined with the date of the magazine issue that knocked my socks off.

Check out the table on the left!

A close up---left to right: Boxer, alabaster WH & WP,
black WH & WP, and palomino WH & WP

To the best of my knowledge, this is the earliest proof we have of the existence of the Western Pony and the earliest date known for the black with gold trim colorway for the Western Horse and Pony. Because magazines are stocked and mailed in advance of their issue date, and because a certain amount of time is needed to write articles, lay out the articles, photos, and ads, and get the whole thing printed, the March 1953 issue of Toys and Novelties was very likely out by February of that year, presumably having gone to print at least the month before. Allowing time for writing and layout, it seems very likely that the actual photo used for the issue may have been taken some time in late 1952. Even if the Western Pony (and the black colorway for the Western Horse and Pony) were not yet available for sale in March 1953, we at least know the mold was functional and very likely in use by late 1952. It's entirely possible the Ponies (and the Boxer) were even sold for Christmas 1952.

I did not find an official "News Toys on Parade" release for the Western Pony as I did for the Western Horse and and Boxer, but I did find later ads for the Western Pony with various riders. It's possible the  Western Pony may predate the Boxer but simply wasn't advertised, or the two models may have been developed simultaneously. Given that Breyer was just getting started with model horses (and dogs), they may not have felt the need to promote every new release, or perhaps the Western Pony product announcement simply hasn't come to light yet. We may never know for sure, but it's fun to keep looking.

By 1954, Hartland was advertising their Champ models with cowboys and cowgirls, and by 1955, both Hartland and Breyer were in full swing offering various horse and rider sets. Nancy Young suspected that the Breyer riders probably predated all of the Hartland ones, but Hartland certainly beat them to the punch acquiring licensing rights for popular cowboy characters. But that is the subject for another blog post.

Just for fun, here are some other early Breyer ads I found. The March 1955 issue of Toys and Novelties featured an ad from Breyer wishing a happy business anniversary to the Krenziens.

The May issue from the same year featured the Indian brave and a pair of Cowboys or Lucky Rangers.

I am still working my way through other toy publications, and if I find anything fun, I'll be sure to update this post. Thanks for reading!