Monday, November 28, 2011

The Importance of Provenance

What is provenance? Anyone who has watched Antiques Roadshow or Time Team or even Pawn Stars has probably heard the show hosts, archaeologists, or appraisers discussing provenance and why it’s important or relevant to a particular piece.

Websters defines provenance as "1: origin, source," or "2: the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature."

That is straightforward enough if you’re dealing with artifacts found in situ at a dig or important works of art. In terms of collectibles though, provenance has also come to include the bits of ephemera associated with a piece, like sales receipts, photos, old ads, stickers, hang tags, original packaging, etc. For model horse collectors, provenance is often important in all of these senses---where a model was found, relevant hobby ownership, and documentation are often key.

Case Study #1: The Curious Incident of the 4-Socked Lady Phases

Lady Phase has been a collectors’ favorite since the mold was first sold in 1976. For the original release, she was sculpted and painted as a portrait of the real Quarter Horse mare owned by country singer Lynn Anderson. As with many Breyers, the sorrel mare with 3 white feet and a pale muzzle varied a bit during her nine years in production. Most Lady Phase models are reddish-chestnut, but some of the earlier pieces have a browner cast, and they occasionally shows up with two socks or four instead of the usual three.

With that in mind, one of the Lady Phases pictured below is a test run and one of them is an interesting variation. Can you tell which?

This is where provenance becomes important. These mares are pretty similar---they both have four socks and both fall within the range of sorrel coloring that is typical for Lady Phase models. Both mares were purchased on eBay. But one mare set me back nearly $400 (and that was more than 10 years ago before the vintage market really took off) and the other cost only $30 (and that was as part of a lot of 8 horses). Why the huge difference? Because the first mare is the original test run for the Lady Phase model from the collection of former Breyer designer and painter William Ciofani, and happily, I have the paper trail to back it up.

I purchased her from a well-known and well-respected hobbyist who dispersed the Ciofani collection, and I have saved my correspondence with the seller. Without it, my test run is just a neat mare with a somewhat unusual paintjob. She has four socks instead of three, and her nose has been fully painted grey instead of being left a mix of chestnut and bare plastic with a hint of darker color over the nostrils like so many Lady Phases. Her paintjob is neater and crisper than most other Lady Phase models as well which does set her apart, but the best defining characteristic, other than the documentation from the seller, is the little half moon of white on her forehead. It almost looks like a scrape rather than an intentional marking, but the real mare did have the same funny little occluded star.

Whether you collect to show or whether you collect just for the enjoyment it brings you, provenance is important. It can break a tie in the show ring, and it also preserves the history of a piece which can make all the difference in the sales ring.

Next time, more test runs and variations!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Collectibility Reference Materials: Chinas

Now that the madness of Breyerfest is over, it's back to blogging! Here is the promised second half of my reference materials post.

The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Hagen-Renaker is a classic insurance guide for Hagen-Renakers. Written by a long time collector, it is a thorough compendium of the pieces made by HR, including the Designers Workshop horses, dogs, cats, and other animals, the Miniatures line, the Little Horribles, the Disney pieces, the early decorative ware (plates, bells, shadow boxes, etc), and more, as well as pieces produced by HR offshoot companies like Freeman-McFarlin, Loza Electrica, Walker-Renaker, Made With Love, etc. Each section details the specifics about various molds, such as production dates, model numbers, colors, and detail variations. The photos are in black and white and the values are somewhat out of date, but it’s a very complete resource in terms of identifying pieces. (There is a newer edition from 2003 that has a section of color photos. The book shown in the post below is from 1999.)

Hagen-Renaker Pottery: Horses and Other Figurines by Nancy Kelly is a must-have for collectors interested in the history of HR and its artists. This book truly tells the story of HR---its beginning, it various factory locations, its spin-off companies, and the biographies of the people involved. Most importantly and interestingly, it devotes a number of chapters to the artists and designers, often including memories of their time with HR in their own words. It’s a terrific read full of fascinating anecdotes, color pictures, and wonderful insight into the people of HR.

Hagen-Renaker Through the Years, also by Nancy Kelly, is a follow-up book to the above with further information about the company, its rivals and copyists, and many more photos of unusual and test run pieces. I don’t have a copy of this book myself, but having had a chance to peruse another collector’s copy, if you enjoyed HR: H&OF, you will love this one, too.

The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Beswick Animals (later editions are titled Beswick Animals: A Charlton Standard Catalogue) is the best guide available to collectors of Beswick horses. It appears to be updated every few years, and like other Charlton guides, it presents a catalog of the figures produced by Beswick with production date information, notes on rare colors, and general estimates of value.

Royal Worcester
Once again, Charlton is my go-to source with their Charlton Standard Guide of Royal Worcester Figurines. A few years ago, they broke the guide into two volumes, one for figures and one for animals, so keep that in mind if you are not buying the most recent edition.

Other Companies
Finding reference books for other companies, especially from non-English speaking counties, can be tricky. Here are a few I’ve found, though I don’t yet own them.

Rosenthal Porcelain Figurines by Ann Banduhn

Nymphenburg Porcelain

Royal Copenhagen Porcelain: Animals and Figurines

Allach Porcelain 1936-1945 (Volume 2 has the animal figurines)

Online Resources
Ed Alcorn has amassed a phenomenal Hagen-Renaker collection, much of which can be seen on his Hagen-Renaker Museum website. The site is a terrific resource for color photos of hundreds of pieces, including images of the items from Maureen Love’s estate sold on ebay several years ago.

Audrey Falconer has a website devoted to Rosenthal figurines, including a page with a number of pictures of the horses:

Kaiser, Hutschenreuther, Meissen, Albany Fine China, Hereford, and Boehm also produce or have produced porcelain horse figurines that are collected by many chinaheads in the hobby. Reference books for some of these companies exist, but they are often geared toward tableware, so buyer beware. I have found that the collectors on the Breakables Yahoo Group are a terrific source of information for some of these companies, especially the more obscure ones:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Collectibility Reference Materials: Plastics

Learning about collectibility can be a daunting prospect, especially to new collectors. The sheer volume of information to digest about mold marks, variations, special runs, stickers, and sundry other minutiae can be overwhelming. Thankfully, a number of terrific resources are available to collectors.

The most important book for Breyer collectors wishing to learn more about Breyer collectibility is Nancy Young's Breyer Molds and Models. Her last edition only covers production from 1950 through 1997, but no other book has the sheer volume of detail. Nancy covers every possible variation of mold, color, and markings, as well as interesting trivia on the origins and inspirations for many pieces. She discusses not only the horses, but also the animals, riders (both hard plastic and pose-able), dealer and collector catalogs, tack, stickers, hang tags, lamps, clocks, night lights, music boxes, and much more. It is a treasure trove of fascinating information and a must-read for any collectibility fan. (The values listed can be ignored as Nancy's intention was essentially to write a Breyer encyclopedia rather than a price guide.) Nancy's book is, alas, out of print, but it can be found on eBay regularly for anywhere from $20-50. Amazon reseller usually want at least $100 or more.

The Breyer Animal Collector's Guide, originally published by Felicia Browell and now updated by Kelly Weimer and Kelly Kesicki, makes an excellent companion guide to Nancy's encyclopedic tome. The guide offers color pictures of almost every Breyer model produced including many oddities, and it offers values based on recent average selling prices. It is updated and reissued every few years with the latest one having been published in 2008. It's a very handy guide for keeping track of the multitude of new models that are released every year, and a new edition is in the works. This book can be purchased directly from the Breyer website.

In this age of smart phones and lap tops, online resources can be handy for on-the-go references as well. Identify Your Breyer and Ponylagoon are the two best sites, with IDYB being the most complete.

Gail Fitch has been researching and writing about Hartlands for nearly 30 years, and her books on the subject reflect her dedication. Hartland Horses and Dogs and Hartland Horsemen are her most recent books, and both cover Hartland pieces from the 1940s until 2000.

HH&D covers the models that were meant to represent various breeds that were never issued with riders. Gail includes the many sizes, from the Regals to the Tinymites and everything in between. She also includes the horses from the various different companies that produced Hartlands, such as Durant, Stevens, and Paola Groeber's Hartland Collectibles. (The book does not include the models produced in the 2000s by Sheryl Leisure.)

HH, as the title suggests, covers the horse and rider sets produced by Hartland, the standing gunfighters, their miscellaneous accessories (hats, guns, etc), as well as the horse molds intended for riders that were occasionally produced without them.

Both books include information about packaging, paper ephemera, stickers, and the like, and both have color photos of nearly everything Hartland has produced, including oddities. They are available for purchase on Gail's website.

Peter Stone Horses
Though the Peter Stone company has only been making models in earnest since 1997, literally thousands of different models have already been issued. The Stone company started out with regular production runs, but these days, they specialize in small editions and one-of-a-kind models, making it difficult to keep track of the many, many different horses that have been produced. At least one book, the Illustrated Value Guide to Peter Stone Horses, has attempted to do just that, but no recent editions have been published. The best way to learn about Stone Horses is via the Stone Horse Reference web site maintained by Barb Spohr.

Next installment...china horses!

Monday, April 18, 2011

What is collectibility and why should we care?

Collectibility as a stand-alone division is a fairly new concept in the hobby. When I first started live showing in 1991, halter classes were only split into OF and RRH (aka customs). Resins were almost unknown, and everything OF was fair game in the OF classes---Breyers, Hartlands, Hagen-Renakers, Beswicks, etc. Most people showed only Breyers, with Hartlands and especially chinas being a rarity. Judging for OFs was a mix of breed standards and rarity, and which was weighted more depended entirely on the judge. For example, I used to win regularly with the Monrovia HRs my grandmother gave me because they were both well-conformed as well as rare (relatively speaking at that time, anyway). Furthermore, it was not unusual to see a horse like a Hartland Regal Saddlebred or a Florentine 5-Gaiter win a gaited class despite anatomical abnormalities or an unrealistic color because they were the rarest models on the table. Halter judging was hugely subjective to say the least.

(The Regal Hartland ASB puts the fun in funky, but she's not quite what most Saddlebred fanciers would consider well-conformed.)

It was not until the late 1990s that judging OFs based on the ABCs (anatomy, biomechanics/breed standard, and conformation) as well as collectibility began to fall out of favor. Customs, resins, and chinas were judged by the ABCs, so following suit in OF plastic halter was a logical continuation of the trend. At NAN in 1998 and 1999, a few token collectibility classes were added to the OF Plastic division to deal with decorators and woodgrains. But it was not until 2001 that OF plastic collectibility was recognized as a necessary division in its own right with OF china collectibility following the next year in 2002. Since then, both divisions have grown exponentially, and most live shows these days offer halter and collectibility divisions split out between Breyers, Stones, and chinas (and occasionally Hartlands, too).

So that said, how is collectibility judged in the hobby and what makes a model collectible?

Some might argue that collectibility can be equated with the biggest price tag or the highest perceived value, and while that is sometimes the case, it just as often isn’t true. I personally usually equate collectibility with rarity. That is my primary criterion when judging. I also factor in age, desirability, and to a lesser degree, condition.

Rarity is pretty much self-explanatory. Models made in limited numbers are hard to find, old or new. The more limited, the better usually. However, because one-of-a-kind models are surprisingly easy to acquire these days, a OOAK model is not necessarily better or more rare (in terms of perception) than a model of which 2 or 3 or even 10 examples are known.

Age is important because while some models were not necessarily made in small numbers, they may have been made 40 or 50 years ago and few have survived to make it into collectors' hands. Newer rare models can often be acquired with a little patience and a willingness to pay the going rate. Older rare models are often much harder to acquire because few are known, and those that are known are often in "black hole" collections. Old and rare usually trumps new and rare.

Desirability can definitely play a role in collectibility as well. Certain molds and models have more cachet than others, like vintage decorators, for example. Some models even obtain a sort of legendary status because of their rarity and interesting history, such as the wedgewood Longhorn or the $13,500 test run palomino Alborozo.

Condition is my last and least important consideration for several reasons. First, most showers these days know to bring only their best models, and those with noticeable scratches or dings usually remain at home, so condition is rarely an issue. Secondly, the chances of condition being the tie-breaker in collectibility are pretty slim. There are almost always more important factors that will sort the entries out (i.e. the three criteria discussed above). And thirdly, many models that show in collectibility are old, some more than 50 years old, and I am more than willing to forgive a few minor condition issues if the piece is clearly superior to what else is on the table. The same can be applicable to newer rare models. Ear tip rubs or hoof rubs are of little importance in the grand scheme of things.

So all that having been said, the point of the collectibility division is to celebrate those unique models that do not fit into the usual breed classes but that are still highly desirable to many collectors. Things like decorators, woodgrains, lamps, clocks, night lights, horse and rider sets, test runs, and OOAKs are typical collectibility entries as well as models with original ephemera such as boxes, hang tags, and stickers.

Becoming a good judge of collectibility requires immersion in the subject and a fascination with the history and minutiae of the companies and models involved. Thankfully, model horse hobbyists have written a number of excellent reference books on the various makes available. I'll make my recommended reading list the subject of my next post.

Friday, April 15, 2011

An intro of sorts

Most people in the model horse community know me as a customizer, something I've been dabbling in since 1997. I mostly paint, but I do the odd bit of sculpting and restoration here and there, and I blog about my studio work (such as it is) when time permits.

So why am I writing a collectibility blog?

The short answer is that I'm a history geek and always have been. My background is Classical history and archaeology, but I'm also fascinated by horse racing history and memorabilia, Native American art and culture, vintage textiles, needlework, etc. I'm a huge Antiques Roadshow fan, and one of my favorite things to do is "go junking." I think my passion for model horse history and collectibility is therefore a fairly natural extension of these interests.

Like many hobbyists, my collection began with Breyers in the early 1980s. Subscriptions to Just About Horses, The Hobby Horse News, and several other publications helped me learn a great deal about the hobby and its history. And through the classifieds in JAH, I became acquainted with other collectors in my area who taught me a lot about vintage Breyers. My collection has branched out since then to include Hartlands, Stones, OF and CMG chinas, customs, and resins, but my first love is still vintage Breyers.

It's been fascinating to me to see how the hobby has changed in the last 10 to 15 years with widespread access to the internet. Collectors these days can jump right into the hobby and specialize instantly with Stones or resins or performance set-ups, and I'm frequently surprised by hobby history questions that crop up on Blab (and elsewhere). Queries about how to identify chalkies, the differences between Old Mold and New Mold PAMs, and the strange similarities between certain Hagen-Renakers and Breyers are common, and I've always taken the answers for granted because when I got into the hobby, most everyone collected Breyers or HRs and was fairly well-versed in their respective histories, even the customizers. But these days, with the aforementioned ability to instantly specialize, a Stone collector might not realize that Peter Stone actually worked for Breyer for decades before starting his own company, and resin collectors may not be aware that the Rio Rondo QH1 really kicked off the resin trend in the early 1990s.

So with this blog, I plan to focus on the collectibility aspect of a variety of manufacturers and makes, collectibility in the show ring, and include a healthy dose of hobby history to pass along some of the fun information I've learned over the years as well. I think the first topic will be about collectibility and what makes something collectible, a subject I hope to get a start on writing this weekend.