Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Featurette: Hartland grail achieved!

My dad travels a lot for work, and about 20 years ago, he came home from a trip with a special find. While on the road, he stopped for lunch and then decided to look through a nearby antique mall. When he arrived at the house later that evening, he came up the front steps grinning and said he'd found "a decorator." And he was right. It wasn't a Breyer decorator, but it was a gold Hartland 9" Mustang which was just as exciting. We didn't know much about it at the time, but eventually we learned that it had been made as a special run for a brewery. It was meant to be affixed to a sign that would have been on display in a bar.

For most of the intervening years since then, I focused mostly on collecting Breyers, but I happily bought old Hartlands when I could find them at reasonable prices. I've always liked their stylized look, especially the horses made in the 1960s, and for the last few years, I've been actively filling in gaps in my collection of horses from that era. I've also been filling in the gaps in my knowledge about Hartlands.

So, in my post about Hartland woodcuts earlier this summer, I mentioned the elusive gold woodcut 9" Mustang and included a photo of a partial set I found on Google.  According to Gail Fitch's book Hartland Horses and Dogs, the gold Mustang was issued as a special run in the late 1960s for the Pittsburgh Brewing Company in Pittsburgh, PA, who distributed Mustang Malt Liquor. No one knows how many were made or even exactly when they were made, but the horses are found often enough off the beer sign that I suspect there are a reasonable number to be had. Finding models still on the beer sign and with the original beverage container is however much more unusual. I see horses with the bases only very occasionally and complete sets hardly ever. So that said, I was really pleased to be able to add this set to my Hartland collection.

Unlike the other Hartland woodcuts which were molded in colored plastic, this model is molded in white plastic and was then painted gold. The base on this example is lettered on both sides, but some are only lettered on one side. I believe the piece was meant to come with the empty glass bottle as shown here, but I have seen at least one with an aluminum can instead. I'm not sure if it came both ways or if the can was a replacement for a presumably broken or lost bottle. Either way, it's a fun bit of breweriana and Hartland history.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Shedding a little light on Breyer Western Horse Lamps

(My apologies for the terrible pun. I couldn't resist.)

Most collectors are familiar with the "Ranchcraft" line of Breyer woodgrain lamps sold by Dunning Industries in the 1960s and 1970s. They featured models such as the Running Mare and Foal, the Fighting Stallion, the Family Arab Foal, and even a few animals like the Longhorn Steer and the Brahma Bull. These woodgrain models were mounted on wooden bases and the lamps sported rustic burlap shades.A few non-woodgrain models graced these lamps, too, like the grey Elephant and Donkey and the Bay Rearing Stallion.

A typical Dunning Lamp

Less common, however, are the Western Horse lamps. Like the Western Horse clocks, they date to the 1950s, the earliest part of Breyer's model horse history. The Western Horse lamps, as with the clocks, have turned up in both alabaster and palomino. In my experience, the alabasters usually come on black-painted metal bases while the palominos are typically seen on brown-painted bases. A few green-painted bases have been found, too. That said, they are fairly scarce, and I've seen only a handful of these neat old lamps.

An alabaster Western Horse on a black base 
(The shade is 1950s vintage but not original to the piece.)

A palomino Western Horse on a brown base 
(I believe this shade is original to the piece
as I have seen more just like it with other
scroll base lamps.)

My mom, sister, and I recently acquired the palomino lamp pictured above, and we were pleased to discover a manufacturer's sticker on the bottom of the base. As far as I know, no other examples are known with any sort of identifying marks (although if you happen to have one, I'd love to know!), so we were pretty excited to finally have a maker's name to add to our provenance files.

I have not yet been able to track down much information about the Marks Manufacturing Company, but as I work in a top-notch research library, that of my alma mater, the University of Chicago, I have access to some handy sources like a 1956 Chicago phone book. I was able to track down the address of Marks, and  like the Mastercrafter Clock Company, it was a near neighbor of the Breyer factory. All three were located just west of downtown Chicago. Mastercrafters was about one mile due east of Breyer, and Marks was a bit northeast, about 2 miles away.

The use of the zone number (22) rather than a zip code most likely dates this piece to the 1950s (or possibly the very early 1960s at the latest). Based on pictures I've found of other (non-horse) Marks made lamps, the company appears to have been in business as early as the 1930s if not earlier. I have not yet been able to determine if it was related to the well-known Clayton Mark and Company (of Evanston, IL) and Mark (no "s") Manufacturing Company of Indiana. The latter two companies specialized in steel manufacturing of pipes and well equipment and were founded by Clayton Mark (of Marktown fame) and his sons. It's not a huge stretch to think that someone in the family might have opted for the decorative side of metal work, but it could also be a complete coincidence.

I plan to do more digging to track down the history of Marks. I'm very curious to know how long the company was in business after their collaboration with Breyer and whether or not it was related to one of Clayton Mark's companies. I'll be sure to blog about anything I find!

Next time, some news on those chinas we all Love!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Welcome, BreyerFest readers!

Welcome to the Model Horse Collectibility blog! If you saw my flyers at the CHIN, thank you for surfing on over to check out the blog! Here are some quick links to some of the most popular posts:

What is collectibility?

Collectibility reference materials

The importance of provenance

Vinegar syndrome: all about shrinkies and oozies

Wooden horses, woodgrains, and woodcuts series:

Future topics will include:
* The resin revolution
* Stickers
* Original finish vs after market
* Epherema and values
* More real horse and portrait model profiles

If you'd like to suggest a topic, please feel free to leave a comment!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

(Almost) Friday Featurette: Wooden Horses Part 3

It's not quite Friday, but with BreyerFest rapidly approaching, I thought I'd make another post in the series about wooden horses and wooden wannabes.

In the 1960s, Breyer was not the only company producing plastic model horses that were finished in a faux-wood style. Hartland Plastics of Hartland, Wisconsin, a town about 25 miles west of Milwaukee, introduced a line of models called "woodcuts" beginning in 1964.These models differed from Breyer's faux-wood models in that they were sculpted to look as though were whittled or carved from wood rather than just painted to look that way.

The Hartland woodcut look was achieved in three different ways. Some models have an angular surface meant to look like carving marks:
Walnut 9" TWH

Some are both carved and marked with incised graining (in horizontal bands in this case):
Ebony 7" Saddlebred Stallion

Carved (subtly) and grained (in swirls):
Cherry 9" Mustang

Only one mold shows graining but not carving:
Test Run Walnut 9" Five-Gaited Saddlebred (more on this one below)

The woodcut molds are unique molds separate from the corresponding smooth body versions. They were sculpted by Roger Williams, and the carving and/or graining was added by Alvar B├Ąckstrand. The models came came in three shades: walnut (tan), cherry (dark reddish-brown), and ebony (black). They were usually cast in tan, reddish-brown, and blue-grey or black plastic respectively and had a wash of darker shading rubbed over the surface to highlight the woodgraining look. Some models, especially the later walnut pieces, have very little of the contrasting color applied.

 Walnut, Cherry, and Ebony TWHs

Hartland issued the following molds as woodcuts in the mid-1960s: 9" Mustang (subtly carved and grained), 9" Tennessee Walking Horse (two mane variations, both carved), 9" Three Gaited Saddlebred (carved), 7" Saddlebred Family (carved and grained), 7" Thoroughbred Mare and Foal (carved and grained), and the 6" Arab Stallion (carved). All of these models were available in all three woodcut colors. The ebony and cherry colors were only issued between 1964-1966 whereas the walnut models were almost all available for 3 or 4 years in the mid- to late-1960s, and the 9" Mustang and Three Gaiter were also re-released in walnut from 1970-1973 when Durant took over the company.

Despite relatively short productions runs, the 9" models are all fairly common, the Mustang most of all. The 9" models bring around $20-40 depending on color and mold with the Mustangs tending more toward the $5-10 range because they are so easily found. The 7" and 6" models are considerably more scarce, having been limited in production in all colors to only 1 or 2 years. The Thoroughbred Mare and Foal for example were issued in 1965 only, making them the rarest of the bunch. The family sets often sell for around $100.

In the late 1960s, Hartland issued the woodcut Mustang in gold. Most were mounted on promotional Mustang Malt Beer signs to be displayed in bars.

Hartland has passed through several owners and has therefore been in and out of business a number of times since the 1960s. Under two new incarnations, those headed by Paola Groeber from 1987-1990 and Sheryl Leisure from 2000-2007, the 9" Mustang and TWH woodcut molds were issued in several realistic horse colors. The woodcut models painted and sold by Paola were all test runs as far as I know. The models sold by Sheryl were a mix of small regular runs and test runs. For more information on these models, I highly recommend Hartland Horses and Dogs and Hartland Horses: New Model Horses Since 2000 by Gail Fitch, both of which are available directly from the author.

An unpainted 9" woodcut TWH molded in swirled black and grey plastic
Less than 10 were sold by Sheryl Leisure in August 2002

The rarest woodcut, to the best of my knowledge, is a one-of-a-kind test run 9" Five-Gaited Saddlebred. She came from the collection of a former Hartland employee and probably dates to the mid-1960s. She was sold mounted on a base as shown and is grained only, not carved. My best guess is that she was possibly a one-off prototype that was never put into put into production, perhaps because she was too similar to the 9" Three Gaiters. 

Some woodcut Hartlands were issued with gold stickers, a factor that can make an ordinary model extraordinary if found with the sticker still in place. I have seen two different styles---a round sticker and a rectangular sticker. Both indicate the models have a "hand-rubbed, wood carved finish."

Ebony 9" Mustangs with two sticker variations 
(The rectangular sticker on the left is partially missing.)
Finding Hartlands, especially woodcuts, in their original packaging is also unusual and adds significantly to their value. 
Ebony 9" Mustang with original box and catalog
If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more about Hartlands, Gail Fitch's books are the best source of information. I am still educating myself about Hartlands, and her books have been hugely helpful in learning about the company and the models produced under its various owners. Because they are highly stylized, Hartlands aren't to everyone's taste, but I find them charming, and I hope more hobbyists will take an interest in them.

The last installment featuring Peter Stone woodgrains will be posted after BreyerFest. Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Featurette: Wooden Horses Part 2

As I mentioned in last Friday's blog post, the Breyer Racehorse bears a striking resemblance to the earlier "Whirlaway" model produced by Grand Wood Carving, a company that was located mere blocks from the Breyer factory near downtown Chicago in the 1950s. The resemblance is in fact too great to be a coincidence. The Breyer Racehorse was without a doubt copied from the GWC piece. (A number of early Breyer models were copies of pieces by other companies---the Western Horse (Hartland Champ), the Proud Arab Mare and Foal and Family Arab Stallion (Hagen-Renaker's Large Zara, Zilla, and Amir), the Large Poodle (Rosenthal), the Walking Hereford and Boxer (Boehm), etc---but that will be a subject for later post.)

GWC "Whirlaway" on the left, Breyer Woodgrain Racehorse on the right

The real horse Whirlaway won the Triple Crown for Calumet Farm in 1941, so we know the GWC piece must date to that year or later. Most of the GWC racehorses are portraits of horses from the 1930s-1950s, but they may have been produced after those years as well. I don't have any paperwork from the company unfortunately, so I'm not sure how long any of their horses were made. Nancy Young, author of Breyer Molds and Models, believed their heyday had ended by the 1960s.

Breyer's records from the 1950s are likewise pretty spotty. We do know that the Racehorse was the third equine model released by Breyer (circa 1954, preceded only by the Western Horse and Pony), and the mold was also one of the first to be released in woodgrain (circa 1959). The mold was undoubtedly copied directly from Grand Wood Carving's Whirlaway model as the comparison photo above attests, and I think that it's very likely that the distinctive woodgrain color with white markings was inspired by GWC as well.

 Tenite sticker on a Woodgrain Poodle

An interesting feature sported by some of the early Breyer woodgrains are gold foil stickers that declare them to be "made of tenite acetate." Glossy realistically colored models such as the Appaloosa PAM and PAF occasionally had these gold stickers as well. Presumably, they were to indicate and emphasize that the models were indeed durable plastic rather than wood (or porcelain in the case of the realistic models). The plastic models were also likely cheaper than their wood or porcelain counterparts while still looking the part.

Breyer eventually produced 29 different horse and animal molds in the woodgrain color. Some are just streaked brown with no painted details other than black eyes while others have added white socks, a white star, and black hooves. Most woodgrains are matte to semi-gloss in terms of finish, though some, often those found on the Dunning "Ranchcraft" lamps, have a high semi-gloss or even glossy finish. The last woodgrain in production, the Fighting Stallion, was discontinued at the end of 1973. 

In terms of collectibility, the woodgrain line includes some of the very rarest and most desirable Breyer models ever made. Seven of them are rare enough that only a handful of examples of each are presently known to collectors. They are the Buffalo, Donkey, Elephant, In-Between Mare, Polled Hereford, Proud Arabian Foal, and Walking Angus molds.

Woodgrain Buffalo Lamp

Both the Woodgrain Buffalo and the Woodgrain Hereford have only been found on lamps (to date) which suggests that they may have been special runs for Dunning Industries and never regular releases. (One Hereford does exist without a lamp, but the model has holes in its feet indicating that it was probably on a lamp at one time or was intended for a lamp.) The PAF was likely a regular run along with the PAM, but because of the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Hagen-Renaker in 1959, we know that not many of them were sold before production was halted. The In-Between Mare, if it was actually released, was discontinued before very many were made. (You can read more on the HR lawsuit and the In-Between Mares here.) The others were possibly short special runs although no documentation on any of them has yet come to light. It's possible they were regular runs that were just never issued in large numbers for whatever reason.

Woodgrain Proud Arab Mare

Several other woodgrain models are considered very rare, and while they are hard to find, they do exist in greater numbers than the seven listed above. They are the Proud Arab Mare, the Fury, the Belgian, and the Stretch Morgan. Interestingly, though several dozen of each of these models are probably accounted for in collectors' hands, these four models are still highly desirable and command four-figure prices not far behind the rarest seven.

Most of the other woodgrain models are reasonably common, though several command multiple hundreds of dollars, such as the Mustang and the Walking Hereford. Others, like the Family Arabians or Fighting Stallion can be found and purchased at easily affordable prices, often less than the cost of a new Breyer.

Woodgrain Fury

The "graining" on Breyer's woodgrain models varies from model to model. Some, like the Fury above, have bold stripes of light and dark paint while others are more uniform in tone. The shade of brown used on these models also ranges from golden to dark chocolate. Many woodgrain Running Mares, Running Foals, and Fighting Stallions that came on the Dunning "Ranchcraft" lamps exhibit the dark brown coloration.

 Click to see a larger view

Besides the usual rubs and scratches other models are prone to, woodgrains sometimes develop bubbling as seen in the picture above. The exact cause is unknown, but it may be the result of exposure to heat and/or humidity. Woodgrains with semi-gloss or glossy topcoats occasionally develop a milky opacity to the finish, especially in the muscle grooves or other areas where the finish may have pooled. In my experience, both as a collectibility shower and a judge, in the show ring, only bubbling is generally considered a flaw.

Breyer has attempted to revive the woodgrain color twice since it was discontinued. In the early 1990s in Just About Horses, Breyer announced an upcoming special run series of new woodgrains. Unfortunately, according to Breyer historian Nancy Young, Peter Stone said the run was cancelled because the last Breyer employee who knew how to paint the distinctive color had left the company. Rumors have also circulated for years that the chemicals and/or paint used to create the woodgrain look were no longer legal. Then in 1999, Breyer released two woodgrain keychains, the G2 Andalusian and G2 Clydesdale, as a special run for Breyerfest. The models are dark reddish-brown with subtle darker striping, but they bear very little resemblance to the original vintage woodgrains. But given the recent success Breyer has had at duplicating some of their unique vintage paint jobs for the Vintage Club, I'm hopeful they'll try woodgrain again soon.

Next time: Hartland woodcuts!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday Featurette: Wooden Horses Part 1

Most model horse collectors are aware of the various faux wood models that have been sold over the years by the major model horse producing companies. Both Breyer and Stone created plastic models painted to look as though they were made of wood called "woodgrains," and Hartland similarly made plastic horses sculpted to look as though they were carved from wood known as "woodcuts."

Breyer, Stone, and Hartland woodgrains/woodcuts

Few collectors however are aware of the company that very likely inspired the creation of all of these models, Grand Wood Carving of Chicago, IL. Chicago, you say? Yes, indeed, the original home of the Breyer Molding Company as well, and interestingly enough, the factories for both companies were located little more than a mile apart. But more on that later!

Grand Wood Carving got its start in 1939, producing a variety of horses and other animals carved from primarily Central and South American mahogany as well as a few other types of wood. Though they produced a variety of portrait horses and breeds, a large part of their equine line was devoted to racehorses, both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.

GWC's "Whirlaway" and "Dan Patch"

Because GWC horses are actually made of wood, they are of course all carved rather than injection molded like the plastic models inspired by them. To achieve a consistent look for each individual "mold," GWC utilized 24-spindle Salstrom carving machines which worked off patterns for each horse or animal. (For more information on these neat machines, please click here.) The pieces were all then hand-finished, a process that included sanding as well as staining. Because of this, GWC horses can vary a bit from piece to piece, particularly in leg thickness, stain color, and markings.

Many of the horses were issued with descriptive stickers, hang tags, or belly bands, and all of these bits of paper ephemera are decidedly rare today. Even the horses themselves are incredibly hard to find despite the company remaining in business until 1983. I suspect this scarcity is the result of several factors: 1) the models were probably never issued in large numbers, 2) they were expensive even when originally available, and 3)  most importantly, GWC pieces were not physically marked. I would guess that this lack of identifying marks  means many of them go undetected by people not familiar with the company. Happily, for those collectors interested in these quirky and charismatic folk art horses, Ed Alcorn has an amazing array of GWC models  displayed on his website here. Breyer collectors should find both the Whirlaway and Man O' War models familiar. More on their inspiration from GWC next Friday!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Featurette: Phar Lap, the Red Terror

I'm a big fan of Kristina Lucas-Francis' Muddy Hoofprints blog, and with BreyerFest looming, Kristina has been doing a series of shorter weekly posts on Mondays since she, like many of us, are short on time leading up to the big weekend in Kentucky. I too am finding my blogging time limited this summer with commissions and Breyerfest planning, so I've decided that Kristina's idea is brilliant, and I'm totally going to borrow it. My first Friday Featurette comes at the request of a reader. The post about Adios was so popular that I've been asked to do a similar one on the legendary racehorse Phar Lap.

Phar Lap (1926-1932)
Though Australia considers him a native son, the great chestnut gelding Phar Lap was actually bred and foaled in New Zealand at Timaru on the South Island. He was sired by Night Raid, a well-bred horse from England who failed to perform there and was eventually exported to Australia. Night Raid fared no better racing down under, retiring with an overall record of 2 wins and a 3rd from 35 starts. He stood at stud there only a year before being shipped on to New Zealand where he finally found his niche. Though siring Phar Lap alone would have made him a success, Night Raid actually produced a number of good runners, 13 of them stakes winners. He led the sire list in Australia from 1929-1931.

Night Raid

Phar Lap's dam Entreaty was a New Zealand-bred. Her sire Winkie was a full-brother to the 1910 1000 Guineas winner Winkipop though he never displayed the same talent, hence his exportation to New Zealand. Entreaty's other foals were no match for Phar Lap in terms of ability, but her daughters proved to be important producers. Interestingly, Entreaty can be found in the tail-female line of the modern Australian superstar mare Sunline through Phar Lap's full-sister Fortune's Wheel.

Entreaty with Te Uira, a full-siter to Phar Lap

Phar Lap, Entreaty's second foal, was born on October 4, 1926. In January of 1928, he was sold at the New Zealand Yearling Sales at Trentham racecourse for 160 guineas to Hugh Telford, brother of Harry Telford who would become Phar Lap's trainer. The colt was purchased for David Davis, Telford's racing partner, and was shipped to Australia to begin his career. 

At first, Phar lap did little to impress his connections. He was thin, gangly, and wart-covered as a youngster, and it took him some time to grow into his huge 17 hand frame. Because he took so long to develop, he was gelded, and he eventually matured into a lean, handsome, and surprisingly kind horse. He was given the name Phar Lap from the Thai word "farlap" meaning lightning, a reference to his peculiarly shaped star. 

His career started slowly with four off the board finishes as a two year-old, but in his last start of the season over six furlongs, he finally scored a win in the Rosehill Maiden Juvenile Handicap. It was not quite a portent of things to come as his three year-old season likewise began poorly with four more dismal up-the-track finishes. Given a little extra ground in his next start, the nine furlong Chelmsford Stakes, Phar Lap produced an excellent second place finish, and from that point on, he began a streak of dominanting wins that earned him the nickname the Red Terror.

Phar Lap made 15 further starts at three, winning an astonishing 13 of them, including the prestigious Rosehill Guineas and the AJC Derby at Randwick, the Craven Plate at Randwick, and the VRC Derby at Flemington. Sent against older horses for the first time in the 2-mile Melbourne Cup, Phar Lap finished third behind Nightmarch, another son of Night Raid, having made the pace through most of the race. He ran third again in the St. George Stakes at Caulfield, and then he easily annexed a string of important stakes races including the VRC St. Leger at Flemington, the Governor's Plate and King's Plate at Flemington, and AJC Plate at Randwick, among others. In the 2 1/4 mile AJC Plate, Phar Lap revenged himself on Nightmarch, humbling him by 10 lengths. 

Given a break over the winter, Phar Lap was kept in shape with long gallops over the sand dunes on Australia's coast. (Fans of the 1983 movie about the horse will remember that spectacular montage.) When he returned at four, he was virtually unstoppable. He won 14 of 16 starts that season, most important of which were his victories in the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup. He defeated his former nemesis Nightmarch no less than four times with ease. As a five year-old, Phar Lap won 8 races in a row before finishing a shocking 8th in the Melbourne Cup. An overzealous training regimen and a staggering impost cost him that race.

In late 1931, Phar Lap boarded a ship destined for San Francisco in order to compete in what was then the world's richest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap held in Tijuana, Mexico. He arrived in good order and had two months to acclimate and resume training. Phar Lap went to post on March 20, 1932, as the heavy favorite, and he won as a heavy favorite should, with ease and in track record time. Thanks to the wonders of Youtube, footage of this historic race can be seen here:

Remarkable video footage of Phar Lap's Agua Caliente win:

After the race, Phar Lap was shipped back to California while his next career start was considered. Tragically, less than three weeks later, the great horse became suddenly ill and died. The cause of his death has not yet been conclusively proven, but the two most likely causes were either arsenic poisoning or duodenitis-proximal jejunitis, an acute form of gastroenteritis brought on by stress. Speculation was rampant for many years that Phar Lap had been deliberately poisoned (by rivals, American gangsters, etc), and recent tests done on Phar lap's hair did confirm the presence of arsenic in his system. Arsenic, however, was a common component in tonics for racehorses at that time, and trainer Harry Telford's own recipe book included such a tonic which he considered "good...for all horses."

After his death, Phar Lap's hide was stuffed and put on display at the Melbourne Museum, and his skeleton was likewise mounted and put on exhibit at the New Zealand National Museum in Wellington.

(Photo by Benjamin Healley)
In my experience, taxidermists rarely do well with equine subjects, but happily for racing fans, Phar Lap's hide was beautifully mounted and has been well cared for. The grand gelding looks like he could step out of the case and walk around the display at any moment.  He's so lifelike that one could argue he's the ultimate model horse.

Terrible joke aside, Phar Lap has been more traditionally immortalized in model form by Breyer on two occassions. In 1985, Breyer released a lovely galloping portrait of Phar Lap in a rich red chestnut color befitting his "Red Terror" nickname. Most Phar Lap models have two hind socks like the real horse, but occassionally, models with only a single sock turn up. The Phar Lap model was discontinued in 1988.

(Photo by Museum Victoria)

In 2007, Breyer produced a special run Phar Lap model on the Lonesome Glory mold exclusive to Target stores in Australia. Not surprisingly, this newer Phar Lap model is rather hard to acquire and is therefore quite desirable.
(Photo by eventingpony24)

In the mid-2000s, the English company Caughley Porcelain produced a number of sculptures of famous racehorses, both as limited editions and as trophies for prestigous races. Not surprisingly, they included a portrait of Phar Lap in their line up. The edition was limited to 250 pieces. Sadly, as of 2011, Caughley is no longer producing equine sculptures, and what few pieces they did are rarely seen for sale. (Hopefully, I will have a blog devoted to Caughley horses coming soon.)

(Photo by Caughley Porcelain)

I am not aware of any other Phar Lap models made either as toys or fine art, though I hope others do exist. Even after 80 years, Phar Lap is still the benchmark against which great Australian horses are measured, and because he is remembered with such affection, I hope more Phar Lap models will be produced in the future.

EDIT: Another video with more fascinating footage of Phar Lap:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Adios: Bronze, Boehm, and Breyer

Before I get started, I should warn you that while I am a Thoroughbred racing enthusiast and have been all of my life, I am but a novice when it comes to harness racing. The same goes for my knowledge of Breyer and Boehm; the history of the former I have been immersed in all my life as a collector, but the latter I have only admired from afar. Doing research for this post however has given me a greater understanding of both harness racing and Boehm porcelain, and it has offered some fascinating insights into the lives of two men who greatly influenced their respective fields, Delvin Miller (harness racing) and Edward Marshall Boehm (American fine porcelain). The story, though, begins with a horse.

The famous Standardbred pacer Adios was born January 3, 1940, at The Two Gaits Farm in Carmel, IN, just north of Indianapolis. His sire Hal Dale, a tail male great-great-great-grandson of Hambletonian, was a successful pacer and producer of speedy horses, and his dam Adioo Volo had a regal pedigree. Though nearly 50 years have passed since Adios died, he is still considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Standardbreds of all time, both for his talent on the track and for the legacy he left as a sire of champions.

Adios setting a world record in 1945 

Adios won 43 of 87 starts over 4 seasons of racing, and set a number of world records at 1 mile and 7/8ths of a mile. One record set in Shelbyville, IN, stood for 43 years. As a sire, Adios produced an unprecedented number of champions, including two pacing Triple Crown winners, Adios Butler and Bret Hanover. 

  Adios at stud

Adios was owned and raced for a time by Harry Warner of Warner Brothers studio, but after being retired to stud, Adios was purchased by Delvin Miller of Pennsylvania, to stand at his Meadow Lands Farm. Miller was a trainer and driver of harness horses, and he was a champion of the sport all his life. His competitive driving career spanned eight decades, from the late 1920s to the early 1990s, a feat unequaled by any other driver. He raced in 40 countries and won a total of 2,442 races including the Hambletonian, the Yonkers Trot, the Kentucky Futurity, the Fox Stakes and the Messenger. Miller also worked tirelessly throughout his life to improve safety standards in the sport both for the people and the horses, and from all accounts, he was a thoroughly likeable, friendly guy with tremendous enthusiasm for his sport.

So it is to Mr. Miller that model horse collectors owe their gratitude for the Adios models that exist today. Shortly after Adios' death in 1965, Miller commissioned equine artist James Nelson Slick to sculpt a life-size bronze statue of his great stallion. It was unveiled on August 12, 1967, at the Meadows Racetrack, which Miller helped found, to coincide with the first running of the Adios Pace, a prestigious race for 3 year-olds. Smaller versions of the statue were and still are presented as trophies to the winning owner. 

Slick's Adios statue stands at the entrance of the Meadows, and it should look familiar to model horse collectors.

(Photo by Eric Warren)

(Photo by Fredhead)

For a number of years, Breyer collectors assumed that the Breyer Adios model had been copied from the Boehm Adios which had itself been copied from the Slick statue. After all, in the 1950s, Breyer copied several Boehm pieces, such as the Walking Hereford and the Boxer, not to mention copying other pieces from other companies including Rosenthal (Poodle), Hagen-Renaker (PAM, PAF, FAS, etc), and Grand Wood Carving (Racehorse and Man O' War).

But the fact is that the Boehm and Breyer Adios models were both independently inspired by the Slick statue and were produced concurrently. Nancy Young's research for her Breyer Molds and Models books revealed that Delvin Miller had lent a copy of the small bronze trophy statue to Peter Stone and Chris Hess to copy for a plastic version in the fall of 1967. By July of 1968, the mold for Adios was being perfected as per letters between Breyer and Miller. Reading between the lines, it seems that Miller may have been the driving force behind the addition of an Adios model to the Breyer line. The model was released in plastic in  1969.

 The Adios Pace trophy (Photo by Bobby Z)

Breyer Adios (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Diamond)

The Boehm model in comparison was also released in 1969. Edward Marshall Boehm was an avid animal lover, and.though he is best known for his exquisite bird sculptures, he also created a number of stunning horses, of which Adios was the last. Boehm was a self-taught artist who revolutionized the production of English-quality hard-paste porcelain production in America. He owned and bred harness racehorses, and Miller may have similarly encouraged him to produce a porcelain version of his great horse based on Slick's statue. (It's also possible that Boehm simply worked from some of the same photos of the horse that Slick used.) Whatever the case, the first Boehm Adios cast was presented to Miller on October 14, 1968, which indicates that the Boehm company's Adios was being sculpted and molded at the same time as Breyer's.

Boehm died only three months later on January 29, 1969, at the age of 55. His studio continued production in the capable hands of his wife Helen, and as I mentioned above, the Boehm porcelain Adios was also released in 1969. It was intended to be a run of 500 pieces, but Reese Palley wrote in his book The Porcelain Art of Edward Marshall Boehm that the edition was closed in June of 1974 when only 130 horses had been made.

The Boehm Adios

The Breyer Adios enjoyed a longer run, remaining in production until 1980. It was also featured as a part of the Presentation Collection in the early 1970s. These models were mounted on wood bases with metal name plates.
 Ad from the November 1971 issue of Western Horseman

A Presentation Collection Adios. The nameplate reads only "Adios." (Photo from IDYB)

In 1969, actually predating the Presentation Collection, Delvin Miller ordered Adios models from Breyer to sell himself through various magazines and retail outlets. These models were also mounted on bases, but the bases have a shallower beveled edge, and their name plaques read "Adios 1:57 1/2," a reference to the world record time for a mile set by Adios in 1945. Miller ordered more models in 1981, and because Breyer has discontinued the Adios model, a small special run edition was created specially for him because of his long standing friendship with the company.

A 1969 Delvin Miller Adios (Photo from IDYB)

My sister's 1981 Delvin Miller Adios which was mounted in reverse

While Breyer's regular run, freestanding Adios is quite common, the Breyer Presentation Collection Adios, the Delvin Miller SR Adios, and the Boehm Adios are quite rare. The prices vary, but roughly $300-400 will buy a Breyer PC or DM Adios, and the Boehm models run anywhere from $400-850 or more. 

The hardest to acquire of them all, though, is the bronze trophy. You'll need a fast horse, a good trainer, a smart driver, and a lot of luck to acquire one of those!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

PAMs, FAMs, and In-Between Mares

I posted this explanation on Model Horse Blab several years ago, and I thought it was worth repeating here as it's a question I get asked frequently. Just as confusion exists over whether or not a Proud Arab Mare is old mold or new mold, many hobbyists are confused by the molds that were made to replace the PAM, the In-Between Mare and the Family Arabian Mare. The history of these three molds is complicated and convoluted to say the least, but the trick to telling them apart is surprisingly easy (which will be revealed at the end of this post).

 Woodgrain PAM

As I discussed in a previous blog post, Breyer's Proud Arab Mare and Foal molds were originally closely copied from Hagen-Renaker designs. After a very short period of production, less than two years, HR successfully sued Breyer for copyright infringement. Production of the PAM and PAF stopped in late 1959. The FAS was not deemed similar enough to HR's Amir model, so that mold remained a part of the Breyer line. But that did, however, leave Breyer in need of a new mare (and foal) for their Arabian family.

Woodgrain In-Between Mare (Photo from IDYB)

In early 1960, Breyer molded and produced a small number of models aptly named the In-Between Mare. She is the same size as the PAM but more closely resembles the coarser FAM in looks. Her neck is long and she sports a bit of a hay belly. Due to molding problems, these mares lean to the left. She has been found in Alabaster, Woodgrain, and Appaloosa so far, which makes sense as those are 3 of the 4 colors the PAM had been available in. A handful of each color are known to collectors, and it's possible that examples of the 4th color, bay, may eventually turn up. Enough IBMs have been found---nearly a dozen---that there is some speculation that they may have been released from the factory to stores, possibly accidentally. The presence of the gold tenite stickers on several of the woodgrains would certainly suggest that they were intended for distribution.

Woodgrain Family Arab Mare

Whatever the case, production of the In-Between Mare was ultimately scrapped in favor of the similar but more attractive Family Arab Mare who debuted later in 1960. She has been in production, along with the FAF and FAS, ever since. (The PAM of course was re-issued in 1971.)

So how does a casual collector determine which of the three mares they have? Obviously, all three are distinctly different in terms of sculpting style and stance, and to someone familiar with OF Breyers, the nuances are easy to discern. Happily, for those less well-versed in Breyer minutiae, there is a very simple trick to tell which is which---the tails.

As you can see, the end of the PAM's tail is attached to her left hock. The In-Between Mare's tail touches her right buttock before angling out again. And the FAM's tail hangs loose. Tada!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vinegar Syndrome: Breyer Shrinkies and Oozies

Over the Christmas break, I flew down to Atlanta to visit my family. Between delicious meals slathered in gravy, my sister and I started inventorying our collections. They have been in storage in my parents' basement for more than 10 years now, and given that I've been collecting since the early 1980s and my sister since the late 1980s, we knew we were doomed to find some shrinkies/oozies.

What exactly are shrinkies and oozies? Both names are used to refer to Breyer models that are beginning to disintegrate from a problem that seems to be akin to vinegar syndrome in film. Like some kinds of film, many Breyers were made of a kind of plastic called cellulose acetate, and they are likewise starting to break down on a molecular level. The problem has only cropped up in the last few years, and so far, the only models that seem to be affected are those that were produced from around 1987-1992. (It is certainly possible that models may crop up from outside that range of years, but let's hope not many.) Not all models from those years are affected though, and it stands to reason that the affected models were made from a defective batch (or batches) of plastic.

Symptoms of vinegar syndrome include shrinking of the model in height and width, warping, slow implosion of the body cavity, legs that warp inward, paint discoloration (it gets lighter), a whitish film on the model that feels like chalk dust or soft powder, a strong vinegar smell, liquid oozing from the plastic, yellowing of white plastic areas, and in extreme cases, bubbling and collapse of the model.

Unfortunately, at this time, there is no known method to stop vinegar syndrome. So far, models that have been kept out in the open air tend to just slowly shrink and warp without any of the uglier symptoms. But as this is a recent development for Breyers, we don't yet know exactly what will eventually happen. Models kept in storage and models exposed to heat and humidity are much more likely to ooze and frequently go through the full gamut of symptoms.

My sister and I found more affected models than I would have liked, all in varying stages of decay. None of them are especially valuable (other than my red bay 1988 Your Horse Source SR Phar Lap), but many of them have sentimental value. Here are a few of the victims:

These two Mustangs are both examples of #118, the "American Mustang," made from 1987-1989. I purchased the one on the right on sale at a Breyer signing party in 1990. The one on the left was a flea market acquisition, and at the time I bought him, he was not overtly affected by vinegar syndrome. He was lighter in body color and mane and tail color, a common variation of the run, but he was not nearly so light-colored as he looks now. In person, he is a textbook shrinky/oozy. He is smaller than his normal counterpart and starting to curve to one side, he is leaking goo from various places, and he has the tell-tale paint fading that is so typical of vinegar syndrome horses. From what I've seen, the lighter discoloration often seems to start where the model's legs meet the hollow body, as evidenced here.

Sadly, my awesomely eye-scorching neon palomino FAS is also a shrinky (purchased 1987 or 1988). He was signed by Peter Stone in 1990, and as you can see, the decomposition of his plastic has turned the once crisp signature into a blurry grey haze. His delightful lemon yellow color has also faded.

The bag he was in is full of oozy droplets.

And here's a close up of my sister's #702 buckskin variation Stretch Morgan (1988-1989). His paint hasn't faded too much yet, but you can see he's oozing and the plastic is starting to crinkle.

Sadly, he was one of my sister's favorite models. I was going to give her my own buckskin variation as a replacement, but alas, he is a shrinky, too.

For some reason, the #821 Rocky (1990-1992) pony is one I have seen several times over in spectacularly bad shape. This example, provided by longtime collector Penny Lehew, is bubbling and showing signs of crystalization. (My own Rocky has not reached this stage, but he was bad enough that I didn't even dare to open his bag.)

When removed from storage or from hot and humid conditions, affected models generally seem to stop oozing. My #109 dapple grey Five-Gaiter (1987-1988) was found swimming in brown goo in his bag when he was removed from storage several years ago. His white areas had yellowed and he had begun to shrink. He was then washed thoroughly and left on a tray on a shelf in the open air to see what would happen. Interestingly, he has stopped oozing, and his white areas have brightened up. He has continued to shrink, however, and as you can see in the picture below, he is beginning to curl sideways.

Happily, not all models from 1987-1992 are affected, and contrary to some early reports, vinegar syndrome is not contagious from model to model. For example, my Cips has turned out to be a shrinky, but my sister's Cips is fine. My Sears SR Black Blanket Appaloosa Performance Horse is oozing like mad, but the other two horses from that set who were stored in the same box are still normal.

It's taken around 20 years for these models to begin to manifest symptoms of vinegar syndrome, and there's no way to predict whether or not the currently unaffected models from those years will remain thus. Certain models do seem to be more likely to be affected, such as the 1987 Black Horse Ranch SR Proud Arabian Stallions, but because they were small runs of only 500 pieces per color, it stands to reason that many were made from the same batch of bad plastic. Because this is such a new issue with the 1987-1992 era Breyers, only time will tell which models will be affected.