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!