Friday, February 20, 2015

What is a Breyer chalky?

"What is a chalky?" or "how can I tell if my model is a chalky?" are questions asked frequently by newbie and veteran collectors alike.

Chalky mahogany Proud Arab Mare
Despite the ongoing confusion about these models, these are relatively easy questions to answer. There are however several types of models that fall under the umbrella term "chalky," all of which I will address in this blog. They include basecoat chalkies, models made of chalky plastic, and several kinds of partial or almost chalkies. I will do my best to keep this as straightforward as possible.
When collectors talk about chalkies, they are usually referring to basecoat chalkies. Simply put, basecoat chalkies are models that were painted with a layer of white paint before being painted with their usual color. (The reason for this will be explained below.) Because of this layer of white paint, the models often look like vintage chalkware (painted plaster figurines), hence the name. Chalkies with white markings are the easiest to identify because the markings are very clearly painted white and are not bare white plastic. Solid colored models with no white markings can be harder to identify, but there are a few tricks to keep in mind.
Non-chalky Western Pony (left) and chalky Yellow Mount (right)
The bottom of the hooves on chalkies is often distinctive. The thick white basecoat paint frequently shows texture from the surface the model was set on while it dried. Many will have striations, waffling, or an uneven gloopy look.
Chalky (left) and non-chalky (right) hoof bottoms
A number of chalkies have speckly paint because the paint used for the regular paint job had a tendency to bead up on the slick white basecoat paint. Not all speckly horses are chalkies (and not all chalkies are speckly), but speckly horses are always worth a second look.

Chalky Man O' War with speckly paint
Most chalkies were painted over non-white, often brightly colored plastic, and while it is not always obvious, checking any rubbed areas can help identify these models.
This chalky donkey has green plastic lurking
beneath a rubbed ear tip

If a suspected chalky does not have any rubs, the bottom of the hooves are a good place to check. By carefully scraping away a little of the white basecoat, the plastic can be revealed.
Another donkey with green plastic underneath.
This one shows the characteristic waffling pattern.
So why were basecoat chalkies created anyway? The reasons vary depending on the decade in which the models were issued.

The earliest chalky models date to the 1950s. These models are both chalky and glossy, a combination that gives them the illusion of being made of fine china. At the time, Breyer was just getting started with their animal line, and a number of their early molds were copied from ceramic pieces by companies like Hagen-Renaker, Boehm, and Rosenthal. Many bore gold "tenite" stickers to assure buyers that while the models looked like fragile porcelain, they were in fact made of durable plastic. Chalkies from the 1950s and 1960s tend to be very scarce.
Very rare Old Mold Chalky Bay Proud Arab Mare
(mold based on a Hagen-Renaker design)
Chalky Walking Hereford (copied from a Boehm piece)
A gold foil "tenite" sticker (as seen on a woodgrain)
The vast majority of chalky models, however, date to the mid-1970s during the oil crisis years. At the time, Breyer was unable to acquire affordable white plastic, so many models were molded out of oddly colored plastic, such as blue, green, brown, grey, pink, and even swirled. They were painted white before receiving their usual paint job to hide the odd plastic.
A stripped chalky, formerly a bay Thoroughbred Mare
Basecoat chalkies in the 1970s spanned the entire Breyer line from Traditional scale to Classic to Stablemate and even the animals as well.
Traditional scale chalky Yellow Mount
Chalky Classic Arabian Mare
Tiny chalky Stablemate G1 American Saddlebred
Chalky Texas Longhorn
Some models molded in weird colors in the 1970s were painted without the white basecoat if the normal paint job was a sufficiently dark color with little or no markings. For example, a number of 1970s Midnight Sun models were simply painted black over purple, brown, or grey plastic. Likewise, some Justin Morgans and Thoroughbred Mares were similarly painted over odd, dark-colored plastic.
This purple plastic Midnight Sun did not have a white basecoat.
He was just painted straight black over the colorful plastic.
Similarly, some of the battleship grey Donkeys and Elephants from the late 1950s were painted solid grey over odd colored plastic.
This formerly Battleship Grey Donkey had no white basecoat
between the blue plastic and grey paint.
While these models are not technically chalkies, they fall into a category of what I consider to be pseudo-chalkies. They have odd-colored plastic but they lack the white basecoat. Given that the models were destined to be painted a dark color anyway, this was assuredly just a time-saver as well as a more cost-effective method of producing the models.

Another variety of pseudo-chalkies are models made of chalky plastic. They are not basecoated in white paint, but instead they are made of dense, highly opaque white plastic that mimics the look of a white basecoat. They are often very difficult to tell apart from basecoat chalkies in photos, but in hand, the difference is usually clear. Most chalky plastic models seem to date to the 1970s like their basecoated counterparts. Interestingly, they seem to be less common than basecoated chalkies.
Chalky plastic Classic Swaps
(Photo by squirrelchild on OMH. Used with permission.)
A handful of basecoated chalkies date to the early 1980s. They may have been painted on leftover bodies from the 1970s, and they are incredibly rare. To date, I have seen only a SR Bay Pinto Suckling Foal and a test run Stock Horse Mare from that period.
But since then, Breyer has issued a variety of chalkies or chalky-like models as regular runs. Pluto the Lipizzaner and Alborozo were both intentionally painted white over bare plastic and then shaded with grey. Kiowa, the Jumping Horse issued for the Vintage Club in 2014, was created specially for collectors as a chalky.

Occasionally, Breyer has created chalkies by painting over already finished models, usually models that are known to have been poor sellers. Giltedge, a florentine Hackney made in 1996, was plagued with problems when released and many were returned to Breyer. They were painted over and given a black paintjob with white markings and then resold at BreyerFest 1997 as Excalibur. If you click the link, you'll see the Excalibur model has a rub on the rump revealing the gold paint underneath.

The most notorious of these painted over duds are the repainted decorators from the 1960s. Collectors cringe to think of it now when decorators are highly sought after and command four-figure prices, but when they originally sold in the 1960s, the decorators were dubbed "duds" by Breyer owner Sam Stone (father of Peter Stone) because of poor sales. In recent years, collectors have discovered decorators hidden under basecoat chalky paintjobs by holding them up to the light to reveal dappling or by spying gold or blue paint in places where the models have been rubbed.
A chalky bay Fighting Stallion that is a repainted Copenhagen.
(Owned and photographed by Sara Roche.)
Even some of the woodgrains suffered this fate.
A chalky buckskin Mustang that is a repainted woodgrain.
(Owned and photographed by Sara Roche.)
Just to keep collectors on their toes, a handful of partial basecoat chalkies exist as well. This Fury Prancer for example is molded in white plastic. His feet and tail tip were painted white, and then he was painted black on top of that. Oddly enough, his blaze was left as bare plastic.
Partially chalky Black Beauty Fury Prancer
This Fury by comparison is a wannabe chalky. He is molded in black plastic and his markings have been painted over that.
TV's Fury with his original paper saddle
Chalkies can be hard to identify from photos until you know what you're looking for, but I hope my pictures and info will be helpful. Certainly, once you have a confirmed chalky in hand, it becomes very easy to spot others. For collectors who have not seen chalkies before who are unsure about a model even after comparing it to others in their collection, my usual rule of thumb is "if you're not sure, it probably isn't." Chalkies really do stand out when compared to non-chalky models which, combined with their rarity, makes them highly desirable to collectors.

For a list of chalky models that have been found as well as a gallery of chalky model photos, please visit Sara Roche's excellent Virtual Chalky Museum website.