Thelwell's first pony cartoon was published in 1953, and his first book of humorous pony illustrations, Angels on Horseback, followed soon after in 1957. The demand for his work, especially the ponies, was tremendous, and not long afterward, licensed Thelwell pony models were introduced to the market.
The earliest I know of were made by a company called Plastech and were probably made in the 1960s and/or 1970s. I've seen examples in grey, brown, and palomino. They all have rooted hair, tack, and a cute little rider (Penelope, perhaps?).
|Check out the pony's expression. Classic.|
In the 1980s, Beswick and several other ceramics companies made a variety of Thelwell ponies in porcelain and sometimes resin.
|A seemingly well-behaved Beswick Thelwell.|
|Beswick's "Point of Departure," rather less well-behaved|
But for the purposes of this post, I am primarily interested in the "Kipper" Thelwell model made by Breyer as there has been some misinformation about the piece floating around lately. Kipper debuted in 1986 and was of great interest to my young self, but apparently was less so to adult collectors at the time (the models did not sell well). The 1986 dealer catalog featured only Kipper but alluded to the production of two other ponies, Midget (pinto) and Pumpkin (palomino).
|1986 Breyer dealer catalog|
|1986 box catalog|
All four ponies pictured in the catalogs appear to have the same bodies, but the heads and ear positions vary a bit. According to Breyer historian Nancy Young, as per a conversation with Peter Stone, these ponies were resin-cast prototypes, not plastic models. The dappled brown Kipper in the dealer catalog was auctioned off at the first BreyerFest, and Peter noted at the time that it was one of two, the other of which was in his personal collection. Presumably, the pony Peter kept is the true bay shown in the box catalog photo. The Midget and Pumpkin prototypes probably also still belong to Peter.
UPDATE: Interestingly, during the BreyerFest 2021 live stream of the factory archive room, Kelly Weimer and Kelly Keracher, the hosts, showed off this set of Thelwells to collectors. They are made of vinyl, not resin, so it would seem the other Thelwell models made it past prototyping after all. What a shame they weren't all produced!
|Screen capture of archive live stream|
The Kipper model that Breyer ultimately produced had a very similar head to the prototypes but a different body.
|Photo courtesy of Melissa Heijmans|
|Click to enlarge image. Clearly not Breyer nor Thelwell.|
|Star Hill Ponies "Molly" (Photo from eBay)|
|Star Hill Ponies "Scruffy" (Photo from eBay)|
|The back of the packaging card showing the various ponies.|
I hope this post clears up some of the confusion about what is and is not a Breyer Thelwell. All of the ponies shown here, regardless of maker, are collectible in their own fashion, but hopefully my little bit of sleuthing will save collectors from paying far too much for a models that are not Breyers.