Monday, October 26, 2020

Western Horse Shaped Objects: Part 4: Weird Clocks, Metal Clocks, and Gladys Brown Edwards

(Part one can be found here; part two is here; and part three is here.)

As promised in the preceding installments of this series, this last post about Western Horse shaped objects will cover the oddball clocks that have popped up over the years. (I may eventually rewrite this and weave them into the first three posts as warranted, but for now, enjoy the new weirdness here!)

The Other Western Horse-Beside-the-Clock

Most Breyer collectors are familiar with the horse-beside-the-clock models made by Mastercrafters. They stand at an angle beside an enameled metal clock in a horseshoe-shaped housing on a brown marbled plastic base. Beneath the horseshoe is a bas-relief of a cowboy roping a steer. The clocks are electric and have been found with palomino or alabaster horses and date to about 1951-1953 right after the horse-over-the-clocks were made. The backs of these clocks feature the same six patent numbers (relating to the clock movements) that are found on the back of the horse-over-the-clock models.

A close up of the clock housing

 A couple of years ago, two examples of an unusual variation of the horse-beside-the-clock were posted on Facebook. Both were identical featuring grey-hooved palomino Western Horses with o-link reins and high-grommet saddles standing beside an unusual clock. The clock has an enameled housing (with no horseshoe) featuring a bas-relief of a cowboy on a horse, a cowboy hat, and a pistol and gun belt. Both of these clocks had "fancy face" Sessions faces and movements (which are found on other Mastercrafters clocks), and both were cordless, wind-up clocks..

(Owned and photographed by Jennifer Enslin)

(Owned and photographed by Jennifer Enslin)

Just a few weeks ago, I stumbled on a third example of these clocks, but mine seems to be a mix of both horse-beside-the-clock styles. Mine is electric (though the cord has been cut off), and it has a plain Sessions face and back identical to the horseshoe clocks while having the more unusual clock housing. It too features a grey-hooved palomino Western Horse with o-link reins and a high grommet saddle.

I'm not sure how these unusual clocks fit into the timeline. Mine is clearly a Mastercrafters clock, so I'm sure the other two must be as well. The grey hooves on all three examples would suggest that they are later than the black-hooved models typically seen on the horseshoe clocks. But the O-link reins date them no later than 1953 according to Nancy Young.1

With that in mind and given the scarcity of these clocks, they likely were made near to the end of the Western Horse clock production. They may have been available concurrently with the last of the horseshoe clocks as another stylistic ordering option. Electric versus wind-up may also have been an ordering choice (although I don't know of any wind-up horseshoe clocks). Or perhaps they were made just after the horseshoe clocks, and mine seems to be a transitional piece between the two styles. No alabaster examples of these unusual clocks have been found as of this writing, but they may exist as well. If these unusual clocks post-dated the horseshoe clocks, given how few are known to collectors compared to the horseshoe clocks, they probably were not made very long. But if that is the case, why?

A fourth version of this clock may hold the answer. I have seen a photo of one other clock with the same mounted cowboy, hat, and pistol clock housing. The housing is painted or enameled in gold however, and it is mounted on a reddish-orange marbled base to the right of the horse. The horse, which is a black Superior Plastics model rather than a Breyer, is mounted in line with the clock rather than at an angle. It appears to have the same Sessions face as my clock (and the usual horseshoe clocks), so it's probably a Mastercrafters product, too. (Nancy Young describes it as such in her unpublished book notes as well [cited with her gracious permission]). 

Perhaps having parted ways with Hartland and possibly then Breyer for whatever reasons, Mastercrafters turned to Superior, another Chicago plastic molding company for horse models for their clocks. It could be the reason that Superior Plastics copied the Hartland Victor horse in the first place and then went on to start selling free-standing horses, too, just like Hartland and Breyer did. We know the Superior Plastics horses were in production in 1955 (and very likely a year or two earlier), so this line of reasoning would fit neatly if the Breyer clocks were discontinued in about 1953. 

Textured Tack Horse Clocks

As I mentioned in the last installment, textured tack horses have been found mounted beside clocks, too. We don't know who made these clocks any more than we know who made the horses. The clock housing and base are made of matching pink marbled plastic. The clock housing has a scalloped edge and a bas-relief of a cactus, pistols, and cowboy boots. The base has a ruffled edge, and the horse stands in line with the clock rather than at an angle. I have only seen palomino and alabaster examples. The clock face is marked "Movement by Sessions, Made in the USA," but there are no other identifying marks on these clocks. Interestingly, the clock faces have Roman numerals rather than the usual Arabic numerals you see on Mastercrafters clocks.

(Owned and photographed by Carrie Brooks)

Metal Horse Clocks

So that brings us to the elephant in the room---what relation, if any, do the ubiquitous metal horse clocks have to their plastic brethren? No doubt most hobbyists have seen a clock like this while poking around in an antique shop or flea market. They're everywhere, made by the gazillions apparently, and in a variety of finishes on varying bases.

A typical "horseshoe" metal horse clock example

Most of the horse clocks are pot metal with a gold, bronze, or copper colored finish, but a few have  silver finishes, and a few appear to have been painted, too. They can be found on wood, metal, or plastic bases. The clock housing on the vast majority of them features either a horseshoe with a bas-relief of two horses below it or a ruffled frame with a bas-relief of cowboy boots, a hat, and pistols.

A typical "ruffled" metal horse clock

Other styles do exist though----there are almost as many variations as there are clocks. Some are on stylized rocky terrain bases (circa 1955 based on newspaper ads).

Some are paired with cowboys and/or cowgirls.

A metal Mastercrafters clock

Circa 1950 based on newspaper ads

A painted clock

Most metal horse clocks are arranged with the horse to the right of the clock facing it. A few are reversed.  

Another painted clock

A few are Mastercrafters products while others were made by United, Lanshire, Spartus, Carmody, Gilbert, and more. This particular example below is probably Mastercrafters---the horseshoe clock on this example is the version usually found with the Breyer Western Horses beside-the-clocks, but in gold rather than creamy white. (Most metal horse clocks with horseshoe frames have two horses under the shoe rather than the cowboy roping the steer.) The face and metal back of the clock are Sessions just like those seen on Breyer clocks, and the base itself is identical to Breyer clock bases. The question is did this piece come before or after the Breyer clocks?

Before I started researching this series of posts, I assumed the metal horse clocks were copies of the Breyer horses beside the clocks. But I have since found newspaper ads featuring metal horses beside clocks from as early as March 1949, so they clearly pre-date Breyer horses full stop and possibly Hartland's horses and clocks, too.

Ad from The Record (Hackensack, NJ), March 11, 1949

The earliest ruffled top horse-beside-the-clock ad I can find is from October 1949. Mastercrafters fans will recognize that company's popular ship clock in the ad. Perhaps the metal horse clock is Mastercrafters, too? 

Ad from the Daily News (New York, NY), October 14, 1949

And the first horseshoe clock ad I can find dates to December 1950. 

Ad from the Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA, December 22, 1950

The metal horse clock ads appear throughout the 1950s and peter out in the mid-1960s, but they were clearly wildly popular while they lasted. The clocks were most commonly sold in jewelry and furniture stores, and I found multiple news stories about burglarized jewelry stores that cited gold horse clocks among the stolen items. One thief even stated outright that a horse clock was his primary reason for breaking into and robbing a jewelry store.2 

As you'll have seen from the pictures above, the vast majority of metal horses on these clocks have their mane on the left side of the neck, their right hind foot placed ahead of the left hind foot, a flat-bottomed hollow tails, and elaborate parade-style Western tack. They are in fact all copies, though often crude, of a magnificent sculpture by renowned equine artist Gladys Brown Edwards referred to as the "Big Horse" by collectors. A photo published in Here's Who in Horses of the Pacific Coast, Horsedom's Hall of Fame in 1947 gives us a date for this piece, and many of the pieces are marked with that same date as well.3

Gladys is probably most famous for her expertise on and paintings of Arabian horses, but she was an immensely talented sculptor as well. She grew up in Los Angeles where she attended art school and eventually went to work for the famous Kellogg Arabian Ranch. She sculpted a variety of breeds besides Arabians including drafters, stock horses, Saddlebreds, and even cattle. A number of her pieces were issued by Dodge, Inc., a trophy company, as bookends, horse show trophies, and art pieces. Dodge began in Chicago, but expanded to Los Angeles and elsewhere in the 1930s. 

Which brings us back to the Big Horse. Collectors generally agree that he was probably inspired by a Morgan stallion (or stallions) that Gladys had sketched and painted in the 1940s. The fancy bridle and elaborate saddle depicted on Gladys' horse resemble those worn by parade horses in southern California at that time. Some have wondered if the Big Horse might be a Saddlebred, and while it's certainly plausible, especially if he was inspired by a parade horse, the sculpture more closely resembles Gladys' Morgan art. Whatever the case, the piece is of interest because it was issued by Dodge standing over a clock as seen below. Note the removable saddle. It most likely dates to 1947 or 1948. 

Copies of the Gladys Brown Edwards piece standing over a clock were advertised by May 1949. (We can identify the copies by the loose, flat-bottomed tail. (Gladys' horses' tails were attached to the left hock as seen above.)

Ad from the Pampa Daily News (Pampa, TX), May 1, 1949

Another horse standing over a clock pops up in June 1949, only this time in plastic. Does this guy look familiar? Though the ad states that the horse below is bronze on a mahogany base, it is unmistakably a plastic Hartland Victor on a plastic Mastercrafters clock base. (And in case there is any doubt, Hartland expert Mike Jackson found a Mastercrafters ad using the very same photo that describes the piece as plastic.)

Without a doubt, the miscellaneous metal horses on these clocks, whether standing over or beside the clocks, were copied from Gladys Brown Edward's sculpture produced by Dodge, Inc. The idea of the horse clocks themselves also seems to have been copied from Dodge. Interestingly, Mastercrafters was conveniently located only a few blocks south of the the Dodge factory in Chicago. Because Mastercrafters was apparently issuing metal horse copies beside clocks as early as October 1949, and given their close proximity to the Dodge factory, it stands to reason that their plastic horse clocks were inspired by Dodge's metal horse clocks as well.

So while it is clear that the metal horse clock figurines are copies of Gladys' Big Horse, we move into the realm of speculation when it comes to what inspired the plastic Victor models made by Hartland for Mastercrafters. The Victor horse pictured in the Hartland ad above stands square as opposed to with one hind foot forward like the Gladys Brown Edwards horse and its multitude of copies, but his mane is on the left side of his neck, his head and tail set are similar, and his tack also appears to be fancy Western parade style. His saddle is even removable, too. The Victor's slightly different stance may be simply a matter of practicality to ensure his legs clear the clock on the narrow plastic base, or it may simply have been for ease in molding (or both). The round clocks used by Mastercrafters for their horse clocks, both over and beside, were a standard size they used regularly for other clocks, and both the Breyers and Hartlands that stand over the clocks had to have their bellies pushed inward a bit after molding to fit over the clock. (Why the base wasn't sculpted a little taller on either side of the clock to fix this issue is unknown.) This extra step (and presumably the regular occurrence of seam splits) may be why Mastercrafters made only a small number of horses over the clock before switching to horses beside the clocks.

With this in mind, I think it's pretty likely that Hartland sculptor Roger Williams created the Victor not as a copy of the Gladys Brown Edwards' horse, but he certainly seems to have used it as a template of sorts. Mastercrafters presumably dictated what sort of horse figurine they wanted, and they may have offered up examples of their own metal horse clocks for him to study. Breyer's Western Horse of course was sculpted by Chris Hess as a nearly identical copy of Hartland's Victor. 

To the best of my knowledge, Hartland never assigned a breed to the Victor nor to the subsequent Champs. Likewise, Breyer never mentioned a breed for the Western Horse until this year when it was described as Saddlebred-like in their 70th anniversary promotional materials. While the Victor and Western Horse are pretty generic sculptures, the idea of them being Saddlebred-like does make some sense if we accept that these models were all ultimately inspired by the parade horses of the 1940s. 

There are a number of pieces to this puzzle, and some of them are lost, so I don't think we can ever say conclusively that the Hartland Victors and Breyer Western Horses were derived from the Gladys Brown Edwards Big Horse piece, but I think the evidence is pretty strong that it inspired a slew of metal copies and the plastic horse clocks were probably inspired by the metal copies if not directly by the original Big Horse. So in a somewhat roundabout fashion, there is a connection. 

I hope you've all enjoyed reading this series of posts about Hartland Victors, Breyer Western Horses, and other similar models, both copies and predecessors, as much as I have enjoyed writing them. I'm not sure what I'll post about next---I've got about a dozen different ideas---but stay tuned for information on how to vote for what you'd like to see. Thanks for reading!

1. Young, Nancy. Breyer Molds and Models: Horses, Riders, and Animals. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1999), pg. 345.

2. "Police Arrest Man for Stealing From Local Jewelry Store." The Freehold Transcript and The Monmouth Inquirer, September 26, 1957.

3. Martin, Carolyn. Gladys Brown Edwards' Equine Works in Metal. (Galesburg, MI: Published by the author, 2008), pg. 22.