Tuesday, October 26, 2021

What is a Breyer pearly?

Ever since I published my Breyer chalky post in 2015, I've been getting periodic requests to write about pearlies as well. Chalkies and pearlies share a similar history, so this is a logical follow up. Sorry it has taken me so long to get to it!

So what is a Breyer pearly? Like most chalkies, pearly models date to the oil crisis years of the mid-1970s. They are models molded in opaque iridescent, pearlescent plastic rather than plain white plastic. They are therefore akin to chalky plastic models, not basecoat chalkies, because their unique nature is inherent to the plastic used, NOT the paint. (Breyer has used pearlized paint in many modern paint jobs, but those models are not considered pearlies by collectors because only the paint, not the plastic, is pearlescent.)

Factory unpainted pearly Rearing Stallion

Many pearlies have a faintly yellowish cast to the plastic. In my experience, the plastic also looks dense and opaque, not translucent. The regular color for the model was painted directly over this plastic, hiding the plastic for the most part except where there are white markings or where the paint is thin.

Pearly bay Rearing Stallion

A close up of the pearly plastic revealed by his white socks

While just about every model available in the mid-1970s can be found as a chalky, pearly models were confined to just a handful of molds, most of them small. I'm not sure if pearly plastic didn't lend itself well to being molded on a larger scale or if it was primarily used on smaller models because it was less obvious. Known pearlies include:

Confirmed Pearlies

Classic Arabian Foal (chestnut and palomino)
Classic Rearing Stallion (bay and palomino)
Classic Quarter Horse Foal (chestnut and palomino)

Traditional Family Arabian Mare (bay)
Traditional Lying Down Foal (black appaloosa)
Traditional Quarter Horse Yearling (liver chestnut)
Traditional Scratching Foal (black appaloosa)
Traditional Thoroughbred (Nursing) Foal (chestnut)

The foals of both scales and the Rearing Stallions are the most common pearlies and can be found fairly easily. The Family Arabian Mare and Quarter Horse Yearling however are both exceedingly rare, and very few examples of either are known (only 1 or 2 as of this writing).

Based on which models are known to be pearlies, the years they were made, and given their relative scarcity, I suspect that the vast majority of them date to late 1974 or 1975. I date this based on the fact that the chestnut and palomino Classic Arabian and Quarter Horse Foals were not issued until 1975, and they are reasonably common in terms of pearlies. The bay Family Arabian Mare, probably the rarest pearly, was last issued in 1974. Had pearly plastic been used earlier, you would think a few more examples besides the one or two I'm aware of might be known. It's also telling that, as far as I know, no models that were new in 1976 (or later) have turned up as pearlies.

Very rare pearly liver chestnut Quarter Horse Yearling
(owned and photographed by Sara Roche)

Several other pearlies that I have not personally observed are rumored to exist. They are as follows:

Unconfirmed Pearlies

Classic Arabian Foal (black)
Classic Quarter Horse Foal (black)

Traditional Grazing Foal (bay)
Traditional Rough Coat Stock Horse Foal (black appaloosa)

The classic foals and the Grazing Foal are plausible given that they were available at the right time. I would love to see some pictures to confirm it though. I am skeptical of the Rough Coat Stock Horse Foal though as it was not made until 1978 which puts it several years beyond the likely pearly window. If anyone has photos of these models or knows of others not listed, I would love to see them! Feel free to email them to me at mumtazmahal (at) gmail (dot) com.

Pearlies can definitely be tricky to identify in photos, but like chalkies, they're usually obvious in hand. That said, there are some models from the late '70s and early '80s made of very shiny plastic that have been know to fool collectors. It's always best to compare them to a known pearly to see the difference. Many traditional scale models made of this shiny plastic are confused as being pearlies, but they are not.

I am also aware of a handful of fake pearlies that are not molded in pearly plastic but are instead either painted or sprayed with a clear pearlescent finish to mimic the look of pearly plastic. The ones I have observed are a bit too shimmery finish-wise when compared to a real pearly, and the biggest give away is the look of the painted areas of the models. The pearly finish is obviously on top of the paint. On a true pearly, because only the plastic is pearly, the paint almost entirely obscures the pearly nature of the plastic except in white areas.

And as I mentioned above, in recent years, Breyer has utilized pearlescent and metallic paint in many of their paint jobs, but as far as I know, no models molded in pearly plastic have been made since the 1970s. Perhaps a true pearly will be part of the Vintage Club line up in the future? Wouldn't that be fun!