Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Turning back the clock on the Breyer Western Pony

One of the perks of working for my alma mater, the University of Chicago, is access to its extensive library collection of more than 12 million volumes. Through it, I also have access to a variety of affiliate libraries in the area with interesting holdings of their own. Last May, I was finally able to visit one of these libraries to look through their issues of Toys and Novelties, a Chicago-based toy industry publication. My primary interest was in volumes from the mid-1940s through the end of the 1950s, seeking new information on the early days of Hartland, Breyer, and some of the companies that copied them.

Nearly 15 years of toy publications. I looked at
every single page.

Much of what I found has already been documented by earlier researchers, but I did turn up some fun new information that I don't think has been published yet. None of it is exactly earth-shattering, but it is the kind of minutiae that hobby history nerds like me live for.

First, some background---the earliest years of Breyer's history as a model horse manufacturer at the beginning of the 1950s are fairly murky. Very little in the way of early documentation has come to light, so collectors have made educated guesses based on the ads, catalogs, and price lists that do exist. We know the broad strokes, that Breyer started with the Western Horse in 1950 after taking over a contract with Mastercrafters Clock and Radio Company formerly held by Hartland. And we know that within a few years, they had added the Boxer, Western Pony, Fury Prancer, Lassie, Brahma Bull, and the Walking Hereford Bull to their line up along with a variety of riders. The earliest known catalog probably dates to 1954, but earlier company-issued catalogs, if they ever existed, have yet to come to light. We therefore have to rely on other sources of information such as toy trade publications like the aforementioned Toys and Novelties for glimpses into Breyer's beginnings.

I started with 1948 and worked my forward page by page over the course of several 8 hour days. The number of Hartland ads in the 1950s in Toys and Novelties far outstripped those by Breyer, but what Breyer submitted was at least colorful and visually appealing. Most issues featured a "New Toys on Parade" section which generally promoted products that had been on the market for a few months and were selling well. The Hartland Victor (free-standing) was listed in the new toys column in 1950, and the Breyer Western Horse (also free-standing) was likewise endorsed in the same column in 1951. (We know both models were available a year earlier respectively, but that has already been covered in my Western Horse Shaped Objects blog series.) I found this nice Western Horse advertisement in a 1952 issue (this is not a new discovery for collectors; it's just pretty). The back of the page features an ad for Breyer's Money Manager bank.

While it seems logical that Breyer's second model would be the Western Pony, it may in fact have been the Boxer which was featured in the "New Toys on Parade" column in February 1953.

The March 1953 issue is where things begin to get interesting. We know from Breyer historian Nancy Young's research that the earliest ad for a Western Pony she was aware of dated from the September 1953 issue of Western Horseman magazine (as per her published books in the late 1990s). According to Hartland expert Mike Jackson who collaborated with Nancy in the early 2000s, she had by that point come to believe that the Breyer Western Pony pre-dated the Hartland Small Champ, and likely dated to early 1953 if not earlier. The article below puts paid to that theory. Or rather, the photo does!

The article is about toy sales reps Walter and Arthur Krenzien, a father and son team who started their business in downtown Chicago in about 1930. They were one of the biggest promoters for Breyer in the early 1950s, and their ads featuring Breyer models can be found in a variety of 1950s Toys and Novelties issues. This particular issue from March 1953 mentions Breyers only in passing as one of many lines promoted by the Krenziens. It's the photo combined with the date of the magazine issue that knocked my socks off.

Check out the table on the left!

A close up---left to right: Boxer, alabaster WH & WP,
black WH & WP, and palomino WH & WP

To the best of my knowledge, this is the earliest proof we have of the existence of the Western Pony and the earliest date known for the black with gold trim colorway for the Western Horse and Pony. Because magazines are stocked and mailed in advance of their issue date, and because a certain amount of time is needed to write articles, lay out the articles, photos, and ads, and get the whole thing printed, the March 1953 issue of Toys and Novelties was very likely out by February of that year, presumably having gone to print at least the month before. Allowing time for writing and layout, it seems very likely that the actual photo used for the issue may have been taken some time in late 1952. Even if the Western Pony (and the black colorway for the Western Horse and Pony) were not yet available for sale in March 1953, we at least know the mold was functional and very likely in use by late 1952. It's entirely possible the Ponies (and the Boxer) were even sold for Christmas 1952.

I did not find an official "News Toys on Parade" release for the Western Pony as I did for the Western Horse and and Boxer, but I did find later ads for the Western Pony with various riders. It's possible the  Western Pony may predate the Boxer but simply wasn't advertised, or the two models may have been developed simultaneously. Given that Breyer was just getting started with model horses (and dogs), they may not have felt the need to promote every new release, or perhaps the Western Pony product announcement simply hasn't come to light yet. We may never know for sure, but it's fun to keep looking.

By 1954, Hartland was advertising their Champ models with cowboys and cowgirls, and by 1955, both Hartland and Breyer were in full swing offering various horse and rider sets. Nancy Young suspected that the Breyer riders probably predated all of the Hartland ones, but Hartland certainly beat them to the punch acquiring licensing rights for popular cowboy characters. But that is the subject for another blog post.

Just for fun, here are some other early Breyer ads I found. The March 1955 issue of Toys and Novelties featured an ad from Breyer wishing a happy business anniversary to the Krenziens.

The May issue from the same year featured the Indian brave and a pair of Cowboys or Lucky Rangers.

I am still working my way through other toy publications, and if I find anything fun, I'll be sure to update this post. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Remembering Krista Wasco

Life is full of surprises, and you never know how the smallest action can lead to something so huge and impactful as a wonderful friendship.

In May 2001, I made a post on Haynet-Exchange, the old hobby Yahoo group for buying and selling model horses, asking to trade my customizing skills for a Peter Stone pony called Sassy. The model had been released a few weeks earlier at Stone's Mayfest event in Shipshewana, IN, and I thought it was a really lovely piece. I was in grad school in Chicago at the time, so I hadn't really been aware of the event until after it was over. Not long after posting, I got a reply from Krista Corry, a hobbyist I didn't know, and she offered me her extra pony. She said it had a small flaw in the paint, but I told her I didn't mind, and she was just as happy to trade for my beginner level painting.

The pony that started it all

It turned out Krista was a fellow Minnesotan who was living just a few hours north of me in Fond Du Lac, WI, and her fiancé just happened to have family in Chicago where I was in school. The next time they were in town, they made a point to stop by to meet me. We had a wonderful time visiting, traded horses, and made a promise to meet up at BreyerFest later that summer. We continued to exchange emails and found we had similar tastes in movies and especially music (grunge, punk, and anything Chris Cornell did), as well as the same snarky sense of humor.

That one silly pony kicked off a 20+ year-long friendship and perpetual pony swap. Krista was glad to send me various OFs and resins of which I would keep a few and paint the rest for her. She even once traded me a window air-conditioning unit for my sweltering apartment in exchange for custom paint jobs. It makes me laugh every time I think of it.

As time went on, we became fast friends and made a point to get together every chance we could. At the Great Lakes Congress in Chicago in 2004, we roomed together and had so much fun all weekend. Krista, who was a talented tack maker and performance shower, took me under her wing and helped me start showing performance. She was generous with her talent and time, and she was always happy to lend tack or advice to anyone who needed it. I learned so much from her.

Krista tacking up her favorite breed

A beautiful Western saddle and bridle made by Krista

My favorite picture of us at GLC

Krista grew up with real horses and earned an equine science degree in college. She was a serious competitor in Western speed events from a young age. As she was in all aspects of her life, Krista was bold and fearless on horseback.

Krista barrel racing

Her heart horse was a bay Quarter Horse gelding named Trouble. His registered name was Sea Deck Go, and he was a great-great-great-grandson of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit. Krista and Trouble kicked ass and took names wherever they went.

Krista pole-bending with Trouble

Sea Deck Go aka Trouble

Krista’s beloved Trouble made the leap into the model horse world when I painted a portrait of him for her on DeeAnn Kjelshus' "Let's Roll" resin. The creativity and versatility of her performance entries was always so impressive, and just like with his real life counterpart, Krista enjoyed great success with model Trouble in just about every performance discipline.

Trouble spinning towards the last fence in a timed jump off

Trouble pole-bending in tack Krista made to match their real gear

A few months after attending GLC, we decided to hit the road together to travel to BreyerFest. To say we had a blast is an understatement. We laughed about loud ice machines, creepy hotel clerks, faulty fire alarms, and hilarious no-diving-or-your-head-will-break-off-and-lightning-will-shoot-out signs. (Trust me, it's really funny when you're punchy from lack of sleep because you showed at NAN until midnight for two days.)

Hanging out with Krista at BreyerFest was always an adventure. We showed at NAN and the BreyerFest Open Show, spectated at the not-a-NAN event, wandered the halls of the HIN/CHIN until the wee hours, and visited a bunch of horse farms over the years. 

Krista feeding a mint to Speightstown at Winstar

Krista and I with Tiznow

After she got married, Krista and her husband Mark moved to Sioux Falls, SD. One year after BreyerFest, I rode all the way back to Sioux Falls with her. We left Kentucky after the Sunday raffle (we didn't win, but not for lack of trying), drove through a crazy, intense thunderstorm, got asked for our numbers at a sandwich shop in Wisconsin, giggled like lunatics at Happy Bunny stickers at a gas station at two in the morning in the middle of nowhere, and finally rolled into Sioux Falls rocking out to Nine Inch Nails at 4am. I spent a couple of days with Krista noodling around Sioux Falls, and then we headed back to Minnesota to spend time with my family at my grandma's cottage. Grandma was also a horse person, and having lived through Seabiscuit's racing days, she was so impressed with and interested in Trouble and his famous ancestor. We had such a ridiculous amount of fun sharing stories during her stay with us.

Krista wanted very much to be a mom, and life with four kids kept her very busy. I didn't get to see her as much when they were young, but we definitely made the most of our time together when we could. 

Krista and baby Jack at BreyerFest

BF shenanigans with my sister, me, and Krista

At BreyerFest 2018, Krista was thrilled to meet one of her equestrian idols, champion barrel racer Charmayne James. She gushed about how amazing it was to get to talk to her at the Kentucky Horse Park, and I was so delighted for her when they ended up on the same flight out of Lexington and got to chat even more. 

Not even a twisted ankle could stop Krista at BF!
Krista was also a huge animal lover, adopting strays and purebreds alike. She loved all horses, too, but Quarter Horses, Saddlebreds, and especially cremellos were her favorite. She was good at anything she set her mind to, from making model horse tack to sewing clothes to learning sign language. Krista was the very embodiment of kindness, generosity, and compassion. 
Life threw an unfair number of curve balls at Krista, but her kids were her world, and she was their fiercest advocate. She would have done literally anything for them. She was a champion for autism awareness, trans-rights, and the LGBTQ community. Her kids loved Star Wars, and she took Space Mom (General Leia/Carrie Fisher) as her patron saint. We all remember her as a fierce mama bear and a strong woman who spoke out for what was right, but I know Krista would tell us she was just doing what had to be done.

It feels so unreal and wrong that we have lost such a vibrant, selfless, amazing force of nature like Krista. I'm devastated by the loss of my dear friend, and my heart is absolutely broken for her family, especially her kids. The outpouring of love from her friends has at least helped me bear my grief a little more easily. I hope Krista knew how many lives she touched and how many people loved her. She’ll always be remembered, and she’ll always be my best friend.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a Gofundme set up for mark and the kids.