Thursday, January 17, 2019

Hold Them Lightly

Everyone has different taste in model horses. "I only collect mint condition model horses," some people tell me.  "If it's not perfect, I don't even want to look at it."

And that's okay. I like mint condition model horses, too. My own collection contains a few undamaged model horses.  A couple of those have always lived in well-padded boxes in the closet because they'd be hard to replace.  

Mostly, though, the members of my herd look like survivors of a war zone, with their scuffs and scrapes, their missing ears and tail tips, their reglued legs.  Since I gave up participating in live model horse shows decades ago, it doesn't matter to me if they've been professionally restored.  I keep them because I still just like them, damage and all.

January 17 is the anniversary of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake -- a good time to remember and reflect on just how fragile the items in our hobby can be. 

Because there's nothing like a natural disaster to remind us that, much as we enjoy our model horses, wonderful as they are, old friends and treasured possessions they may be --

-- there's always the possibility they're not going to stay in perfect condition forever. I guess I've always known that, but in January 1994 I found out what it really means. 

Several dozen, mostly ceramic, model horse figurines,
a few seconds after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. 

I hope you never wake up to a scene like this, or have to run away from your home and your hobby because of fire or flood. And I hope no one ever chides you for "not taking better care of your horse figurines" after a natural disaster strikes.  If the natural disaster is big enough to take down a wall of your house, no amount of Quake-Hold or museum wax is going to protect your model horse collection.  

For many collectors, especially those who own several valuable pieces, having a separate insurance policy on your model horses might be worth considering.  

If you have more than a few model horses, it's also worth your time to create a written list or spreadsheet of what you own, so it will be easier to deal with when the time comes for your model horses to pass into other collectors' hands.

The model horse jigsaw puzzles in the aftermath of the magnitude 6.8 earthquake.
The force of the 'quake pulverized some of the ceramic horses' legs.
Some of them ended up with other collectors who have the skills
to rebuild tiny ceramic horse legs and ears and tails.

I also hope that, if you ever do lose a valuable and/or sentimental favorite member of your model horse herd, you'll be able to get to the point where you can come to terms with that loss.  And I hope that, once you get to the point when you can start to rebuild your collection, your friends will give (not just sell) you some wonderful pieces from their own model horse herds.

The most-damaged survivor in my little herd is a venerable, and otherwise drop-dead gorgeous, Monrovia-era Hagen-Renaker large "Amir."  He was a victim not of a major natural disaster, but an everyday household accident when his previous owner had him.  She had set him "just for a minute" on a windowsill, when a gust of wind blew against the curtains.  The curtains popped the "Amir" into the air and he fell to the floor in an instant.  His previous owner painstakingly glued him back together -- a small miracle, of sorts.

He still looks sort of okay from a distance.

In reality, though, he had broken apart into more than 20 pieces. And up close you can see every one of them.

"Amir" still has fault lines all over his face and body.  I can't even imagine asking a professional restorer to unglue him and make him look "mint" again.  

Not just because of the cost. It's because I like him just the way he is. Repairs and all.

He won't last forever, but in the meantime "Amir" reminds me that I need to be resilient, too. When that 6.8 magnitude earthquake happened -- a couple of decades after he suffered all that damage from his mishap on a windowsill -- the only damage he sustained was one re-broken leg.  I glued it back on, and he's been standing (yes, with museum wax under his hooves) on my shelves ever since.

Earlier this year a good friend went to an estate sale and found a second Hagen-Renaker large "Amir" for me, in excellent condition.  

I just like him, too.  Not just because he's in good condition, but because my friend went out of her way to obtain him for me.

Cherish your model horses.  Repair or restore them, or let them go to someone else graciously, when they are damaged. And remember what Nazi concentration camp survivor Corrie ten Boom was quoted as saying:

“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”

Monday, January 7, 2019

Customized Model Horses from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s

Every time I attend a "live" model horse event, I keep an eye out for old friends. Not just the human kind, but also the "vintage custom" kind of model horse figurine.   Vintage customs are growing in popularity, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to find them (in varying states of disrepair) among other used model horses for sale.

My own experience with customized model horses dates back to the early 1970s, when I first became aware that model horse collectors who were also artists repainted, repositioned, and/or added details such as "hair" manes and tails to model horses.

Some of the earliest "repaints" (as we called them at the time) were pretty straightforward -- oil-based or acrylic details like a blaze and stockings added to a solid-colored model horse.  Or, collectors would repaint the entire horse. 

Some of the earliest customized horses I've come across recently were done by artist Mary Ann Black between 1973 and 1975.  "MAB," as she was also known at the time, was one of the first brave souls to customize ceramic Hagen-Renaker horses.  Mary Ann would paint the horses and re-fire them in a kiln, making the finish more or less permanent.   Sometimes she would glue hair manes and tails onto the horses as well. Here is a haired Hagen-Renaker "Zilla" Arabian foal.  You can see that she simply added a black pinto pattern on top of the foal's original white factory finish, and then added a hair mane and tail.

Knowing what Hagen-Renakers from the 1970s sell for these days, it may be difficult to believe that people actually repainted them, but bear in mind that adult HR horses sold for less than $5 each back then.    

Most of the model horses I have from the 1970s and '80s were "cold painted," meaning repainted in acrylics or oils over the original finish of the horse.  Here are some examples.

Repainted Breyer Classic Arabian Mare by Sue Daigle:

Repainted Breyer Stablemate Arabian stallion by Cynthia Gardner:

And, finally, this fellow survived a major earthquake. His legs are messy with glue, but he abides: Hagen-Renaker "Lippet" Morgan stallion repainted by Nancy Strowger.

(Yes, someday I will find an artist who can restore his legs without messing up the artist's signature from 1979 on the sole of one hoof!)

If you'd like more information on customized model horses...

Discussions of vintage model horses come up often in the Facebook group Vintage Hobbyists -- Then and Now:

The Vintage Custom Model Equine Center website is here:

Customized model horses are more popular than ever. Many model horse collectors look forward each year to NaMoPaiMo -- National Model Painting Month.  You can find out more information on it here:

I wrote a longer, more detailed version of the story of Mary Ann Black's mixed media Hagen-Renaker horses for the Hagen-Renaker Collectors Club Newsletter in October 2018.  HRCC is a low-cost way to learn more about these iconic American figurines and the people who collect them. The HRCC website is here:

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Vintage Horse Books for Christmas

Of course we always wanted model horses for Christmas.  But a really good horse book was also acceptable!

Looking through some late 1950s-early 1960s issues of The Horse Lover's magazine, I found an interesting ad for horse books.  

The seller offers fiction and non-fiction books, so there would be "something for everyone" who was a horse lover.

If I'd had $3.00 to spend back then, and a little foresight, I would have gotten the Crabbet Arabian Stud book by Lady Wentworth.  It sells for about 15 times that amount now.  

I first saw a copy at the British Library in London earlier this year; I think it came from the estate of Lady Wentworth herself. And closer to home here in the US, there's at least one copy of The Crabbet Arabian Stud available to researchers at the W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library at Cal Poly Pomona!

Let's see what else was available in the way of Christmas horse books around 1960:

Justin Morgan Had a Horse, by Marguerite Henry. A classic in every sense of the word.  And the foals looked so soft in the illustrations by Wesley Dennis.

The tiny black-and-white illustrations bring back some memories....

And one more, just for fun:  Bluegrass Champion, by Dorothy Lyons, also illustrated by Wesley Dennis.

Here's hoping you get some good horse books to go with your model horses for the holidays!  And if you don't, seek them out at used book stores, online, at thrift stores and estate sales.  Read them, read them again, then share them with a kid who likes animals.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Rideable Toy Horses for Christmas

Today is #NationalDayoftheHorse, and of course there is much discussion of this on social media. Some wonder why December 13th would be the National Day of the Horse, as opposed to some other day, but to me it doesn't matter.

That's because we can use today to underscore the importance of giving and receiving horse-shaped objects for the holidays!

I mean, who doesn't want a horse or a pony for Christmas?  But not everyone has the money or the space to take care of a real horse.  For us, there was always the rideable toy horse, often called a hobby-horse, with roots that stretch back hundreds of years.  

This morning I went on the venerable website to look for early examples of horses and Christmas.  The earliest reference I found, in my cursory search, was a clipping from the Newcastle, England Weekly Courant in December 1773.  The paper published a list of books for children available for the holidays.

One of the books was titled "The Hobby-horse, or Christmas Companion."

The Hampshire Telegraph and Naval Chronicle, January 1, 1827, published a long article of rural Christmas traditions. One of them involved a make-believe horse.

"At Abbot's Bromley, in Staffordshire, a curious custom prevailed till lately called "the Hobby Horse," on Christmas Day, when a person carrying between his legs the figure of a horse, made of thin boards, danced through the streets," it reads in part.  

The unknown Englishmen who participated in this tradition -- though they may have had deeper cultural reasons for riding stick horses through the streets at Christmas -- have much in common with American kids more than a hundred years later, who also knew the joys of the wooden stick horse.

Handmade stick horse, circa 1952.

Store-bought stick horse, 1960.

I found hundreds of articles and advertisements for rocking horses and spring-mounted horses for Christmas, dating back to the late 1800s.  Here's an ad in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 18, 1869.  (Note that the ad above it, is for a pony for sale at Christmastime.)  

The spring-mounted horse was still in fashion in the 1950s and 1960s, when a generation of kids enjoyed riding Wonder Horses and similar toys.  You could buy them through mail-order department store and automotive store catalogs, as shown in the photo at the top of this post, or by visiting the store in person.

Show of hands: how many readers had a Wonder Horse or other similar riding toy?  No helmet, no seat belt, no elbow or knee pads.  And all the adventure we could imagine.  That's because during that era, the cowboy and his horse were our heroes.

Toys related to cowboys and their horses were ubiquitous back then.  There was a lot of creative advertising promoting rideable toy horses, too.  

It should not be lost on us that not only is this toy "just like the Lone Ranger's Silver" (that's what the ad says!)-- it also holds the weight of a person up to 175 pounds.  

Guilty, guilty, guilty, Mom and Dad.  

Of course, not everyone's parents could afford a bouncy horse for Christmas, or had the skills to craft one out of wood.  For us, there were other options. 

Why didn't the lumber store advertise this utilitarian object as a sawhorse, an essential tool of the construction trade?

Maybe the owner of the lumber store that ran that ad, just before Christmas 1959, knew that the most important part of getting a rideable horse toy for Christmas wasn't just the nature of the horse.  Our enjoyment was as big as our imaginations. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Model Horse History's Computer Connection: Ada Lovelace

December 10 is the anniversary of the birth of Englishwoman Ada King, better known as Ada Lovelace. Most people who honor Ada Lovelace remember her as a forerunner in modern computer science.

Ada Lovelace
But when I think about Ada Lovelace, I remember the Hagen-Renaker "Ferseyn" Arabian stallion, designed by Maureen Love.
Hagen-Renaker "Ferseyn," next to a photo of the real stallion.
Yes, there is a connection between this "first lady of modern computing" as she has been called, and one of my favorite model horse designs.

Ada King, an Englishwoman born in 1815, is widely acknowledged as being responsible for helping to develop the earliest prototype of a computer. She was the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, the renowned poet.

You can read more about Ada's life here:

When Ada's husband William was made Earl of Lovelace, she became Countess Lovelace. William and Ada had a daughter named Anne.

Lady Anne Blunt
Anne married a writer named Wilfrid Blunt. You can read more about them here:

Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt traveled in the Middle East in the late 1870s-1880s and brought Arabian horses back to England, establishing the Crabbet Stud.

Lady Wentworth and Skowronek
Their daughter Judith, also known as Lady Wentworth, sold a number of the descendants of her parents' Arabians to breeders all over the world, including one W.K. Kellogg. The American cereal magnate had established his own Arabian horse ranch in Pomona, California.

Mares and foals at the Kellogg Ranch
Two of the horses Kellogg bought from Lady Wentworth were the gray stallion *Raseyn (gr. 1923, Skowronek x Rayya) and the bay mare *Ferda (b. 1913, Rustem x Feluka).

*Raseyn with artist Gladys Brown
(later Gladys Brown Edwards), holding her portrait of him

And *Raseyn and *Ferda were the parents of Ferseyn.

The real Ferseyn (photo courtesy Western Livestock Journal)

In the mid-1950s, Maureen Love, working as a designer for the California pottery Hagen-Renaker, sketched Ferseyn and created the mold that became the ceramic Arabian stallion that so resembles the real horse. Maureen was introduced to Ferseyn through Gladys Brown Edwards, the artist and author whose name is most often associated with the Kellogg Ranch and the Kellogg Arabians. Gladys worked at the Kellogg Ranch as a secretary for many years. Her correspondence shows that she not only designed dogs for Hagen-Renaker, but that she also introduced Maureen Love to the Arabians owned by former Kellogg Ranch manager Herbert H. Reese, including Ferseyn and another Kellogg stallion, Abu Farwa.

"Ferseyn" was first issued by Hagen-Renaker in 1958.

In 1971, Breyer leased the mold and produced the Classic Arab Stallion.
Breyer Classic Arabian Stallion, chestnut

Breyer CAS in gray, next to the slightly larger Hagen-Renaker "Ferseyn"

The real stallion Ferseyn was also the inspiration for at least two other Hagen-Renaker molds: the "Abdullah" Arabian stallion, first issued in 1956...

Large (1956) and small (1968) "Abdullah" Arabians, courtesy Hagen-Renaker Online Museum
And the "Bedouin" Arabian horse with rider, first issued Fall 1956.

Courtesy Hagen-Renaker Online Museum

Gladys Brown Edwards' letter about Hagen-Renaker and Maureen Love is part of the collection at the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library. W.K. Kellogg and GBE's correspondence with Lady Wentworth are on file there as well.

You can find out more about the Crabbet Arabians and their legacy here:

Monday, October 29, 2018

Shout Out to the Braymere Custom Saddlery Blog!

Our fellow model horse enthusiast Jennifer, who writes Braymere Custom Saddlery's most excellent blog, just featured a slightly updated version of my article on  pre-1960 model horse collectors in the news.  It's fun to be a guest blogger from time to time.

Check it out!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Heavy Metal Horse: 1947 Abbotwares Western Horse Radio

I don't collect metal horse figurines. So many of them are so cool, but my shelf space is limited and they don't always mix well with the fragile ceramic horses because of the sheer weight of the metal!  One good "seismic event" and there goes the herd....

But last week at an antique mall I spotted a large, multitasking metal horse at an antique mall that I thought would look nice if displayed away from the other, more fragile model horses. So, after haggling about the price a bit, I brought it home.

My new equine collectible is an Abbotwares Western horse radio.  Abbotwares was a Los Angeles-based firm that produced and marketed decorative metal radios in the years just after World War II.  The company made several variations on this theme of horse-in-Western-tack, as well as versions showing two racing Thoroughbreds with jockeys, a rearing horse with a cowboy, a hula girl, and Lady Godiva on top of the tube radio base.

It is huge, and it weighs close to 10 pounds. I photographed it next to the iconic Breyer Family Arab Stallion to show the scale.

The saddle on my Western horse radio is separate from the body of the animal.  (Other versions of the Western horse radio have a horse with molded-on saddle.) The original reins were lost, so a previous owner substituted an old costume jewelry necklace (minus the clasp).  The radio is true to its pre-transistor day, with vacuum tubes and other post-war elements.

I plugged it in cautiously, and was pleased to find that the radio does seem to work (once the tubes have warmed up), but not too well. Expert help has been summoned, and I know that someday soon the Western horse radio will be functional as well as decorative. (Although there's nothing wrong with being merely decorative.)  

The online archive of Billboard magazine shows an ad on page 77 for Abbotwares radios in the November 15, 1947 issue -- just in time for Christmas in that year. The Western horses seem to be somewhat smaller than the example I found.

As you scroll through the pages, you'll see that the Western horse radio was being marketed in the same publication as other items that combined technology with decoration: juke boxes, gumball machines, coin-operated radios, slot machines, pinball machines...all signs of the times.

And maybe if I'm very lucky, when I turn the dial on the old Western horse radio, I'll find a station that plays music from that era...maybe even a song sung by Gene Autry.


For more information on metal horse figurines, I recommend books by Carolyn Martin: