Friday, February 16, 2024

Horse Figurines in the Making: An old film of Fannie Branson creating her "miniature horses"

Artist Fannie Branson with one of her equine creations in 1946

In 2023, I wrote a blog post on equine artist/crafter Fannie Branson (1881-1965) of Agate Beach, Oregon. 

Here's a short documentary film showing her at work! (Thanks to Linda Shaw for sharing the link with me.)

And here's a link to my original blog post on the artist:

Monday, December 11, 2023

Flocked Model Horses, Harnesses, and Vehicles by Charles B. Cottrell

Breyer Belgian with flocking and harness by Charles B. Cottrell.
Photo courtesy of the horse's proud owner, Jen Boss.

Breyer model horse collectors affectionately call them "flockies" -- the model horses and other animals covered with soft fuzzy flocking.  Kirsten Wellman's excellent blog Model Horse Collectibility summarizes the history of flocked Breyers. She notes:  

If a flocked model appeared as a regular run in a Breyer catalog, as a special run in the Sears, J. C. Penneys, or Montgomery Wards holiday catalogs, or as a BreyerFest special run, it is considered original finish. If it did not, it's aftermarket or custom. 

The distinguishing factor is the intent behind the model's creation -- the catalog issue models were specially ordered by Breyer and retailers in a collaboration with an Indiana company called Riegseckers. 

All other flockie models were produced independently -- with no orders or input from Breyer -- by a variety of family business and hobby customizers including Riegseckers, Eighmeys, the Diercks and Algyre family, and many others. 

One of the other independent makers was an Iowa man named Charles B. Cottrell. An example of his handiwork recently came to live with hobbyist Jen Boss, who kindly allowed me to use photos of her new pride and joy. 

Cottrell's initials are embossed into the harness:

The Cedar Rapids, Iowa Gazette newspaper ran a feature story on Charles B. Cottrell and his family, showcasing their harnessed animals and vehicles. The story noted that Cottrell, a "veteran All-Iowa Fair livestock superintendent," started his hobby in 1974. The article doesn't mention Breyer models by name, calling them "small plastic animals" that "are purchased and then flocked. But the tiny pieces of farm equipment are cut from wood, assembled, and painted, all by hand."

A close inspection of one of the photos accompanying the article shows that Cottrell didn't just flock Breyer horses....

...because that's a walking Hartland walking Quarter Horse mare in the harness with the Amish buggy!

In June 1977, the Gazette reported, Cottrell entered his flocked animals and wagons in the hobby division of the All-Iowa Fair, "which earned him exceptional exhibit honors."

Today, the flocked model horses of Charles B. Cottrell are among the sought-after stars on the shelves of collectors.


Here's the link to Kirsten Wellman's full blog post about flockies:

Meg McDonald wrote about flockies for the Breyer website:

There's a private Facebook group for collectors of Breyer flockies and vehicles, the Breyer Flockie and Wagon Collector's Showcase:

Here's my earlier blog post on the flocked model horses of Diercks & Algyre:

Note: The "market value" of any model horse is always dependent on condition, rarity, and who's shopping for it, among other things. A general starting place to find comparative values is to look at eBay "sold" auctions for the same or similar piece, then consult other model horse hobbyists for additional context.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Many Model Horse Photos of Hobbyist Ellen Hitchins

Two of Ellen Hitchins' Breyer Old Mold Proud Arabian Mares,
India and Sincerity.

Ellen Hitchins (1951-1996) was one of the "founding mothers" of the model horse hobby. She called her model horse stables "B&B Tack & Stables."

Ellen attended Cal Poly Pomona and pursued a career working with horses. Author Nancy Kelly, whose book Exploring the Model Horse Hobby is such a treasure, shared with me this photo of Ellen taken at the W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center at Cal Poly.

Nancy's book, and the many Facebook groups on vintage model horses and their history, are great sources of information about how the organized model horse hobby started in the late 1960s.

Ellen's friend (and mine) Laurie Jo Jensen loaned me a small box full of some of Ellen's model horse show photos from the 1960s and 1970s. Looking at them is truly a trip down memory lane. 

By looking at the horses in Ellen's collection, we can:

-- Observe the state of the early organized model horse hobby from the perspective of someone who took it seriously

-- See names of some of the other early hobbyists

-- Imagine the impact of seeing ceramic Hagen-Renaker and Beswick horses in show photos for the first time, if you'd only known about Breyer and Hartland horses before

-- See examples of early flocked repainted model horses

-- See how model horse show photography changed and improved, once a hobbyist started using a 35mm camera. Below we see Ellen's Breyer Family Arabian Foals Seven Eleven (left)and Chewy (right), in October 1967. This print looks like it could have been taken with a point-and-shoot Kodak Brownie or similar camera.

This is Ellen's Old Mold Proud Arabian Mare Seraphim, March 1970. She was probably photographed with a 35mm single-lens reflex camera.

I don't have time or space to show all the photos from Ellen's estate, but these will provide an overview of the diversity of her collection. 

So, in no particular order of importance, here are some of the highlights from Ellen Hitchins' photo show string.


Ellen owned horses we all would have coveted. This is an Arabian stallion hand-crafted by Virginia Orison. Most young model horse collectors couldn't afford these, but we sighed over the photos in Orison's ads in Western Horseman and other magazines in the 1960s-70s. Ellen called him Alla Habu.

The photo below, of a Thoroughbred called Warlock, has the name and address of Lourie Ellen Reid of New Jersey hand-written on the back. He's also a Virginia Orison creation, currently owned by Laurie Jo Jensen.

On the back of this photo is written "Domino, QH Stallion, Dark brown, black points." I believe he too is a Virginia Orison creation, although it's possible the negative was reversed when the print was made.

Three of Ellen's photos appear to be of Shirmar copies of the large Hagen-Renaker Arabian family: Zara, Amir, and Zilla. It's rare to see photos of them as unfinished pieces. 

Shirmar Ceramics was located in Pomona, California, where Ellen attended college. I see classified ads for them in the archives of the Pomona Progress-Bulletin newspaper from 1969 to 1974. Many contemporary hobby experts believe these were not authorized copies, but I wanted to show them for hobby history's sake. Shirmars still show up occasionally in collections and at model horse events.

Some of Ellen's photos are of model horse designs I'd never heard of.

Ellen called this Palomino Quarter Horse mare Margarita De Oro, and the back of her photo is marked "Original by Cowie." "Cowie" was Linda Cowie of Missouri.

This is another "Original by Cowie" -- an Arabian stallion Ellen called Sultaniman Abduraqueman, or "Abdu" for short. 

Another Cowie creation was Allah Serneyn. He looks magnificent in this photo. 

Imagine what it would have been like, if you'd been a youth in the early 1970s, and you'd never even heard of Hagen-Renaker horses...and you saw this photo of Ellen's Hagen-Renaker "Sheba," Serabi.

Ellen also showed other Hagen-Renaker horses. This is her "Roan Lady" Tennessee Walking Horse mare Stately Again, elegant in black and white. 

And this Hagen-Renaker small "Honora"  is Stately Brantley Boy, an American Saddlebred stallion.

Ellen photo-showed this Hagen-Renaker "Kelso" as Peg O' My Heart, a Quarter Horse mare. She wasn't the only model horse hobbyist who thought the Kelso mold made a good mare.

To save money on film processing, and if the photo show holder allowed it, collectors would sometimes photograph two models at a time. These are the Hagen-Renaker Morgan foals "Roughneck" and "Scamper," shown as Assam and Antigone, Arabian foals.

This Hagen-Renaker small "Zilla" foal was Touch of Amber, shown as a colt.

This mini Hagen-Renaker head-up Appaloosa could compete against larger horses in the early 1970s, although without a good closeup lens it was challenging to get a good picture of him. At this point, Ellen did have a pretty good camera.

Ellen kept track of some of the shows her horses entered. This pre-printed cardstock record shows the name of the show, the "executive" (show holder), and the date. The people holding the shows included Simone Smiljanic, Karen Pate, Marney Walerius, Ginny Venator, Kathy Maestas, and others. 

Given the dates of the photos, which are all 1973 or earlier, I believe this is a vintage custom Hagen-Renaker "Man O' War," rather than the 1975 Breyer plastic version. The name on the back of his photo is Diamond Jubilee. 

This appears to be the same horse, minus the "hair" mane and tail. I wonder which came first, and whether he was an early one of the famous "Diamond" horses of Kathy Maestas?

This Hagen-Renaker small "Zilla" foal was repainted chestnut. Ellen showed her as Mi Nefous.

Another Appaloosa in Ellen's show string was Cayenne Cochise, a Revell Appaloosa "kit" horse. (Other hobbyists have told me that the Revell Appaloosa came in brown and black.) Ellen kept 3x5" index cards showing his show record in performance and halter classes for 1968. Now THAT is early organized model horse hobby history.

This is one of his actual show photos.

It was not uncommon for photo A shower to have a very diverse show string. I don't have any information on the maker(s) of these next four vintage model horses. The Appaloosa and the buckskin may have been made by a company called Hampshire Hill or Hills.  If any of my readers have additional information, please share it in the comments below!

This next one has the name and address of hobbyist Jo Maness in Texas written on the back. No information about the horse or its maker, though.

No information on the maker of this horse.

I have no information on the maker or identity of this cheeky pony. But look at that face. 

In Ellen's day, a Beswick (England) horse could compete well against horses by other makers. They could be difficult to find, unless you had a source near the Canadian border or a high-end gift store in your area. Ellen had several very nice examples in her photo show string.

Ellen didn't write the name of this Beswick "Therese of Leam" Connemara Mare on the back of the photo.

This Beswick "Coed Coch Madog" Welsh Pony is also unnamed. 

This is *Skye Cameron, a matte brown Beswick Quarter Horse.

Minderbender, a Beswick matte brown "Bois Roussel."


Back in the day, it was not uncommon for hobbyists to customize their own models with flocking. Ellen had several flocked model horses in her herd. This flocked Breyer Proud Arabian Mare was called Serante.

This flocked Breyer Western Prancer was shown as Allah Rakida.  Note the date on the side of the photo print, July 1970.

This Breyer stretched Morgan was shown as Allah Raseyn, an Arabian stallion. 

Here's a smaller flockie, this time a foal made overseas. He is either ceramic "Made in Japan" or plastic underneath the flocking. If I recall correctly, this mold was about the size of a Breyer "Classic" foal.

Several of Ellen's photos show vintage custom model horses with what appear to be thick yarn manes and tails. Their photos are dated 1973. There's no information about their names or creator(s) on the backs of the pictures.


This Hartland 11-inch Quarter Horse is was customized as a pinto, shown under English tack 

This Hartland Arabian foal was named Antares and shown as a "Colombian Paso Foal." The name and address of Linda Mayfield of Los Angeles are hand-written on the back.


Ellen had an awesome collection of Breyer Proud Arabian Mares. Most of them were original finish "Old Mold" mares, made between 1956 and 1959. 

I have no information on them except Ellen's writing on the back of this group shot:

Wine Tumbler
(not shown: White Dove, *Serante')

There's no date on the photo. I'm assuming Surfilind was repainted (customized); there were no other photos of her. 

India had an Old Mold Proud Arabian foal called Silver Faranah. They are shown in this photo.

Wine Tumbler is the rare Appaloosa Old Mold PAM, shown here under Western tack with India.

Online hobby sources, including the Identify Your Breyer website, say there are only two known factory test Palomino Proud Arabian Mares that date to 1971. Ellen owned one of  them, and called her Spring Miraj. Three of her show photos date to June 1971.

The June 1971 date on the photos adds to this mare's backstory. I checked with Breyer expert Kirsten Wellman, who currently owns her. Kirsten wrote on her website:

The palomino PAM was long thought to be a hobby myth, and this gal is very probably the model at the root of the stories. She is a test run that dates from around 1970 or 1971. At that time, Breyer had re-acquired the rights to produce the PAM, and as a "new mold" model with a stamp, this mare is thought to have been a test run for the new mold PAMs. They were ultimately released in mahogany, alabaster, and dapple grey, but not palomino.

In 1971, renowned hobbyist, collector, and Breyer consultant Marney Walerius brought this model home from the factory, and it has been in collectors' hands ever since. I am guessing that Breyer opted not to produce the Proud Arabs in palomino because the Family Arabs were already available in that color and had been for some time.

Now we know that another of the collectors who owned her, at some point, was Ellen Hitchins. 

The grass in this photo appears different than in the photo dated June 1971 in the border. I wonder if it was taken before, or after, June 1971?

Wood Moss was a Breyer Woodgrain Stretched Morgan stallion with a variety of halter and performance show photos.

This Quarter Horse stallion was called Wise Decision. I'm not sure of the maker, but he appears to be a metal trophy top.

Film and processing were relatively expensive, on a young person's budget, and color film and processing even more so. I remember entering photo shows in the mid-1970s that had a mix of entries in black and white and color. 

Some of Ellen's black and white photos are just small works of art.

I'm hoping that once I share this post, other older hobbyists will respond and give me more information, or clarify the information, on the horses shown here. That's one of the many ways we learn more about the genesis of the organized model horse hobby, from the late 1960s to early 1970s.