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:

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Family of Champions" by George Ford Morris

(A version of this post originally appeared in 2014 in my other blog, The Estate Sale Chronicles.)

We've talked before about the importance of equine art in the life and research of model horse collectors.

I found a somewhat hidden treasure at an estate sale back in 2014.  In a bedroom closet, in a box, underneath a bunch of mass-produced prints "suitable for framing" (that no one ever bothered to frame), was an old matted picture of three horses: a stallion, a mare, and a foal. They were extremely well-drawn.

Even though I'd  never seen this particular work before, the name of the artist popped into my head almost before I could think:

George Ford Morris.

And indeed the picture was signed, in pencil, on the lower right, next to the colt.

The picture is a lithograph called "Family of Champions" by American artist George Ford Morris (1873-1960).  Morris has been described as the foremost American equestrian artist of his time.  He was mostly self-taught; his original art today commands serious prices.  One blogger notes:  

In his day there was no finer American equestrian artist than George Ford Morris. By painting horses, riders and their owners, Morris captured on canvas the ever-changing world of "Town and Country" Americana.

Even though many breeds were represented in his work, George Ford Morris is perhaps most associated with the American Saddlebred horse.  And this picture of the "Family of Champions" is an early 20th century equine equivalent of an official court portrait of William, Kate and baby George.

The stallion in the lithograph was the famous show horse and sire Bourbon King, a chestnut American Saddlebred stallion foaled in 1900.

Here's a photograph of the real-life Bourbon King.

The gray mare was Princess Eugenia, foaled in 1909.

Here she is, in real life.

George Ford Morris took this headstudy of Princess Eugenia.

And the chestnut colt was King's Genius, foaled in 1924.

King's Genius grew up to be quite a handsome fellow, a champion show horse and sire of champions.

Before I found this lithograph at the estate sale, I'd never seen any of George Ford Morris' work in person, although I have spent many hours looking at reproductions of his art in books.  You can click on some of the links below to see other works by this talented 20th century artist.
Here's a link to an art gallery website with a short biography of George Ford Morris:

Ed and Sheri Alcorn have a wonderful website with pictures of many pieces of art they own by George Ford Morris.  It's also a very useful resource for information on ceramic animals produced by Hagen-Renaker, Inc.

Here's an article on the history of the American Saddebred:

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Vintage 1960s Mail-Order Catalog Ponies (and Burros)

Once again, researching the history of model horse figurines in the United States has led me down the trail of real horse history. 

We've talked in the past about the mid-twentieth century practice of ordering model horses through the mail, for holidays, birthdays, etc.  We saw ads for Breyers, Hartlands, and Hagen-Renakers in horse magazines as well as (forthe plastic models) catalogs for major retailers like Sears, Montgomery Ward, JC Penney, and Spiegel.

It was the heyday of the TV cowboy, after all, and scores of American youngsters received model horses as gifts -- or, if we could afford them, we bought them ourselves.  Some model horse collectors owned real horses; to the rest of us, the model horse took the much smaller, less expensive, low-maintenance place (temporarily or always) of a living, breathing equine.

While looking for examples of mail order catalog model horses, I came across the Spring-Summer 1960 Spiegel catalog, and in it the evidence of a small piece of real 1950s horse history. It was a time in our history when you could order live animals -- dogs, birds, monkeys, hamsters, coatimundis (yes), and more -- from mail order catalogs.

I was disappointed, but not really surprised, not to find model horses in this non-holiday issue of the catalog. In the back of this volume, though, I spotted that saddles and bridles for real horses could be ordered and shipped to customers....

...As well as real, live, Shetland Ponies and burros.  Adult ponies, without tack, were about $300 and Shetland colts up to a year old, $180.  A young burro cost about $80. And they took time payments.

These listings are placed towards the end of the catalog, after the farm and pet supplies and before the life-size chart that allows you to measure your foot size for shoes. 

I read through my research on the subject of buying ponies, burros, and other animals from catalogs with mixed feelings.  It's nothing new to have an animal shipped by rail or by truck from Point A to Point B.  Still, I imagined what the life of a mail-order pony or burro might have been if its new owners knew nothing about horse care -- to say nothing of its overland journey, shipped in a crate (which the owners had to return) to its excited new young masters or mistresses.

News stories from that era say that Spiegel had begun offering mail-order Shetlands and burros in 1954. This 1960 Spiegel ad shows the source of these Shetlands: the Fashion Club Pony Farm.  The Fashion Club was founded by Gene Harris of Chicago. Its branches in Leon, Iowa and Libertyville, Illinois sold thousands of ponies in person and to mail order vendors.  

Spiegel wasn't the only catalog selling small equines in the late 1950s-early 1960s.  The Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1956, announced that Sears and Montgomery Wards were offering Shetlands and burros as well.

The Des Moines Tribune had published an article on Harris the previous year.  In it, Harris was quoted as saying, "There'll be a pony in every suburban backyard someday."  Harris also said that a Shetland Pony "needs no care" would "grow fat" cropping its owners' lawn.    


I was able to trace one source of mail-order burros through articles in the Arizona Republic, April 3, 1955.  It and other stories described the mail order burro business of Dr. Fred Schmidt's Poverty Flat Ranch in Douglas, Arizona.

The article says a gift company in New Jersey was selling 40 burros a day. For his mail order house customers in the midwest and eastern US, Schmidt would order 50 to 100 burros, 3 to 6 months old, from sources in Mexico.

The Arizona Daily Star, April 1, 1956 told more about Schmidt's burro sales. He describes burros as "wonderful pets for youngsters," as loyal as dogs.

This news story says Schmidt foresaw the day when the burro supply from Mexico would start to dry up, so he planned ahead and had 200 jennies (female burros) at his ranch to ensure he would have an ample supply of young burros to sell.

Not all small equines from major retailers came through catalogs. Sears sold Shetland ponies from at least some of their bricks-and-mortar, as this May 31, 1959 ad in the Nashville Tennessean shows:

With advertising and news stories as persuasive as this, how was a parent to explain to a child that not all suburban zoning laws allowed livestock to be kept in a small backyard? How to counter the published claim that a Shetland pony was "no trouble," and the implication that it only needed to graze on the lawn to be fat and healthy? Some newspaper articles from that era describe anxious parents going so far as to remove the catalog pages showing the real ponies and burros while their children slept.

Eventually the fad of the mail order equine ran its course. The Arizona Republic, June 20, 1958 reported that more than 4,000 burros had been sold "back east" to date, and supplies were running low.

And a classified ad in the Des Moines Register, September 9, 1962, announced that the Fashion Club Pony Farm was having a Closing Out Farm Sale.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Hagen-Renaker "Brookside Stella" Hackney Pony

Hagen-Renaker Monrovia "Brookside Stella"
with replacement wooden base.

One of Maureen Love's earliest designs for Hagen-Renaker was the B-644 Hackney Pony "Brookside Stella," designed and named after a real show pony. The model was one of two Monrovia HR designs with a foil sticker on the bottom of a base giving information about the breed (the other was the Lipizzan). "Brookside Stella" was first issued in Fall 1956-Spring 1958, reissued Fall 1983-Spring 1985, and later reissued as a Special Run for BreyerFest in 2008.

Left, Monrovia (1950s) version; center and right, San Marcos (1980s) reissues.

Sticker on base of Monrovia model.

2008 BreyerFest Special Run models, black and charcoal.
We know the real Brookside Stella was a pony and not a horse because of book and newspaper records of horse shows during the post-World War II era. Brookside Stella was owned and driven in Hackney Pony harness classes, and later shown in halter, by the redoubtable Southern California socialite Mrs. J.A. Smith. She, along with her husband, owned dozens of Hackney ponies (many of whom had the prefix "Brookside") and Shetland ponies, which Mrs. Smith showed in harness and halter classes around the country, sometimes taking 16-18 ponies at at a time on the road to shows. Brookside Stella's name appears in the show results for Hackneys under 13 hands high.

Shreveport, Louisiana Times, June 1, 1949.

The earliest records I've been able to find of Mrs. Smith and Stella are from 1949, and the last mention of little Stella I've found was in a photo showing her standing next to her handler at the Smith's pony farm, in a 1955 issue of the Los Angeles Times. Brookside Stella's name also appears in a 1951 newspaper article on the Grand National Exposition, Horse Show and Rodeo at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, as having been "exhibited by Kenmore Stables," and also as being owned by Kenmore Stables at the 1951 Los Angeles International Horse Show. Kenmore Stables was in San Diego, so it appears that little Stella changed hands more than once. She was back at the Smith pony ranch by 1955, though, as we know from the LA Times article from the same year, and from the foil sticker on the base of the HR "Brookside Stella" from 1956.

Los Angeles Times, February 6, 1955. 

An interesting footnote to this story is that some of Mrs. Smith's other ponies competed against the Hackneys owned by the Owl Truck and Construction Company, which also owned the team of Belgian horses that included Sespe Violette, subject of another Maureen Love design for Hagen-Renaker, the B-567 Belgian mare of the same name.

My own Monrovia "Brookside Stella" lost her original base over the years, so she now has a new wooden one.

"Brookside Stella" group shots courtesy of the online Hagen-Renaker Museum.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Magazine, 1952-1953

Horse magazines are an important part of the education of the model horse collector, and indeed all horse lovers.  Magazines teach us about horse breeds, about famous horses and riders, stables and horse events.  And when I found some old horse magazines at an estate sale last year, they taught me a little more about the history of the horse in California in the mid-twentieth century.

The ad for the estate sale said the items had belonged to the widow of a man who had been a race horse trainer in Southern California, which of course piqued my interest.  It turned out that not only had Don Early trained Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, he had also been the editor of more than one Southern California-based horse magazine in the post-World War II era.  

Apparently neither publication lasted long, but they did capture a snapshot in time, when the work of the horse had shifted from agriculture and transportation, to recreation and sport.

This blog post will focus on one of the magazines, Pacific Coast Quarter Horse.  I found issues dating from July 1952 to June 1953.

The cover of the premier issue featured the filly Sue's Joela. 

"ON THE COVER -- The intelligent-looking, well-conformed youngster gracing our first cover is the 1952 foal of an Illinois-owned mare shipped to California to the court of Joe Reed II.  The dam is Sue's Answer, by Question Mark out of the Joe Reed mare, Sue Reed."  

The  Table of Contents page listed the officers and directors of the PCQHA.

We can see editor Don Early, who saved copies of the magazine for decades, in the middle of the page.

The letter from the president of the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association, Richard Danielson, Jr., hoped that "this magazine will make new friends for the Quarter Horse."

Subsequent issues featured cover photos of some of the best-known Quarter Horses of that long-ago day, including who chestnut stallions, Harold Hutson's Buzzie Bell H (August 1952) (Daybreak x Lucky Strike Bell mare), and Joe Reed II (November 1952) (Joe Reed x Nellene).

The speedy stallion Senor Bill (Chicaro Bill x Do Good) was featured on the October 1952 cover.

Other covers featured racing filly Bardella (Three Bars x Della P) (January 1953)  and stallion Bart B.S. (Dee Dee x Mable Tet [TB]), affectionately known as the Grey Ghost (March 1953) .

The last issue of the publication at the estate sale, June 1953, featured the venerable stallion Texas Dandy (My Texas Dandy x Streak).  The letter from the president of the PCQHA said that the magazine was struggling due to lack of advertisers.  

The editor had also saved a small stack of PCQHA letterhead.

What impressed me more than the fact that Don Early had kept multiple copies of each magazine, was the fact that he had also kept some of the original art used in the magazine, inked onto white cardstock.  Many of the pieces were unsigned, but others had been created by noted Western artist and horse trainer Mac McHugh. You can see the printer's markings in pencil on the borders of the drawings.

Still others were cartoons by Pawnee Indian artist, illustrator and war hero Brummett Echohawk.

I've donated a set of the magazines, as well as all the original art, to the Special Collections Unit at Cal Poly Pomona University Library.  They specialize in Southern California history, and the collection from the estate of Don Early's widow will help researchers illuminate the history of the horse in Southern California and the United States, in the years following World War II. (Special Collections is also the home of the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library, which holds information about many breeds of horses.) 

I'm sure that others who document the history of the Quarter Horse in the US will be able to provide better context for these copies of Pacific Coast Quarter Horse magazine.  In the meantime, it's a pleasure to show you what I found at this estate sale.