Friday, December 8, 2017

A Model Horse for Christmas, Part Two

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of horses and horse-shaped toys and decorative objects as holiday gifts.  Right after that, I went to an estate sale and found some printed evidence that further underscores the importance of the horse in Mid-Century American life.

The 1950s and 1960s were an era where horse-loving children were encouraged and enabled at Christmastime.  The 1963 Spiegel Christmas Book catalog gives us many examples of model horses and other horse-related objects that could end up under the Christmas tree (with no money down and two years to pay, no less).

Let's step back in time and look at some of the many, many model horses and related items that were available in that day.

The cover of the 1963 Spiegel Christmas catalog
sets the stage for the time gone by.

TV show tie-ins for toys were abundant. 
One could ask Santa for a talking Mister Ed hand puppet.
Mr. Ed was not cheap, though; $3.88 in 1963 dollars is about $31.04 today.

If you were small enough,
you could sit on a plush horse while watching television.

Interactive toys had entirely different shapes in 1963. Here's a farm set that allows a child to learn that you can't put a square horse into a round pig's stall in the barn.

I see Paint By Number pictures of horses and other animals often at estate sales.  Again, they were not inexpensive.

Horses were integral parts of any toy Farm Set.

Toys that featured horses were for boys as well as girls in 1963.  I wonder if Buddy-L ever got a letter from Breyer's attorneys over the design
of these smaller knockoffs of the Family Arab stallion, mare, and foal?
I also wonder how many model horse-loving big sisters appropriated the horses
out of their little brother's toy trailer?

A horse race track that doubles as a car race track.

Now we're talking about one of the major influences in many a child's life: the bouncy horse. They came in a wide variety of styles, sizes, and finishes.

More horse-shaped ridable objects. 
Talking Blaze by Mattel was a serious "holy grail" for a lot of little kids.  Here's an original TV ad for Blaze.

More opportunities to watch TV on imaginary horseback,
coupled with all the elements you need for your own Carpet Herd of Hartland Western characters and their trusty steeds (each six inches tall when seated in saddle).

A horse-design wallet.  Why wasn't there one for girls, too?

For grownups or kids, a ceramic horse-themed "valet"
to hold a watch, cufflinks, etc. , by Swank. 

(I think Swank missed the boat with this duck-shaped valet, though. )

Breyer collectors knew that a model horse is not only decorative but functional.  This Spiegel page offered the Breyer Family Arabians in "White China finish" and (not pictured) "Wood Grain finish."  The set of two "King" Fighting Stallions came in "White China" (not pictured)
and "Wood Grain" and could function as bookends.  And the Western Pony is shown here as the "Pony Pen Set." 

The Western Pony appears here in palomino.  The caption on the next page says:  "PALOMINO GROOMER...stalwart stallion packs a young cowpokes [sic] complete grooming needs.  Snap-off saddle bag holds tooth brush, comb, nail file and clipper.  Plastic.  Abt. 8x7 1/2-in.high (1 lb. 4 oz.)  54 J 2749....Set $2.57." You can read more about the Breyer Grooming Kits here:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Pony for Christmas (although a Model Horse Will Do)

I was one of those little kids who always asked my parents for a pony (or a horse) for Christmas.  I never got one, of course; I say "of course" because we didn't have the space to own a horse or the money to board it somewhere nearby.  And I knew that.  But it didn't keep me from asking.

The tradition of asking for a pony (or a horse) for Christmas is a venerable one. I'm sure that the origins of the pony-for-Christmas go back centuries, but I was interested to see what references to kids and horses and holidays turned up online. So I went to and did a search for the phrase "pony for Christmas."

One of the oldest examples of that phrase being used in one of the archived newspapers was in the 1887 Philadelphia Times. With a nod to Louisa May Alcott, the paper described the lives of several "little men and women" of the area, noting that little Emma Rutter was being trained by her older sisters to ask Santa Claus to bring her a pony for Christmas.  

A somewhat saccharine story was published in several 1910 newspapers: the tale of Little Boy Bulger, who was naughty at Christmastime, but repented of his evil ways, apologized to his parents, and was rewarded with a pony as a New Year's present.

I found many examples of ads for Ponies for Christmas.  This one from Indiana dates to 1889.

Just before Christmas 1910, the Allentown (PA) Democrat carried this ad that promoted the health benefits of pony ownership, as well as the fact that a pony made an "attractive and useful lawn ornament."

The Pampa (TX) Daily News showed us the conflict that could occur when one parent approved of A Pony For Christmas and the other didn't, circa Christmas 1936.

By the 1950s, it was even harder for parents to ignore the idea of a horse as a companion because there were so many of them on television, ridden by cowboy heroes.

Unlike the protagonist in Lincoln Steffins' classic story "A Miserable, Merry Christmas," I never said that if I couldn't have a horse for Christmas I wanted nothing at all. I always settled for receiving a new model horse figurine, and once my parents thought I was Too Old For Things Like That, I started buying myself a model horse every Christmas.

Last Christmas, I bought myself a little Hagen-Renaker mini Western Pony foal. This darling little fellow was designed by Maureen Love and only released in Spring and Fall 1957.  He has been through the wars but he has a safe home on my shelves now. 

You can read "A Miserable, Merry Christmas" for free here:  

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Model Horses By Mail, Part Two: Dorothy Kindell Horse Figurines

This is another in a continuing occasional series about model horses that could be ordered through horse magazine ads in the 1950s and 1960s.

Another Western Horseman magazine ad, from November 1950, shows us a selection of horse figurines -- or at least HSOs (Horse-Shaped Objects) -- available from Dorothy Kindell Ceramics, a Southern California pottery that operated in the 1940s and 1950s.

Some of the names reflect popular horse breeds and colors; for example, "Kentucky Colonel" must have represented an American Saddlebred.  And "Flicka" was inspired by literature; the 1941 novel My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara had been made into a film in 1943 (and would inspire a TV series in 1956).

I found a photo from an eBay auction of a figurine that appears to be by Dorothy Kindell.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Model Horses By Mail, Part One

"Where did you buy model horses before the Internet?" younger collectors often ask me.  

Collectors in the 1950s and 1960s had several sources, of course -- we (or our family members and friends) bought them from bricks-and-mortar (actual) retail stores, from other collectors, and from ads we saw in print publications -- usually horse-related magazines.

This is the first in what I hope will be an occasional series of short posts about ads for model horses in horse magazines.

Here's a small display ad from the December 1960 issue of Western Horseman magazine, showing the relatively-new Breyer Family Arab Stallion in bay, alongside the Proud Arab Mare and Foal -- probably just before the lawsuit by Hagen-Renaker forced Breyer to stop producing the old version PAM and PAF.  

You can click on this link to see my earlier post paying tribute to the FAS, which mentions the history of the Proud and Family Arabians:

It looks like they have factory eyewhites!

Then in May 1961, another Western Horseman ad shows the lonely FAS, all by himself, for sale by another retailer.  

We'll look at other sources of model horses by mail, in future posts.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Joy of the Factory "Second"

A colleague in the model horse hobby gave me a gift not long ago: it's a rose gray Hagen-Renaker mini Arabian foal from the era when HR was located in Monrovia, California. I was quite pleased for two reasons: one, I didn't own this model in this color.  And two, this particular foal also helps illustrate an interesting aspect of HR history: that of the Factory Second.

Hagen-Renaker A-48 min Arabian foal,
tail pointing straight, first issued Fall 1959. 

You can tell from the foal's face that he has flaws that were probably incurred at the factory, around his eyes.  He has an extra chunk of clay on his right side, and his left eye is barely painted compared to my white mini Arab foal.

The reason the rose gray foal illustrates a bit of model horse history is that we know from anecdotal information and from newspaper ads of the day, that it was quite common for less-than-perfect Hagen-Renaker animal figurines, as more than one collector has described it to me, to "escape the factory."

I have to admit, the first time I heard that expression, I had a mental image of a tiny flawed ceramic horse coming to life and skittering out the back door of the factory while the employees were at lunch, to avoid being tossed in the trash.  

In reality, Hagen-Renaker regularly sold its second quality and soon-to-be-discontinued pieces from the factory itself, as described in this Pasadena, California newspaper classified ad from 1959:

 And at least one pottery store in nearby Pasadena sold HR seconds as well.  These Los Angeles Times display ads date from between 1964 and 1966.

It's also possible that factory seconds went home with Hagen-Renaker employees; after that, the seconds could have been sold at yard sales, estate sales, antique malls and the like.

And, in doing research for this blog, I've talked to more than one older person who lived in Monrovia during the 1950s and early 1960s who told me that, as kids, they used to walk by the Hagen-Renaker factory and dig through the trash looking for more-or-less intact ceramic figurines that didn't quite measure up or were otherwise not needed by the company.  (And yes, I asked them and no, they didn't still have the pieces they rescued.)

But what does a collector do with a tiny ceramic scrap of model horse history, besides display him next to his undamaged friend?

You find him a mom, of course.  One that also escaped the factory, not-quite-as-intended.  Like this Monrovia rose gray mini Arabian mare that never had her forelock painted.

A-48 foal with A-46 mini Arabian mare, also first issued Fall 1959.

Both pieces were designed with great care by artist Maureen Love, and despite not being "perfect" they have survived over the decades to land on my shelf. 

I think they look wonderful together.  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ode to the Breyer Family Arab Stallion (FAS)

I don’t actively collect plastic horses anymore, so I probably should not have brought him home from the estate sale.  But the Breyer glossy palomino Family Arab Stallion was sitting there all by himself on a shelf, looking sort of forlorn, even wistful.

So I sighed, paid the three dollars, liberated him and brought him home.  I'll probably rehome him with a young person who's just getting into model horses (mostly because I already have one of these guys in glossy palomino...that I found at another estate sale, all by itself and looking lonesome).

The Family Arabian Stallion is one of Breyer’s most durable and popular model horses – so much so that he goes by his initials, FAS, among collectors.  He is at once iconic and nerdy, compared to the more refined model horses of recent years, yet Breyer has produced him in countless millions in a variety of colors since his debut in the late 1950s.  He has a sturdy design with a tail like a teapot handle that children can (and do) easily hold.  He’s a great First Real Model Horse for a kid.

Non-collectors who try to resell a used Family Arab Stallion often don’t know what to make of him.  His fans (and his detractors) report seeing him everywhere in secondhand stores, from the $1 near-mint condition FAS at Goodwill to the $85 specimen at an antique mall, so scuffed and beat up that he looks like someone had force-fed him to a chipper shredder and put his remains up for sale.  (No wonder no one is buying him, in that condition and at that price. Remember, Breyer has made literally millions of pieces in this design over the decades. A nice-enough FAS can be found on eBay for between $2.50 and $20 most of the time, unless he’s a Special Run piece or has other factors going for him.)

Even though his commercial value is somewhat limited, the Family Arab Stallion is durable and deserves a place in model horse history. He is the Timex watch, the Energizer Bunny of the model horse world – chunkily graceful, forthright, kind, and enduring. And I suspect that even collectors who think he’s not very handsome, have a secret soft spot in their hearts for him, because he was probably one of the first Breyer horses they ever owned.  If they were collecting from about 1960 forward, they may have owned the matching Family Arab Mare and Foal (also produced in the millions), or, if the collector is old enough, they may have collected him with what came to be known as the Breyer Proud Arab Mare and Foal in the late 1950s.

Part of the FAS's back story is fairly well-known: he's a copy of another model horse. In 1957, California ceramics company Hagen-Renaker, Inc. produced an Arabian stallion, mare and foal called “Amir,” “Zara” and “Zilla.”  The adults stood about 9" at the ear tips -- roughly the same size as a Traditional Breyer.  These three Arabians were designed for HR by artist Maureen Love.

By 1959 Breyer Molding Co. (then based in Chicago) released its first plastic Arabian mare and foal models, later known as the Proud Arab Mare and Foal, along with the Family Arab Stallion. All three of these models bore a remarkably close resemblance to the Hagen-Renaker Arabians, and HR sued Breyer for copyright infringement; Breyer suspended production of the PAM and PAF.  But from what other model horse historians tell me, the Family Arab Stallion was different enough to be kept in the Breyer line. (The FAS and the “Amir” Arabian stallion have different forelegs up.)

Breyer Family Arabian stallion (plastic), left
and Hagen-Renaker Large Amir (ceramic), right

Rear: Hagen-Renaker Amir; front, Breyer FAS

In about 1960-61, the FAS was joined by the Family Arab Foal and Family Arab Mare.  These two were different enough from the Hagen-Renaker horses to keep the lawyers happy.  In the 1970s, the two companies entered into an agreement whereby the Proud Arab Mare and Foal were reissued, and many other Hagen-Renaker horse designs were issued by Breyer. This story is pretty commonly-known among collectors. 

But the Family Arab Stallion may have another back story that not many model horse collectors know about: it's plausible that the large Hagen-Renaker “Amir” and the Breyer Family Arab Stallion owe their existence to one real Arabian stallion -- the legendary Abu Farwa.  

Abu Farwa (photo by Gladys Brown Edwards)
in a 1950s issue of Western Livestock Journal.

Gladys Brown Edwards works on her sculpture
of the Quarter Horse stallion Tip Top.

Maureen Love sketches an Appaloosa
at a Southern California ranch in the early 1960s.

The back story begins just outside Los Angeles, California, in the 1950s. Equine artist and sculptor Gladys Brown Edwards had recently divorced her husband Cecil and moved from Oregon back to Southern California, and was trying to support herself as a freelance animal artist.  A 1955 letter from Gladys to Cecil, preserved at the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library in Pomona, California, notes that she had designed some dog figurines for a local pottery called Hagen-Renaker, Inc.  (HR collectors never knew this until the letter surfaced last year, and the librarians and I were able to connect what Gladys had written to Hagen-Renaker’s dog designs.) Gladys’ letter says she greatly admired the other animal sculptures by HR designer Maureen Love, so much so that she introduced Maureen to a friend who owned, as Gladys put it, “some good Arabs.”  That friend was local horseman Herbert H. Reese, and the “good Arabs” he owned were some of the leading stallions of their day: Alla Amarward, Ferseyn, and Abu Farwa.  Maureen Love visited Reese’s ranch and made numerous sketches of the three stallions.  In turn, she created several iconic ceramic horse designs for Hagen-Renaker. 

Abu Farwa, from an old issue of Western Livestock Journal magazine.
Hagen-Renaker 9" "Amir" Arabian stallion, first issued in 1957.
(Yes, this one has suffered many breaks and repairs over the decades.)

Ferseyn, from an ad in an old issue of Western Livestock Journal.

Hagen-Renaker "Ferseyn," first issued in 1958.

Hagen-Renaker mini Arabian stallion, first issued in 1959.

We can infer that the big Hagen-Renaker “Amir” was based on the real Abu Farwa not only from Maureen’s sketches of a prancing chestnut Arabian stallion with a distinctive blaze like the real horse's facial marking, but also from a May 1970 article in Arabian Horse World magazine by Carol Mulder. The magazine issue was a tribute to Abu Farwa, who was one of the most important Arabian sires of the 20th century. In summarizing his life on H.H. Reese’s ranch in the late 1940s and 1950s, Mulder wrote of “Ab” --

“During this period of his life, AB was sculptured by the very talented artist, Maureen Love (now Mrs. Calvert).  The result of her many hours of sitting in AB’s paddock with him is a very true-to-life likeness, which was sold for a short time as well-done, artistic ceramic work. These beautiful works of art are no longer available, but cheap imitations formed in some sort of material like plastic seem to be on sale in most drug and/or dime stores.”

It would appear that Ms. Mulder was one of the Family Arab Stallion’s detractors, and she does have a point – he’s not nearly as handsome or graceful as the more-fragile, less-available ceramic “Amir.” 

But you don’t have to be gorgeous to have an impact, at least not if you’re a model horse.  Even though he may not look a lot like the real Abu Farwa, the Breyer FAS was, and is, one of model horsedom’s most potent gateway drugs, the entry-level collectible that has powered a million model horse-shaped dreams for girls and boys all over the world.  

And the FAS is like the proverbial potato chip – once you have him, if you like him, you’re not satisfied with just one color. And you need the mare and foal to go with him, and ooh, they come in a variety of colors, too, so in addition to the palomino and the bay and the alabaster you can get the Appaloosa Family Arab set, and they came in glossy and matte finishes, and then there are all the Special Run colors over the decades (including this year's Breyer blue and gold Decorator releases), and….

The Family Arab Stallion prances on and on.  I wonder if he knows how much a part of history he may be?

Footnote: As noted above, Hagen-Renaker and Breyer had a more amicable professional relationship in the decades to come. During the 1970s, Breyer renegotiated with HR and started producing the PAM and PAF again. Breyer also licensed several Designers’ Workshop (Classic size, to Breyer collectors) molds from Hagen-Renaker to produce in plastic, including the HR Arabian stallion “Ferseyn” mold as the Breyer Classic Arab Stallion along with the Classic Arab Mare and Foal (also originally HR designs by Maureen Love); the Classic Quarter Horse Family, and the Classic Mustang Family. 

The original Breyer Classic Thoroughbreds Man O’War, Silky Sullivan, Terrang, Kelso, and Swaps were all Maureen Love’s designs for Hagen-Renaker ceramics before they were licensed by Breyer.  

The Breyer “G1” Stablemates are licensed copies of Hagen-Renaker miniature horse figurines – all designed by Maureen Love. Indeed, the G1 Stablemate Arabian stallion was either inspired by Abu Farwa or his own stable mate, the stallion Alla Amarward (both real horses were chestnut, and HR collectors who’ve seen Maureen Love’s original sketches disagree on which stallion became that tiny Hagen-Renaker mold).  

Breyer still uses some of Maureen Love’s designs – the recent “Coeur de Leon” Appaloosa is the “Terrang” mold, the Stablemate “Coco” in pinto is the Hagen-Renaker Thoroughbred mare mold.  Breyer’s choice for its commemorative model celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Man O’War in 2017 is that same “classic” Maureen Love design.

Artist Gladys Brown Edwards, who introduced Maureen Love to Abu Farwa, went on to become one of the twentieth century's best-known equine experts, specializing in writing about Arabian horse history and conformation. She was also very well-known for her horse art.

For Further Reading:

Kirsten Wellman has told the story of the Proud Arabian Mare and the lawsuit between Hagen-Renaker and Breyer on her blog: 

If the Breyer Family Arabs have a Super Fan, it is model horse hobbyist Sue Sudekum.

The Hagen-Renaker Online Museum has lots of pictures of Maureen Love's horse designs and more: