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:


  1. Very interesting read. Thanks, Teresa!

  2. Great article! I had heard about Ferseyn, but never Abu Farwa. That's some good detective work! I am one of the thousands of collectors who began with a FAS... the glossy Grey Appy, to be exact. Then, at about age 6, my parents brought home a creamy white (pale version of the glossy palomino) one, and it was my life's "light bulb" moment: They made these in more than one color? Now 29 of them greet visitors to our home, and the passion they spurred has turned into a wonderful business! Long live the FAS!
    ~ Eleda, Triple Mountain Model Horses