Saturday, July 28, 2018

Early Examples of Model Horse Collections, 1930s to 1950s

At BreyerFest earlier this month, some of the longest-standing members of the hobby and I talked quite a bit about the origins of model horse collecting in the twentieth century.  (I won't say we're the "oldest" members of the hobby, because even the good folks in their 70s are still very much young at heart.)  

Our conversations reminded me of these drawings by C.W. Anderson from his book Blaze and the Spotted Pony. How well he knew us!

So I decided to go into the venerable database and dig around for expressions such as "model horse," "horse figurine," and "horse collection" in the context that we in the hobby think of those terms.

While most people in the hobby today are women and girls, boys played a significant part of the newspaper stories I read about horse collections. The earliest example of the phrase "horse collection" I could find (not referring to someone with a lot of real horses) came from the Pittsburgh Press newspaper, January 25, 1937.  A young man, James W. Arrott, IV, entered his miniature horse collection in a local hobby show.

An Abilene (Texas) Reporter newspaper story from October 13, 1938, described Mrs. W.D. Fagan's "unusual" miniature horse collection that ranged from half an inch to about a foot high.  The paper had asked its readers to tell them about their hobbies.

The earliest newspaper stories I read didn't discuss groups of collectors buying, selling, trading model horses amongst themselves, or corresponding about their hobby.  It appeared that lots of Americans had collections of figurines, and some of them collected horses.   Children who had collections often met at a club such as a 4H or riding club, a Scout troop, or a library, and perhaps shared their common interest there.

The Greeley (Colorado) Daily Tribune reported on June 24, 1944, that local school children raised money for a $100 War Bond by charging admission to see their collections of various items, including lambs, pigs, and horses.

Merchants caught on to the need to advertise horse collectibles, as shown in the Salem (Oregon) Capital Journal ad for the Metropolitan store from April 12, 1945: 

By the 1940s, collectors putting model horse collections on display in local public libraries seemed to be fairly common.  This may have been due, in part, to the increasing popularity of juvenile fiction horse books.  Walter Farley's The Black Stallion was first published in 1941; The Black Stallion Returns came out in 1945, the same year Marguerite Henry's Justin Morgan Had a Horse was published.  

The Mount Pleasant (Iowa) News, March 18, 1946, describes such a display.

Cowboys in pop culture also played a huge role in the imagination of boys and girls alike in the post-World War II era.  The adventures of cowboys and, importantly, their faithful steeds were ubiquitous on the radio, in comic books and newspaper comic strips, in the movies and later on TV. The Minneapolis Star Tribune from May 16, 1948, showed a photo of third grader Donny Anderson, appropriately attired in his cowboy outfit, sitting next to his model horse collection.

So where did people find model horses, before the days of Breyer, Hartland, and Hagen-Renaker?  Their options were limited, including toys, handmade horses (ceramic or hand-carved), or ceramic and metal horse figurines marketed as decorative objects. A search for the phrase "horse figurine" turned up this ad from the Amarillo Globe-Times, December 8, 1938:

Later, ads and articles aimed specifically at people who had animal collections became more numerous.  The Dayton Daily News, August 26, 1945, had a hobby-specific advertisement for Wagner's:

Fred Meyer Drugs advertised one of its early horse figurines in the November 13, 1945 Salem Capital Journal:

Graceful Horse Figurines appear in this November 22, 1945 ad for Sears, Roebuck & Co. in the Minneapolis Star:

In 1946, the name of a pioneering model horse designer began to appear in Idaho newspapers as well as in magazines such as Western Horseman: Virginia Orison.  (She deserves a separate blog post, which I'm working on.)

Metal horse figurines were common in American households, gracing bookshelves and fireplace mantels.  And by the late 1940s, kids and adults from all walks of life were given model horses as gifts.  President Harry Truman, for example, in 1948, received what looks a lot like a small metal horse in Western tack like the one that Gladys Brown Edwards designed.  The horse was sent to the president as a birthday gift from a nine-year-old Wyoming boy.

By 1954, newspaper ads had begun to show illustrations of horse-shaped objects we might recognize.  The Ben Franklin stores ran this ad in newspapers in July 1954:

In the 1950s it was common to see boys and girls with model horse collections mentioned in their local newspapers.  This photo from the November 28, 1957 Nashville Tennessean shows a group of girls admiring what may have been a Beswick 976 mare in bay.

The Winona, Minnesota Daily News, November 29, 1958, showed a photo of collectors with (among others) some new-at-the-time Hagen-Renaker horse figurines, as well as what might be one of the Orison Quarter Horse models under Western tack.

In the near future I'll post some other examples of reporting on model horse collections before 1960, using old horse magazines as my sources.  Stay tuned!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Happy Birthday, Misty of Chincoteague

The good folks at the Museum of Chincoteague tell us that July 20th is the birthday of Misty of Chincoteague. She was foaled 72 years ago today.

Photo of Marguerite Henry and Misty, Chicago Tribune, 11/16/1947.

Marguerite Henry's books about Misty and the other ponies (Stormy, Sea Star, et al.) are must-reads for any model horse collector.  
Misty shaking hands. Illustration by Wesley Dennis.

And you can still find Misty of Chincoteague in public and school libraries (if the librarians are worth their salt).  

Breyer "Misty of Chincoteague" with original box, 1972.

Most collectors are familiar with the Breyer versions of Misty and the other famous Chincoteague ponies, but my personal favorite is the Hagen-Renaker "Misty" designed by Maureen Love and produced by HR for Breyer in 1993.  This factory test color ceramic "Misty" is on display at the Hagen-Renaker exhibit at the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library at Cal Poly Pomona.  

Maureen Love and Maxine Renaker visited Marguerite Henry (who was living in Southern California at the time) as the piece was being designed. Wouldn't those have been wonderful conversations to hear?


W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library, where "Miniature Menageries: The History and Artists Behind Hagen-Renaker, Inc." is on display through Spring 2019.

Information on the Breyer horses from the "Misty" series:

Museum of Chincoteague:

Monday, July 16, 2018

Model Horse History at BreyerFest 2018, Foreword

As promised in my social media posts, I'm going to share some observations on finding Model Horse History at the annual BreyerFest event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.  BreyerFest is mostly about new model horses and the real horses that relate to the breeds represented by by the plastic horse figurines.  But there's plenty of model horse history at BreyerFest too, if you know where to look.

My favorite BreyerFest story is something I observed outside the International Museum of the Horse on the Horse Park grounds. Two little girls and their parents were walking towards the entrance; one girl was holding a boxed Breyer Secretariat (designed by Sue Sifton). I engaged the family in conversation and the girl explained to me that he was her Favorite, Favorite Horse. 

I could see why.  And I was impressed that someone under the age of 10 knew about the significance of Secretariat.  (Breyer produced a different, standing model as Secretariat years ago, but this one captures the spirit of "Big Red" better, in my opinion.)

So I commented to them that the statue they were closest to, was of Secretariat himself, and that a gentleman named Ed Bogucki had designed it. 

The little girls screamed with delight and ran over to the statue while their dad took their photo.  I stood a little way off, and took a picture of their special moment, too. (You can see Dad behind the shrub, to the right of the statue.)

Over the next few days, I hope to share some of the stories of model horse history I found at BreyerFest over the last three years.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

My First Hagen-Renaker: Small "Amir" Arabian stallion

Today is National I Love Horses Day, so I thought it would be appropriate to share my first Hagen-Renaker ceramic horse figurine.

When I was a young teenager, my penpal in Vermont first told me about the ceramic model horses made by Hagen-Renaker, Inc.  "I've never heard of them, "I wrote back.  She told me what she knew about them -- what they looked like, how large they were, what horse breeds were represented.  I set off on my bicycle one Saturday morning, to scour the gift shops in our town to try to find one.

The numerous tourist-oriented gift and souvenir stores carried Made In Japan (MIJ) horse figurines.  The tack shops and Western wear stores carried Breyer plastic horses. But none of the sales clerks and cashiers had heard of a company called Hagen-Renaker.  Disappointed, I peered in the window of the florist shop as a last resort. 

And my search was rewarded.  The brown and rust eyes of a white Arabian stallion looked back at me.  It was the Hagen-Renaker Designers' Workshop "Amir" standing Arabian stallion, usually called the "small Amir" because HR made a larger Arabian stallion with the same name.  He cost me every cent I'd saved from my allowance.  The shopkeeper wrapped him in tissue paper and put him in a paper bag, which I carried carefully as I rode home on my bike.  I seem to recall walking the bike most of the way, so as not to further endanger my prize.

My parents were aghast -- I'd spent four whole dollars on a toy horse?  I patiently tried to explain to them that this was "NotToy!" but rather an investment, and the expansion of my model horse collection past plastic and inexpensive MIJ horses.  This breakable creature was obviously a work of art.  

And indeed he is.  

The small "Amir" is still here, all these years later -- the first in a long line of wonderful "clinky" horse figurines designed by Maureen Love and issued in ceramic by Hagen-Renaker.