Friday, March 23, 2018

The Horse is in the House

This is an interesting time of year in the model horse community.  Several of my friends are participating this month in live model horse shows (as opposed to photo/online shows) with their finest collectible equines. 

An old "live show" model horse photograph, probably from the 1970s.

They spend literally days cleaning and packing dozens of model horses and tiny English and Western tack, harnesses and props for performance classes. Then comes the dilemma of having to wedge the boxes containing their collections into their vehicles, to drive the miles of open road to the Live Model Horse Show.

I thought about my friends when I saw this ad in the February 1950 issue of Western Horseman magazine.  Perhaps a purpose-built model horse trailer is the answer?  :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Horse Stories, on BBC Radio 4

Hagen-Renaker mini "Swaps" and Designers' Workshop "Swaps,"
before a photo of the real Swaps (ch. 1952, Khaled x Iron Reward),
winner of the 1955 Kentucky Derby and Santa Anita Derby,
as well as many other stakes races.  

Model horses are sometimes described as the "gateway drug" to an appreciation (and sometimes ownership) of real horses.  What does the horse mean to us?  That topic is discussed on a new BBC Radio 4 series, Horse Stories.

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.

And the Model Horse Gallery website shows some other examples of her work.

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.