Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Enduring Appeal of the Model Horse Conga Dance, or The Chorus Line of the Small Equine

Some of my model horse collector friends and I met recently at an estate sale that advertised model horses. We'd lined up together prior to the sale's start, having agreed to support one another in our quest for the horse or horses we wanted for our own collections.

"I just have to get that model," one friend said to me, of her grail du jour. "I conga that mold."

The verb form of "conga" means to dance that particular dance, but in model horsedom, it has also come to mean collecting every possible variation of a single model horse mold.  (I guess you could also call it having a chorus line of small equines.)

Compared to most of my friends' collections, mine is pretty small. And generally speaking, I don't conga model horses. If I have one copy of a certain mold, I'm pretty happy.  

But my recent trip to Breyerfest, a purchase from a friend, and a couple of other lucky finds allowed me to pick up multiple examples of some of my favorite miniature Hagen-Renaker molds: the American Saddlebred, the Morgan stallion, and the standing Arabian stallion.

Left to right: Hagen-Renaker Collectors Club Special Run mini Saddlebred in buckskin with red ribbon and star;
Monrovia white with blue and black  ribbon and "bird" or "comma" eyes;
Monrovia brown with blue and white ribbon and "comma" eyes (not as pronounced as on the white one).
So many collectors love the A-458 Style One mini ASB. Only three inches tall, it was made in the brown matte and white matte colorways, originally issued between Spring 1959-Fall 1963, and again between Spring 1967-Fall 1969.  In 2006, it was reissued as a black Special Run of 1,000 for the Hagen-Renaker Collectors Club.  It had four different color ribbons and with or without a star marking on its forehead.  The 2007 SR Saddlebred for the HRCC came in four colors, 120 each of four colors, with four different ribbon colors.

I've always had a soft spot for the A-389 HR mini Morgan stallion. 

Hagen-Renaker mini Morgan stallions.
Left to right: 2007 Special Run in gray colorway;
San Dimas palomino; Monrovia chestnut with "comma" eyes.

Designed by Maureen Love, he stands 2.75 inches tall at the ears, and was released in matte chestnut and matte palomino from Fall 1959 to Fall 1973. He was re-released in four different glossy colors in 2007; only 50 of each color were produced as part of a set that also featured the mini Morgan mare and foal.

I think the three little stallions in my small conga line exemplify the reason collectors want variations on the same mold.  Look at the differences in their detail, facial shading and expressions.  They're all handsome for different reasons.

My longest mini HR conga line so far is the A-47 Standing Arabian stallion. Designed by Maureen Love, he is 3 inches tall at the ears and was produced in gray and white matte colors between Fall 1959 and Fall 1972.

I believe I bought my first HR mini Standing Arab stallion from one of the real treasures of the model horse hobby, Linda Walter. Linda has long been esteemed by her fellow collectors as the editor of the Model Horse Showers Journal (back in the day when such newsletters were painstakingly typed and illustrated by hand). Linda was, and is, one of the best at articulating the joy, the history and the ethics of model horse collecting.

I used to tell myself that I only needed one of these little guys.

HR mini Standing Arabian stallion, San Dimas doeskin color.
At Breyerfest in Kentucky this past summer, I ran into Linda in the hallway of the host hotel, and coincidentally came across not one, but four more variations on a theme of mini Arab stallion the same week. (I now have three white and two doeskin; I still need to find one in the older Monrovia rose gray color to have at least one of each color.)

The San Dimas mini Arab stallion on the left is slightly smaller 
and has a more pronounced matte finish than the one on the right.
An old fairy tale is told of the Swan Maidens, "each one more beautiful than the other." That principle applies to the conga line of small horses: how could you say which one is "best," when each one has something different going for it?

Headstudy of five Hagen-Renaker mini Arab stallions.
The one on the far right has great detail on his mane and a sweet expression. The one to his left, has an almost semi-gloss finish.  The one in the middle has the old "comma" eyes from the time when HR was based in Monrovia, California (before the company moved to nearby San Dimas). The second one from the left has nice detail and even shading. The one on the far left may be the best example of all from a technical standpoint: excellent mold detail, even shading, nice eyes.

Except that he's missing part of a leg.  But I felt I had to bring him home from Kentucky; I couldn't leave him there....

I think I will send him to an artist friend for restoration. Then he can take his rightful place in the dance of the model horses.



Ed and Sheri Alcorn's Online Hagen-Renaker Museum:

The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Hagen-Renaker, 
Second Edition, by Gayle Roller.

Hagen-Renaker Pottery: Horses and Other Figurines, by Nancy Kelly (a Schiffer Book for Collectors).

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My First Breyer: the Family Arabian Foal

It's July, and that means it's time for the model horse world to focus its interest on Lexington, Kentucky and the annual Breyerfest gathering. In honor of the event, here's a look back at one of the most beloved Breyer model horse designs of all time.

The old newspaper ads from the late 1950s and early 1960s show him (or her): one of the most popular, most ubiquitous of all model horse figurines.

He (or she) is the Family Arabian Foal, by Breyer Animal Creations.  And he was My First Breyer Horse. This, the first "real" model horse figurine my parents gave me, came (if I recall correctly) from the Toy Cottage in Phoenix.

Looking back, it made sense that my parents gave me a smaller, less-expensive Breyer horse as a gift. Ours was a typical one-income mid-century family; the Breyer foals didn't cost as much as the adult horses, as this other newspaper ad from "back in the day" demonstrates.

I have a very clear memory of receiving this Family Arabian Foal -- I must have been about five or six years old at the time.  I knew very little about real horses, and I assumed that if a horse had a white mark on its forehead, that mark was called a star. Thus the name of my first Breyer, the Family Arab Foal, was White Star.

"That mark is called a blaze, Honey," my dad explained carefully, somehow knowing that to challenge a six-year-old female in love with a plastic horse was asking for trouble.  

I thought for a minute. "If you take his white blaze and his four white stockings and arrange them just right, they make a star. His NAME is WHITE STAR," I said. 


White Star it was.

White Star joined a small collection of farm animals I'd already squirreled away in my bedroom.  For my next birthday, I received another Family Arab Foal, this time in glossy palomino. Her name was Dusty. 

And then for my eighth birthday, I received Pearl, the Family Arab Mare. She was their mom.

At some point in my childhood, My Three Breyers posed for a group shot in the back yard, along with one of my plastic farm set horses.

And that was about the time my parents stopped buying me model horses.  It must have been a bit of a shock for Mom and Dad -- neither of whom was a collector per se, although Dad had a few old coins -- to discover that they'd spawned a model horse collector.  Perhaps they just assumed that liking horses was "just a phase" that a lot of kids went through back then, because of the influence of pop culture.

Other relatives kept up the tradition of buying me horse figurines, though.  My grandmother was my chief enabler. And any visit to a variety store, toy store, tourist trap on vacation found the young me seeking out model horse figurines -- plastic and later ceramic -- I was willing to save my allowance and buy them, and argue (respectfully but firmly) for my right to have a collection of horse figurines in my room.

A lot of younger people I meet have no real understanding of how important the horse was in American culture during the mid-20th century. Cowboys and Indians, knights in shining armor, heroines, heroes and villains on horseback all swept across Saturday matinee silver screens and evening feature films, and then later on the small screen, inspiring generations of Americans to understand that horses help us fulfill our dreams.  

If you were a kid watching TV in the 1950s and early 1960s, you saw images of heroic horses on a daily basis; they were the colleagues and best friends of everyone from Annie Oakley to Zorro. Find someone between about 50 and 90 years old, and ask them who their favorite movie or TV cowboys were: Gene Autry. Hopalong Cassidy. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and others. 

Horse books were equally wildly popular. We horse-loving kids asked for, and often received, horse books by Marguerite Henry, Walter Farley and other authors as gifts. And if we didn't own these books, we kept the copies at the nearest library continually checked-out. 

Time passes. Toys get broken and thrown away. One loses interest in tiny horse figurines, or your mom decides you're "too old" for model horses and she donates them to charity, or gives them to a younger sibling to destroy.

I admit, over the years I have not kept every single model horse that set hoof on my shelves.  Some were sold or traded away when I got older; many of the others were lost in a major earthquake a few years back. (If the "seismic event" is strong enough to take part of your house down, no amount of Quake-Hold is going to protect your model horse collection.)

But I still have my original glossy honey bay Breyer Family Arabian foal.  He's still here, in pride of place on my Horse Shelves. 

And he still stands next to his best friend, the glossy palomino Breyer Family Arabian foal, Dusty. 

Back on their regular shelf, they live with their mom, the Family Arabian Mare called Pearl, the small horse from the farm set, and a few dozen of their friends.  

(I just noticed that I never did get the Family Arab Foal in the gray blanket colorway. Maybe I can find one at Breyerfest.....)


The sine qua non website Identify Your Breyer shows the Family Arab Foal here:

Did you know that the designs of the Breyer Family Arab mare and foal were the result of a 1959 lawsuit?  Kirsten Wellman has written brilliantly about this bit of model horse history:

Wikipedia has created a list of TV Westerns:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Packing a Ceramic Model Horse for Shipment

Disclaimer: If you've sold a ceramic horse figurine, please check with your buyer first to see what their preference is for safe shipping. There's more than one safe way to do it!  These are only my ideas.

My favorite way to acquire a new (old) model horse is to find it at an estate sale, yard sale or thrift store. And sometimes I buy model horses for my collection from online sellers.  

But there's a danger in buying something breakable online: it may break in transit.

"Clinky" horses are at great risk
of being damaged during shipment!

Social media sites for "clinky" (ceramic, porcelain, china) animal collectors have lately been full of horror stories of rather expensive horse figurines damaged in transit -- heads broken off, legs crushed -- due to rough handling and inadequate packaging. (One friend tells the story of receiving a crushed ceramic horse figurine that had been shipped in a padded mailer with no extra protection.)

Sellers are not always familiar with different strategies for packing a ceramic horse figurine (such as a Hagen-Renaker or Beswick horse) for shipment, so I've come up with some suggestions to share. 

In packing for shipment, we are securing the breakable horse so she doesn't rattle around inside the box. We're pretending she's a raw egg, or a baby mouse that needs a nest to protect it. We're not putting so much pressure on her that she will crack from our careful handling. We are protecting her from the (almost inevitable) mishandling of the postal service, UPS, FedEx or other delivery service.

My strategy is to very gently wrap the horse like a mummy, then use additional thick padding materials to protect it inside two shipping boxes, the smaller inside the larger.

If you can use a larger outer box with two or more inches of packing peanuts or foam around the inner box, so much the better. The important thing is that the horse not shift around. Gentle but sturdy.

        Note: I did not sell and ship the horse in the photos. She's the Hagen-Renaker B-567 "Sespe Violette" Belgian mare,  just posing for the photos.  If I were shipping a piece like this, I would use bigger boxes, pay the extra money for shipping a larger box, and use an overnight insured service. 

You will need:

Ceramic horse figurine

Two sturdy boxes, one smaller than the other

Packing peanuts and/or other small packing material (not paper)

Cotton balls or something similar

Foam rubber (I just get an inexpensive twin size mattress topper from Walmart and cut pieces of it to fit -- you can ship several horses off of one pad)

A roll of toilet tissue

Bubble wrap

Sturdy packing tape

"Fragile" labels or a thick marking pen to write "fragile" on the outer box

Step 1: Gently Mummify the Horse

Take the horse and put a piece of foam in between the legs as shown. Put another small piece of foam or part of a cotton ball between the ears. Fill in the gaps between the foam and the horse, between the legs and between the ears, with cotton balls (pull them apart if you need to) or cotton/polyfill batting. Be generous but gentle in filling the gaps.  Extra fluff hanging outside the horse is okay. 

Now take the roll of toilet paper and gently mummify the whole horse. Make sure you wrap it at least twice around, all around. No horse should be showing; make sure there’s tissue around the ears, hooves, knees, tail, etc.

Step 2: Prepare the Boxes

Important: Using this technique, you should leave two inches or more of padding between any edge, side or extremity of the horse (a hoof, an ear, a tail) and the edge of the inner box. If the horse is too large to fit into this configuration, use a larger box. 

I cannot stress this enough: Wedging a ceramic figurine, even a well-wrapped one, into a too-small box almost guarantees it will arrive broken.

Put a layer of packing peanuts or foam or a few layers of bubble wrap on the bottom inside of the outer box. Then set the inner box, which holds the horse, inside. Take your foam rubber and cut it to fit the bottom and all four sides of the inner box, and then cut another piece or pieces to fit on the top of the inner box.

Step 3: Installation of the Horse  

Wrap the horse, horizontally and vertically (two long sheets) in bubble wrap (see photo on right, above). Put the horse in the inner box. You should be able to close the lid of the inner box with *room to spare* because we're going to put additional padding on top. Take cotton balls or packing peanuts and stuff them all around the corners of the horse and the foam, gently but firmly, so the horse in its mummified, bubble-wrapped state, won't rattle around inside. 

Then cut a piece of foam to put between the mummified, bubble-wrapped horse and the lid. 

Put the smaller box with the horse in it, inside the larger box. Put additional foam or packing peanuts in all the space between the two boxes, bottom, sides and top. 

There should still be some room, preferably an inch or two, between the boxes. 

Put more foam or packing peanuts in the space in between them.

Then secure the outer box with tape all around mark it FRAGILE all around.

Insure the parcel for the full purchase price.  

Again, communicate with your buyer (or recipient, if the horse is a gift) prior to shipping the horse. Folks who pay more than a few dollars for ceramic horse figurines online are likely to be passionate collectors of ceramic horses, and there are several of them out there. These die-hard collectors are the only people willing to shell out this kind of money for a piece that sold for a few dollars retail almost half a century ago. 

Your buyer will probably have their own suggestions for packaging. The important thing is to have a dialogue with them about their own preferences before you ship. You also want to ask them about whether they want to pay extra for a larger box, expedited service, and which shipping service they prefer. 

Or, if you are happily astonished at the final selling price, you’re feeling truly blessed, and you want to do a nice thing for the bidder, pay for the upgraded shipping yourself.

Other suggestions:

Cold weather can affect pieces in transit. Advise your recipient to let the box warm up to indoor room temperature before opening it and unwrapping the horse.

I do not recommend that you hire a "we pack and ship for you" service to send a ceramic horse figurine. They may have no idea how fragile these pieces can be.

There are other ways to ship a breakable horse safely. Alternately, you can use one box and custom-sized thick egg-carton foam with cutouts for the horse (or horses, if they're small). This method is used by some professionals. Trace around the horse with a felt pen, then remove the horse (!) and use a snap-off blade utility knife, Exacto knife or kitchen shears (utility knife will work best) to cut a section out. Make sure you put some of the extra foam in between the horse's legs.

Note that there is padded protection in between the horses' legs and all around, including space around the sides of the box.  The box in these photos is ten inches high. Each piece of the black foam is about five inches thick. 

There are other methods of packing for shipment; these are only two. I hope they've been helpful!  



The owner of a major retailer of ceramic figurines once told me that her company tested packaging techniques by boxing up a "clinky" figurine as if they were going to ship it using a major delivery service. Then two employees would test the efficacy of their packaging by dropping the box out of the window of a car going 15 to 35 mph, onto asphalt.  The company just assumed that each parcel would get kicked around like a football at some point during transit. 

Try to anticipate the actual cost of shipment you will charge prior to listing a breakable horse figurine for sale. If the outer box you use has one or more dimensions longer than 12 inches (long, deep or high), shipping rates skyrocket. The eBay "postage calculator" doesn't always take that into account. But it's better to use a larger box (and charge more for shipping) than to have a lovely, valuable piece arrive broken. 

Don't necessarily pay or charge extra for official USPS "fragile" handling, though. The USPS "fragile" service is for shipping things like live baby chicks and medical lab samples.  The USPS website advises senders to mark regular priority mail boxes FRAGILE if the item inside could break. 

If you ship a model horse and -- despite your best packing efforts -- it does arrive damaged, anticipate that the buyer may want to have it professionally restored rather than just toss the pieces in the trash or try to glue it back together. That's why you need to buy insurance. 

Here's a link to a foam mattress topper at (I've always found them in the stores too, in various sizes):

If you're using USPS, you can get free boxes from their website:

U-Haul has relatively inexpensive packing supplies:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hagen-Renaker Animal Figurines, Part One

This post is a duplicate of one I previously shared on my other blog, The Estate Sale Chronicles. I enjoy going to estate sales, yard sales, thrift stores and other such places to try to find books and figurines and other things that interest me.

Hagen-Renaker Animal Figurines, Part One

I'm labeling this post "Part One" because I know for sure that I will be talking about Hagen-Renaker animal figurines again in this blog.

Hagen-Renaker miniature Rearing Horse, 3.5 inches tall,
designed by Maureen Love, produced in 1958.   

A recent Los Angeles Times story documents the story of a California pottery, Hagen-Renaker:,0,5981103.story#axzz30NkcSR1K

I've been collecting Hagen-Renakers (mostly horses) since I was a teenager, and yes, I still have the first one I ever bought (although most of the other H-Rs I've owned have either been sold, traded to other collectors, or were lost in a major earthquake).  Since the H-R company has been in business since the late 1940s, it's not uncommon for me to find their little animal figurines at estate sales.  

I've found several Hagen-Renaker animals at estate sales in recent months -- mostly horses, but also some dogs and other little breakable animals.  

Assorted Hagen-Renaker miniature horses, found at one estate sale.
These dates to the 1950s and early 1960s.  All were designed by Maureen Love.
It doesn't matter to me if the horse has been damaged and repaired, or even if it's missing a leg or a tail; if the head is still attached, and the estate sale price didn't come out of an overly-optimistic "price guide," I want it.  (That's partly because I have a friend who is very good at restoring legs, tails and hooves on small ceramic horses.)

Hagen-Renaker "Queenie" Cocker Spaniel and "Dot" puppy, found at an estate sale.   
Mama is 4.75 inches tall and was made in 1954.  Designed by Helen Perrin Farnlund.

Hagen-Renaker miniature mama and baby Cocker Spaniels, found at an estate sale. 
Mama is 1 3/8 inches tall.  These also are Helen Perrin Farnlund designs. 
Notice how different the design style is on these comical little guys, 
compared to the next photo.

Hagen-Renaker "Pip Emma" Cocker Spaniel, sitting next to some other unidentified ceramic animals, all found at an estate sale. Emma is 2.5 inches tall and was designed by Tom Masterson.  She's much more realistic than the dogs in the previous photos.  But they're all by Hagen-Renaker.

Speaking of "price guides" and estate sales:  I like books about collectibles.  It's helpful to know what a certain company's items looked like, how old they are, and which ones are more common or more scarce.  But price guides are not always reliable sources when it comes to putting a price tag on a collectible at an estate sale.  

It's important to consider that, at some level, any collectible item is only "worth" as much as you, or someone else, is willing to pay for it at the time in a particular venue (estate sale, yard sale, online auction or collector-to-collector).  And what someone is willing to pay, may depend on whether they want it for their personal collection, want to give as a gift, or are just buying it to try to resell it at a profit.  

I just checked and there are close to 5,000 items listed under "Hagen-Renaker" on eBay today.  So if you want to sell one, you may have competition. Here's my suggestion for sellers:  If you know exactly what item you have to sell, and you've checked its condition, don't just go by the price guide value.  Search for SOLD (not ongoing) auctions on eBay for that same item, and refine your search to "lowest price + shipping."  Then scroll down to see what people are actually paying for the item you have.  That will give you an idea of the low end of the price range you might anticipate for reselling it.  And remember, P.T. Barnum was not always right -- not every collector is a sucker.

The prices on Hagen-Renaker animals go up and down over time, depending on their rarity, condition, condition, condition, and which potential buyers a) came across the item for sale and b) just got a tax refund they're dying to spend on their hobby.  In the case of online auctions, I've seen Hagen-Renaker prices go through the roof on a particular piece, probably because at least two people "had" to have that item for their collection.  And I've seen other pieces sell for considerably less than I thought they should have, for whatever reason.  

Hagen-Renaker's designs have been copied (legally and otherwise) over the years, and some of the copies are pretty good.  For example, the nicest Lefton (Japan) copies of Hagen-Renaker horses are collectible in their own right.  Being able to tell a vintage Hagen-Renaker animal from another brand of small ceramic animals is not just a matter of looking in a "price guide" book; it takes a bit of study and experience to know which ones are H-Rs and which ones aren't.  

To help you do some research, Ed and Sheri Alcorn have a virtual Hagen-Renaker museum online:

And here's the link to the company's website: