More Than A Toy Horse
Many young equestrians grow up playing with model horses. After all, they inspire their imagination while encouraging big dreams. However, some model horses are more than a toy for young horse lovers; many are highly collectible works of art.
In this blog, we take a look at some of the most sought-after Breyer Horses and look a bit more in depth to the Collectibility division at model horse shows. For an overview of the model horse hobby, we encourage you to read our blog post, Pint Sized Competition: Discover the World of Model Horse Showing. You can also shop for the latest Breyer models on our website and in our stores.
The History of Breyer Horses
When talking about collecting Breyer model horses, it’s important to look back at the origins of the company. In 1950, the first model horse was created by Breyer Molding Company, a plastics manufacturer in Chicago, for a special order for F.W. Woolworth Company. Originally the Western Horse was created to be an adornment on a mantle clock, but the company was quickly flooded with requests to purchase the model separately.
The success of the Western Horse eventually inspired the company to shift their focus to producing models of horses and other animals, and hence Breyer Animal Creations was formed. They soon began experimenting with a variety of molds and paint jobs, and the models became popular as both toys for children and collectible sculptures for adults.
In 1985, Reeves International, a quality toy producer, purchased Breyer Animal Creations. This allowed the company to drastically increase production and manufacture a larger number of model horses. In 1990, the first annual Breyerfest event was held, welcoming model horse enthusiasts from all over the country. This exciting multi-day event has quickly grown into a popular destination that many collectors continue to attend year after year.
2020 marks Breyer’s 70th anniversary of producing high quality model horses! Over the course of the 70 years, thousands of models have been released into production, giving collectors an amazing amount of variety.
Collecting Breyer horses is all about what appeals to the individual, which means that the most collectible model horses will vary from person to person. Jini Groen, a passionate model horse enthusiast from Prattsburgh, NY, explains, “What makes a model collectible is a person’s desire to own it. It might be one that brings back fond memories or a favorite breed. It might be the rarity of the model or its value. There are many reasons that an individual collector will find a model interesting.”
Kathy Hartmann has been involved with model horse showing and collecting for over 40 years, and in fact, she was selected by Breyer to be a guest speaker at the inaugural Breyerfest at the Kentucky Horse Park. Kathy explains that the collectibility of a model can be somewhat fickle and is mainly driven by the trends of the model horse community. “Ultimately, a collectible model is one that many hobbyists have a desire to own,” she says. “The attraction to a certain model may rise and fall. For example, Breyer once made flocked rocking horse models. When they were released they were a flop, but now, 30 years later, they are highly sought after because very few exist.”
There are several main groups of horses that are highly collectible: Vintage models, Limited Run Models, and Variations. For many collectors, the most collectible models (and the collector’s “grail model”) might be the ones that are the hardest to find. They may be very limited in number, extremely old, have an unusual paint job, or are a combination of these factors.
Antique Breyer horses and vintage models are often considered some of the most collectible. These models often showcase unique paint jobs such as woodgrain and wedgewood blue horses.
Other models are base coated with a white, making their paint jobs crisp and their white markings pop. These are known by the collecting community as “Chalkies.” Many of the chalkies date to the 1970s when Breyer was forced to use odd color plastics due to the oil crisis. The white basecoat allowed them to utilize these affordable plastics without changing the quality of their models. “Pearlie” models were produced in the same era, and showcase a glass-like (yet not glossy) finish due to the quality of plastic used.
Valerie Parker, a model horse collector from Buffalo, NY, says “As a Breyer collector, I would say the “In-between Mare is the most collectible Breyer model. Some vintage models that I would consider highly collectible would be the Presentation Series models, Showcase Collection models, Chalkies, Pearlies, and woodgrain models such as the Proud Arabian Mare (PAM), Proud Arabian Foal (PAF), and the Belgian.”
Many collectors concur that the In-Between Mare is one of the most sought after vintage models. This Arabian mold was produced between the introduction of the PAM and the Family Arabian Mare (FAM), hence its name. The mold has many flaws, including a prominent stomach and a distinct left lean, however because the mold was never officially put into production, the models are highly coveted. There are only a handful of original In-Between Mares that are known to exist (Due to the popularity of the mold, Breyer’s Vintage Collectors Club has announced that they have slated new In Between Mares for 2020 production).
Limited Run Models
Breyer Horses do not need to be old to be collectible! Throughout the history of the company, many One of a Kind (OOAK) or limited run models have been created on a number of their molds. Due to the scarcity of the models, these modern models tend to be highly collectible as well.
According to Valerie, “I would also consider rare models, such as Raffle models, [low number] event models, and Breyerfest auction models among the most collectible for models that are currently being produced.”
Some of the most collectible Breyer models were never intended to be highly collectible. There are some variations that make it off the production floor completely unintentionally. Sometimes these models are missing a sock or a blaze or they may be painted completely differently from the rest of the run. Normally, these variations are caught by quality control, but if they manage to leave the factory, they are sought after by collectors.
“I encourage new collectors to look for more common models that are not in the four digit price range!” says Kathy. “There are some color variations and marking variations, as well as overlooked models that were only issues for a very short time, that can all win in collectibility classes.”
Join the Hunt
Finding highly collectible models can be an exciting challenge for many collectors. Many web specials and limited run models can be purchased directly from Breyer through online lotteries or at Breyerfest. Every year, Breyer runs a live auction Breyerfest full of OOAK models that have been specifically painted for this event. The money raised is donated to equine charities, and it raises significant sums. In 2019, a Glossy Sooty Dappled Buckskin Sabino Pinto hand painted on the coveted Alborozo mold sold for a whopping $22,000!
Your local brick and mortar tack shop, like The Cheshire Horse, also carries collectible models, such as special run (SR) and limited run models that are sure to be popular in the upcoming years. Many of these models are not able to be sold through online venues, so you will need to stop by and look for new horses on the shelf (you can also keep an eye on our Facebook page!).
When it comes to shopping for vintage models, collectors have found them in a number of locations. Jini says, “The fun in the collecting is to find a gem in an unexpected place such as an estate sale, flea market, antique shop, or on the internet. You just never know when or where a vintage piece will pop up.”
Because of the number of models that are available, it is important to know what appeals to you and what you are interested in collecting… however, you may find that a certain model simply speaks to you and you need to bring it home to join your herd. “When shopping for new-to-me models, I take the rarity and desirability into account while considering if it’s something I collect,” says Valerie.
Competing in Collectibility
If you have highly collectible Breyer horses, you may decide to bring them to model horse shows to compete in the collectibility division. In these classes, models are judged on their rarity, age, desirability, number produced, and condition.
At the show, the judge uses their experience as well as current markets to rank the entries. According to Valerie, “As a judge, documentation from the exhibitors is extremely helpful, as there have been so many models produced that it may be difficult to keep up with it all.” Make sure that you bring documentation listing the years the model was produced, number of the run (if known), and anything unusual about the model (such as if the model is chalky or pearly, has a blue ribbon or tenite sticker, or showcases any variations or mistakes). If the model has a Certificate of Authenticity (COA), it is important to display it as well. There are many books and websites that can assist hobbyists in researching their models. Identify Your Breyer is one very popular website that consistently updates when new models are produced.
Collecting Breyer Horses is a hobby that appeals to horse lovers of all ages. By shopping for models that you love and appreciate, you can create a model horse collection that will bring a smile to your face for years to come. Jini summarizes the most important aspects of the search for highly collectible Breyers, “Most of all, you need to enjoy your models and have fun!”