Monday, February 14, 2011

Without A Leg to Stand On

This entry is little better off than that; for all of the data presented, most of the conclusions remain speculation. The theories rest on collectors’ and ceramists’ interpretations of the unique item, and just a couple pieces of documentation. This is another case in which answers only led to more questions. Like my previous articles on The Mystery Horses of Maureen Love, this single mystery horse investigation yielded more than expected.

This story begins with a minuscule and innocuous chip of pottery, belying its significance in Hagen-Renaker history. This HR horse was missing all four legs, only 1.25" high from ears to the longest foreleg nub. He was the only one of his kind in the archives. When Joanie Berkwitz and Kathleen Rose were working in the archives, photographing for 1989’s The Hagen-Renaker Handbook, and cleaning up the shelves, Maxine Renaker gave Joanie this piece to restore. She later told her to keep it. Ultimately, this twist of fate saved him from the HR dustbin.[i] Years later, when her collecting interests shifted, Joanie rehomed him with me. I mistakenly called him the Mini Mini “drafter”, even though he is not one. He just seemed so round and jolly, like a bobtail fellow you’d see pulling a sleigh. The only things I knew about him were his origin and that he was known as a test.

It has been suggested by another collector that he may not be a test, but maybe a factory goof, an employee custom, or a custom by Maureen. I call him a test in this article, as that is what he was termed in the archives and by the original owner. I will try to detail each opinion and show the documentation about this horse so you, the reader, may form your own conclusions.

Those new to collecting HR may be wondering, “What is a Mini Mini?” That’s the old call name of the smallest horse molds in the HR Miniatures line (although, not their oldest names). The Mini Mini horses are currently represented by a family of molds, the “Small Stallion”, “Small Mare”, and “Small Colt”. This article will refer to them as the “Mini Mini family”. They have been good sellers for HR over the decades, and have been produced in matte and glossy, and several different colors. You may view the current finish here, just scroll down.

How exactly does this odd bobtail test relate to the family horses and foal? One theory is that this test’s mold is a reworked version of either the current Mini Mini “Small Colt” or the “Small Stallion”.

Collector Nancy Falzone shares her opinion that this dapple gray horse is “… a test or a factory employee piece and is a version of the A 451 stallion (the stock numbers on the 1958 list say differently but it is A 451) as his size is right.”

Unlike the colt, this fellow's head is turned slightly, and his tail is set lower and does not point upwards. It is a bobtail. His legs are almost in the right place, but the test bobtail is adult Mini Mini size. He would be 1.5” tall, if he had his legs under him. This is, as Nancy mentions, the same height as the Mini Mini family stallion. Unlike the stallion, his head is turned, his opposite legs are together, and his pourhole is on the opposite side. In this scale, that’s a lot of troubling with tiny, fragile wax legs, when starting from scratch would be easier (from my perspective as a sculptor). A resculpt would have been done on a wax casting of whichever horse came first, if that happened.

The sculpture style of the bobtail is so distinctive, even his proportions are different from the more realistic family Mini Mini’s. His muzzle and limbs taper sharply. His body segments are round and ball-like, not as much horse-shaped. This supports the opposing theory that he was from a completely original sculpture- waste molded, tested, but never put into production. There is strong agreement among collectors that Maureen Love designed this horse. The style of the horse is much closer to her “Modern Horse”, “Retro” (aka, the Black Bisque Horse mold), and wall plaque designs for HR, than it is to her realistic Mini Mini family.

Then, there is his color. He is the only known dapple gray on a Mini Mini horse. HR has produced larger Miniatures in dapple gray, some with splattered darker spots over white body, others with sanded or rubbed-off lighter dapples. The decoration technique to achieve his color is subject to more than one opinion, as is almost everything about this horse. Written long before Joanie became a ceramist herself, her Glass Menagerie article on this piece suggested that he was decorated by splattered or flicked white dots on top of his gray tinted-slip body. She says today:

“… My early description of the glazing on the horse is off (he's not grey slip)… To me, his dapples look floaty and too white, and slightly translucent... much more in line with being applied. They may have been applied by dotting with a brush instead of splattering, but I doubt that they were wax resist. I would expect a much stronger dark area around each one if that were the case. Also some color inside of the dot. And the dot would not look milky, it would look very white.”

I agree that he is not cast in gray slip, because after reading the GM article, I checked that with the moistening method, as described earlier in my blog. The exposed slip on his leg breaks is white. Some of his nubs had glue residue, but the clean bisque surface did not turn gray when moistened. This means he was poured in white slip; his gray color was only a thin, sprayed underglaze coating over his white body. Further evidence of sprayed gray can be seen in the directional shading on his eyes, wrinkles, etc.

I have a different idea about how those round dapples could have been made. There are darker rings around some of his white dapples. This happens when sprayed underglaze pools around a latex or wax-resisted dot. The resist method on a white slip body will yield white dapples after a bisque firing and some light rubbing. The dots were applied individually with a tool, not splattered, because the dapples are rather uniform and no long, thin splats are present. This means resist (or white underglaze paint) was applied perpendicular to each contour. His opposite side also has many incompletely white dapples, yet their hard outlines are visible. This can occur when the resist is applied too thin, isn’t rubbed from the bisque before final glazing, or otherwise does not complete its job. I have personally experienced this on occasion. The suspended pigment just settled right down after the resist burned out in the kiln, and it adhered to the horse. It may even be a combination of techniques, using white underglaze to try and cover the adhered, failed dapples? This color is not seen on later horses of any HR mold. The risks and labor are too high for such a small product, and one of modest profit margin. The "points" of the horse, including the mane, bobtail, and muzzle, are sprayed with black underglaze. He has a clear gloss glaze on top of it all, and this has crackled with age.

When I began investigating this horse for my blog, I started by looking for a missing mold number in the HR collector books. I found a gap in the Miniatures line mold number sequence, and that number happened to be 450, just before the well-known Mini Mini family’s numbers 451, 452, and 453. This blank spot earlier in the sequence confused me because it conflicted with the information I had at that time. I was recently told that there is a 1960’s HR sales list, after the initial Mini Mini family release, showing a line drawing of him, and about the aforementioned Glass Menagerie newsletter, written by Joanie.[ii] I was a mere fledgling collector during the publishing era of GM, not a subscriber, and had never seen this article. She recommended that I ask collector Nancy Falzone for more information. Nancy not only found the GM article, but also dug up the original Mold Book page scan and the original first appearance of this horse as a line drawing on a Fall 1958 sales list.

Sales list scan courtesy Nancy Falzone.

No two collectors I’ve been in touch with have the same take on this. Here's my interpretation of the documents, which is not the only possible one.

The test is named, “Horse #2”, as illustrated on the sales sheet. It’s his mold, right down to his turned head and funny tail. But who are those other horses around him? They are clearly not members of the known examples of the Mini Mini family of Fall 1958 and most of the seasons between Fall 1964 and the present.

One thing collectors agree on is that the other two in that 1958 sales sheet segment don’t exist in the pantheon of HR models. They also have bobtails. Their poses are quite different. I was saddened that I'd never seen them, as I love their style. Collectors are missing out on something neat here.

It is most likely that one of each bobtail existed, at least in the original sculpture stage, in order for the sales sheet drawings to be made at all. This point is made in the GM article. Since this dapple gray casting of Horse #2 exists, at the very least, a waste mold was made from his original sculpture. Why were they not put into further production? I don’t know. When an order was placed for any of these three bobtail drawings on the lists, the factory shipped out the Mini Mini family members instead. The Mold Book evidence also backs this up. It is known among collectors that not all sales list drawings accurately represented the product that shipped. As of this writing, no collectors have reported finding any of these bobtails, beyond this single #2 test. If bobtails ever shipped out, at least one more should have turned up after all these years, in this era of eBay.

The images below are artist conceptions of what the bobtails could have looked like, translated to 3D from the line drawings, and based on the known #2 test. The glaze finish is a loose recreation of the known #2 test, as a rushed factory employee might do. It is unlikely that this color was used beyond the one test, as it is too time-consuming for production. When you are out hunting, keep your eyes peeled for these in the matte Monrovia brown, like the first season of the Mini Mini family[iii], not dapple gray. To reiterate, these images are not of existing HRs, just imagined “what-ifs” to inspire collectors and help identify any that may be “out in the wide world”. If you own an authentic HR Mini Mini that looks like these, please share your photos, so we can all learn more.

Observations on Style and Production

The line drawing of Horse #1 has a Spanish profile, in a three-points-of-balance approximation of a collected trot. His tail bob is somewhat elongated, compared to the other two. The image below tried to replicate the exact angles of the drawing; it was not “prettied up”.

Horse #2 is shown as a reconstruction with lower limbs, so he might finally stand proud, alongside his siblings. He does not have a gender in his sculpture, I just got into the habit of referring to it as a "he". Since there are no known examples with the legs attached, the dark hoof decoration is an extrapolation based on the decoration “points” of the known Mini Mini family, in their many production colors.

Horse #3 represented a challenge to translate into a three-dimensional piece that would look like it pulled from a two-piece mold. The known #2 test pulled from a two-piece mold, as evidenced by his mold lines, and such tiny pieces of pottery would require the minimum of mold pieces. The more pieces to each mold, the wider the seams can get, and there is no room for widening on such a small scale! The illustration shows that #3 has a longer torso than the other two drawings. It also has a long hip, and is overall smaller and svelte, possibly indicating a mare. The neck is sharply turned back on itself, with the muzzle on the shoulder, as if scratching an itch. This sort of natural animal gesture is one of my favorite things about Maureen’s work.

All three designs were adult horses, and had carved and/or contoured style lines breaking up their body segments. All had their ears back, unlike the family. In the adult trio, the manes had far more detail than the tails, with test #2’s tail only sporting two or three lines on each side. Completely unlike the family, all three bobtails have concave eyes, or sockets. Pigment pools in them to make them look darker than the rest of the face. It reads well on such tiny horses. It would certainly reduce or eliminate painting mistakes, as they need no decorator’s touch beyond the overspray of the body shading.

If these are the three horses in the Fall 1958 sales sheet with the 451, 452, 453 designation, when do the accurate line drawings of the actual produced family first appear? I don’t have that answer. The MG article indicates that these same bobtail drawings were absent in Spring 1959, the season following debut. The same stylized adult horse drawings appear on the Fall 1964 sales list, but this time with the names “Stallion”, “Mare”, and “Foal”. Nancy relates:

“The same sketches as 1958 follow clear through the Monrovia Spring 1966 time fame & into San Dimas, but I doubt very much that they were actually [shipping] bob tail models. I am almost positive in fact they were never bob tailed & those Spring 1964 mini minis were what you see now. HR did that all the time with their sketches with wrong ones pictured or just carried the same sketch even though [the] model changed.”

Mold Book scan courtesy Nancy Falzone.

The handwriting on 452 looks like it could have ink run through from a previous page, so the best guess I have:

"452 D-1 Horse [Head down] go w/ s. c. B-1"

It's clear that the Mold Book entry for 452 is not talking about bobtail #2 (sales list mold number 452), because his head is not down. It is impossible to confuse him with the prancing, head-down mare of the known family. The Mold Book describes the Mini Mini family as being introduced 7 (July) of '58. It looks like the bobtails got their sales list portraits, but the family beat them to the Mold Book.

With the other two bobtail horses in limbo, I don't think we can fairly say this #2 test is mold number 450. Here is another point on which everyone agrees- it would be pure speculation to ascribe it. They must have all been sculpted, we just don't know which, if any of them, might have been "Reserved" that mold number slot. One could assume this single example of Horse #2 was intended to be 450 because he was the only bobtail example known from the archives, until something else shows up. I personally feel that the three bobtails did not "survive" even a market research phase (such as gift show orders) long enough to be recorded in the official Mold Book. They were bumped off by the three Mini Mini family molds, born right on their heels, and given their sales list mold numbers.

Was a block and case, let alone production molds, ever made on any of the three bobtail models? If only one of the three designs made it to a block and case, and no data here promises that, and it was proven to be Horse #2, only then could I agree with the designation of 450. That's the sort of question only someone at HR could answer by digging through mold inventory and opening the one marked 450, if it exists. Again, I really don't think the three bobtails made it past the waste mold stage. Glazing a test color on a waste mold test casting is common enough. It’s quick and economical for the production potter. That would explain how my one came to be.

I would feel comfortable calling the bobtail trio, "the alternate Mini Mini horse group". My opinion is that my lonely #2 was a test to determine some aspect of intended production, either the decoration or the casting or both. After all, he was one of the very first three horses made in this size, so his molding and casting would have been a bit of a learning curve with such dainty legs! Until other genuine examples of this trio are found, I suspect that he is a waste mold casting of a design that never made it into the Mold Book. It is easy and tempting to plop him into that blank #450 slot, but I really try to see what is there, not get carried away with tidying up a loose end. I must keep my own legs under me.

Gratitude to the collectors who made this journey possible!

*The HR Mold Book is the factory’s log of all molds produced. It is not to be confused with the manuals, guides, handbooks, and assorted texts published about HR.

Berkwitz, Joan. “Unsolved Mystery”. The Glass Menagerie June 1991: three unnumbered pages.
Falzone, Nancy. Personal communications. January 2011.
Hagen-Renaker, Inc. Unpublished Mold Book.
Hagen-Renaker, Inc. Sales sheet. Fall 1958.
Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Guide. Third Edition. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.


[i] Berkwitz, Joan. Personal communication. February 10, 2011.

[ii] Berkwitz, Joan. Personal communication. January 4, 2011.

[iii] Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Guide. Third Edition. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.

1 comment:

  1. I made an update post about this subject in 2013.