Monday, October 7, 2013

Return of the Cryptomolds

It's time for an update on the research into the mystery molds by Maureen Love, free-lanced during her lay-off from Hagen-Renaker between 1960-62.

It seems the identity of the factory that made them is quite complicated. In the California pottery trade, some factories had their own means of marketing, via trade shows and a manicured list of representatives and dealers. Other factories used distributors, and the distributor often had their own name carved into the molds, or in the form of stickers on the finished wares.

It has been determined, via the link here that a seller identified at least the derivative mold H-114 (bent leg) as a Lane of California piece, way back in 2007 (long before this blog started). Was the seller in error? 

I don't know yet, but it is interesting that I also had come to the same identification conclusion, on my own.

On the other hand, speculation is over when you get the answer straight from the artist's mouth. How is this possible? Thanks to a sound file from fellow researcher and multiple-HR-book author Nancy Kelly, I can tell you what Maureen herself said in a recorded interview about her Mystery Horses!

This is an excerpt from a recorded interview with Maureen, conducted by Gayle Roller and Kathleen Rose in 1987. If there is any error, it is entirely my transcription at fault.

[Describing the mystery horse mold in question, to Maureen:]

Kathleen: ... much like Nataf, it has very similar facial structure. It has metallic gold mane and tail; it was made by a California pottery company, of some sort. It's large, maybe this big.

Maureen: Oh, oh. Yeah.

Kathleen: I think my friend, Mary Goth [spelling uncertain], sent you a picture of it, I believe.

Maureen: Ah.

Kathleen: Just a while back, a few months back. She asked you about it.

Maureen: Yes, yes that, that's right. That was, that was, I did that for one of the Lenaburg brothers, and I don't know which one. They both had potteries, years ago... up in... One of 'em was in El Monte, and the other was in...and I did work for one. [snipped because the next sentence talks about a very personal family conflict between the brothers]

Gayle: It wasn't Freeman-McFarlin?

Maureen: No. Oh, no. No, it was Bill Lenaburg.

Gayle's question is a good one, because F-M had an El Monte factory location, before they opened the San Marcos location (later to become the HR San Marcos factory). 

William Lenaburg, and his brother, Leonard, came into the pottery trade via their father, Reinhold. That pottery name was Sierra Vista, located in Pasadena, CA. Leonard eventually took over that pottery 1, and William split off to start his own pottery some distance away, due to a family conflict (according to Maureen's interview). However, Maureen identified William (Bill) as the one she designed the horses for, but I can't locate the name of his own factory! This makes me wonder if he got out of it, shortly after acquiring her designs, and sold them to another factory (or two or three).

Why is the sale of the molds to another factory even a possibility? In a past blog post, I showed this original retail price tag on a Natural A-9. 

I wrote:

"This is a big deal to me because I recently found another original price tag, and the markings on it identified the exact mold. Opposite the mold number, "A-9", is a mysterious "MC". This had me researching both "Marcia Ceramics" and "Maurice of California". Frustratingly, Marcia did animal figures in black pearl, and Maurice used art glazes with airbrushed gold accents swipes and eyes on their very few animal figures. Red herrings, or perhaps they were factories distributed by Lane? The 6-71 may very well be the inventory date (June 1971), as mentioned in an earlier original price tag discovery. "

Thanks to collectors and researchers Dawn Sinkovich and Nancy Falzone, here is the A-9 version 1 in Natural color, on a Marcia of California catalog page.

Note that the mane and tail are white, so this one does not have gold overglaze decoration. It is a typical Natural, thought to be among the last of the A-9 (in either OF version) mold to be produced. The date notated, 1977, seems to back this up. Marcia of California also produced ware in the Black Pearl colourway, as shown on their puppies. It is reasonable to think that they are also responsible for the Black Pearl on the A-9 v.1 mold.

I have yet to find anything that ties Marcia of California pottery and Bill Lenaburg together, so a transfer of Maureen's designs seems more likely. You can tell MC embraced mold variety, just by looking at the different styles of horses in the catalog page fragment.

Two weeks ago, I introduced readers to the initial research Dawn Sinkovich did, and the photos I took, of the Cubist Spanish Fighting Bull, which was the only non-HR mystery mold represented in Maureen's estate. In these two weeks, even more has come to light about this design. Here are two images of the bull in a Red and Gold colourway, with its own matador. Photos courtesy Dawn Sinkovich, but the original provenance of the photos is not known. These may not be up forever, as I don't know who owns them.

Two different examples of bull are presented here. 
The one above has a gold butt and hindleg.

Same matador mold as below, but wow! Decorations!

Days after my post, fellow Mystery Horse collector Diana Dubbeld messaged me that a bull and matador set in White Pearl was on eBay, with a reasonable "Buy It Now". I'd like to make an appreciative shout-out to Diana for finding it, then trying three ways to reach me immediately to tell me about it. She helped make my wish in that blog post come true, more than anticipated (a matador, to boot!). The other ceramics collector who helped bring the wish to reality is eBay quick-draw Liz McKinnon, another supporter of my "Ugly Horse" habit. 

It is not known if Maureen sculpted this human figure.
It looks like it was directly inspired by the Treasure Craft matador.
It has different elbows, upper curves of the cape, and costume elements.

He has the same wide facial features that Maureen gave her 3D human figures.

I get a few repeat questions about the Mystery molds, and mostly it has to do with "Is this a Love horse?"

To sum up, Maureen's treatment of legs and body proportions, even in her stylized works, are more refined and symmetrical than the typical California pottery horse figures. She had a way with horse faces. The following are not Love mystery molds.

Neat examples of genuine Love Mystery horses that have turned up, lately:

A-9 v.1 with lots of yellow on one side. Model courtesy J. Kubas.

H-1 v.2 27" tall. Photo courtesy Kim Knight.

This recent eBay auction had a White-Purple-Gold on the rare '62 first version of 239 Love mold, sold for $51.01. 

Now, to really confuse the issue, here is the same rare 17.5" tall '62 mold, but with an added mold number! It is now known as the H-15. When computing forward in time by mold number sequence, it means that 1962 was the latest year that Maureen did the horse designs for Bill (which makes sense, she was back on with HR in 1963). I've been thinking the small Leg-Out was the last of the originals she sculpted in the series, and the number sequence seems to support that.

A sighting of a "realistic" glaze on a derivation of the H-11. This mold is so far removed from Maureen's hand, it is not appealing to collectors of her work.

This derived mold appears to be identified as 964.
Apologies, I do not know who sent these images.

Finally, reader submissions of derived hobby molds:

Hobby mold for home use, derived from the A-9. Photos courtesy D. Dubbeld.

Hobby mold (bent leg, derived) in art glaze.
Photo courtesy Tina Dils.

A small (16"?) version of the Bil-Mar hobby mold, derived from factory H-11.
Cold painted hobby casting.
Photo courtesy Tina Dils.

That's all I have today, but I'm certain there will be more information to dig up. There are always more questions, the further I go into this subject.


1  Source:

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


  1. My grandfather was Bill Lenaburg. I used to spend summers at his farm where his ceramics factory was also located. I loved watching his operation as a child: collecting the wet excess clay and molding it, watching his fired ceramics receive airbrushing, seeing all of the finished pieces glimmering and shining under the factory lights. I am so glad to have found your site. So many memories of my childhood represented by these ceramic pieces!

    1. Hi Josh,

      Pleased to meet you, and I'm glad that you found the blog, too. Would you mind giving a brief interview for this blog, about your memories of the factory and your grandfather?