Monday, February 17, 2014

Muddy Monday: Get Carded

As show season approaches, it is time to start dusting off show horses and prepping their attending paper reference materials. Prepping now? Yes, a happy, relaxed china shower has all the work done before the show day.

Warning: this is an Editorial Opinion piece, based on my experience as a model horse live show exhibitor and show holder. I am using all my own good and bad examples that I actually have competed, with the exception of the very last good example. Mistakes, I've made a few...

A word about using digital media for reference material display on the judging table: 
This may be perfectly acceptable in other divisions, but use your head with ceramics. If you have set up a series of slides or screens that invite the judge to use the touchpad, it's a bad idea. Every time they touch or slide, they are interacting with the table. This can be anything from a tiny jiggle, to having to press hard to refresh a device, after the screen has gone to sleep. The point is, it causes a disturbance that is undesirable for a china judging table. If you choose to use devices to display your collectibility information, be sure you have Sleep turned off, and that the screen Brightness is set so that it is legible. Just as it is the height of rudeness to fill out cards by hand on the judging table, jiggling other entries in the process, it is equally rude to be doing it on a device. All prep should be done at your personal show table, or at home. Do not use a dodgy device because you happen to have it to spare; judges are impressed by content, not tech.

This tutorial will address the use of paper materials for Original Finish (OF) China (all factory-finished ceramics) Collectibility. This post has been a long time coming, as I have coached some exhibitors over the years on their cards. I have been a card user for many years, even before it was a requirement for Nationals-level competition (North American Nationals). I remember the days of Collector's Classes, where each piece in the group had to have a card, explaining its worthiness to be included. These days, cards describing the rarity and production description of each single-horse entry are required in all NAN Collectibility classes. My show is a NAN qualifier, therefore, I made it a rule that Collectibility entries at my show should be presented as ready to compete at the next level. At least one other china show has adopted the same requirement.

If you are showing vintage HRs in Collectibility, you need this book, the third edition. It doesn't have everything, but it has the basics.

The generally accepted format for a Collectibility Card is a white 3x5" index card, with or without lines, or a small, cut piece from a printed Word document. If you do not have a way to print from your computer, you will have to carefully hand-write each card. The handwriting should be printed clearly, not crammed close together, and never in cursive. 

Please do not offend a judge with this.
What company made it? What is it called? Could this card look any worse?

Better, easier to read, and more specific, but who made it? What is the mold called?

If you print from your computer, Word has pre-measured formats you can select for index cards. You can save yourself the trouble of locating the perforated printer paper, and just use normal white card stock or paper, and a small paper cutter. Collectibility cards do not have to be 3 x 5" exactly. They can be any size that is neatly trimmed and legible, within the 8.5 x 11" maximum.

A very easy-to-read font is Arial. It is plain, clear of serifs, and its ease of communication are reasons why I use it for this blog. As tempting as it may be to match fonts to your horses (Mesquite for Quarter Horses! Cracked for all the chinas!), just don't do it. Use black ink on white paper, just like you would for a college paper. Judges get enough stimuli for migraines, and cards should not add to them.

Let's look at three kinds of OF entries, and how to avoid card content pitfalls of each.

Horse Is Common As Dirt (and made of it)

Some of my favorite sculptures happen to be easy to find for sale, because the factory made so many. They are beautiful, they sold well, they were successful, thus, we see a lot of them. If the horse is common, what is there to say? Everyone has seen it, ho-hum. Not so fast!

If this blog has influenced you in any way, you now have an idea how to investigate and really look at the ceramic, as it sits before you. Are you overlooking something pertinent to the judge's assessment of its collectibility? Being specific will save this from being an average entry.

Things that are worth noting, on even the most common horses:

Does it have one or two stickers?
Does it have early or late markers of production in its run?
Are its legs straighter than most?
Does it have an error, or maybe some employee customization?
If a reissue limited edition, do you have its factory certificate of authenticity?
How many colors were made?
Which factory seasons made each color?

Many exhibitors simply enter the factory COA as their sole Collectibility documentation.
In some cases, a little more information may be needed.

Good example of when, how many, what factory, what mold, and even where it fits in the factory progression.

As bare as your Card may look, do not make stuff up. Do not fib. Avoid hyperbole, and edit out as many adjectives as possible. Do not add import to your entry with indemonstrable third party rumor (ie, "My friend Susie Creamcheese says this is the darkest one, ever!"). 

Don't do this.
Outdated, relying heavily on opinion, and no relevant factory data, at all.
Known to whom?
Also, crooked "stand-up" folded style fails to look nearly as neat as a flat card.

Good example of legible, space-saving documentation.
The card makes the most of a common mold with plenty of information.
The use of the word "outstanding" is reasonable on this particular entry, 
because this particular horse has loads of fur coat detail.

Horse Has A Good Chance of Placing, Even Without Documentation

To me, this is the toughest of the three. It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with your moderately rare horse, assuming (a big mistake) that the judge is a specialist of that mold, and knows exactly how few there are. Do not underestimate the value of a good card effort, even if this is the rarest color of the mold. Does it have good color, but poor mold detail? Then, don't mention detail, just mention the color positively. Good detail, but the common color? How many made, how long were they made? Was yours signed by the artist? Is it a variation, and what exactly makes it different?

This card has bold text for the single most important fact about the entry: 
it was only made for one year.
One HR season = half a year, as there are only two order forms per year.
Funny side note about Peggy Lou: collectors used to say there were no softly-detailed ones, 
because they weren't made long enough to wear down the molds.
I have now seen enough PL's to dispel this. There is a whole range of mold detail on PL models.
If you show a crispy PL, mention its good detail on the card.

Horse Has Its Own Paparazzi

There are always some of these at china specialty shows. Fellow exhibitors, and even show staff, will take turns photographing when such a horse hits the ring. 

This horse needs a cut-and-dried, "Just the facts, ma'am!" card. If you can show documentation that it was a test or a factory custom, such as a text reference or photos, print out small copies or short (credited) quotes that get the point across. The largest accepted size of a single entry's documentation is a single 8.5 x 11" sheet. 

This is the largest Collectibility documentation I ever entered, 8.5 x 11". 
It includes the original auction, showing its purchase from a factory-related person.
The selling price is blanked out, so that value does not sway the judge.
The printed card with more information is laid over the additional auction photos, 
not taking up room next to it.

Do not put two full 8.5 x 11" sheets, nor an entire book laid flat, as your documentation. My number-one peeve on a china judging table is a book taking up real estate, or worse, flopping over. Putting a book on the table tells the judge that you didn't take the time to put the information into your own words, print photos, and thus generate the proper size of documentation. It says, "I'm lazy, or didn't plan ahead, or don't care." You would never do this for a school paper! Showmanship in model horses is so darn easy, there's no excuse to skip the minimum effort. If all book users just once experienced a near-disaster because of someone else's documentation taking up space or being unstable... maybe the practice would cease? At my show, the accountability begins with a DQ if there is a book on the table. 

In the rare case that you own the actual model shown in a book, use your camera. Put the wee photo of the page, citing the page number and the book title, with your documentation. There is never a good reason to thunk a book down in the judging ring.

If it is a vintage horse (not current or reissue), does it have its factory packaging? If so, show a photo of it in/with the original box, but do not put the box on the judging table. Some exhibitors add a small note to the judge, saying they can produce the box from their show table for inspection. Can you prove its rarity, age, or other facts with an ancient receipt, showing the origin, date, and issue price? 

Example of winning with legible, hand-written, low-tech documentation.
This could be improved with mold number and years of regular run production.
Entry by Denise Masters, at Clinky Classic 2.

Things You Should Not Do in a Collectibility entry, for any level:

Do not use a photocopy or replica of another model's sticker. 

Do not show another model like yours, but not this exact horse, in a photo with original packaging, and claim your entry is a complete unit. 

Do not use slang. It is acceptable to use hobby abbreviations, but no txt speak, please.

Do not ask others to write your cards for you. It is good to ask questions, but it's best to ask other collectors very specific questions, and only after exhausting every book and reference web site known to humankind. 

Avoid neon paper, metallics, glitter, flowers, stand-up photo frames, decorated borders. A card is ideally a simple transfer of information, and the audience (the judge) deserves the same respect as when you submit a college paper. If you use page protectors, make sure they are optically clear. If the judge has to squint to read it through the plastic, it is failing. No perfume, no distractions. I used to use the clear upright photo frames, but I once saw one fall over, so now I'm anti-frame.

Never show your model, or a similar one, in a photo with past awards as part of your Collectibility documentation. Do not brag about past wins. The entry today is not being judged on past achievements, but against What Else Is On The Table.

Your entry is not about who you know. Name drop in your documentation only if it has historic significance to the factory, or shows a short chain of factory provenance. Collectibility is about the factory and its associates; it is not about noted model horse hobbyists whose names you think will give your horse an edge with the judge. The only time it is appropriate to list the previous owner is if they have a direct link to the factory that produced the entry (like a family member).

Just as for Artist Resin Workmanship, do not mention the restoration artist's name on a Collectibility Card. The factory designer or the factory decorator's name is OK to mention, because they were factory employees, and are generally outside the realm of influence of judging-by-name. Avoid mentioning that the entry was restored at all, unless the only factory provenance you have displays it in a damaged condition. Then, it is important to mention, "This was restored since that was published", so that the judge knows it really is the same exact horse shown in documentation.

If you have any card questions, you are welcome to email me or post a comment to the blog. Happy card writing, and see you at the shows!


  1. Super post, but I must dispute one recommendation, and that is Arial. Research has shown for years that, while sans serif fonts are best on *computer screens*, serif fonts are far easier on the eye when printed. Sans-serif fonts -- Arial in particular -- tend to look like bar codes after a while.

    I'm not fond of Times New Roman -- we use Garamond for most printed material.

    If your heart is set on sans-serif, Verdana is much easier to read, although it needs to be 1 pt larger than Arial. :) Readability/usability are one of the things Xerox pays me for ... :D

  2. Please, not Arial. If you must use sans-serif, try Verdana. HOWEVER -- as you'll notice if you pick up almost any book, serif type is far easier to read in print, because it's "friendlier" to the eye. We're accustomed to sans fonts on line, because the serifs don't always fair well via pixel, but it's been proven that in print, serif fonts do not turn into "bar codes" for the tired eye. Garamond is a very readable serif font, and better than Times Roman.