Monday, June 30, 2014

Muddy Monday: On Za Lips a' Lipizzaner

Muddy Hoofprints Law: There's no knowing when a new curiosity will drop in your lap, or when a random rescue will relate to an earlier pottery mystery.

A non-hobby friend who frequents estate sales found some china horses, one weekend in May. He picked up the only two Hagen-Renakers in the group, and gave them to me. They were a broken Monrovia white small Zara and a DW Lipizzaner.

I was intrigued by the Lip, even though he is, by far, the less valuable model of the two: missing a leg, multiple breaks and chips, and lacking his base and sticker, entirely. He retained small clues about his age. The bottoms of his hind feet had glue residue with woodgrain/wood chips still stuck in it. 

This was after the water boiling technique, to loosen misaligned glued breaks.
There is still some woodgrain debris left on the sole!

This was one of the earliest white Monrovia Lipizzaners, as he had originally left the factory glued on a wooden base. Wood bases were used for the first issue Lips for a short time, as with the DW Hackney, but ceramic bases are found with most examples. He did not have the tri-eyes of Middle Monrovia, but dot-eyes. No lashes, no whites. When I examined his painted pink muzzle, it struck me as familiar, but not something I'd seen on this mold before. 

Here are some variations of eye and muzzle decoration one normally sees on the white Lipizzaners, from several HR factory eras.

Muzzle has gray airbrushing, with pink airbrushed on top.
Lash bi-eyes, close to the age of my little patient, but this Monrovia is on a ceramic base.
Blue rectangle sticker.
Photo courtesy Cindy Dilks.

Another Monrovia decorated as above example, yet with sharper mold detail.
This one has a round gold sticker.
Photo courtesy Cindy Dilks.

No pink nose Monrovia.
Photo Courtesy Val Tudor.

Faint pink airbrushing, but only on this side! San Marcos era.
Photo courtesy Nancy Kelly.

Note pink airbrush overspray, even on the knee of the one on far right.
Photos courtesy Ed Alcorn.

The little broken guy doesn't have eyes or muzzles like any of these.
The photo on the left shows a fellow wood-base age example, without pink.

Another wood-base age example. Again, no pink.
Photo credit: unknown, Pinterest.

What was off about my broken little guy? He had a wood base once, and he has pink that doesn't look normal in hue or application. Pink that, frankly, isn't normally on a gentlemen of his age.

The hard edge of the pink, on both sides, seemed odd. Others had softly airbrushed pink, even extending up the face (or on other parts of the body). This fellow had sharp-edged pink. There are two possible causes for this:

1. An airbrush run. Underglaze can catch on edges of nostrils and lips. It will puddle or pool, leaving a darkened, hard edge as it dries.

2. Hand brushed-on overglaze.

It is not post-factory consumer-applied nail polish, because I chemically stripped him thoroughly, to prep for restoration. The pink is not coming off.

It seems odd that, if airbrushed, why doesn't the pink on the old guy show any overspray on the rest of the muzzle? When I get a run, it happens while I have been applying layers of pink underglaze to the muzzle and face, which places the darker pink run's edge within a field of softly sprayed pink. This next model shows exactly what I'm talking about. One can see pink airbrushing up the sides of the jaws. The hard, darker edges are where the airbrush caught the sculpture and made runs.

Photos courtesy Julie Harris.
Note the airbrush runs connect between the nostrils, no white space.
My computer's color auto-correct made these slightly different, my apologies.

Then it dawned on me where I had seen this watery, edged, dabbed pink before:

Readers may recall that this odd lady was purchased in a legacy collection of Monrovia pieces, boxed up and stored for decades. In that collection was this factory second Lipizzaner, missing some decoration, but with an airbrushed pink muzzle! The plot thickens.

This base is assumed to be employee-made, 
using HR factory materials/glaze, but is not this product's normal base.
It is unknown if this one was ever meant to have a wood base.
Photo courtesy Ed Alcorn.

Comparing my broken Lip and my odd factory custom(?) Zara.

Side by side, the main difference seems to be one is applied on a glossy glaze. Where the Lipizzaner's nostril interior has a pool of glossier glaze, the intensity of pink matches better than over the matte. This may be due to optics, as overglaze sinks into and takes on the character of the glaze it is applied to... or who knows? His pink looks nothing like the shade on the other Lipizzaners, except for the factory second Lip. There are also uneven patches of white inside the nostrils, as there are in the Zara's. Airbrush application would not leave white. Side note, he is even white between the pink slops on both nostrils. 

The old guy's pink stops dead, as if applied deliberately with a small paintbrush.
No pink pooling between nostrils.

As far as I have found, the employee-custom Zara dates between Spring 1957- Spring1958. 

The earliest (wood base) DW Lipizzaner dates to Spring 1957- Spring 1958.

Could be a coincidence, but it's worth noting.

I've already touched on the use of overglazes in early-middle Monrovia, in the Silver On Her Toes post. What I've learned since then, is that other DW models also received non-metallic detail touches of some type of heat-set lacquer or actual enamel/overglazes. The use of non-metallic over-deco on DWs is less familiar to casual collectors than the common Miniatures line use of overglazes (Circus Ponies, Drafter in Harness, etc.).

For example, the Monrovia DW Bison has a singular hue of brushed-on over-deco on its hooves and horns. The paintbrush strokes can be seen in some. His debut was 1961, which is odd compared to the time of use of hoof extra-deco in the DW horses.

Left: Monrovia with rust-orange overglaze or lacquer on hooves and horns.
Models courtesy Keith Bean.

So, there are Monrovia precedents with over-the-glaze detail pigment, and they were applied not by airbrush, but by paintbrush. The timeframe (in horses, at least) seems to coincide. I'm not ready to say this is a Monrovia overglaze pink-nose Lipizzaner- because artifacts of underglazing can fool the eye- but I'd love to learn of other wood-base Lipizzaners in collector hands, and what their muzzles look like. Do they have any pink? Does it show airbrushing artifacts, or is it more like a hand-brushed accent, on top of the glaze? Do you know of a wood-base Lipizzaner with airbrushed pink, just like the factory second above?

This entire investigation would never have happened, if someone had thrown the broken Lip in the dustbin. Instead, someone saved him from doom, and asked five dollars for him. The humblest little fragment can point out big production differences that we tend to not "see", even when we look at the whole a hundred times.

Gratitude to all who shared photos or let me photograph their models for this post: Ed Alcorn, Keith Bean, Cindy Dilks, Julie Harris, Nancy Kelly, and Val Tudor.


Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Catalogue. Third Edition. Pp. 69, 75, 97. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Muddy Monday: When and Why's of Collection Downsizing

When it becomes a chore.

When it hurts my normal life priorities.

When I don't see the point anymore.

When I literally don't see the horses, anymore! They are all boxed up.

Does everyone have similar boiling points, the twists in life that make them decide to sell off the horses they have spent years collecting? 

The survey was completed by 22 ceramics collectors, all residing in the USA, in June 2014.

Of the downsizing collectors surveyed, 82% said that when they were actively acquiring, most of it was sight unseen by internet/mail order. As in, the actual model was produced later and shipped to them, or they saw photos by mail or online. They did not make the majority of their purchases in-person, buying the actual model shown to them.

This is really interesting because it begs the question of "disappointment". Was the photo better, or the actual item received? After three or four let-downs, does one look at that section of the cabinet and downsize it? If OF, was the factory color different than the advertising implied that it would be? Or, was it your only option when you got it, but decades later, you finally saw other examples of it at shows? Did you feel it was due for an upgrade? If Custom Glaze, was it live show proven before you received it? 

Of those downsizing ceramics, 91% acquired more ceramic models within the last six months. Yes. It is very tough to make the decision, but no one said you can't bring in one for every ten or so you sell!

Interestingly, only 25% made the decision to disperse within the last six months. Most have been at it for years, or at least plotting it for more than half a year.

Something that I thought would be a common factor for downsizing was lack of display opportunity. "If you can't see your horses, the urge to keep them is reduced", I thought. No, 73% display their ceramic collections.

I also anticipated a lack of shows in the immediate area ( a two-hour driving radius) would be a reason for most to downsize, or even drop out of the hobby. Gatherings are fun, and competitions can bring a lot to a hobby experience. Only 23% of responses have zero showing opportunity within that range. There are 32%- nearly a third- residing near shows (within that range), but they do not go. One reason cited was that there were no dedicated china classes offered. It is not fun to show ceramics in with plastics and resins.

Perhaps dealing with customers and distributors could cause a burn-out, which in turn inspires down-sizing?  Only 14% had ever had a model dealership, or provided a service professionally to the model horse hobby (or to its manufacturers).

The 54% majority of down-sizing collectors don't compete at the National level at least once every five years. This means, when they win a first or second place at a qualifying show, it is very likely that the NAN card will never be used for entry (they now expire after four years).

Speaking of burn-out and its many possible causes, there are other ways to "serve" the hobby public. Well, almost a quarter of china down-sizers (23%) have served or are serving in a North American Model Horse Shows Association office, or as a region representative, or in a paid assignment (NAN judge).

This next one made me proud of ceramic collectors. We as a group (although I personally did not take the survey, I've done this, too) pull our hobby weight as show hosts. Forty-one percent of down-sizing collectors have been a show holder member of NAMHSA, at least once! Can you just imagine how many shows there would be if 41% of plastic collectors (who have been in it long enough to need to down-size) would also host a show or two? Interestingly, most of these were not annual commitments, but occasional open (not china specialty) shows. We china people pace ourselves. Also, annual commitments to hold shows could absolutely contribute to a hobby burn-out and subsequent down-sizing, don't you think?

The results were telling me, I was looking for data to pin the culprit, but I had the wrong suspect. Burn-out from several sources combined was still a minor cause for down-sizing, compared to the unknown majority.

Economics are a huge factor in this. Several wrote in comments about the economy, their spending habits, and wanting more funds to put in their hobby, on yes/no questions. Of those polled, 23% are on a fixed income. It is impossible to "keep up with the Joneses" in ceramics, when your luxury spending is cramped more each month with rising living costs.

Of the participants, 72% said that a recent family/household change had an effect on their collecting habits. About a third of those were due to adopting new pets, or having old pets with new veterinary costs. This is not surprising, after all, people who collect art of animals tend to love real animals!

I asked if, despite downsizing, there was a model they will keep forever. Is it the most valuable to the market, or is it for sentimental reasons?

When it comes down to it, 82% want to keep at least one model for purely sentimental reasons. Value is no factor to these folks, when it comes to these favorites.

Still, who doesn't love a bargain? The 73% majority continues to hunt for models at flea markets, estate sales, and antiques shows.

At the height of their acquisitions, 95% of the down-sizers spent more than $100 per month on models. This was not a geographically selective survey, so bear in mind that one region's $1200-a-year is significantly harder to come by than another's. I didn't just poll one economic tier or part of the USA. The ceramics market itself must be fairly uniform for such diverse Americans to very nearly all be spending the same minimum. The polled 5%, a single participant, only spent under $100 a month because their main acquisition period was during the original mid-century $5 debuts of many of today's high-dollar vintage horses. 

At this point, the survey shifts in tone again, and asks the participant to examine their more specific reasons.

How would you describe the core reason for your dispersal? Select as many as apply.

a. bored of horses

b. no longer feel the creative spark

c. can't keep up with the costs

d. no longer show

e. frustrated by constant changes in color rules, breed registries, etc. required for informed purchase and showing decisions

f. unemployment

g. starting a family

h. found a new hobby, directing all luxury spending there

i. got into a different subset of the hobby, selling these to fund my new model horse focus

The good news is, no one is bored of horses. Six participants had "n/a", or reasons not listed. Some gave additional notes, expressing the reasons they had: lack of display space, general late-life downsizing. Thankfully, no one gave reasons of hostile home environment or illness! 

Of those who selected from the list above, and they could have multiple selections (hence this equals more than 100%):

  • 19% no longer feel the "thrill" or the creative spark to assembling the collection, or any number of possible hobby-related activities
  • 56% can't keep up with the climbing costs of collecting (even shipping costs are on the rise)
  • 25% no longer show, so they don't need a big show string anymore
  • 6% frustrated by constant changes in what one needs to know about real horses to make informed purchases and show successfully
  • 19% unemployment
  • 6% are starting a family
  • 44% have found another hobby entirely to direct their spending towards
  • 44% are selling to fund their refined interest in another subset of the model horse hobby
On the last one, it was encouraging to read that when ceramics were on the chopping block, it was only to focus on other ceramic horses. It is a refinement of the china collection, rather than a full-blown ceramics extirpation.

The last was virtually an essay question. Indeed, I received some essays! Beautiful, sharp, valid points were made, and I'd like to share them with you. Maybe, while you are reading this, you have a solution or something helpful to contribute.

Aside from life's obstacles, what change(s) to the hobby (or new services) would make your return appealing and possible?

More than a third responded that there was nothing they'd change. They love everything about the hobby. They'd of course like a little more spending money, but it's just life that is getting in the way.

Almost a quarter said they wish there were more gatherings, parties, swap meets, or shows. Can we just have lunch, and a PowerPoint presentation, something to further hobby education? No show really needed. Just get together. More fun, less stress. This is what collectors are requesting.

More than a quarter said they would be more "into" today's china horse hobby if there was less ego, less NAN emphasis, less drama. Those things can blend together in a super-storm that registers on the Fujita scale, but it is possible to have fun, even in today's atmosphere. I used to not define it, but just call it, "being on the fringe of the hobby". I don't mean that in a hipster way; it's not about being non-conformist, since we all like horses and have so much in common. I found that a lot of it had to do with being comfortable with my own taste in models- even if it wasn't the hot new thing, or the oldest great thing. I simply edited the things that I didn't like from my general hobby experience. This is largely solved by the Hide button on Facebook and avoiding online forums. For others, it means only going to non-show gatherings. I know folks who have only a buy-and-sell relationship with the hobby, and that is all the interaction they require. It helps them keep drama, with one exception, at arm's length. It is a hobby on their terms.

That one exception is related entirely to the buying and selling (and trading) of models, and some of the survey participants say it needs improvement: protection from rip-off artists (ROAs). This term is not directed at artists in the sense of those who make art; it means those who have made grift part of their skill set. Things are much better today, with tracking available on shipped packages, plus eBay's, PayPal's, and your own bank's fraud services on the look-out for the buyer. It is a bit of a different story for the honest seller who gets robbed by scam artist "buyers". There was a period of a year where I refused to do any business overseas, as we lost thousands in one year, in product, refunds, and cost of shipping/insurance, that were declared "lost" to overseas destinations. The scam artists knew how to check to see if tracking was in effect, and use it to their advantage. Our local post office had adopted a time-saving (for them) policy of not scanning every package, which, as you can imagine, resulted in some angry customers and lawsuits. An unscanned box is essentially untracked, and thus can't be proven not-lost, from the moment it leaves the sender's fingertips. So, there was no way to even claim the insurance we'd paid for, and had a receipt for, because as far as the post was concerned, we never handed the box to the employee. We just swallowed the loss, and refused a lot of purchases from overseas, until their scan requirements changed. In fact, I stood in line today, to make sure boxes I had to drop off were scanned, because it still stings. They really want us to just leave them on the counter, not take up space in line, and trust that they will scan them... Meanwhile, the ROAs just get better at jumping the new protection hurdles, with practice.

Within the hobby, there are a couple forums that allow reporting of issues, including full-blown ROA transactions. We try to watch out for each other. Facebook has become another avenue of communication about ROAs, and happily, it is as fast as they are!

Speaking of speed... improving the wait times for original art was mentioned by one participant. I am an artist, and I resemble the criticism. I am very up-front about my ceramic services waits, and my usual policy is to not accept payment in advance for anything. It's much nicer to do highly technical, delicate work when there is nothing looming over you. If the future buyer changes their mind on the custom glaze before I get a dime, I accept that it is now mine to keep or sell. Inevitably, if I make an exception to this rule, and wow, sometimes it just works out that way, it sometimes results in that wait. It's a bit of a no-win, Murphy's Law for the artist: if you refuse deposits, people say you are a snob and you only do art for your inner circle, it's unfair, nobody can get anyone to glaze their bisques for them; if you break your policy and accept deposits, the window of time you had will instantly shatter under an unexpected flurry of family commitments, and a downright blizzard of unforeseen commercial work with extreme rush deadlines. That's what happens to me, but I can't speak for every artist. I myself have been waiting, longer than several of my friends have been in the hobby at all, for a paid-for custom model. It is, indeed, a flaw of our horse hobby. It doesn't seem a viable solution for all of us artists to say, "No, we just won't make anything available to order, at all, anymore!", since some people really like ordering their own taste in finishes. Maybe, we should take a more commercial approach, instead of the constant fine art sales methods? If collectors could only issue Purchase Orders, and the same consequences applied...!

Another request was to have ceramic hobby artists all advertise new sales in one central site or group. Just the one, where it is a free-for-all when an edition opens, or a custom series is available. Today, most artists will not go this route, for their more important pieces; we've already seen what happens when we do that. For a clear example, consider the phenomenon of the buyers of current UK bone chinas: those who are first to buy up each new edition, but also quick to resell at a profit, sometimes without the horse even touching their hands. Much like ticket scalping, this was rampant in artist resin and hobby small edition ceramics about 10-17 years ago. Those of us artists who got the angry letters from those days know exactly why we don't put whole editions out for the public, in a central shopping site. Our faithful collectors expect some modicum of consideration, in return for following our work for years. That means, they want to have a chance at new stuff, away from those who are only buying to immediately profit on the secondary market. Hence, the scattered private newsletters, yahoogroups, Facebook sales and Pages have become the institution, since those days.

Some requests that need more hobbyists, not just artists, to get behind them are all show-related. These are:
  • More shows
  • More judging opportunities (shows and clinics can generate these)
  • More china classes, without lumping them in with plastic customs and plastic OFs
  • Add Youth & Amateur Artist divisions
The last one, I opine, cannot be combined and still called Youth, because adult Amateurs would be in the same classes as Youth. I come from the model horse school of hard knocks, where I was tossed right in Open and Senior divisions, with my wonky OFs and early, awkward art in Custom. So aaaaaaaaaaawkward. That said, I'd get behind an Amateur Ceramic Art division, no Youth designation, because it can be all ages and still a very good learning experience for everyone. Ceramics are a lot tougher to master than just acrylic repainting. In this, and in most art disciplines, youth have an advantage over adult amateurs. They get art supplies for birthdays and holiday gifts, they have lots more spare time to wedge art practice in (I know, because I slept about 3-5 hours a night, all through high school!), they have class by day, but they don't have their own kids to raise, no HOA meetings, no DMV lines, no post office lines- all the stuff adults squeeze in to their lunch breaks and after-work time. Nowadays, there are decorate-your-own-ceramics shops everywhere, and ceramics are so much more accessible to all ages than when I was a youth. Maybe we should organize some hobby fun days at those places?
The other items listed above, well, they require more show holders and more shows. Let's tell the plastic collectors about how 41% of our down-sizing ceramics collectors have hosted shows, and talk them into pulling their show-hosting weight. Then, let's sponsor china classes within their shows, so they have decent china divisions, which in turns draws our collector friends from more than two hours away... 

A cheer of thank-you to all the collectors who participated in the downsizing survey! I also appreciate those who did not fit the topic, but offered to take the survey. I didn't include them this time, but there will be future surveys that might be more applicable to their experiences. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Muddy Monday: Hagen-Renaker Factory Eras, Part One

This post has to be a two-parter, at least, because there is just too much material to cover, and it's bound to stir up disagreement. It's a subject Hagen-Renaker collectors talk about, but don't talk about. It's the stuff of behind-closed-doors discussions at the CHIN, during BreyerFest. You probably hold fast to your personal taste on this subject, but you only tell your closest collector friends, because you don't want it to affect the values of what you sell and seek. Others may only sniff out your heart's truth by examining the contents of your entire collection, since a show string on any given show day is very subjective. It is an insight into the collecting psyche when someone tells you their favorite Hagen-Renaker factory era. It is like personal, sensitive information; it's like giving competing collectors an informed advantage.

"Susie Creamcheese won't be bidding against me, because she doesn't care for San Marcos models."

"I know Jimbo Perkins LOVES Monrovia models, so I will dangle this carrot in trade!"

Manipulation! Spy versus spy! Wild feats of trading! This is another "opinion piece", and you all will get to know my secret crush. Since I am a happy and laid-back collector, it doesn't worry me that my weakness is made public. Come, play in my sandbox!

We all react, on a visual level, to the styles and colors of each factory era of Hagen-Renaker. There is also a tactile difference: sandy matte to smooth glossy; thin, light castings vs. the heavier, thick casting style of the reissues. Some collectors are particularly interested in what is rare, regardless of appearance or suitability for model horse "Breed" showing. The first thing that trips up the average HR collector and Collectibility judge is the assumption of 

oldest = greatest value.

I would argue that oldest does not mean the rarest, and the era of greatest value on the open market may not be the one with greatest value to you. A model is only worth what someone is willing to pay, or what at least two people have bid up at auction. Consider the previous post, where a Completist collector may be seeking a particular model they are missing from their conga for that era. A Completist will really save up, anticipate, and splurge on that last model needed from X era, because timing is everything. 

So, you say oldest does not mean most valuable... so, to some collectors, my Monrovia is less valuable than my reissue?

This is tricky. Yes, maybe.

Monrovia is the oldest HR factory era. However, it was very successful, and ran for a long time, compared to the other eras. For Maureen Love-designed DW horses, that era begins Spring 1954 (not counting the Mastersons) and ends with the factory closure of 1960. Technically. Although, as you'll see, tri-eyes and other Monrovia traits carried forward a little.

Nothing was numbered, nor account kept of edition size, in Monrovia. Given the choice, I am all about a numbered limited edition reissue, crispy shaded Roan Lady instead of a common white, no-detail, barely shaded Monrovia Roan Lady. Yes, I said it. Age does not trump numbered rarity and beauty, in my opinion. Your feelings may differ.

Monrovia itself is a misunderstood era, because it contains sub-styles that changed over its long life. Two Monrovia horses of the same color, condition, and mold may not be produced the same way. 

Here is an example of two Roughneck Morgan foals from the same sub-era of Monrovia. Both have bi-eyes, both are matte palomino (early Monrovia Roughneck palomino was glossy), and they have the same sticker on the belly.

However, they are so different, that the owner thought they were produced in different factories, until the stickers were examined. 

Models courtesy Jayne Kubas.

One was decorated with brown shading, the other with black. One has very little eye white. One had the pour hole towards the back end, one towards the front. One has softer mold detail.

From pigmented slip batch variations to individual employee styles, there is room for variations within a sub-era. There is a tendency to over simplify, lumping all Monrovia together as most valuable. The oversimplification extends to general identification of DWs: character eyes, tri-eyes, bi-eyes, brown/black eyes, lash-dot eyes, San Marcos brown/black, and reissues. This is not a complete, nor correctly ordered, summary!

Early Monrovia

"Character Eyes" is a succinct label for this era. Most experienced collectors know exactly what you mean by these words. At the same time that this was applied to Designer Workshop animals, HR was also producing licensed ware for Disney and the illustrated Cocker Spaniel, Butch. Cartoon embellishment was chic. It gave items "shelf appeal". Also, traditional pottery techniques, like filling pour holes and punching a smaller, unobtrusive vent hole elsewhere, were used in this time. Not all molds' pour holes were filled, but a lot of them. 

Character eyes: white "glints" in pupil and scleras, dark brown eyes, brows, and even lip and nostril liner.
These are all Early, therefore all filled pourholes...

If you noticed the matte Monrovia palomino Roughnecks did not have filled pour holes, but this old guy does.
I have not seen a single Clover nor Scamper casting with a filled pour hole, in any era. 
Do you have one?

This sub-era went the extra mile. My best guess, going by character eyes on Sespe and other DW horses, is that this sub-era ended at 1954-55.

Middle Monrovia

Probably the best sub-set in this era. A time of pretty, named stickers and expressive tri-eyes on some ware. Oddly enough, we collectors often assume the older pieces all had tri-eyes, but bi-eyes happened in this era, too. 

The DW Swaps mold will be our illustration. 

Here's an Early-Middle guy with bi-eyes, maybe the oldest Swaps I've seen. 

What makes him so old? His belly.
I have seen other examples of bi-eyes on filled-pour-hole models.
Bi-eyes is not necessarily only for "younger" models.

I am guessing that this Swaps dates to the dawn of the Swaps mold, 1957, because he has the belly filled. Castings of the 9" DW Arabian family, Amir, Zara, and Zilla, that date to this sub-era, likewise exhibit the filled pour hole. In later years, they do not, until the revival of this practice in the reissues. You may note that few Swaps have a smoothed-over pour hole and a chest vent, and I've yet to see it on the other famous racehorse DW molds that followed him. However, the earlier Pay-Day (1954-57) has a filled, smooth pour hole. It does make one consider that filled bellies in Monrovia mean the oldest... not to be confused with filled bellies of reissues.

Note that Early Middle Monrovia (on the far right) has a filled pour hole and punched chest vent.

Late Monrovia

The eye decoration may have to be considered on a mold-by-mold basis. The tri-eyes were still in production as late as Fall 1962 (as seen on the DW Thoroughbred and Jockey). At the same time, more models show reduced eye decoration. Combined with plain bi-eyes or lash-dot eyes, the blue rectangle sticker can indicate a late Monrovia model. Simple dot eyes can also carry this sticker. You'll notice open pour holes start to creep in with this subset.

<  Late Monrovia, Middle, Early Middle >
Middle has a sticker that dates him 1959-63.
Late is almost purple in overspray, with a shading technique seen on San Dimas models.
But he's not San Dimas hued, nor 'eyed.

Transition Pieces

Easily, the rarest subset of all. These are pieces made during the months of transitioning from Monrovia to San Dimas, including changes to staff. They are very tricky to identify. It helps to compare side-by-side with Late Monrovia and early San Dimas and note eyes, mold quality, mold lines, pour holes or lack thereof, and leg stance. 

The guy in the middle, for all his San Dimas color, star marking, and features, has tri-eyes!

< San Dimas                             Monrovia>
One of the crispest Monrovia Swaps shows how much was changed between it and San Dimas version mold.

Monrovia-ish eyes on a transition Ferseyn, sporting San Dimas pink-nose and a Monrovia sticker.

Early San Dimas

Satin sheen matte, not quite as dry as Monrovia, starts to appear in this era. Open pour holes are a defining trait. Filling pour holes and punching a new hole (for gas exchange during kiln firing) required added labor. Painting tri-eyes means more materials and labor. More labor is added expense, at the end of the day. Simplified eye decoration of brown/black bi-eyes meant less materials (reduced by 1 color: white), less room for error, and less time spent per unit. San Dimas was a time of cutting the unnecessary, and competing with the imports that were choking the market.

That being said, this is my second-favorite sub-era. The improved mold details and the alterations (like the mane of Sun Cortez, for example) have such sharpness and flow. 

Late San Dimas

Some very dry matte (not enough glaze dip) finishes are known from this sub-era, like on the 6" "stoneware" doeskin Arabians. Eye decoration further simplified to black dot eyes. A proliferation of rarer colors, like the dun and the "red pinto" on the DW Mustang family. Not shown here is the Late San Dimas extremely-high-whites and red-head Swaps variations.

<Late San Dimas            Transition Horse>

Late SD model courtesy Jayne Kubas.

Left to right: Late SD no snip, Middle SD, Transition, Late Mon, Middle Mon, Early-Middle Mon

Early San Marcos

Harkening back to Monrovia's "golden age" of tri-eyes and filled pour holes, the factory really put its best foot forward.

<Early San Marcos palomino gloss       test liver chestnut>
More about why these are two different mold versions, but both finished in San Marcos.

Middle San Marcos

A flurry of new molds appeared in this sub-era. Eye decoration simplified to brown/black bi-eyes, much like San Dimas. This is probably my favorite, and not just because I root for an underdog, nor because I spent many hours riding real horses in the same city. I love the molds that were only available at this time, like the charming, genial DW Mule. As a potter, I love the decoration variations, especially on tougher-to-produce models, like the white-legged bay Clydesdales. This sub-era, in many ways, "feels like home", to me.

Late San Marcos

Bi-eyes. Solid "black" dot-eyes. The last two months of factory operation featured the blue and silver oval sticker. Just because it was "Late", doesn't mean all mold detail was weak. Extremely crispy mold detail can be found in this sub-era, right up to the end.

These bi-eyes are actually brown, not black, with white.

Early Reissues

These were often less realistic, more artsy colourways, like white bodies with blue translucent manes and tails. Eye and face detail gave a nod to the character eyes of Early Monrovia, including the nostril and mouth liner. A fanciful reduction of King Cortez became a Unicorn. With the exception of the laying foals, pour holes have been filled.

Middle Reissues

This sub-era got into its groove with fresh reissue DW molds each season, available in several colors. There were quick turn-around times from placing an order, to receiving the item in hand. This era is punctuated with the factory tackling the more complex decoration challenges of the tacked Sespe Violette, and DW Thoroughbred and Jockey. Special Runs (small editions) of DW foals with hand-painted white markings were made available. The factory transitioned from hand-lettering the edition information on the bases, to issuing paper certificates with each model. For example, in 2007, starting with #197, the Ferseyn edition received certificates. Production flaws, in clay and glaze, are widely acknowledged speed bumps in this otherwise fierce sub-era.

Current Reissues

I think these are the best of the reissues. Modified face decoration, more color options, many molds to choose from, brilliant mold detail... there are good things to say about the reissues you can order today. I'm pretty excited about reissues, as this is the first time in my collecting life that not only can I buy DWs new, but I also can have my choice of colors!

What is rare, when you can't access any records of numbers produced for most of the earlier factory eras?

That's a big question. What would the smallest single batch of a color on a mold be, in a for-profit production facility? Less than twenty? And remember when we thought Peggy Lou was rare, because the mold was only sold for one year, 1959?

When things are numbered, what is considered a low number, and thus added value?

The value of number order is sometimes just opinion or speculation. I have seen a limited edition model numbered under ten that had poor mold detail, while others of higher numbers, in the same run and color, were sharp. When in full production on a mold, it is difficult or seldom done to keep each casting drying, decorated, bisqued, and glazed in the exact order in which it was demolded. Add to this mixing of body order the fact that not all pieces will be perfect, so seconds will be pulled out of numerical order and destroyed. I speak from personal experience, as a small studio potter. I can't imagine having employees and a large scale production, and still keeping each casting in the order it popped out of the mold! It's not impossible, but highly unlikely in a business setting. Seconds happen.

Beyond that, weird accidents sometimes get included in the count! Like this odd rose gray Ferseyn, with black legs. He was shipped to fill an order for a normal rose gray, and his mate Sheba was normal rose gray, in the same order. This means that even a numbered edition may not be exactly composed of the colors that were advertised to order.

< Oddity                Normal>

If one considers that production is an evolving process, the models are going to change, as the numbers go higher. Consider the case of reissue rose gray Maverick. This white-sock bearing example is #8 in the edition. 

Now, they come in solid black legs.

Do you have a single favorite era? It's OK. You don't have to tell, if you don't want to.

I would like to hear if you have conflicting examples, or further observations within sub-eras!

Big thank-you to Jayne Kubas for sharing models for photos, and the normal Ferseyn; another shout-out to Susan Sackett for the abnormal Ferseyn.


Alcorn, Ed and Falzone, Nancy. Hagen Renaker Stickers and Other Markings. Web page.

Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Catalogue. Third Edition. Pp. vi-xiii, 69, 86. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.

Sackett, Susan. Ferseyn certificate. Pers. comm. 4/23/2014

Monday, June 9, 2014

Muddy Monday: No Wrong Answers on the Collector Achievement Test

A collector friend stopped by for a chat, and the subject of styles of collecting really struck me. When getting into collecting anything, it is easy to get the impression that there is only one way to "win" at collecting. The weird thing about this is, there is no scorekeeper. You can't go by ribbons from judged shows, either, because one may have an amazing collection at home, and never show but one or two horses, ever! It isn't a contest, and there is no one way to "do it right". You have your own reasons for collecting what you do; there are just as many ways of collecting as there are ambitions or needs to do it. I touched on this subject in this post, but the recent conversation brought to light a perspective I had not considered.

That perspective is that of displaying one's collection as a showcase of acquisitions, for an unspecified but anticipated viewership (i.e., house guests, office clients). 

In this style, the displays are arranged by collectibility or ease of recognition by other knowledgeable collectors. The message is, "Look how hard I have worked to assemble this group", and it is meant to impress. Like a museum display, it focuses on the anticipated audience, and evoking awe from them.

There's nothing wrong with this. It is one of several collecting philosophies or drives in the pantheon. 

Until my friend verbalized it, it did not occur to me that she sees everyone's cabinets as speaking to her this way. I'm on the other end of the spectrum. This is no gallery show. My cabinets are not kept spotless. I dust once every couple years, as shelves need maintenance. I arrange things by art reference for my own visual learning, and by what-fits-where. It is an uncreative, practical approach. It probably makes little sense to collectibility-minded visitors. I've got mixed sizes and all manufacturers sharing the same shelves, realistic in with fantasy, glazed right next to bisques. Broken or dismembered pieces are right in with mint ones. Family sets are divided. The only obvious strategy is pieces arranged by mold or breed subject, even if the manufacturers are random. Almost all of them stand side-by-side, like books in a library's stacks. It makes sense to me, but I run my cabinets like an intern in the back of a museum, not like the exhibits in the front. Everything gets an ID number, cataloged, and set on its shelf, whether it has legs to stand on, or not. I used to even have information typed out and tagged with some items, in the cabinet. Each sherd is important for study, and I do have some sherds. When I learn new things about a piece, that data gets added to the catalog. I blogged about keeping inventory, here.

An utter mishmash of factories, finishes, sizes, and ceramic media.
The only order is by mold!

My cabinet is also like a barn. It is housing for sculptures to keep them safe and reasonably clean, yet readily accessible as reference. The Kentucky Horse Park, it is not. No photos for public posting. No pastoral shelves of foals at their dams' sides. Perhaps, I am missing something with my pragmatic approach: static display showmanship. From my perspective, I look at other folks' cabinets as if they are barns, too. When I see family groupings and full-body lateral displays, these strike me as unusual. At the same time, I never questioned why they do this, nor why I do not. 

I have been lax in not considering potential viewers when I arranged these cabinets. It is becoming a concern because, more and more, we do have visitors. I am hosting a show late this Fall, and there will be visitors with this specialized interest, curious to see the collection. Maybe it is time to let my collection have a dual purpose, and present it as exhibits, as well as my research archives. I realize this sounds odd to those collectors who already showcase their collectibles with flair. It was never something I considered for myself, before. My goal with this blog has been to make the trivia of ceramic animal collecting and production more accessible. I surely can think of ways to make my cabinet reflect the same.

Then, I started thinking about the other styles of collecting. Can the approaches to the universal facets of collecting be charted? 








Defined by being complete; challenged by new discoveries or lost rarities

Thoroughly tagged, cataloged, and pieces seldom leave

In constant flux, as new pieces are added and others are pulled out for fresh groupings

As available, no order to acquisition

In constant flux, as new pieces are added and old pieces are retired from the show string

& Goal

A finite, achievable set number serves as checklist

Infinite variations, factory tests, goofs

A finite and highly selective checklist comprising the most important pieces

Interconnected web of others’ collections make up the known whole
(being a fellow collector is the only aim)

Selective checklist comprising the most competitive or newest pieces


Cabinet displays, as well as stored items, due to sheer quantity

Cabinets are practical use of space

Displays designed to impress others; items “off exhibit” are stored

Minimal organization, cabinet displays are to please self only

Large percentage of collection is in boxes for show transport, or campaigning
with proxies

The Completist Collector

I have a problem with the Google definition of "completist":

n. an obsessive, typically indiscriminate fan or collector

The completists I knew and know were very discriminating; they were the first to teach me about "upgrading". This is just as it sounds, purchasing a duplicate and comparing it with the current collection, with the intent of improving by replacement. The lesser item, whether new or old to the collection, is then culled.

I much prefer the Merriam-Webster:

 one who wants to make something (as a collection) complete

Who is a completist? You might have been one, at the start. Or, maybe you are in a position to become one, with a change in space, employment, or finances? Completists typically have at least two out of three things that make this possible:

1. display space and storage
2. funds to devote to the collection
3. time to devote to finding the items 

Time and funds are similar enough in their yields that they are almost the same plus for a collector.

The fourth plus would be a network of fellow collectors to help you with your goal, but this takes time to build. Thus, you must have #3 time to invest, just to acquire #4.

A person may experience a whole range of these collecting directions, housing, and processes over their lifetime... some may have elements of several styles going, at one time. Many collectors change their interests from decade to decade, or year to year. There is now so much more available to ceramic animal collectors than ever before, such that changes in fancy come with the territory. Some collectors swap out ceramics for the latest offering on a monthly basis.

I know several friends with a sampling of traits across the board, not fitting into one column. 

I have visited several private film memorabilia collections, over the years. In some collections, whether vast or modest, nothing was organized, just space being the limiting and arranging factor. I have had to step or hop over props to just reach a vantage point to see others. This might be one small spare bedroom, or an enormous house. It can't be termed "warehousing", because that implies inventory lists, shelves, and maybe crates or boxes. Ultimately, such a lack of organization is antithetical to the goal of the Completist. How can one possibly know where one is on the road to completion, if you can't access an inventory of what you already have?

The Advanced Collector

The use of this word feels inappropriate regarding a collector of anything, because it is so hard to quantify. A brand-new beginner is pretty easy to identify, but the lines beyond that are a haze. A written test of the molds and colors would separate the beginners from the vets, but there is no standardized Collector Achievement Test. If you go by quantity in a collection, it does not give one a reliable assessment. I had one of the smallest collections when I was already a year into this blog. I was doing research and active in the model hobby, even a show hostess. As few pieces as I had, the percentage of unusual or hard-to-find was high. If the measurement was by a number alone, I would have been classified a "beginner" or intermediate.

If time is the measurement, well, I know of collectors who have amassed significant collections (in size and rarity) in less than a year. Time is certainly an advantage to meeting one's goals, but it is not the only factor. For this reason, the synonym "seasoned" doesn't work.

Monetary investment is not a true indicator. There are collectors who are original owners, having purchased their rare, mid-century models at retailers when they were new... for around three to five dollars, each. Even today, some collectors make it a personal goal to only bargain-hunt for their ceramics, electing to restore them, and thus collect models for pennies on the dollar. The dawn of eBay brought its share of such bargains, as well as overpayment for common models by virtue of bidders competing.

Still, there are some solid achievement markers that can indicate the advanced status of a collector:

1. retailed a Special Run
2. wrote a book on the subject
3. collaborated in some productive way with the factory 
4. collaborated in a productive way with author(s) on the subject

There are more, I just haven't thought of them by print time. Collaborating may include submitting models for photography in the related books, interviews, illustrations, editing and proofreading, or any number of collecting-knowledge-required tasks.

Dialing Back

This is a very interesting phase to the observer of human nature, and it may occur more than once in a collector's life. It's not the same as having your collection lost in a situation outside your control; this is a careful, measured, grand-scale change. A handful of friends are going through this, as I type, for their own varied reasons. One similarity between all of them is that they have their finger on the pulse of the factors that trigger their personal happiness or discomfort. They know themselves well, and they are making collecting decisions acknowledging that. This is a pretty big thing, self-awareness. 

Downsizing may be done in advance of a complete shift to collecting something else. It looks to me more like a streamlining of collection focus. Some collectors do completely "get out", it's true. It seems more frequently, two or three items are held back because of those first heartstrings they pulled: the ones that started the whole symphony.

Getting Serious

Returning to the opening of this post, I'm thinking seriously about how to improve the showmanship of my collection before Clinky Classic, this Fall. I'm window-shopping professional cabinets online, and clicking through the many different cabinet hardware options. This link is a great starting point for anyone looking for an upgrade in hardware. Uniform display is one of those things that really adds the "wow factor". It's not lost on me, I dig it. Lighting is another part of the static display that I don't think of until the cabinet is loaded, and then I notice how suddenly dark it has become! 

Of course, now that I've thought on this, the memories of visitors having trouble seeing certain things, all leap to mind. It further spurs me on to do a better job in displaying, because the point is to learn from these past artworks. It's hard to grasp (literally!) if you can't see it clearly. I want to keep my collecting goal to share and emphasize the handmade nature of the ceramics. Since I am not a completist, there is a lot less pressure for me. Staying on track with what I love about collecting and sharing is completely achievable, it is just evolving. 

Where are you in the chart? Have you been "serious" and now casual? When did your "beginner" status pupate into an advanced state? 

Thank you to Maggie Barkovitz for twisting my arm into a Lippitt conga; Jenn Dodd for the initial conversation; Kim Bjorgo for the hardware link!