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

No comments:

Post a Comment