Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Plea for Private Museums

Disclaimer: I have only a passing familiarity with this subject. If you are a professional in this field, you're welcome to add to our understanding by posting in the Comments. I have had the great fortune and honor of visiting several important, private model horse, sci-fi, art, and exotic animal collections, from coast to coast. I put in a year at a public zoological institution as a volunteer keeper, and saw exactly how it limits what staff and collections can do, fix, edit, manage, and become.


Why do we insist on bringing up this wish, this fantasy that seems so unattainable, as we sit in our cars, on the drive to model horse shows? This soft, gray-edged possibility, as we nurse our cuppa tea or coffee, before the day's work snaps back reality?

Because the art we love is fragile, yet it will outlive us.

Because some collectors have no heirs, or if we have them, they have no interest in learning how to properly handle and/or disperse our collections. Perhaps geographical distance or lack of resources makes a careful dispersal implausible. Relatives may have, in all seriousness, mentioned boxes to the dump, or a Craigslist blow-out.

Because what we collect is not quite acknowledged as Fine Art, and not quite Folk Art. In many cases, the vintage ceramic animals are products of industry, not private art studios.

Because toy museums are not appropriate settings for these delicate beasts. They have different display and restoration needs, not just a different audience.

I live near a major tourism center, and I see private museums open up to the public, flourish, then fade and close, with regularity. Some are free, but attached to businesses; others charge parking and amusement-park-priced admission. Some evolved from being an "industry secret" by-invitation-only, to full-fledged tourist destinations.

It's easy to confuse the terms "public" and "private". Someone may say, "Of course my museum will be open to the public!" That is not what public means. Public means, put very simply, that a true public institution with a board of directors control and enhance the museum. Essentially, it can't be run by one person. Imagine if the world's institutions were run by one person each, what an opportunity for corruption and "missing" treasures! A Board must handle all decisions for the public museum. Curation lists can be assembled by the curator(s), and brought before the board, but a curator can't just thin the herd without the Board's approval.

A public museum is subject to certain federal laws, since it ultimately gets at least partial public funding. Beyond this, regional and worldwide museum organizations set requirements and inspections to verify it is worthy of membership, affiliation, or accreditation. On top of that sundae of bureaucracy, there are loans of items for temporary exhibits, regional laws about loaned works, and all the hoops to jump through with their agents.

Few folks know that public institutions can purchase exhibits from the private sector.
This animal was captive-bred by a private keeper, and sold to the public Shedd Aquarium (photo on exhibit).
Just like the rest of us, public institution staff search online to source additions to their collections.

Private means, owned by someone, an individual or corporation, in the private sector. The decisions regarding operating hours, whether or not it is ever open to the actual public, and how it displays (and restores, disperses) its collection is within their own purview. The exceptions to this may be the private museum's compliance with federal and state laws regarding endangered species, live animal welfare, weapons, and even hazardous artifacts (can't let the visitors be exposed to radioactive stuff!). I'm sure there are more exceptions, but the laws are applicable to all citizens permitted to possess such items. If you don't have a permit for it, your private museum doesn't, either. Just putting the word "museum" on something doesn't give one carte blanche.

An impressive display in the Skeleton Museum in Orlando, FL.
This is a shining example of a private for-profit museum done right.
In my opinion, the displays are of superior quality to the public museums in DC. 
The subject happens to be both of scientific and general interest.

"How hard can it be, if essentially uneducated entrepreneurs can do this? It's not like any of these are attached to institutions!"

Turns out, it's both simple and difficult to bop out with a new, privately-owned museum. There needs to be a perfect blend of resources: time, climate-controlled space, traffic to support it, parking, storage, people who will work, showmanship, curation, carpentry, maintenance, paperwork, promotion, and security. 

The simplicity emerges as one key factor: not being a public institution. Standards and federal regulations for a public museum are very stringent, and from what I have read, are not viable for operating a model horse museum. The number one reason being that the foundation of model horse collecting is based on mass-production, and that means OF duplicates will need to be curated with an eye to preserve storage space for future items. Generally speaking, museums receive bequests of selections or entire collections. If three bequests/donations have 200 duplicate OFs between them, a curator must analyze which are the best examples to keep in the museum's collection, even if they are not on display rotation. The extra pieces must then be dispersed. Dispersal stays in the control of the private museum, not normally true of the public institution. There are exceptions, where living donors offer their items with the caveat that the museum cannot disperse any part or whole, in perpetuity. Because of the limits of space, this is a very unattractive deal to museums.

For the most part, serious museums do not consider collectible ceramic-production animals to be even "folk art". They are not considered institution material, unless a singular mass-produced item has a connection to a person or event of broad historical interest (ie, this item was flown on a space mission, or owned by a President). Even so, famous historical figures owned a lot of stuff. They have to draw the line, somewhere.

For example, at one time, the International Museum of the Horse, on the Kentucky Horse Park grounds, had an impressive display of Kinstler wood carvings (wooden model horses). Now a handful are scattered over a few exhibits. The decisions made by equine specialist museums do not necessarily reflect what model horse collectors might consider important. If this is how historic, valuable Kinstlers (arguably, worthy folk art) are managed at a horse museum, imagine how far out of a "normal" museum's storage we'd see any donated custom, or mass-produced plastic or china? Ironically, if they were carousel horses, they'd have a better shot at eventual display.

A couple collectors have mentioned donating to The Smithsonian, partly because they have broad "Americana" collections. Arguably, California Pottery examples should be considered worthy of the term. The trouble is, our field of interest is not considered academically important enough- not now, nor to an imagined future generation- and museums are already chock-a-block with items that do not have museum quality or academic merit:
Until fairly recently, there were few concerns about the size of collections or the practical aspects of holding them. To get a few items of value, collecting units often accepted collections that contained many unwanted items. The prevailing assumption appears to have been that governments and philanthropy would always provide the necessary resources, and that collections could be culled later. Throughout the 20th century, many museums tried to acquire as much as possible in their subject areas. The collections that evolved were often large and lacking in cohesion, and sometimes contained materials that were not of museum quality.

- Smithsonian Acquisitions, p.142

This same document puts the acquisition of mass-produced items in very blunt terms:

... Cultural history and art collecting units continue to struggle with questions about the acquisition of contemporary materials. One nettlesome issue for cultural history units is the sheer volume of potential acquisitions in a world of mass-produced, disposable, and constantly changing consumer items. 

- p.146

The Smith document cites a survey responder who said that instead of accepting 10% of offered donations, the new number is about 1%. If a donor specifies that the "unsuitable" parts of the donation cannot be disposed of by the institution, the institution refuses the entire donation. 

These days, an institution needs to cherry-pick the most important (what is historic to us and to the future- if the curator ascribes to gambling on what future generations will find interesting) from the ocean of donations.

Not that anyone wants to hear this part, but private museums have the same need to edit. They, unlike public institutions, typically reserve the right to edit or dispose of materials that do not enhance the collection, unless some stronger document is drawn up between individuals. Quantity suffocates many a public museum's storage. If even the public institutions are running out of room, imagine what the pressures are for private, with considerably fewer storage resources? Furthermore, there are no tax write-offs for donating to a private museum. Donations to a public museum gain the donor a tax credit.

Private usually gets no public (government) funding, so a broad fundraising plan is necessary. This may includes dinners, events, and the "disposal" (selling) of unsuitable or duplicate donated items. I say "usually" because there is a trend of late, where private collectors have utilized tax benefits. Private can purposefully locate "fixer-upper" collections, refurbish or restore them in-house, and then break up and sell at a profit. It can be for personal profit, or the owner might roll it back in, to keep the museum going.

Private museums have less government and interior oversight. This doesn't mean they are immune to the whims of individual curators, who can influence whole Boards to their tastes. It does mean that the government standards for institutions' climate control, storage, restoration methods, and loan procedures are entirely optional to the private museum.

The flip side of that coin is, the private museum must educate itself in lighting, display, conservation, and media weaknesses. For instance, changes in humidity can affect earthenware ceramics. Climate control keeps the levels of humidity stable, delaying the onset or degree of glaze crackle and averting bisque degeneration. Therefore, a private museum must train itself, and staff, in the display needs of its media. 

What will happen to the vintage mixed-media customs, the bedrock of the model horse art movement, 
without proper conservation?
Custom by D. Buckles, c. 1989; my first custom purchase.

Will the oils or acids in the display unit literally eat up the models in them? Will models adhere to their packing, to each other, to the display itself, and suffer damage as a result? Can intrinsic materials decay be halted? Have the correct conservator-quality gloves, tools, storage media been sourced, budgeted, and kept pristine? Have the owner/staff been trained in how to use these tools? All but the most elite private museums will not have access to the same staff documents and training resources that the public museums have, and continue to build upon. I get a spontaneous full-body cringe when I see documentaries or television shows where artifacts are kept in beautiful conservation folders and boxes, and then the staff touch these with bare hands. Acid and oils, they spread. It's what they do.

The private museum must come up with funding for its own insurance and overhead. If the private museum allows the public to come view it on-site, liability insurance can be a million-dollar minimum for a modest, one-story building. That's just guest injury liability- then add fire insurance, flood insurance, and on and on! Maintaining a large building at ideal climate controls, year round, is more costly than you'd guess! Add to that, correct exhibition-grade lighting, bulbs, and electricity to power those lights and climate control... and the maintenance, parking, outdoor landscaping if the museum has gardens...

Photographic records are often overlooked by the private museum entrepreneur. 
It can be quite an investment in equipment and bulbs made for the purpose. 
It's equally important to record items on loan to the museum, for both condition on arrival, and insurance.

Then, there is the delicate dance with items on loan for temporary exhibits. Some private museums entirely forego loans and temporary exhibits. These are usually the ones that do not generate income by charging admission, so there is no incentive for them to have a fresh "draw" every couple months. Those that do accept loans of items for display must familiarize themselves with the legal and insurance requirements. Yes. More, separate insurance.

A private museum must set up its own training and internship program. No existing program is in place to feed them in, it must start from scratch.

Youth programming, including class trips, requires careful thought. A private art or collectibles museum would be wise to screen for groups that would have respect and interest in their exhibits, such as school art clubs, or art magnet schools. A private museum will have to increase its staff for days when class trips are scheduled. Public institutions are generally staffed to handle groups, or at least have seasonal hires to suit increased traffic.

As the private model horse museum grows, people will begin to ask about on-site competitions and other events. Even if space will not allow on-site events, some thought must be given to fundraising dinners and auctions, benefit shows...

What does our collecting hobby have going for it? Lots of things.

We have the benefit of experience. Model horse collectors have made strides, they have learned from errors, and they have led by example. There have been attempts to partner with existing institutions, and other private museum facilities; there have been purpose-built buildings that were true private museums. Each approached the problem with their own insight, their own resources, their own strength and ambition. As long as no central, universal model horse museum exists, there will always be individual collectors starting up their own museum efforts.

All private museums begin with someone saying, 
"This is worth preserving and displaying thoughtfully."

A handful of model horse collectors do not allow "the public" (meaning strangers) on-site, but instead maintain an online museum through their photographic web sites. The advantages of the web site as a public, free museum are low-cost, fairly low-risk (provided addresses are shielded and secure), and a curious draw for new and experienced collectors. The internet is open 24/7, unlike most museums. There will always be an interest in the web site as a public display of collections, as long as there is an internet. Even public institutions have seen the benefit of this alternative. I have assembled a small list of online model horse museums, see References, below.

I can't help but realize that the very building I own and work in would make an excellent private model horse museum. It is already a closed-to-the-public, invitation-only museum for my husband's and my collections. There are already dedicated offices, a showroom, clean room, main gallery, and handicap-accessible bathroom, in addition to other purpose-built rooms with industrial-grade utilities. Knowing myself, and how I prefer to spend my energy on ceramics, I would have a heavy lean to showcase ceramic model horses. Such a specialization lends itself to related ceramics workshops, education, and the power of hands-on learning. That also rules out the enormous storage and cabinets needed to have a huge representation of plastics and other model media. If one considers the longevity of ceramics over human history, it makes sense, to me, to specialize.

The carpentry, displays, organization, and restoration are things I am fine with. Finding people to intern, slog through boxes, wouldn't be impossible. Certainly, it is far more appealing to try than to sit idle, and watch the history be lost around us. 

If I build it, will you come?


The Smithsonian Institution. "Acquisition and Disposal of Collections."

Web museums:

The Black Horse Ranch Museum Tour. I visited the museum's physical site when it was located in California. The collection is now in dispersal, but this excellent online museum resource is still available.

The Hagen-Renaker On-Line Museum, curated by Ed and Sheri Alcorn.

The Model Horse Gallery, curated by Gail Berg.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Mystery Molds Mega News

I'm excited. Are you? Five years of research and active hunting on my part, even longer for other dedicated collectors.

In 2010, I began publishing all the information I could glean about the Mystery models by Maureen Love. Not produced by Hagen-Renaker nor her own studio pottery, they were clearly mass-produced by an unknown source. The pursuit mattered because so many of us admire her works, and it seemed such a shame that some of her largest sculptures should be forever lost to obscurity. This blog hosted wistful, bright-eyed musings on the eventual discovery of identifiable mold markings or stickers, the only ways to completely identify a factory name.

In the past couple years, it has become apparent that her unidentified works, including those in their first versions- closest to her hand- were produced by more than one California pottery. My primary focus was the Mystery Horse saga, which turned out to have connections to Lane Ceramics and Marcia of California. Suddenly, other animals glazed by Maureen (dispersed via her estate) began to take on new significance as Mystery molds, as their mass-produced contemporaries appeared in auctions and antique shops. The best I could assume was that both/either pottery producing her horses also made these animals. They were clearly made in the same California pottery tradition, at the same time.

This year, Dawn Sinkovich and I have made some exciting new discoveries. Dawn's own words of how she found a new pottery identity andnew Love molds can be read here. Thanks to Dawn's pottery name discovery, I was able to identify a previously unknown Love mold, as well. That story is a little further on, in this post.

OK, so the back-patting continues, bear with me. You all know I have terrible luck finding anything "in the wild", so it is no exaggeration to say that the factory-finish Love rooster on eggplate was my greatest Find. I still get goosebumps realizing it was there, at eye-level, in my town, waiting to be seen by the one person curating its only known example. 

Left: previously the only known example, from The Margo Potheau collection
Right: my Find

That discovery led to an exciting year of searching for more online, and sharing those rooster purchase links with the Muddy Hoofprints audience, as I found them. 

I still hunt for them, and this month, it paid off in an exciting new way: I located one for sale, with its original factory sticker. Not only that, but it was slipstuck (assembled) with a plate I had not seen before. This time, the rooster was on a leaf ashtray. I knew immediately that this was the one for Dawn, as she has been searching for a Love rooster factory item since its discovery. She'd always been 5 minutes too late, every time I linked one. I sent her the link to this stickered example, and the rest is history.

photo from eBay

The ashtray rooster is definitely the same manufacturer. The character and idiosyncrasies of the production is the same as on my eggplates. During the glost firing, the white glaze of the rooster follows gravity, and oozes into the color glaze of the ware beneath it. The speckles in the white glaze are new to me!

photo from eBay

The rooster is not glued on, he's slipstuck and glazed on, which makes the glaze run possible. This is why I am confident in identifying the Maureen Love crowing Rooster (with whatever functional ware he is paired) as produced by Belmar of California. Yes, the plate molds are sometimes found with other molded figures in a variety of finishes by at least two other potteries. However, since this white, featureless rooster repeats, and the fact that Belmar did a lot of leaf-themed ware...  those points seal the deal for me. Maureen's rooster never shows up with those other potteries' stickers (or has not, yet).

photo from eBay

A short-lived California pottery, Belmar was located in Los Angeles. The years 1965-1967 are given as its operation lifespan. However, I have no information on whether they sold their molds to other potteries upon their closing, or how much ware went to distributors at the time of factory closure.

This is not to be confused with any of the Ohio potteries: Bel-Mar (1950); BelMar China Co. (1912); nor Bel-Mar pottery Co. (1932-1935). Being in Ohio, and in those years, none of those fit for Maureen. We are talking California pottery, Belmar of Los Angeles.

With the data we have already amassed, it is understood that this is just one more company Maureen free-lanced for, not the only one. 


What about the other discovery I hinted at? Dawn's factory ID made it possible for me to do my own searches, and I located this next treasure.

The Chinese or Golden Pheasant was a popular exotic bird in decoration motifs of the Mid Century. Some might mistake such figures for a weird art stylization of a regular pheasant, but it is its own species. Here are some of Maureen's sketches of the bird.

Photos courtesy HR On-Line Museum web site/Maureen Love Estate auctions week 16

And here is Maureen's heretofore unknown, giant sculpture of the bird. When I say, "giant", I mean, it is dwarfed only by certain herons in the Maureen Love Originals pottery line. This Golden Pheasant is 11" tall by 18" long, and if straightened out, the tail would bring it to 25" long.

Maureen's shorthand for feathers, using cuts or scoops in the surface of the model, is evident in this design, as well as her other identified birds for the same company, and in her own studio pottery! This style sets her birds apart from other designs in the same company's product line (the peacock is not Maureen's). She also did an interesting eye disc technique, to suggest the pale iris and dark pupil of a bird. It almost looks like a metal washer, floating on the surface. There is also a wave-like ridge on both sides of the breast and wings, present on other birds she designed for this company.

Even the base design fits with the other free-lance models she did at the time, for other companies. For more about this newly discovered pottery brand, read this post at Share The Love.

Isn't this a lovely crackle glaze? There is even a hint of iridescence (not overglaze luster) to it. It is not the only handsome art glaze used by this pottery.

I realize that in sharing our discoveries with the wider collecting world, Dawn & I have just made collecting these that much harder on ourselves. Directly, prices will climb and these Love auctions will now be on everyone's radar. At the same time, neither of us can bear the idea of so much of her work- and really interesting, large-scale pieces, at that- going to the dump or being passed over for lack of information. If you use the data for your own searches and successes, please pay it forward, and educate others.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Muddy Monday: Black Lights Are Worthless

I had once looked forward to using black lights at my own ceramics show, to identify artificially enhanced entries. Restorations, while they could theoretically be identified, would not be disqualified. There are quite a few examples of models that would never be seen, if they had not been repaired. The target of the search was only the ever-growing problem of cosmetically enhanced ceramic models. Whenever a judge suspected enhancement, they were free to grab a black light from the set of judges' tools. We tried out my black lights, both in and outside the ring, at the show. Three problems made themselves known:

1. The room needs to be darkened for the effect (fluorescing) to even be visible. Pretty dark, darker than any show hall ever was.

2. It only fluoresces on certain materials, but not the ones most commonly on the surface. 

3. Known restorations did not show up at all in the UV BLB beam.

I had purchased actual black light flashlights (UV BLB) for my judges to use at Clinky Classic 5. These were not cheap fakes. I even tested them in non-ceramics applications and found them to work perfectly, prior to the show. However, on restored ceramics, I (and several witnesses) saw that the restored models did not fluoresce. Only models in the midst of restoration, with unpainted epoxy patches or other exposed adhesives, showed any fluorescence. 

Items that are painted with oils can show up under UV black light. However, this is less common than using acrylics, and thus the black light is not a practical tool in finding repairs or cosmetic enhancements on ceramic models. It's pretty darn useless.

Here is an example of a readily-visible unpainted ear tip repair in raw epoxy, on my Swaps. It is quite noticeable to the naked eye in the normal spectrum.

Under UV BLB, that ear glows! White pigments do, too, hence the bright star. The star is original glaze.

Another example of raw epoxy, although not fluorescing as brightly. Man O' War model courtesy Jennifer Dodd.

Under normal spectrum lighting, this acrylic-painted restored ear tip (on Left) is just barely visible to the naked eye. It is a slightly colder gray.

Under UV BLB, it looks no different than the original ceramic ear. The acrylic paint has masked the repair; it is not a fluorescing material.

Now, it gets even more complicated, and disheartening.

That Miss Pepper's entire hind leg is a restoration. She had no leg, and a missing ear tip (model courtesy Ed Alcorn). If UV BLB was useful for identifying restorations, that non-ceramic leg and ear should be lit up like a co-ed at a rave.

Since the epoxy is covered with acrylic paint, and the acrylics are themselves coated with non-fluorescing sealers, it appears like normal ceramic, under black light. 

A former gnarly break, restored, and invisible both to the naked eye under normal spectrum, and invisible under black light.

This Two Bits' ear and part of his cranium had been broken off and glued back on, at one time. It is now an invisible repair. Under UV BLB, even from two different angles of black light beam, it remains invisible.

These are just a handful of examples showing how such major changes can be imperceptible by black light method. It follows that any cosmetic enhancement would be hidden, as well. Thus, as sellers and buyers, we must use our eyes and records to avoid pitfalls. Reliance on the black light could lead to misrepresentation of sales items and show horses, and then some angry chargebacks or negative feedback.

I later found this government document which expands on the invisible-to-UV black light repair situation. 

As much as black lights have been touted as the last word in identifying fakes, restorations, and cosmetic enhancements to artifacts, it is time to drop any remaining reliance on them as an evaluation tool. Although there is no magic tool, the normal lighted magnifiers are helpful in finding restoration brushstrokes or different airbrush spray. Now, if a seller says they used a black light to verify condition, I become wary and inclined to turn away. If collectors continue to rely on the black light for identifying restorations, they will be left in the dark.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Benefits of Collector Teamwork, Part Two

When one has been collecting on one's own, all other collector input absent, one can fall into a mindset that is less than ideal. 

"It worked once, so apply it to all future situations", says the brain to itself. 

This can include a set of personal rules- what you won't buy, ever- or even operating superstitions. Some of these personal guidelines are quite reasonable, taken out of context, but others are completely arbitrary or odd, unless a backstory is provided. There may be evidence, such as an entire subset of your collection, that a viewer off-the-street would say doesn't "fit" with the rest of the collection. Maybe the quirks are wisdom, hard-won, but if it hampers your full enjoyment of the collecting world, it is a rut. It is important to know yourself.

Maybe you know someone with a reputation as a horse collector only, yet, there's a curated group of [fill in the species] displayed with pride, in the midst of the horses. Not a one-off, not a singular mascot, but a carefully selected Group of Not Horses. Significance?

Backstory is vital to understanding this scenario. Asking why someone has this sort of incongruous grouping on center stage, as it were, leads to hidden threads and histories. 

Example: I am known for the clinky horse analysis, but I collect all of Maureen Love's animals and the different ceramics manufacturers for them. Amidst horse-shaped congas, there are cattle congas. I mean, right there, place of pride, look-at-me. I get, "What's with the cows?", a lot.

This stems back to when I was a kid, and I was sculpting the first calf for Pour Horse (back when it was all resin production). I studied Western Art masters' books and images, only to realize that Maureen's cattle were even better than theirs, in modelling. I dreamed, wished to be able to draw and sculpt cattle as well as she did. I adore her cattle, and her cattle molds has become one of my rules.

If you didn't know that, looking in my cabinet, you'd wonder why a herd of cows are given display honor with the horses. Most visitors glance right over them, and move on to the next horse.

So, what are other examples of personal collecting rules?

I've heard other collectors say:

It has to speak to me.
I have to find it in the wild.
No claim of "LSQ" because that's dated and suspicious.
No housewares or functional ware.
No people (riders).
Only [insert ceramic medium] ware.
No long-ears.
Nothing that costs more than $__.
Only equines.
Only Miniatures (no Designer's Workshop), or vice-versa.
Only certain colors.

I have a bunch more rules. These keep me focused when I am offered things, especially groups of things all at once. These rules promote happiness and satisfaction with what I already own, so I stick to them.

Stick to the established congas.
The only way to establish a conga is with a weird example that is 1. unique or 2. outstanding detail rarely seen on that mold, or both. 
If it doesn't fit the collection, don't keep it, find its ideal owner.
Build on, never split, Margo's Collection.
It's not officially in the collection until I record it in the binder and put the ID sticker on it.

Superstitions can be far more specific and quirky. These are not imposed by rational thinking, but by memories of what went wrong, and any common threads therein.

  • Never sell a [insert holiday of choice] gift.
  • A horse from a soured transaction must be dispersed immediately, or it will bring bad luck.
  • I can't go antiquing without my good luck charm.
  • I have to eat a certain very-hard-to-find candy while bidding on any auction, or I will lose.
  • If I tell anyone what I'm seeking, I will never get it.

That last one is a classic superstition, especially considering how often in real life people acquire items through their friends, who know their aspirations.

That leads me to the discussion of Solo versus Team collecting strategy.

The above all are products of a collector's mindset. 

This is applicable to all the types of collectors; those that do have a focus, or those chasing a specific backstamp or pedigree, both the scattershot and the Completist. It can feel like everyone in the whole world is their competition. 

With the objectivity of years gone by, one might wonder, "Does this mindset really benefit me? Am I in a rut? If I find this is not ideal, can I change my rock-solid collecting habits?"

With the advent of the internet, at some point, the lone collector is going to meet others. The mindset of each collector, in a hypothetical meeting, has a lot to do with how nicely things will proceed. If I believe that every other collector is my competition, I am already entering the conversation with a disadvantage (or what I perceive to be one, where none may actually exist).

Benefits of Solo collecting
I tried to think of some. I have to admit, I came up short. It's not that they don't exist, it's just that I don't know them. Honestly, the one I could think of, a feeling of accomplishment that you did it all by yourself, is in reality just your perception. A number of circumstances and unseen individuals leads to each fortuitous circumstance. And, to me, if I go it alone with the intent to "beat" others at the "game", it's a hollow victory as I toast myself, alone.

Drawbacks of going Solo

The solo collector has no idea how many opportunities and friends they have missed. Maybe it is not a tangible drawback, if one's default is to ignore this.

In a competitive Solo mindset, one is keenly, painfully aware each time someone else wins a desired item, or makes a fabulous find right in one's backyard. Each loss is a glaring point on the ol' scoreboard. These are carried around and hang on a person.

Another thing I have noticed, when dealing in transactions with Solo collectors, that there is an automatic accusatory air, whether buying or selling. The appropriate reaction to a timely and exact transaction is to respond in kind, not to immediately assume the worst. "This item/payment got here too fast!" is an odd complaint, for which there are no words in reply.

Benefits of Team

Unlike a Solo mindset, when you are a Team collector, seeing the latest posts of finds, bargains, and eBay wins energizes you. The enthusiastic reactions of folks on the breakables yahoogroup and FB's Clinky Connection are excellent examples of this. If that other collector is part of your network, you may catch yourself cheering out loud, as you read their news. Generally speaking, other collectors' gains are not points against your life count, not opportunities lost, but you feel their elation, too. It's a win for everyone, every time a piece is saved from the landfill. You might look forward to snapping photos of the piece at the next show, because this joy is what keeps us all going to shows.

If one embraces the Team mindset, every new collector is a potential friend and ally. This may be the home for that piece you rescued from the flea market, that just doesn't quite fit your collection. Or, maybe this is the dawn of fun trading, for years to come. If this person is also a networker, a team player, they could lead you to even more new collector friends. It is no exaggeration to use the word, "friends".

As in Part One, it takes a Team to attend live auctions around work schedules. There are also benefits of show travel partners, sharing expenses, combined shipping to one address, and more sets of eyes to help assess potential purchases... the gifts of Teamwork.

Remember your quirks, rules, and superstitions? Your Team learns them, and will keep more eyes out for what you are seeking.

Is Team collecting competitive? Maybe you like competing with each other in the show ring and in the auctions. That's OK, if it works out for all without hurt feelings. In other Teams, folks take turns deferring on items they both (or all) want. After a while, one learns how to tell which pieces are destined for another member of the group... knowing their tastes... and when it is time to ask others in your Team to please not bid/enter against you.

If I make a list of all the sales where I was seriously interested in an item, maybe one in ten collectors was considering going for that item with the same gusto. With eBay and so many online vintage shops, a ton of previously-thought "rare" ceramics have come to light, and can be had at any time. For the most part, these things were mass-produced. Yes, they have had to survive for decades, but chances are excellent that another of that same mold or color will become available, soon. In fact, one may see several of the same model hit eBay or hobby ads immediately after a sale of the first. Other people see that item's sales success, and think, "I have one of these! This is a good time to sell it!" There is even a button just to help browsers "Sell One Like This" on eBay. There's enough for everyone, out there. It gets more intense when it is a unique item, but others factors weigh in on that, as well. If it is damaged, or flawed such that it is not an ideal show entry, that turns off some collectors.

This all edits down to maybe three like-minded collectors, rabid to the same degree, all after the same hypothetical flawed, damaged, weird item. If I am in contention, chances are pretty good that I know the other two collectors, and would be happy to see either of them get the item, if Fate rules that way.


I can only see one: this is tough on highly competitive folks. They will be at odds with their own interests, every time they choose to defer and not bid on something they'd really, really like to own. 

For a Completist, my personal 1:10 ratio is not going to apply, simply because this collector is seeking literally everything. The frequency and proportion climbs with the number of molds, colors, and buying opportunities they seek. Even under this internal pressure, Completists can and do find themselves embracing Team efforts and sharing the opportunities. 

All this talk of networking and friends is not to say that the collecting world is bereft of bad apples. We all run into these, sooner or later. The networking collector will often get a warning or see behavior in online forums that protects them, before they engage the problem person. It is possible to be a Solo collector and avoid some pitfalls, because one doesn't have to participate or post in the online transaction forums to benefit from their warnings. It is harder for the Solo collector to navigate selling and buying with 100% success, simply because Team collectors exchange information that may never make it online, such as sensitive transactions or non-hobby vendors. 

I myself get a little too trusting, in my happy, safe network-cocoon. I forget that just because someone has posting privileges in a collector group does not mean they were vetted for compliance with PayPal or eBay, or that they have an inkling of how to conduct a transaction, in the first place. Predatory types can pose as anyone online, and certainly, we've seen a share of aliases that repeatedly victimized this trusting hobby. I recently forgot my oldest rule, "Always check their name on hobby transaction forums, first."

A huge, ongoing problem for collecting/buying from photos is not correctly assessing condition or mold detail. One person's idea of razor-sharp detail is not necessarily universal. (There was recently a discussion about this on breakables). The describing seller may not have seen a wide range of that mold in its many degrees of detail, so their description is just Opinion. A Solo collector could get into trouble, on either end of this transaction, without input from a network friend who had seen the model in person, and several more to compare.

A careless photo can mean either a rush, such as at the antiques flea market or auction, or a person who conducts all aspects of their transactions without care. Does the condition of the model in the photo match what it is being advertised as? Yes, this still occurs; I saw an advertising photo on FB this year, promoting a multiple-break, glued horse as "mint condition". A chipped ear or hoof, or a professionally restored horse, is not mint, either. It's either mint, damaged, or restored. There is no "restored to mint". Honest mistakes (or otherwise) happen all the time.

How does one join up with others? 

Prove you are a solid citizen by building a sterling transaction history. Not just eBay feedback, but ask hobbyists you deal with to give you a review on the model horse reference forums. 

Get out there and mingle at shows, chat in the rooms with chinas at BreyerFest, join clubs, participate in discussions thoughtfully online. 

Post a want list ad, and be specific about the condition, colors, and factory eras. When collectors reach out to you, treat each offer professionally, even if it is not appealing. 

Order yourself some hobby/collector business cards. Maybe this sounds funny to print up cards promoting yourself as a collector, but it's actually pretty cool. You never know where your card will come in handy.

I'd love to share your favorite Collecting Team stories, in a future blog post. 

Gratitude to the network of collectors and professionals who have been helpful for blog posts, teaching me about collectibles and their history, building my collection, supporting the HRCC reboot, my show Clinky Classic, and my general joy in this hobby. Go Team!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Benefits of Collector Teamwork, Part One

Today's Muddy Monday is a little different format. I'm letting the Team- Diana, Christina Harrington, and Lois Bennington- tell their story. There will be a part two post about Team collecting, more of an analysis of the strategy. It all began with a dream... Diana Dubbeld had a dream, February 21st.
So how is this for a weird dream. I had a dream about an estate sale in Marysville, OH (I didn't even know the town existed till I looked it up) that was 3.5 hours away (oddly this is how far away it is too). I found an add online with photos of a bunch of old Hagen-Renakers. The one that really got me though was an insane claybody custom large Amir decorated in a dark dapple grey like Maureen Love did on a few of her personal models but darker. This guy was old too. The kicker, the sale started at 9am and there was no way I could physically get there for the start thanks to insomnia keeping me up late. So I called Christina and asked her and Lois to go buy all the things! Then I woke up. *sigh*
Oh, how we all got a sweet chuckle out of that status post. So many of us have had those vivid collector dreams. The difference here was that a couple days later, Diana learned that there was indeed an auction that week. Make that, TWO auctions with HRs in OH.

My dream inspired me to look at auctions in Ohio. I knew Christina had found an auction, so when I had found two I asked her if she found the Cortez and Fez auction or the Heathers auction. She had not found the Heathers one. Here is the Heathers auction listing pic.

Could you find the HRs in this photo, at a glance?

Lois: So Christina contacted me last week about an auction on a Friday (27th). I don't usually look at Auction Zip for Friday auctions since I work. Christina had to work also. I managed to get the day off and went to the auction with hopes to get the following horses. I had planned on giving the lying Fez to Christina for finding the auction and Diana D gave me bids for the Bambi and the HR Jack and Jill. Here are the pictures of what we saw in the auction ad:

Lois: The 6" Zilla and Lying Fez were nice but broken. The King Cortez was really pretty but had an ear chip. But I felt excited that he would be going home for me. The auction started at 10. The animal box lots never went up until after 2:30. (which made me hopeful that people were leaving and/or running out of funds). The first box that went up was the minis and I got into a bidding war with some guy. It ended up at $105.00. When he lost the bid, he looked really ticked. (I talked to him later and he was after the Bambi for resale). Here are pictures of what was in the mini box.

Photos by Lois Bennington

Lois: The ducks went a little better - $35.00 for the box.

HR Jack & Jill 
Photos by Lois Bennington

Lois: Hard to believe on the same day in Ohio, the HR horses were coming out of the woodwork.

Diana: I know! Crazyness!

Lois: Back to my auction - there was a lot that was not pictured in the auction ad. HR Alex and Elizabeth for $17.50. Unfortunately, there is a missing tail feather.

Photos by Lois Bennington

Muddy Hoofprints: Those are a nice pair!

Diana: Very cute!

Lois: Now, we are down to like the last 8 lots and the horses were coming up. The auctioneer was a nice old guy but I think he was getting a little punch-drunk. The auction had taken a lot more time than he had planned. So he's sitting there pushing the box lots over to the helpers. He held the King Cortez up and reared the model back and actually whinnied. I about died. Little did he know how much the box lot would eventually go for and afterwards he said he was stunned and wanted to know what was in the box.

I got into a bidding war with the guy who had bid on the Bambi. My last bid was $425.00 and I did not get the horses.

I was standing there when the auctioneer asked HIM what was in the box and the bidder said that he bought it for the rearing horse and that it was worth $500.00. I asked him if he knew of the ear damage and he said yes, that he would do the restoration on them (Cortez, the Zilla and Fez also) and would resell them.

Muddy Hoofprints: How optimistic! lol

Lois: Yep, that was what I thought.
So, I'm sad that I didn't get the Fez for Christina but lo and behold - she got both a Zilla and a lying Fez at the other auction for a lot less than I was bidding for broken ones. And TWO Heathers!!

Christina Harrington: When Diana sent me the Heathers pic, I got excited as the auction was 30 minutes from me. I had to work during the auction start, but luckily a non-horsey friend was able to go. We figured out a budget and I almost didn't go to the preview. At the preview, I also learned that the room the Heathers were in would not be starting until 4:30. Luckily, I did stop by, as I also found another (unpictured on the website) lot that had a Fez in undamaged condition, as well as an undamaged small Zilla, and a breyer which already had an absentee bid. Since Diana found the auction, I gave her first choice of the Heathers and she picked the grey one. I requested first chance to buy the grey if she ever decided to sell and she agreed. So, [non-horsey] friend was able to buy the Heathers box for way less than what we had budgeted, and then I drove out and made it in time to bid on the foals, and then bring them home.

Photo by Christina Harrington

Christina: It helped that the Heathers were in with a bunch of other porcelains that really looked bad. My friend didn't keep any of the other pieces besides the Heathers. The Heathers box sold for less than $30, foals box sold for less than $10. The Foals box did not include the Breyer, that sold first as choice for absentee bidder.

Photo by Christina Harrington

Muddy Hoofprints: OK, that Breyer Mustang was nothing to sneeze at.

Photos by Christina Harrington

What a wonderful job of teamwork these ladies accomplished, in short order, despite work schedules. Enlisting help, listening to intuition, and being fearless in the face of seasoned bidders paid off. Thank you, friends, for sharing your auction adventure with all of us. Congratulations on your excellent wins!