It's every model horse collector's dream. You're standing in front of a table at a yard sale or staring at the toy shelf in the local thrift shop. You spot a model horse in great condition. It looks like a very rare Family Arabian mare, the so-called "in between mare" that sells for well over $1,000, but you're not sure if it's a real Breyer horse or a copy. How can you identify an authentic Breyer horse from the many other models out there? While you may still choose to buy the horse model to add it to your collection, knowing if it's a real Breyer or not is important to assess the asking price and value.
Identifying Marks on Breyer Horses
Only the very earliest Breyer horses lack any type of identifying mark on the body. The original mold for the Western pony, for example, lacks the typical Breyer identification mark or marks that are placed directly onto the mold before painting. Breyer horses are made from injection-molded plastic. Each steel mold costs thousands of dollars to make, and it is expensive to pull a mold from production, retool it or change it, and get it back onto the assembly line. Breyer only added the marks later when it was cost effective to do so.
Most Breyer horses have stamped on the inside hind leg one or more of the following marks, depending on the horse and the year produced:
- A letter B in a circle
- The words Breyer, Breyer Molding Company, Reeves
- A copyright date
Note that the date inscribed on the model may not reflect the production year. Dates used on Breyer models reflect the year the production mold was made, and some molds are used for many years without changing the date. Marks on Breyer horses are a notoriously unreliable method of dating the actual horse model and almost impossible to use to place a value on a Breyer model horse.
You may also find inscribed on the belly of the horse the sculptor's name. Some special run models include information on the year produced, run quantity and source on the belly or the bottom of a hoof.
Authentic Breyer Horses and Copies
Many Breyer molds have been copied over the years and in some cases, Breyer purchased the molds from another company to create plastic models. So you may be fooled into thinking you have a Breyer when in fact it's not.
Chinese knock-offs are quite common. In the 1970's, for example, companies copied the Breyer Family Arabian stallion in half size and produce four inch tall copies in a very thin plastic. These models were produced in odd colors, such as a glossy palomino body with a black mane and tail or a strawberry-red color with black mane and tail and sold at dime stores. Recently, Christmas ornaments from China made their way onto eBay, clearly copies of Breyer Stablemate scale models with a few minor changes to the manes and tails.
Breyer horses just feel different from any other plastic horse model. Breyer horses have a heft to them that isn't found in any other model, with the exception of some current Peter Stone plastic models. Older Breyers have a smooth feel to them and a heavier plastic than cheaper Chinese-made copies.
If you've found a horse model at a thrift shop and you think it's a Breyer, look for the inscribed marks on the inside back leg or belly. Feel its weight; look at the seams. Most Breyers have little to no marks at the seams; copies often have cheaply glued seems.
Next, examine the painting on the model. Since the company was founded, Breyer horses have been hand painted. Models pass through several painting artists before finished and boxed. Cheap copies on the other hand are mass-painted or spray painted and will have noticeable over spraying marks, spatters, or poorly painted eyes, lips and hooves.
Stablemate Scale Breyer and Hagen Renaker Models
If you find a China (ceramic) horse model at a garage sale that looks suspiciously like a Breyer Stablemate, grab it! It's probably a Hagen Renaker model made before the 1970's. The first Breyer Stablemate scale models were introduced in the mid 1970's. The molds were obtained from the Hagen Renaker company, changed slightly, and issued in plastic. The original sculptures created by Maureen Love Calvert are quite beautiful and desirable. Since so many fragile models broke in the hands of eager young collectors over the years, finding one in excellent condition is quite a coup.
Hobbyists who have been collecting model horses for many years can spot a real Breyer a mile away. They're familiar with the makes, molds and colors. A good website or collector's guide can familiarize you with many Breyer horses. Other collector guides focus on Hagen Renaker models, Hartland horses and riders, Josef china, Peter Stone plastic model horses and more. Even browsing the aisles of a toy store and examining models in their packaging will help you develop the skills to correctly identify the make of model horses found at garage sales and thrift shops. Happy hunting!