Chalky, pearly, colored plastic models – these terms may be foreign to all but the die-hard original finish Breyer collector. What does it all mean? You may have heard these terms tossed around at live shows and on model horse internet discussion groups.
Briefly speaking, these are models produced not out of the whiteware plastic that we all know and love, but rather other types of plastic. In the mid-1970s, at a time when oil prices were at an all-time high, Breyer would not always mold models in the white cellulose acetate plastic that was usually used. Instead, models were created using whatever was available: grey, purple, yellow, and even green! Rejected painted models were also ground up and re-molded, giving the freshly-molded model a swirled effect. After molding, models were finished as usual.
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Some models’ body color was applied directly to colored plastic, such as #60 Midnight Sun and the #48 Black Morgan, without a layer of white paint on top. Purple or gray plastic variations have been found on the star-faced version of the latter. The colored plastic can sometimes be seen through chips in the paint, underneath the hooves, or peering through a face marking.
In other cases, pearlescent plastic was used for models of this era. This is not a painted-on finish; the pearl-like quality is embedded throughout the plastic. The finish is easily seen on white markings such as stockings, manes, and tails, but is difficult to see on models without white markings. Examples of “pearlies” have been found on the Classics Rearing Stallion, the Classics Quarter Horse Foal, the Classics Arabian Foal, the Traditional Lying Foal (in Appaloosa only), and on the Traditional Nursing Foal.
Regular plastic (L) and pearly plastic (R)
“Base coat chalkies” are models that were produced in any color plastic, then painted white before applying their regular colors. Finishes on these models are quite fragile, the paint tends to flake off, rather than adhere to the white paint beneath. Like pearlies, chalky models are more easily identified when they have white markings. On these horses, the white paint can sometimes accumulate at the bottom of the hooves. Figure 1 shows the bottom of a Thoroughbred Mare hoof where the paint has chipped away, revealing purple plastic underneath the white base coat. Sometimes the freshly painted horse would stick to the factory shelving, leaving bits of the shelving stuck to the bottom of the hoof such as the Grazing Mare in Figure 2.
Figure 1: Under the hoof of a chalky Thoroughbred Mare
A broken ear shows grey colored plastic underneath
Figure 2: Stuck woodchips under hooves are a telltale sign of chalkies
Another type of model is the “chalky plastic” model. Opaque white plastic models were molded in extremely dense white plastic, compared to the more translucent plastic of a typically molded Breyer. It is sometimes difficult to determine whether a chalky model is base coat chalky or a chalky plastic model unless the model is broken. The broken area will reveal whether the horse was given the white base coat or molded in the dense plastic.
From left to right: pearly plastic, basecoat chalky, regular plastic
Chalkies from the 1970s can be found on numerous molds, with some being much easier to find on the secondary market than others. Among the more common models are the Appaloosa Performance Horse, Quarter Horse Yearling, and Classics Arabian Foals. Other releases have only a few known examples in the chalky finish and are more difficult to find. Stablemates with a chalky finish are also a rare find - presumably many were played with as toys and thrown away. Several of Breyer's other animals were also given a chalky finish including the Elephant, Buck, and Spanish Fighting Bull.
A few base coat chalkies have been found that were produced prior to the 1970’s era models. The “Old Mold” Proud Arabian Mare and Proud Arabian Foal have both been found in glossy bay with a basecoat chalky finish. The glossy bay Clydesdale Stallion and Lassie are also known to exist, as well as the Fury and Western Horse molds in Palomino.
In the 1980s, a special run basecoat chalky dapple gray Hanoverian model was created by painting over regular run bay #58 Hanoverians. The same treatment was given to leftovers of the Just About Horses special run, Giltedge. These were painted black over a white base coat and were released at BreyerFest in 1996 in a quantity of 200. These “Excalibur” models have an extremely fragile finish, as they base coat was painted over Giltedge’s glossy finish. The Lakota Pony set from the 1990s is another example of a more modern chalky. Some newer models, such as the 2019 Vintage Club set Lillian and Molly, have been given the “chalky treatment.” The addition of the white base coat makes the contrast in coat color stand out beautifully.
There are quite a few collectors that fancy the Chalky model, and as awareness of their existence grows, they have become increasingly difficult to find. Highly-desirable examples have a flawless finish, and models that possess a great deal of white in their body color area also popular, such as alabaster models.
When seeking to add chalkies and pearlies to your collection, buy from a reputable seller, as fake pearlies have been known to be found and chalkies are commonly misidentified. Pictures in online advertisements can be misleading and a picture with a bit too much contrast can often make a model look chalky. Uneducated sellers have been known to list items as “chalky looking,” “almost chalky,” or “slightly chalky.” In the case of a chalky model, it either is chalky or it isn’t. A good rule of thumb to follow is to not pay more for a chalky than you would for the regular version of the model, unless you know for sure the model you are buying is the real deal. When in doubt, ask the seller for additional pictures and consult other knowledgeable collectors for their opinions. Who knows - you may have a chalky or pearly sitting on your shelves right now!