Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Silver microdots and old gold rivets

Mid Atlantic Regionals (March 19-20, 2016) saw me sick at home, so it's just as well I couldn't go.  I decided instead to do some serious tack-fiddling-with.  Three whole days of nothing but tack and movies!!  It was heaven, well worth the stuffed nose and high fever.  (I am much better now.)  Two pieces of tack were rebuilt:  a bridle/breastcollar set by D. Hart and an old, I mean REALLY OLD, black saddle, TSII #043.

The story begins with a gift.  Sometimes one's customers are more than just good customers, or even good friends; sometimes they treat you like royalty.  For reasons having to do with a tack deal, a fabulous bridle and breastcollar set came into my hands.  It was a one-ear Western curb in natural with a black stripe, black braided reins with braided buttons and black tassels... and silver microballs set on the black stripe!  The star on the bit, cast plated cheek buckles, matching breastcollar with a star-motif central medallion, and a matching star on the one-ear, made it easy to name.  This was a black-and-white Star Bridle!  It was by Danielle Hart.
I already had a couple of bridles by this gifted braidwork and design artist, but I told my customer "you can never have enough."  And it's true.  The set suggested, to the giver's coordinating eye, a black-with-stars matching shaped Western Blanket pad, product of Buxton Saddlery.  (Glimpsed in a corner in the above picture.)  I had nothing like that either.  With the arrival of this set, which I decided not to sell, my personal tack collection takes on ever-more the tones of a museum.

Except that it needed work, terribly.
The tiny microballs were not staying on.  They were using too little glue, of too brittle a type, to withstand the bending forces involved when tack is put on and off.  Many had fallen, and more fell when I handled the piece:
 The arrows do not point to all missing mounts, just some of them.
Too fragile...
It came into my head to try and fix the problem.  I had never worked with these little microballs before.  I had them in many different colors...  The giver had gifted me with a bag of extras, which was a dern good thing, because they were larger and less tarnished than my own stock, and matched the Star piece perfectly.  And so I started off.
Trial and error...
I learned to peel off the glue mounts individually, with a knife.  This left little natural-colored patches, which exactly showed me where to locate the 'pits' I would dig, or stab, with my dull awl, when the leather was moistened.
I saw the microballs had been set by eye, not mechanically.  Handmade pieces have that intimate charm.  She must have had great patience to deal with the little creeturs... they escape very easily.
Having made holes, I let them dry, painted them black again (with Edge Coat) and proceeded to set silver dots, about 5 at a time, using SuperShene.  I did begin trying with Fray Chek, but stopped when I realized the Fray Chek was dissolving off the silver.  (!)  These things are made of glass, which explains their beautiful sparkle.
Once the microballs were in place, I squeezed them gently with my needlenose pliers, mashing the glass down into the leather.  I figured the material would expand around them and hold them in place.  And it did.  Next, I painted them with many thin layers of SuperShene... about 4 or 5, gradually building it up.  The leather took on a shine.
This method gave a much better set and, once dry, was pleasingly flexible.  This picture tries to compare the old and new side by side.
Here's another try at such a shot.
I was cautiously pleased.  SuperShene is not permanent, but it's amoung the better water-base leather coatings, and it has done much good for me.

Now all I had to do was find a black saddle to show it all off with.  To my astonishment, this was easier said than done.  None of my collection of Western Saddles was black... (unless you counted the Kathleen Bond ones, and I wanted more detail than those)... until you got way, wa-a-aaa-y-yy back into the 1980s!!  Then there were two black ones, amoung the oldest of the old.  Only one was fully tooled, and had some silver.  Thinking about it now, I believe that the combination of "black + silver" has been so thoroughly subsumed by Parade Set Fever that it never had a chance to manifest in any other way.  Black is a harsh color.  I shall have to open up my collecting criteria in the future...
I reached up and took down one of my oldest saddles, TSII #043, built in 1982.  (Remember the "0" in front of the number means it was made before 1983, and the saddle is not actually numbered or signed.)  To my horror, the fender swung loose.
For the first time EVER, a mini-rivet (made of brass, gold-colored) had corroded to the point of nonfunction.  The fender join had parted.  Rivet failure!!!!
Oh, this couldn't be happening!!  I remembered how many saddles (dozens and dozens) I'd made with those rivets, cutting-edge technology in those far-off days.  Tandy's sold those Neat Rivets, absolutely the smallest made, and you set them by hand with a stamp and a hammer.  I was so proud of them.  There were two places of ancient technology on this saddle I'd been extremely proud of at the time, the other being the bellcap conchos.  Right now those conchos were a smear of green corrosion.  I started taking #043 apart.
 If, like me, you find yourself cleaning off this stuff... the infamous verdigris...  there is no easy way.  It has to be picked off by hand, via Q-tip, paper towel, awl-tip, whatever.  It's waxy and smears something awful.  "Where Q-tips go to die."  Bite the bullet and waste the Q-tips.  Devote several towels to the job, and know that you'll be picking for a long time.
Here's TSII #043 with the "lid off," the seat's rear attachment points removed and the seat flipped forward over the horn:
Back then I didn't use a single piece of leather to hold on the cinch rings, like I do today.  Talk about ancient technology!  But the good part was I could start sewing things together as soon as they were clean.  There are some redeeming features to quality material.
Taking off the old conchos, I broke the saddle strings.  This is almost typical.  The bellcap conchos (on the right below), silver-colored and looking so cool, were merely plated copper... and their holes were too small, stressing the strings.  I made new Aluminum ones, by hand, dimpling them with the dull awl (the same dull awl).
Slowly things came back together again.  I cleaned the white leather conchos with rubbing alcohol.  This stuff helps with the verdigris.  Putting the third-point (seat corner) concho back:
I replaced pins and strings, and suddenly, TSII #043 was a saddle again.
It's a bit jarring to have the extreme old with the very new here:  a gap of 32 years (1982 to 2014):
So I put on a new saddle, one by Corbett, made just last year (2015):
Now you can see the pad.  His mane doesn't want to behave in either case.

So there you have it.  I wanted to play, and these cases came along just when I had the time.  Next time perhaps I will build something... or work on the Guide.  But if anyone is worrying about restorations, rebuilds, replacements and refabrications, maybe this can serve as an example.  Happy Collecting!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Blanket Collection 4

Collecting stable blankets has been so much fun for me I haven't stopped.  Most of them have taken up residence on my horses.  Protecting the horses from dust turns out to be secondary -- we simply have long since passed the stage of everything fitting in the one shoebox.  Even with foals, Classics and Buffaloes, I'm not going to run out of deserving horses...  ...yet.

The title of this post indicates three previous posts or chapters.  I'm a bit ashamed the first one is so hidden; you have to scroll down to the bottom of Three-strands-at-once in order to find it.  The second chapter is much more standard:  My Blanket Collection posted December 2014.  Two months later came the third installment: Blanket Collection Part 3.  Clearly we are off and running on a sustainable path!!  And how much I've learned...

I want to start with Breyer's great Canvas blankets, the first finished blankets ever carried.  (Breyer's felt kits, issued in 1971-1974, were unassembled.)  The initial Canvas offerings were #3915 Blue and #3935 Red, from 1977 through 1979, three years.  In 1980 two new numbers were issued: the Red was given #2380 and a Brown was given #2360.  The Red was carried for one more year, 1981, and then blankets were dropped, until 9 years later.  (One wonders whether they were good sellers.)  However I can attest that while Breyer's Canvas blankets are rare on the secondary market, recently there have been more available.  Thanks to this groundswell of population I have been able to amass all three colors of these grand old pieces, in various conditions!
The Canvas blankets were equipped with genuine leather straps, white binding, rump darts and grommets at the chest.  The front lacing, of leather lace, is often missing.  (Or in the case of fitting a Fighting Stallion, missing and won't reach anyway.)  One noticeable feature is the shape of the buckles: some had square roller buckles and others had half-round tongue buckles with no roller.

 I'm not positive about this, but it stands to reason that the square buckles came first.  One of my Reds has square buckles (on the Woodgrain) and the other has the cheaper, ligher round buckles.  I'm guessing the square buckles, big and strong, with their heavy rollers (easy on the leather) were part of the first wave of blankets, '77-'79.  The lighter, thinner buckles, which cause more scraping wear to the leather, must have come later ('80-'81). In general, this feature of a company's history can be used to help date pieces:  expensive products and parts are often followed, in later years, with cheaper materials.

In my Blanket Collection post I mentioned my Brown Canvas blanket.  Here it is, with a second piece to compare:
As noted earlier, the long body shape of these blankets went better with popular older molds like the Fighting Stallion, Indian Pony, San Domingo, Trakhener, Hanoverian, Running Mare, Proud Arab Stallion, and Stretch Morgan.  Both these blankets have the half-round buckles, consistent with a 1980 production.  I love how the faded Brown looks just like milk chocolate!

 The degree of fading, so noticeable in these shots, has (believe it or not) nothing to do with the blanket's age.  Try exposure to sun over 30 years!  It's sheer coincidence that one of each of my colors of Canvases is faded.

Given that the Brown was produced for only one year (1980), I was a bit surprised at how easy they were to acquire on the secondary market... and how hard it was to find a Blue.  (Maybe people didn't like Brown.)  I was obsessing on Blues.  I had seen several go by on eBay and missed them for one reason or another.  Worse, I had a mystery to solve.  What color were they, really?  Were they a deep dark navy blue, almost black?
photo taken from eBay
Or were they an unbelieveable brilliant sapphire-sky blue?
photo by grusman off eBay
The Reds and Browns hadn't given me a problem like this!!  And I simply couldn't remember.  You'd think I had a clue with the Blue Turnout Rug... no.  But at last, on January 26, I was able to snag not one but TWO beautiful Blue Canvas Breyer blankets!!
And hey presto, my color mystery was instantly swallowed up in another mystery:  that of the binding.
 My eyes popped with the second Blue:  the binding wasn't white at all, but a slightly different blue.  This was a poser!  It wasn't something someone had done after market... it was a true Original Finish.
We know Breyer sometimes substitutes products, releases things not in the catalog, makes changes and alterations and just generally drives collectors crazy trying to figure out what happened.  I could only conclude that this Blue was the earliest of all Canvas blankets, when Breyer was still exploring production options.  They must have tried it out and made enough to sell, but not enough to carry for the full 3 years ('77-'78-'79).  Both these Blues have the square buckles.
I do like them, even though they are somewhat stiiff and heavy compared to other stable blankets.  The leather lace at the chest is too precious to unfasten or risk losing, so I oiled it and now leave it strictly alone.  Noticeable on the Harley D is that the near grommet has come loose from the fabric, but since I'll not untie the lace, it won't get lost.

Speaking of obsessing on blues, my next catch was of a pair of blue pieces that took my breath away.  One was a third Blue Turnout Rug.  Setting all 3 Turnouts together shows how truly different the colors can be:
I am convinced the rightmost two (on the palomino & buckskin) are faded and unfaded versions of the 'plastic' leather strap variety of this blanket (model #2806, 2000-2003).  The leftmost (appaloosa) is the 'leather layer' variety, the (presumably earlier) one where a thin grain layer of leather was bonded on top of plastic straps.  I am assuming this transition occurred between the Green Turnout ('95-'99), which has leather straps, and the plastic Blue ('00-'03).
Also interesting are the changes of the tiny Breyer tag:  gold letters, white letters,  or dark overall.
I never used to pay attention to the tags before!
And my second piece?  Of all things, a Breyer Quarter Sheet from 2000-2003! 
Photo taken from 2002 catalog
I had never seen one before, but I fell in love on sight.
 The only other example of a Breyer Quarter Sheet EVER, that I'm aware of, is the one being currently (2016) worn by the Classic American Pharoah.
I had totally not realized how big this piece was.  Even on the biggest Trad I've got, the huge Cleveland Bay, it appears large.  (Probably because I'm not positioning it right -- I'm Western!)  This particular example has a small tail strap snap, almost certainly added by the owner:  it has careful sewing, and one isn't shown in the catalog.  EDITOR'S NOTE:  Later evidence from eBay shows that this strap is in fact Original Finish.  Catalogs ain't perfect!  The underside is a gridded rubbery material.
It is very heavy-duty, thick and fuzzy on the outside, and could probably turn rain.
I couldn't resist tacking up Mighty Joe Young with a Kim Cassida saddle.  (Bridle by me.)

We can't leave the blue blanket category without one last example which is now in my hands.  Don't think I have all four colors of Quilted-with-Hoods; I only have the first and last.  Here's their numbers and years:
#2803  2000-2003  Dark navy green with blue binding
#2808  2004-2009  Deep rich purple with black binding
#2040  2010-2014? Turquoise with deep pink binding
#2080  2015-?        Light Blue Plaid with blue binding
It's embarrassing to admit I'm not sure when the turquoise one was discontinued; and even more to admit I don't have solid evidence on the Plaid.  The material matches the Going to the Horse Show set currently (2016) being offered, but this lovely light Quilted Blanket with Hood, with its thin white puffed-plastic lining, is not on Breyer's website at the moment.
Compared with my oldest Hood, the straps have gotten a little narrower, and the ear opening isn't oval-shaped, but almost pointed at the ends.
But the straps are shinier, and certainly prettier, so there.
Breyer may have dropped some blankets recently, but they've issued quite a few more.  The most beautiful and collectible without doubt are the Christmas specials.  Naughty Breyer!  As if we didn't have enough already!!  In 2014 came the first of these sets, Vixen and Blixen, on a mare and foal.  These lovely blankets feature metal t-hooks, a high quality hardware, and are fuzzy white inside.  You'd think they'd read my mind!
An intriguing aspect here, to me, is that the Breyer tag is on the OFF side of the mare's blanket.  Inexplicable until you recall that the Running Mare's romance side [in the carousel sense: best presentation side] is her off side, while the Running Foal's is his near.  O.K. that's not a Running Foal shown... that's a CollectA Hanoverian stallion (still seeking his own blanket...).  I have to credit these blankets' adjustability: easy and without wrinkling, which is not always the case.
And here is the 2015 Christmas Special blanket, Eve's.  Tiny horseheads!!  Christmas colors!! White and fuzzy on the inside...
Another case of inexplicably placing the tag on the off side, until you recall that the Nursing Thoroughbred Mare, again, has her romance side on the off.
Because of a set-splitting decision by a seller, I find myself in need of Claus the Foal's blanket, sans foal.  I'm willing to go rather high, so, anybody out there want to deal...??

I have even more blankets after this (!), but I think I'll save them for later.  Thanks for reading,
May your horses be covered in soft fuzzy, warm and clean!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Harley Hackamore: Solved

Oh I had fun with this one!  Credit should go to two people:  Christie Partee, who suggested a couple of tackmakers I should check out; and (drumroll, please:  TAA--DAAAA-!!!)  Carol Williams, who actually made the piece!!

Yes, we found out Who Dun It!  After Christie made her suggestions, I emailed the new suspects with pictures and links.  The original seller had not yet responded to my letter.  (Even so, it was a pleasure using such old handwritten technology; remember, I used it from 1979 to 1997 -- fully 28 years.)  Last Monday I got an answer -- from Rio Rondo!

"... 99% sure..."

That's enough for me.  The Harley Hackamore was made in the late 80s ("I'm thinking [between] 1989... [and] 1991"), which would make it 25 to 27 years old.  Carol made "about 10" of these sets.  She remembered being taught to spin, and owned to making the mecate.  "Many folks including myself didn't necessarily know" how to tie the mecate properly.  She had both painted and stitched floss for interweaves on model tack, but the latter was exceedingly rare:  "maybe only one" made.  Carol made a lot of tack back in the day!  but confessed "I can't even remember it specifically."  She pointed out the longer sections of braid were made from spirally wrapped braided floss, not cut.  These sections don't have cuts in the back, so I was mistaken about that -- sorry.  : (

I've always wanted more Williams tack.  Once Christie had mentioned her names, I wondered why I hadn't seen it.  The solid feel, the strong Western design, the colors, the execution:  everything spoke of Rio Rondo's history.  The Harley Hackamore's maker has been found... and this case is my only (so far) success at the game of Who Dun It.
One out of five ain't bad...

This is my only Williams saddle (at the moment).  Signs of its times include the galvanized steel wire buckles, the tiny metal brads for conchos, the blanket made from "Navajo" material; and most of all (for purposes of identifying the artist's style) the real silver lacing, real rawhide stirrups, handmade silver plates and the turnback design of the breastcollar at the tug rings.  I love the deep seat and solid feel.
 This bit was made by Carol Howard.  Back in those days, the only way to get premade bits was from another hobbyist who specialized in them.  Remember, Rio Rondo as we know it did not open until 1990.  Bits could be got from Sue Rowe of Sojourner Studios (MN) and from Carol Howard (AZ), who always used galvanized metal and solder.  Rare exceptions included homemades and jewelry findings.  (Obviously another blog subject.)  Carol Williams created all the silver plates on this saddle from scratch, and they are engraved too:  a tiny flower is drawn on each one.
Strangely it hadn't occurred to me that the Harley Hackamore could be this old.  >blush<  One of the lessons to be drawn, then, is that some tack stays with its owners for decades, and is only sold around the 20-year point.  The good stuff lasts.  I've found this to be the case with my own (TSII) saddles.
This "CE" saddle, with its cantle plate (which says "STEELE") came with two bridles and matching breastcollars.  Carol Williams had made them both.  In my collection this is the only piece utilizing this particular repeated-knot tie to make braided reins.  Beyond the 1980s charm, these pieces exhibit solid working strength and durability.  To quote Ed Bohlin, they'll "stand the gaff"  (wear).
Closer look:
Thank you Carol for solving this mystery for me.  On to the next success in WHO DUN IT!
Notes from the TSII bench.
We are deep in digitizing the Guide.  Our Spring Break Florida trip was cancelled, but the summer Colorado one is still on.  I am really hoping the job will be done before we leave.  I sure would like to make tack again.
Future blog post subjects include Blanket Collection 4 (can't keep a good idea down),  the Econlockhatchee River run and a visit with Kathy Moody!
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