Destroying Breyer Models (and How Not To!)
There are lots of ways models can get damaged, so even though this article may be painful to look at, we hope it will help prevent your models from suffering a similar fate. From stains, to breaks, to vinegar syndrome, we'll show you how to protect your models.
1. Don't leave tack on your horses
Some Breyer models come with tack or costumes. Other times, we make or buy tack for them. It's fun to dress them up to display or show them. However, if you leave tack on them for long periods, you're asking for trouble. Take the beautiful Jack Frost above. This is what he looks like after his Breyer holiday costume's dye seeped into the plastic:
This problem will occur more quickly if the model is exposed to heat and humidity, but we've seen it occur in models both stored and kept out on display in air conditioned homes. We've seen it with professionally made custom tack where the dye from either the leather or the stitching thread has leached onto the model. A few years back, Breyer offered a Friesian model at Breyerfest in a jousting blanket, and nearly every person who got one found it already had stains from its blanket.
Can it be fixed? Partially. We have been able to lighten stains using the bleach method described in our blog here, but have never been able to completely remove them (without damaging the paint).
Prevention: Untack those horses! Blankets, pretty rosette garlands, and the like may look nice, but can destroy your models if left on. Dress them up and take pictures, then let them "just be horses" while on display or in storage. If going into storage, we recommend packing costumes and tack in ziploc bags where they'll be safe and your horses will be safe from them.
2. Be careful when you wrap for storage or transport.
For the same reasons as above, never wrap your models in colored fabric or newsprint. You might get away with it, but chances are, over a few months or longer, inks and dyes will begin to seep into the plastic. Below is a rather awful picture (sorry, taken back in 2012 with that year's technology) of a horse that had been wrapped in a red flannel cloth for a few years in a box in a person's home. This was after we bleached him... The pink marks on his rump and shoulder pretty much ruined this lovely Special Run.
Also, never wrap in paper of any sort, as any vibrations or movement of the box can turn that into sandpaper, rubbing off paint in a very short amount of time. I once received a Breyerfest model that someone had shipped wrapped in a brown paper bag - The poor guy was more white than colored by the time he arrived.
When you have to store models, your best bet is soft white fabric, like old t-shirts, pillow cases or bed sheets, cut into large enough squares to wrap each model in. Be sure all their "pointy bits" are enclosed, including ears, tail tip, feet, muzzle, etc. You'd think they were alive the way they try to poke a foot or ear out! Insulate each horse from every other horse and from the sides, bottom and top of the container, so no one can get banged into.
If you don't have a supply of soft white fabric on hand, your local thrift shop, GoodWill or Salvation Army usually has plenty available at very little cost.
3. Don't get them wet! (Sorry, bad Gremlins reference there) And provide air flow.
Models prefer to be displayed in the open where they remain dry and have plenty of air flow.
Dampness in storage creates mold so fast you may not realize it until your ponies are destroyed. Here is an Indian Pony with severe mold damage:
With a lot of work, we were able to kill the mold and restore her, but she'll never be perfect. Here she is after several months of treatment:
It's a lot better to prevent this than to try to fix it, but sometimes circumstances beyond our control lead to such problems. We have a collector friend in Texas who checked her models, which were stored in plastic totes during one of the big hurricanes, as soon as she was able to get to them. Their boxes and some of the models were already starting to show mold and mildew. She had saved many models in their sealed boxes for years, but she wisely sacrificed the boxes to save the models. The best course of treatment if you find mold or mildew starting is to do as she did: She unboxed all models from boxes that showed mold spots, threw out the boxes, then wiped each model down with a mixture of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water with a soft white cloth. Then she rinsed them, being careful to not allow water to get in their vent holes (usually inside a nostril or the corner of the mouth), hand dried them with another soft white cloth to prevent water spots, and left them in the open air to finish drying. It was a lot of work, and very disappointing to her, but she saved every single horse by doing so.
Even with closed plastic totes as she had, moisture can get inside and cause damage. If you live in an area where your stored models can be subjected to humidity or dampness, I recommend buying some packets of silica (you know, like you find in some food packages) and tossing several into each tote. You can buy a bag of them for a really reasonable price (here's one example on Amazon - I recommend 5g size or larger), considering the value of your collection. The linked ones include color change beads so you can tell when they've absorbed moisture, and they can be recharged in the microwave so you can continually reuse them.
The next concern is air flow. This is specific to models made in the 1990s through about 2000, roughly. Models made in that decade saw Breyer changing factories and plastic mixes, with not-so-great results. The plastics used on many models from this period are subject to decay over time, with the liquid and solid parts of the plastic separating as they break down. The result are shrunken, lumpy models, sometimes with a vinegar-like odor and sometimes with wet areas of liquified plastic on them. This process is hastened when the models are kept in airtight containers like sealed totes, or are wrapped in airtight wrappings like plastic bags or bubble wrap. Once they start this process, they can't be "fixed," but taking them out of storage to display them in open air can slow it down enough that it nearly stops. If you don't catch it, though, your pretty bay Arabian could end up looking like this:
The shrinking doesn't happen evenly - As you can see, this poor guy has lost almost a third of the mass of his front end, and his legs have started to twist as well. Here he is next to a regular-sized model on the same mold:
If you have models from this era, take extra care with them in storage. As long as your storage space is good and dry, you might consider cutting a couple of small holes in the sides of each tote and gluing either screen or thin fabric to the inside of them to keep dust and insects out while allowing some air flow in. It is imperative that you don't wrap these models in plastic, which seems to seal in the gasses that are released in this process, and seem to hasten it. They need air flow. While this vinegar syndrome isn't "catchy" to non-1990s models, a build up of the emissions of it from one model can possibly initiate or speed up the breakdown of other 1990s models stored with it.
4. Avoid extreme temps and quick temperature changes
Models tolerate cold pretty well, in our experience. However, they don't like it hot. Older models lack the vent hole that helps equalize temperature and pressure, and that can create bloating or catastrophic failure along seams.
This is one of the worst we've seen - The pressure was so great that it burst without even following the seam. Seam splits are usually considered fatal flaws for collectible models, and they can never be truly repaired. They occur when a model is left in a warm place (in the sun, near a heater, an attic, etc) and the air inside the model heats up. This increases pressure against the model's sides. It then splits open at the weakest point. If the plastic itself is warm and has softened, this can create bloating, as happened to this poor Family Arabian Stallion, who was saved from the trash heap and ironically became famous as "Bloaty," thanks to his new owner's blog posts detailing his adventures.
Most bloaties aren't so lucky, and like seam splits, this cannot be reversed, so don't let your ponies get hot. We sadly found out that dark colored models can heat up enough to split when laid in the sun at only 72F degrees for an hour, so if you are sunbathing any yellowed models, you need to watch those temperatures, check the models often, and bring any that feel warm to the touch in out of the sun to a place where they can cool slowly.
5. What's that smell?
That's a game you don't want to play, trust me. Smells of mildew, tobacco or wood smoke, even of perfume and cleaning products, can permanently affect models. Plastic models are odor sponges! If you don't mind the smell, it's fine as long as you keep the model, but be aware that odors can reduce the model's value significantly. Many collectors have allergies, so they won't buy models that have odors of any kind. Even those without allergies will often avoid them, because, well, plastic models are odor sponges. Did I mention that? A smelly model can contaminate others, reducing the value of all of them!
That's another good reason to prevent mold and mildew, but also to keep them safe from smoke and scented chemicals. If your home includes a smoker or a wood stove, try to keep your models in a room with the door closed, away from the source of the smoke. Using perfume in the same room as the models can cause them to acquire that smell over time - We received a box once that included models that had been kept in a young lady's bedroom, and all smelled of perfume. In order to protect the other odor sponges, I mean models, on consignment here, we had to quarantine and return them to the sender. Another arrived smelling like patchouli incense and couldn't stay here, either, so it's something to be aware of. Some odors can remain in objects for decades, so it's a curse they may carry forever.
Are you scared yet? Lots of things can go wrong with models, certainly. But there are ways to prevent most of them if you educate yourself and take some precautions. Try to keep your models out on display as much as possible, away from odors and out of direct sunlight. If you have to pack them for storage, use clean, dry, soft, white cloth to wrap each in. Store them where they won't get hot, damp, or experience humidity.... And try to get them back out on display as soon as you can. It's a lot more fun to look at them anyway, right?