Equus and Us Considered

This journal records the process of gathering,
studying and building a collection of vintage
and antique horse artwork, ephemera,
photographs, postcards, and more in support of my
Etsy shop, AllHorseVintage. The shop has become
a passion, galvanizing me to an actual purpose,
harnessing together three things I care deeply about:
horses, history, and writing.

There will be many pictures along the way.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Two Years into Etsy, and a World of Horses

I have felt this blog waiting and waiting and waiting. That's the consequence of building a business devoted to horses in history. It's the consequence of letting the shop find its path, with all the listening, tuning, re-tuning and diverging that requires. All I'm learning is building up in me, even as I squeeze in more.

It's been nearly a year since I last wrote, and by the time this post is published, it may have taken a month or two to write. That's because I don't know what I want to write about, only that so many voices have spoken in and to All Horse Vintage that they are roiling in my head. You write to record events for the day they run way out ahead of you or the day you begin to forget.

It's also that I don't know what I want this blog to be, a blog about running an Etsy shop or a blog about horses in vintage. It could be both, but I don't know how it will converge. We'll see.

A favorite old postcard featuring artwork by Gilbert Wright

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Up In Smoke ~ Horses in Vintage Advertising

Horses wend their way into popular culture again and again as symbols and tropes suggesting meanings and values, and they have done for eons. Below is an exceptional example of this, I think, on display in an incredible 1930s advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Let's look closer, beyond the foreground artwork that quickly captivates the eye, balanced beautifully between the catchy headline, "Pretty Curves Win," the lovely horse and rider cresting a rail fence, and that pack of Lucky Strikes, so elegant in green, red and gold.

Playing on a classic, sexist fear, that of turning into a shapeless blob at middle age, American Tobacco Company advises women to light up when tempted toward food. "Avoid that future shadow" the ad suggests. "Reach for a Lucky instead." Plus, 20,679 physicians say... I love that they counted them. But let's go even closer...

...to see what I love about this marvelous, swindling advertisement. Comparing the "future shadow" with the lithe equestrienne in the foreground - and I'm somewhere between both of them in heft, as are most of us, I suspect - one is arguably the better rider. Despite her huffing and puffing, Shadow's leg and seat are better. Though her hands are lifted as if in prayer to the fat-melting gods, they are soft on the reins of her prize-winning horse. Yes, prize-winning. There's a show ribbon hanging from the bridle back there in the murk. Lucky Strike svelte though she may be, the rider in the foreground is hanging on her jumper's mouth, nutcracking that snaffle bit back, and sitting in an outrageous chair seat, toes pointed down, rump hanging off the cantle of the saddle. That's what makes this 1930 advertisement an absolute delight to me, which is why I can't bring myself to part with it.

And whatever is going on with that martingale, I can't say. It almost looks like another rein.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Equine Artists ~ No. 1

From time to time, I'll be posting examples of work done by wonderful equine artists, some of them long dead but still renowned, others not only dead but lost to time and mostly forgotten. Equine art was different during the time when horses were a vital part of life, whether a simple plow horse standing between a poor farmer and his starvation or the most cosseted carriage horses and hunters prized by landed gentry. It seems to me they were seen with different eyes by a world that depended on them.

THE ALDERSON TWINS:  Dorothy Margaret and Elizabeth Mary Alderson were twin sisters born in 1900 in Yorkshire, England. Growing up on a farm, Girsby Grange, they worked together on paintings. They loved painting the animals around them and eventually became remarkable equine artists. It's actually impossible for me not to envy the lives I imagine the Aldersons led.

These lovely Alderson paintings were reproduced on postcards published by Editions Stehli of Switzerland in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Alderson sisters did beautiful commissioned portraits like this one of prized horses, working with a dedication to capturing the personalities of each equine subject but it is difficult to definitively identify the horses featured on the Stehli postcards. I'm working on it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

All Horse Vintage

On January 13th of 2012, I opened a horse-themed shop on Etsy. I'd registered the shop in November of 2011, but it took me a couple of months to nerve up and take it live, as it were. The day I opened All Horse Vintage, I took the final step on a path I'd been following for a long, long time, though I hadn't quite known it. A year later, I fully recognize it and I'll be following it for a long time.

The shop began as an idea to supplement my income with a shop devoted to horses as they appear in vintage ephemera and imagery. That's something I've been absorbing most of my life, drinking it in automatically and constantly because of owning horses. I always noticed representations of the horse whether I owned one at the time or not, even when I was so far away from them I believed them to be a long-gone chapter of my life.

I think it all changed with the photograph up top. This one:

This is a real photo postcard, or RPPC, circa the 1910s. It was printed on AZO photo paper. Like many makers of photographic paper, AZO altered its logo from time to time, making it possible to date such images. In this case, the AZO marks on the back of the RPPC, those little triangles around the stamp box, isolate the postcard's manufacture to sometime between 1904 and 1918.

It was an expensive photograph to have made in its day, and an expensive postcard to have made as well. It features an uncommon faux-marble border designed to frame the photo. I set a high price on this RPPC because I wanted it to stay around. Not high enough, as it turned out. It sold quickly, and I've continued to think about it since that day (when I realized through an instant sense of regret that I should never have listed it in the first place.) Pictures like this one are rare for their time, a portrait of a woman with her horse but not in a riding setting, not in a moment of novelty like when a city-dweller climbs aboard a country horse at a farm they've come to visit. She was a wealthy young woman wearing a dress trimmed in velvet and a diamond on her finger. With unkempt hair, a close hold on her horse and that intense gaze, she didn't look well. It seemed a whole story could spring to life out of the photograph. I'm glad I can record having owned this remarkable image through archiving it here.

It was having sold this one real photo postcard that taught me that it was time to slow down and study the things I was acquiring, take care to identify and understand what they were before cataloging them into my personal collection or offering them in the shop. That's the reason I've created this journal, to not run through my own hands.

The other is to ask questions.

What could this be?
What is that odd piece of tack?
Could this possibly be a (insert breed)?
Who was this horse artist?
How old is this bit?
Are there others in this postcard series?
Why, oh why, are palominos so popular?