Collector's Corner: The Trail of Painted Ponies
By Michele Alice
What began in 2000 as a public-art project has become one of the hottest collectibles since the Beanie Babies of the 1990's.
The Trail of Painted Ponies was originally conceived to boost interest in New Mexico's history and culture and to generate funds for non-profit organizations. Life-size resin "blanks" in two forms - a horse standing and another running - were distributed to regional artists to paint and/or decorate as they wished. The resulting works of art were then placed on public display at various locales around the state, after which they were auctioned in the fall of 2001.
Though not the first to utilize animal sculptures, the project was such a success that it spawned a host of similar Painted Ponies fundraisers in New Mexico and elsewhere around the country. It also led to a 2002 licensing agreement with King Features whereby Westland Giftware was authorized to produce detailed small-scale reproductions for the collectibles market.
The first set of 12 figurines debuted in early 2003. Since then, an additional 64 Ponies, in collections of 4, 8, or 12, have been issued at 6-month intervals. Each figurine is made of either ceramic or resin, is from 6 to 8 inches in height, and comes packed in a box containing a hang tag with information about the sculpture and artist.
Each Pony is also marked under its base with its name, the name of the artist, the edition number (1E, 2E, 3E,...) and a sequential number in the edition. Thus, 2E/107 indicates that the piece was the 107th made in the second casting.
The Official Trail of Painted Ponies Website (see below) has stated that each edition has a maximum casting of 10,000. This does not mean, however, that, if a piece is marked 2E, there are necessarily 20,000 copies. Ponies are periodically retired ("put out to pasture," as the website likes to express it), oftentimes in the middle of an edition, thus limiting the supply. As an example, a check of The Retired Ponies Facts & Figures Data Sheet reveals that the last "Rosie the Apparoosa" made was 2E/0577, indicating that there are 10,577 copies, not 20,000 (http://www.trailofpaintedponies.com/pdf/Retired_Ponies.pdf - this is a PDF file).
A perusal of online auctions proves that demand for Ponies presently outweighs supply, with many lots selling for much more than their original $20 to $30 retail prices. And a number of retired and/or signed pieces are now fetching from one to several hundred dollars!
Painted Ponies have now become so popular that the field of collectibles has grown to include books, mugs, pins, magnets, ornaments, lamps, snow globes, and kits that allow you to paint your own sculpture.
As with most other art-related collectibles, it is difficult to predict exactly which pieces might show the greatest appreciation in value over the long term, but several factors do come into play. These include the present or future reputation of the artist, whether or not the artist hand-signed the piece, the total number of copies, the condition of the piece, the condition of the packaging, the presence of the hang tag, the quality of the reproduction, and finally, the aesthetics.
In other words, buy what you like, buy the rarest edition of it, and keep it in as pristine condition as possible.
For more information on this collectible, the following resources are recommended:
"The Trail of Painted Ponies, Collectors Edition," by Rod Barker
The Trail of Painted Ponies (DVD)
Documentary about original project, narrated by Ali MacGraw.
The Trail of Painted Ponies
The Official Website and Store. Directory of artists, announcements of releases and retirements, links, more.
Lists of products including Painted Ponies, CowParade, Call of the Wolf, Poultry in Motion, more.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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