All in a day’s work: the model horse maker *H&H Plus*

  • The owner of Julip Originals, Laura Ibbitt, on fiddly feathers, hefty price-tags and making collectors smile

    Like most pony-mad children, I was interested in anything horse-related. I always wanted a Julip model, but at the time I had a real pony and so all my spare Christmas money was spent on him. It wasn’t until 2005, as an adult, that I rediscovered them, purely by chance.

    We were in Thame in Oxfordshire and there was a small box of them in the window of a charity shop. I instantly recognised them and so I bought them for the princely sum of £3.85. It was like opening a little Pandora’s box. It transported me back to my nine-year-old self who yearned for these models.

    You can’t ever just have one Julip. My collection has grown and grown and I probably have in excess of 200 now. We have get-togethers called “shows”, where classes range from the prettiest mare to the best “scenes” made of Julips at work. But mostly it’s a social thing, where everyone can ooh and ahh over your collection.

    Through the get-togethers I got to know the owner of Julip Originals. When she decided to sell the company, she approached me to take it over in 2013. It was a little bit of a bolt out of the blue but I jumped at the chance.

    It’s been a steep learning curve. I had never done any model making before. I have a workshop in our Berkshire garden and so Julip has become a cottage industry, with just my husband and some volunteers helping.

    It takes six to seven weeks to make each model – moulding, drying, painting and so on – so I work on multiple models at once. The trickiest bit is painting them. If it’s a bay that has four or five different colours on it, such as lighter flanks or darker legs, you don’t have to do much of an overspray for it not to come out quite as you want it.

    Buffing the models to get rid of the seamlines from the mould is a very important part of the process. But the bit that I have my heart in my mouth for is “hairing” them – putting on the mane and tail – because it’s done right at the end.

    With the mane I have to cut a slot with a Stanley knife along its neck and you don’t need to go far wrong to ruin the horse totally.

    This year is Julip’s 75th anniversary. The company was started in 1945 by Lavender Dower, who made the models using chamois leather and salvaged lead from buildings bombed during the war. They were sold in Knightsbridge, just around the corner from Harrods, and people have fantastic memories of going down the steps into the basement and choosing their model.

    We cover the spectrum of breeds and colours. Last year we made
    a heavy horse, which can be made with or without feathers, and we’ve had requests in the past for famous horses like Valegro. In 1952 a special model was made of The Queen riding side-saddle at Trooping the Colour to commemorate her coronation, and it was sent as a gift to Buckingham Palace.

    Restrictive laws in manufacturing toys introduced in the 1980s made it difficult to sell the Julip Originals to children because of the materials used, so now they are sold as adult collectables. There are collectors all over the world. The mass-produced Julip Horse of the Year models, a separate company, are child-friendly.

    Over the past year we’ve had more people coming into the Julip community than previously. Perhaps it’s because people have had more time to clear out their loft, where they’ve found old Julips, or surf the internet during lockdown. They cost around £75 to buy one from me, but the vintage models have had a total resurgence. They can go for £200-plus.

    The first models I bought are still the most special to me. But they all just have so much character and charm – because each one is handmade, no two will ever be exactly the same. They’re not pretending to be anatomically correct, but they make you smile. And at the moment, that’s no bad thing.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 26 November 2020

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