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A Quail of a Tale

Betty Haines, January 2013


I treat most myths, half-truth and fables as harmless entertainment and often enjoy hearing them.  However, when this type of tale is used as an attempt to defraud or put one over on the public, it annoys me.  I believe the tale of the "Golden” Quail to be such story and I feel obligated to rebut it.

Recently, James Robinson and the Curator made me aware that someone in Rocklin, CA was trying to sell a 24 carat gold Benny Bufano Quail. The advertisement for this quail read, in part:  "This is a very rare & unique piece." Here's the real story;

Maybe there was an exclusive dinner - but, I doubt it. Perhaps the first 100 people who made a Special Donation at this dinner did receive a commemorative Benny Bufano Quail - but I doubt it.  But, I know for a fact that the statement: "Hewlett Packard Company's elite manufacturing team really produced 107 quail..." is false. I can confirm that more than 107 Bufano Quails were made in the Hewlett Packard Metal Fabrication shop in Palo Alto because I personally own one of those quails. My quail is one of a series of copyrighted/numbered  castings that were produced at the 395 Page Mill Road location in 1977 and the number on my quail is 321. Furthermore, my quail and most, if not all, of the other quails made in Hewlett Packard's Palo Alto Metal Fabrication shop had nothing to do with any fancy dinner party. 

Between 1972 and 1978, I worked at the 395 Page Mill Road location. In 1977, Jim Ferrell, General Manager of the Manufacturing Division, headed up the team that oversaw the project of planning, designing, building, and opening a new state of the art Metal Fabrication Shop on that site, which was designated Building 12. To commemorate the successful completion of this project, Hewlett Packard Company obtained permission, from San Francisco's famous Benny Bufano Society of the Arts, for the new Manufacturing Division Metal Fabrication Shop to produce metal castings of a Bufano sculpture titled The Quail.

My black-polished Bufano Quail, #321

Jim Ferrell ensured that each division employee had the opportunity to make a $10 donation to a charity (selected by the Bufano Society) and those who made this charitable donation received one of the commemorative, numbered and copyrighted castings of the Bufano Quail. Jim's instructions were that enough castings be made so that each division employee could have one. Plus, he instructed that shop make "a few extra castings" to be given to company/division executives. I am aware that Jim personally donated $10 on behalf of a few employees who were financially strapped and gave them a quail. Some employees opted to leave their casting unfinished, some elected to buff and finish their own casting and a few (including me) asked the experienced metal fabrication workers do it for them. I don't know anyone who had their quail gold plated.

At the time the new Metal Fabrication Shop was completed, there were over 900 employees in the Manufacturing Division.  I remember this bit of trivia because I was the site switchboard operator and, at that time, there was no direct-in-dialing to extension telephones. It was part of my job to keep a record of division employees in order to process their phone calls.  Two other things helped implant this occasion firmly in my mind are:

* Jim Ferrell arranged to present a Bufano Quail to Executive V.P. Bill Terry and V.P. Hal Edmonson at a Manufacturing Division Review meeting. On the day of the presentation, Jim placed the quails on a wheeled cart outside meeting room door and draped them with a velvet cloth. While Jim was in the meeting room addressing the group, members of his staff (I will only admit to being there - however, the others shall remain nameless) slipped the quails from under the cloth and replaced them with rubber chickens.

Needless to say, when Jim wheeled in the cart, whipped off the cloth and saw the rubber chickens he was aghast. The room erupted in laughter and, when Jim recovered his composure, he laughed loudest of all. Of course, he threatened dire consequences for this act of rebellion; but we knew that the threats were hollow. Jim loved practical jokes and possessed the rare ability to take a joke with grace and to laugh at himself.

* Once  the quails were distributed to division employees, Bill Boller, who managed HP's Harbor Site, hosted an old fashioned work party at that site so that those who wanted to create wooden pedestals upon which to mount and display their quails could get assistance from experienced shop craftsmen that he arranged to have on site. This was a fun bonding experience for those who attended and the finished products were beautiful.

The story of the Golden One, as told in the advertisement, is interesting. I suspect that that bird was indeed cast at HP. How the gold plating occurred or how she/he ended up being sold on the internet - your guess is as good as mine.

As for me, I am completely satisfied with my bird just as it is. It needs no gold plating or myth to enhance its value or puff up its importance. It is a wonderful treasure because of the HP memories associated with it.

By the way, Jim Robinson also owns one of the Bufano Quails that was made in the HP Metal Fabrication shop in 1977.  He has named his quail Quincy.


Betty Haines



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