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Hot to Trot Collectibles: Antique Carousel Horses

January 5th, 2012 | posted by Bill Rau

This extremely rare and delightful carousel horse by Philadelphia Toboggan is one of the earliest made by the renowned company

There was a time when no amusement park or playground was complete without a carousel ride. Children and even adults could take pleasure in a whimsical ride atop an array of horses and other fanciful creatures carved by the most skilled artisans of the day. Though quality examples of these nostalgic masterpieces come few and far between on the market, that doesn’t seem to deter the demand for these magnificent figures.

The carousel reached its golden age in early 20th-century America, and lasted until the Great Depression of 1929. This roughly 25-year period saw the creation of carousel rides that rivaled, and in most cases surpassed, their European counterparts. With no money for life’s essentials, much less a carousel ride, many of these hand-carved wonders were abandoned and fell into disrepair, or were demolished. By the time the Depression ended and the public was ready to enjoy these treasured amusements once again, carousel figures had become mass-produced, cast metal versions of their former selves.

Renewed interest in the carousel art form began in the 1970s, when enthusiasts began uncovering these lost American treasures and appreciating the tremendous skill and imagination they embodied. This particular example from the renowned Philadelphia Toboggan Company is one of the rarest American carousel horses. The realism of the wind-swept mane, life-like musculature and expressive eyes, this “golden age” example is an outstanding example of American wood working at its highest. Many carousel figures were made into other imaginative creatures, like this Carousel Rabbit by Dentzel. Created by the company’s head carver, Salvatore Cernigliaro, this English hare worked perfectly with the popular “jumping” mechanisms that made the rider feel as if their figure had come to life. Such inventive forms by Dentzel are some of the most desired on the market.

Whether horse or hare, there is no denying the charm of the carousel. Each majestic figure embodies not only the skill of its craftsman, but also the most innocent and carefree moments of our lives, when a break from the real world was just a spin away. With incredible examples like the above emerging from private collections, the desire for these once-lost childhood memories is greater now than ever.

To view M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of carousel figures, click here.

The only limit to antique carousel forms was the carver's imagination. This lively rabbit by Dentzel exhibits magnificent craftsmanship

This stunning pony with real horse hair tail was crafted by Charles W. Dare, one of the first American carousel makers. To find such an early example is truly exceptional. Circa 1800

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