ASSOCIATES (vol. 10, no. 3, March 2004) - associates.ucr.edu
A Column Of Eclectic Rantings*
Katie Buller Kintner
Being unemployed (again) has given me some time to pursue other interests. One of these is carousel animals and Iíve compiled a website concerning the collecting and creating of carousels and carousel animals. It occurs to me that library workers must get dozens of questions each day about carousels so I am pleased to present some of my research for your files.
Types of horses (also called ponies):
Carousel animals can be carved with the head up or down and many of the trappings (saddle, bridle, decorations) may have special details that are meaningful to the carver or designer. No two hand-carved horses are exactly the same though they might be very similar.
Lead ("King") horse: Usually the outside row horse directly behind the chariots. These horses are usually the largest and fanciest on the ride. Newer fiberglass carousels may have lead horses intermingled with the other animals.
Jumper: Also called "gallopers". Usually has all four feet off the ground. The horses that move up and down are generally "jumpers".
Stander: At least 3 feet on the ground. Lead or "King" horses are usually standers. Hey, if you're the "king", you don't have to jump or gallop for anyone!
Brass ring: On older carousels, you could grab the brass ring to win a free ride. Now in this politically-correct, sue-happy age, the brass rings are mostly gone. Additionally, the brass rings (or wood or plastic later on) would find their way into trash heaps, be flung to break windows, etc., so insurance became a factor in their demise even before political-correctness took hold.
Romance side: the side of the horse that faces the public. Usually the most decorative though today some carvers will decorate both sides.
Chariots: Also called lover's seats, these are the benches for us old folks who can't get on the horses and would rather snuggle and smooch!
Band organ: the music apparatus. This is NOT a calliope. Usually works with music rolls or books, although modern band organs can also work with computer files. There is no greater music than a very LOUD band organ!
The direction of the carousel: American carousels usually run in a counterclockwise direction to facilitate grabbing the brass ring (which is now mostly gone) with the right hand. English carousels usually ran clockwise. This apparently was to enable the rider to mount his horse "properly" from the left side.
Menagerie: any animal that is not a horse. These can include cats, zebras, lions, tigers (and bears, oh my!), hippocampuses, elephants, rabbits, deer, elk, pandas, giraffes, ostriches, roosters, camels, dogs, pigs, goats, donkeys, mules, literally any animal, real or mythical, that the carver could dream up! My favorite non-horse animal is the Dentzel cat. Dentzel carousels often had these whimsical cats, usually with a fish, bird or some other cat-fascinator in its mouth, obviously running to find a place to hide and enjoy its treat. Today's carvers creating new carousels will often create an animal or mythical creature that has special significance to the area in which the carousel is to operate, giving that carousel an aura of specialness to the community that is hard to overlook.
Manufacturers/Carvers: Most of the old carvers didn't sign their work. Some horses had manufacturer's marks built into the design of the animal, such as PTC for Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Some names you'll hear when learning about carousel animals are Stein and Goldstein, Philadelphia Toboggan Company, Marcus Illions, C. W. Parker, Gustav & William Dentzel, Charles Looff, Daniel C. Muller, Charles Carmel, Charles W. Dare, Herschell/Spillman and Allan Herschell. My favorites are usually Stein/Goldstein and Marcus Illions horses, who usually are big and strong, have expressive eyes, flaring nostrils and seem ready to charge! C. W. Parker horses are often recognized first by carousel novices, as they often populated the older "country fair" carousels that travel around the country at festivals and fairs. Daniel Muller decorated his astoundingly realistic horses in military, western or native American gear. Todayís new fabricated resin carousel animals found on machines in food courts and parks are mostly reproductions of the work of these wonderful carvers.
Styles of carousels: American carousels generally come in two different styles. There is the Country Fair style, which typically is the small, portable 2-row model most of us see at the county fair. Then there is the Coney Island style, which is usually a permanently installed large machine with several rows of animals, such as those installed at the famous Coney Island amusement parks of old. Both can be strikingly beautiful! Some consider the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) Carousels to be a third style on its own, but PTC carousels can also fall into the other two styles.
There is another type of ride, though few exist today. Derby rides featured almost life-size carousel-type horses mounted in slotted rows. Instead of going up and down, these horses moved swiftly around a slotted "racecourse" at up to 15mph. Some horses could even carry two riders! One of these rides is located at the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, along with two other antique carousels, making Sandusky a "must" destination for any carousel nut!
In recent years, carousel animals have become hot collectibles. Luckily there are many wonderful contemporary carvers out there recreating the masterful old carousel horse designs. However, there are also some unscrupulous people out there willing to try to pass off a bad reproduction as the real thing. Here are a few clues about separating the fakes from the fabulous!
Real carousel horses were usually constructed from basswood boards. They were created literally like a box, with a hollow underside to make them lighter and more manageable. The head and legs were added later. If the animal you're considering buying is made of SOLID wood, it is NOT a real carousel horse (or even a good reproduction)!
The pole goes through the horse in front of the saddle, not through the saddle.
A real animal has a very smooth finish. A rough carved look should be a huge warning sign that it is not an antique animal or even a good reproduction.
A "Coca-cola" base does not mean the horse is an antique. Metal mechanical horses of the type found as kiddie rides in department stores are still being made and sold. These might be found mounted on a "Coca cola" base and being sold as "antique" animals. They are NOT! They are generally made in the mold of a Spillman or Parker horse.
The old carvers usually didn't sign their work, so a signature can be a warning sign that the animal is not an original. Do not confuse signatures with company marks however. On original animals, you might find "M. C. Illions" on a hoof or "PTC" on a shield. These will usually be carved right into the animal, so they are NOT signatures, but company marks. The NEW carvers often DO sign their work however, so take that into account when examining the animal. A new reproduction, if well made, is not a bad thing. In fact, I've seen new reproductions by good carvers that are absolutely breathtaking.
Ebay and similar auction services have more fakes than real antique animals. Remember, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. A genuine antique carousel animal, even in bad shape, could cost thousands or even tens of thousands.
But don't let the prevalence of unscrupulous sellers prevent you from paying a reasonable price for decor-quality imported reproductions. After all, those Indonesia-made fakes don't look ANYTHING like real carousel horses but would still probably make a great inexpensive dust-catcher in that little corner that needs something to liven it up. Just go into the transaction with your eyes open and check out the wholesale prices FIRST. Don't let the buyer try to tell you that he "found it hidden" in his uncle's barn/auntie's attic/grandpa's outhouse. He found it on the internet just like you can.
For more great information and photos of fakes, check out the Carousel Buyer's Guide at Carousels.com (http://www.carousels.com/buyers_guide.asp). It is a wonderful resource.
Should I Buy a New or Antique Carousel Animal?
This is a question that is often debated. On one side is that fact that buying an antique carousel animal is denuding what's left of our American carousel legacy (down to about 150 operating carousels from the carousel heyday of about 20,000). Some feel that this is denying our children of their heritage and blotting out the history of the American carousel.
On the other hand, those who buy antique animals may in fact be saving them from total destruction through neglect. However it doesn't help a neglected, rotting carousel animal to be hung on a wall or pole until it completely falls apart. You wouldn't do that to a Picasso painting would you? Carousel animals are worth the expense and work of restoration. Then perhaps one day you'll be tempted to share your prized work of art with the children of your town by having it mounted on a beautiful carousel or another public space where it can be enjoyed by everyone.
Personally, I like the idea of finding abandoned carousel animals and restoring them, but am not as favorable to taking animals off operating carousels and selling them off. I know this happens mostly out of necessity as many towns with operating carousels have no clue about the treasure in their midst and will simply just decide to get rid of them. This is such a shame and probably the product of ignorance.
Beware of the fakes out there but if you actively seek out a good reproduction of a carousel horse, you will find there are plenty of carvers out there willing to accommodate you. Some even carve animals to your specifications so you could have a horse in the colors of your favorite football team or to match your living room. The cost of a new animal might be comparable to what you would pay for an antique animal, not including restoration costs, so it could be quite a deal!
You can also "do it yourself"! Some carvers will sell you a wooden carousel horse "top" that needs finishing and will help you finish and paint your own horse! That's a GREAT deal--what better personal touch could your carousel steed have than your own loving hands? For an even better deal, you can buy a resin-cast mold of a carousel horse and paint it yourself to look great!
Fiberglass or wood? Which carousel is better?
So your town or local shopping center is going to set up a carousel? Which one is better--a fiberglass carousel bought complete from the manufacturer or an old or newly built wooden carousel?
I love the idea of a community coming together to build their own unique carousel. Such machines exist in Missoula (MT), Salem (OR) and most recently, Decatur (IL). A community-built carousel can be the heart of a new downtown revitalization project or perhaps the centerpiece for new construction or a new park.
On the other hand, if you want an older carousel but don't have the time or funds to build one, there are actually companies out there who will locate, operate and maintain a carousel on your city property in exchange for the gate receipts. That's not a bad deal either.
Is fiberglass bad? When no other carousel is around, fiberglass is GREAT! The nearest carousel to my home in Illinois was a fiberglass Barango carousel built in South San Francisco, CA that occupies a spot of honor in the food court at the local shopping mall. The animals are reproductions of Dentzel, Illions and Muller animals but the kids riding it don't know the difference. It is a blast to eat lunch there and watch the carousel go round and round, carrying dozens of kids yelling in delight. An extra treat is to see the wide eyes of children just taking their first ride, being held on the animal by a parent who was even more eager to get on the ride than the kids were!
Great carousel links:
Carousel collectors and Creators: http://carousels.sillybirds.com
National Carousel Association: http://www.nca-usa.org