EASTER was yesterday and I forgot to write about that…
So instead, I am resurrecting this post that I wrote about Carousel Horses. This seemed festive and appropriate…
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF A CAROUSEL HORSE OR A MERRY-GO-ROUND?
For me, I remember my father taking me to a carousel somewhere in San Francisco, where I grew up. I remember all the bright colors and the HORSES! I was so excited to ride the horses that I don’t think I even noticed that there were other types of shapes that one could ride. To me, all Carousels had horses. That’s it. No exceptions.
So, when my little girl mind finally noticed the other animals and seats (Who would want that?! It doesn’t even move!) on the Carousel, I was deeply offended. What is an ostrich or a panther doing with horses? It made no sense to me. And why a seat? What is up with that? Is that for the parents? I simply could not wrap my head around the odd animals on a HORSE ride.
I still think it is odd to ride a sea serpent with a saddle, but that’s just me.
My favorite Carousels were the brightly painted kind with happy horses. I loved the colorful horses that looked as real as a Carousel horse could look. And friendly, I liked the friendly faces not the racing horses or the charging horses with the snarly mouths. I liked the horses that looked as if they were prancing; the upheaded kind with flowing manes. I never gravitated towards the white horses, either.
(Funny… as I write this, I am laughing. I ended up with Morgan horses – they are upheaded and prancy, there are no white ones (until recently) and they are generally kind eyed. Ha! Some things never change!)
Remember the Merry-Go-Rounds with the gold ring?! That was so much fun!
I also loved all the fancy artwork and detail in the carvings on the Carousel itself. As long as it wasn’t scary. Some Carousels had those FUN HOUSE types of characters and faces that really disturbed me.
THE BRASS RING/HISTORY
Speaking of the brass ring, it is a carry-over from one of the initial purposes of the Carousel.
You see, the original Carousels came from Europe. Here is a quote I found (Jennifer Waller):
The origin of the carousel dates back to the 11th century, when Spanish Crusaders observed Turks playing a game on horseback. The word carousel comes from the Spanish word carosella, which means “little war.” The Spanish Crusaders brought this game with them when they returned from Turkey. The game quickly traveled to France where it became known as the carousel, a game of elaborate horsemanship.
In the French version of the game, horseback riders aimed wooden lances at rings suspended from tree limbs by bright ribbons. The object of the game was to spear the rain with the lance on the first pass. It became a very popular game among upper-class Frenchman.
You see where the Gold Ring comes in? It was from the lancing game!
And here is more information about the origins:
A great deal of celebrity was bestowed upon riders who did well in the carousel. Noble families paid large sums of money to have their young sons trained in the game. Enterprising French carpenters soon created a device which allowed young men to train at the carousel without actually riding a horse. Carved wooden horses were attached by long chains to spokes which radiated from a rotating pole. Young nobleman would sit astride the carved wooden horses and tilt at rings as the pole was rotated.
Soon every wealthy French family had a carousel of their very own, and by the late 1700s the devices were used purely for entertainment, and no longer as a training tool for jousting. These carousels were, of necessity, small and light weight.
The size of carousels underwent a radical change, however, with the advent of steam engine technology. Steam engines not only eliminated the need for the rotating pole by supplying mechanical rotation, but also allow much larger, heavier and more elaborate carousels to be manufactured.
THE FIRST CAROUSELS
The first carousels certainly didn’t work like they do now. There were no platforms. The riding animals would hang from poles or chains and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism. My picture in my mind are those rides that scare the beejeezus out of me. Usually they are in the kiddie section so I know I’m a wimp – but you know the kind. They strap you in and you start out slow but when it speeds up, your bucket seat goes almost horizontal! Ug.
Anyway, these are called “flying horses” carousels.Here is a quote from Jennifer Waller:
They were often powered by animals walking in a circle or people pulling a rope or cranking. By the mid-19th century the platform carousel was developed where the animals and chariots would travel around in a circle sitting on a suspended circular floor which was hanging from the centre pole; these machines were then steam-powered. Eventually, with the technological advances of the industrial revolution, bevel gears and offset cranks were installed on these platform carousels, thus giving the animals their well-known up and down motion as they traveled around the center pole. The platform served as a position guide for the bottom of the pole and as a place for people to walk or other stationary animals or chariots to be placed. Fairground organs (band organs) were often present (if not built in) when these machines operated. Eventually electric motors were installed and electric lights added, giving the carousel its classic look.
THE AMERICAN BOON!
The carousel and the game aspects were popular in Europe, especially Germany, France, England and Italy.
But, when it came to America, boy howdy step away brothers and sisters! Let the Carousel Wars Begin! The late 1800s-early 1900s in America were the glory years for the Carousel. If you are from Philly or Coney Island or Upstate New York, some of this will rattle the memories of your childhood… here is an excerpt regarding the American revolution in Carousels.
“The first carousel to be seen in the United States was created in Hessville, Ohio during the 1840s by Franz Wiesenhoffer. Several centers and styles for the construction of carousels emerged in the United States, Philadelphia style, with Dentzel and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, Coney Island style with Charles I. D. Looff, Charles Carmel, Marcus Charles Illions, Soloman Stein and Harry Goldstein and Mangels, Country Fair style with Allan Herschell and Edward Spillman of Upstate New York, and Charles W. Parker of Kansas. Early on the Dentzels became known for their beautiful horses and lavish use of menagerie animals on their carousels. Their mechanisms were also considered among the very best for durability and reliability. Gustav’s sons, William and Edward operated the company until William’s death in 1927 at which time the company was auctioned off.”
(As an aside, Edward Dentzel, who was operating carousels in Southern California during the Depression, decided to stay in SoCal and become a luxury housing contractor in Beverly Hills. I’m sure that was more lucrative… He eventually became the Mayor of that city in the early 1950s.)
The Great Depression wiped out the Carousel business. This dismissal and decline of all that craftsmanship seems really sad to me…Although I understand that no one had any money to repair these incredible artworks. Well, some people did, for sure, but they weren’t into restoring the genre. Most of the 4000 Carousels that were in the US before the Depresson were left to return to the earth. Only 15o of those original Carousels exist today… (I had no idea that the Carousel I was riding as a little girl was one of the original Carousels in San Francisco!)
An excerpt as to why the Carousel Horses are so valuable:
The surviving carousels are highly collectible. They are our companies which specialize in the restoration of the antique carousel horse, or the reproduction of pieces which cannot be salvaged. The carousels are exhibited in museums and showcased in private collections. An original carousel horse in good condition can bring thousands of dollars at auction.
Now we know where all the Carousel horses went and why they are so valuable today… Now I know why I can never find a pretty one to rent when we need one for Production. Now I know why people who own them, keep them in their living rooms!
I started combing the internet for restoration houses for Carousel Horses. I found only a few. As I looked through what appeared to be the premier restoration house (linked here), I found several images and of the restored horses and their values.
I realized that I kept seeing the same names as the ‘carver’ or artist responsible. Certain artists carried more weight than others. I guess it is like a Stratevarious for a violin or a Les Paul for a guitar. Some carvers were more well known than others.
I seemed to see Dentzel the most. A Dentzel horse would auction much higher than others. However, there is a fine science to this as any collector would know. I’ve only touched the surface but I thought I would list some of the restored horses and their descriptions for you to see.
Besides Dentzel (the Philadelphia Toboggan Company), Illions, Looff, Carmel, Soloman Stein, Harry Goldstein and Mangels, Allan Herschell, Spillman and Charles Parker, there were several other carvers of note. Each carver had his own style within their specialty style of Carousel.
You can imagine the value of well preserved carvings from rare artists! For example, they think this is one of the last known Carousel animal from the artist E. Jay Morris… It is part of a Carousel in Maryland.
STYLES OF CAROUSELS (I can’t really tell them apart…)
The styles of Carousel were Coney Island, Philadelphia and North Tonowanda (which was also called Country Fair).
North Tonowanda: Here is a link to famous carvers of this genre.
The North Tonawanda companies were prolific carousel carvers in the Country Fair style. Their horses are relatively simple, easy to move, and spread widely throughout the country. Most carousels away from the Eastern Coastal resorts were either North Tonawanda or Parker. A museum dedicated to these carousels is in an old Herschell carousel factory in North Tonawanda, New York.
Philadelphia Style: Here is a link to famous carvers of the Philadelphia style.
A more natural and realistic depiction of horses and menagerie animals.
The Coney Island Style: Here is a link to the famous carvers of the Coney Island Style.
This style is characterized by flamboyant horses, bedecked with jewels and gold and silver leaf. The carousels themselves often are resplendent with mirrors to catch and reflect the light.
The Country Fair Style (Same as North Tonawanda):
These were the traveling carousels. I found a book all about their particular history as well as how to carve them in miniature!
THE NATIONAL CAROUSEL ASSOCIATION
I loved this site! Anything you would ever want to know from people who really care. There are many photos and my eyes started crossing as I was looking over all the different carousels and styles.
There are members who venture out to all the remaining carousels to photograph each carving and structure. They have meetings and a newsletter, archives and a store! They also provided this map of all known carousels in the United States.
I think it is funny how I was getting frustrated that all the photos I could find had the carvings facing to the right. And then I thought about it… They had to face to the right because the Carousel only went one way. Ha!
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