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. Today’s 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.