What’s the pedigree of “Henry” the horse?
Q. I have an antique carousel horse we named “Henry” that I bought years ago. It has been a well-loved addition to my home, enjoyed by my children and grandchildren. My horse measures overall 58” long (from tip of tail to outermost knee) by 48” high (top of head to bottom of outstretched leg), and 9” wide. The body is 38” long, 14” high and 9” wide. It does not have any markings or labels to identify it. Can you help me to date and value this?
A. Originating in Europe, carousels reached a peak in America in the 1900s. Many skilled European wood carvers emigrated to the United States in the late 1800’s to satisfy the demand for carousels. The carved horses became very elaborate, with designs modeled after the pageantry and battle regalia horses wore in medieval times.
The heyday of American carousels (about 4000 were made in all) lasted until the Depression, when people had less disposable income and the existing amusement parks and carousels seemed adequate enough to satisfy the demand. By the time the economy improved, technology had advanced enough so the production of labor-intensive wooden carousels was not warranted. Many were sold and dismantled, parts sold or thrown away. Carousels which at one time were the centerpiece of a park were now considered a ride for only children to enjoy. Today, fewer than 150 exist in the entire country. Rhode Island is fortunate enough to have several.
The horses became popular in the 1970’s as unique home décor—as well as a market for fakes. Your horse does appear to have some seams which originals would have (or they would be too heavy.) The authentic original horses had finely painted details and the overall finish should be very smooth. Some included real horsehair tails and manes, leather saddles, and glass eyes. Most horses would have their heads tilted slightly to the right as the carousel would turn in a counter clockwise direction facing the outside of the carousel.
Your horse may be authentic but it is not meeting the criteria of top-level examples found. To learn more and get the opinion of a specialist, go to the website for the International Museum of Carousel Art at www.carouselmuseum.com or www.carousels.com, as it is a good reference source and dealer of carousel horses.
Karen Waterman is a fine art, antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay and will answer as many questions your own “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending a letter of email with a question, your give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos are encouraged) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send snail mail to East Bay Newspapers, Attn. Karen Waterman, P.O.Box 90, Bristol, RI 02809.