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Buying a Carousel Horse
 By Winniefield Park   •   29th Aug 2018   •   732 views   •   0 comments


Even though I had a pony at home, I always wanted to ride on carousels, or merry-go-rounds and those mechanical horses that used to be beside the doors of every department and grocery store. A ride was rare however, because I did have a real pony at home, and quarters were worth a lot more than they do now. A long time ago I saw someone decorate a corner of a living room with a genuine carousel horse. That I thought, was something I’d want in my own living room! Turns out, real carousel horses are hard to come by, and they can be very expensive.

According to an article in the Chicago tribune, reproduction carousel animals can be found, at a price much lower than a vintage or antique one. So, if you come across a too-good-to-be-true bargain, chances are you’ve found a reproduction. Personally, if it were well done, and I could afford it, I’d be okay with that. You’ll just need to be aware of what you are buying. Real carousel horses are regarded as artwork, and a lot of their value has to do with whom did the carving and painting. The condition is important, as most will have been exposed not only to the wear and tear of use but also weather and long storage. Cracked wood and missing pieces affect the worth too. It’s common for things like ears, legs and tails to be damaged or missing.

Simple designs will be less expensive than more elaborate ones. Some carousel animals are quite small, and others, while not full-sized, are very large. Of course they modeled in different poses too. Some horses and other animals were made to stand still. These are called standers. Others went up and down on the carousel mechanism and were carved to have one or more feet in the air, depicting all sorts of poses, realistic or not. The most ornate ones will have tossing manes and tails, colourful saddles and bridles, or ‘real’ tack, made to fit. Horses with their heads thrown back are called stargazers. Of course, the condition of the animal and the renown of the carver will have a larger bearing on the value.

I’ve thought of carousels as something that started to be popular in the Victorian era. But it turns out the concept has been around much longer than that. The roots began back when jousting was a popular sport. Early carousels provided a way for soldiers to practice their skills. The word carousel comes from an Italian word for ‘little war’. Eventually they were made for fun. Who knows how safe those early carousels really were. The earliest had the animals hung from chains like a swing. As the carousel rotated, the horses swung outwards. No doubt this would not meet with any safety standards today. The power to rotate the carousel was provided by real animals or by humans turning a crank.

Because they required human or animal power to run, carousels were relatively small until the age of steam. Once powered by a steam engine though, carousels could be made much larger. Again, with no safety standards in place, riding an early carousel might have been more risky than riding a real horse. The very first steam powered carousel appeared in 1861 and its riders were at risk of being ‘shot off like a cannonball’. Apparently these weren’t in the kiddy section of the park. Of course, there was a time when people thought if you went too fast, you wouldn’t be able to breathe. So this may or may not be true. And if you were a kid, and you couldn’t afford to pay for a ride, you could help crank the carousel around for a ride. If you didn’t go fast enough, you might feel the whip of the carousel operator. Ah, the good old days!

The carousels that were used at fall fairs and other events were of course, smaller than the ones that were permanent fixtures. These were made to be taken apart, and the carving and design reflects the need to make sure no parts were easily broken. That’s why on many carousel animals you’ll see manes attached to ears, tails attached to legs, just to cut down on breakable parts.

Of course, there were many types of carousel animals like tigers, ostriches, elephants lions, marine life and for the really tame at heart, there were beautifully carved benches. But when I picture a carousel, I see the beautifully carved and almost gaudily painted horses going up and down, round and round. And I wonder, what corner I could set one up in, if I ever had one of my own.



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REFERENCES
1. Chicago Tribune
2. web.archive.org
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