Copies of Schoenhut elephantsBy Mark Chervenka
Copies of Schoenhut elephants
The A. Schoenhut Company of Philadelphia begin manufacturing toys in 1872. In 1903 they introduced their perhaps their most famous creation, the Humpty Dumpty Circus. The circus consisted of animals and human figures made of jointed wood and various accessories such as barrels, stands, ladders and tents. The handmade animal and human figures are of interest not only as toys, but are also collected as examples of American folk art.
Schoenhut circus figures have been copied and reproduced since 1950. The first copies were made in America under a license negotiated with the original Schoenhut company. Later reproductions, though, have been made overseas and simply copy the vintage figures; they have no direct association with the original Schoenhut company.
The most reproduced piece is one of the largest circus animals, the elephant. New 10-inch long, 6½-inch tall elephants have been sold by Schylling Toys. Wholesale price for the new elephants was $14 each. Comparable originals sell for $225-$450 depending on the specific production period.
There were several different series of original Schoenhut circus figures. The first figures were made with glass eyes. When the supply of glass eyes from Germany was cut off during World War I, the company switched to painted eyes around 1918.
In 1923, Schoenhut began offering smaller figures, about 40% to 60% the size of the first pieces. These smaller pieces are called "reduced" figures. Miniature sized sets of figures were made in 1927. Struggling to cut costs in the depression of the 1930s, Schoenhut began using decals for eyes on some figures. Continuing economic problems forced the company to close in 1935.
In 1950, Nelson Delavan purchased the rights to the Humpty Dumpty Circus name and figure designs. New pieces were made for about two years and are collectible in their own right. An unlicensed set of circus figures was also made in 1976 by B. Shackman Co. of New York. That set, made in Taiwan, is very different from original figures.
You can separate original elephants from the reproductions with the checklist below. Keep in mind, though, that this list is for the elephant figure only and covers only the mass-produced copies. Deliberately hidden repairs and concealed restorations made to original figures are a separate problem.
Checklist for dating elephants
Original regular size elephant, ca. 1903-1935
*glass eyes or painted eyes (if painted eyes, look for dark "eyebrow" at top of eye; most typical painted eyes had at least three colors of paint– the white of the eye, a colored iris, and a black pupil; some original painted eyes have more than three colors of paint.
*jointed legs with jointed feet
*tips of trunk are hard rubber, inside tip of trunk is concave (bowl-shaped)
*tails are made of twisted twine painted the same color as the body of the elephant
*ears are leather
Delavan elephant, ca. 1950
*Delavan elephants are made in the reduced size, not the full size
*Delavan elephants can be separated from original reduced size Schoenhut elephants by looking at the legs. Delavan elephants have jointed feet; original reduced size elephants do not have jointed feet
Shackman elephant, ca. 1976
*has wrinkles and toes carved into the legs and feet
*leg and feet are one piece, not jointed
Schylling elephant, 2003
*plastic, not leather ears
*tip of trunk is wood, not rubber
*eyes are only two color, black and white, with no "eyebrow"