Horse ToysBy

Horse Toys

There are several varieties of reproduction toy and hobby horses on the market. These include rocking horses, platform horses, combination platform/rocking horses, small carousel-type figures, tricycle-styled horses and stick horses.

In general, most old horses are made of hardwoods produced in factories and small workshops by highly skilled workers. The surfaces are usually smooth and painted or covered with real or simulated 'skin'. The only vintage carved horses you would typically find tool marks on would be homemade or folk art toy horses, not commercially carved toy horses or carousel horses.

Manes and tails in vintage toy horses are almost always some type of real hair. The majority of vintage toy and carousel horses have life-like glass eyes; only homemade or folk art styles of old horses might be found with carved or painted eyes.

The new horses generally are made of soft, easily worked tropical woods which usually show many obvious tool marks. New eyes are almost always two-piece plastic plugs (Fig. 1) designed for rapid production. Most manes on new horses are carved even on very small toysized new horses. Many non-carved tails on new horses are generally made of raffia-- a paper-like product made from shredded palm leaves, not hair.

Almost all of the new horses are coated with a very heavy layer of "antique" paint. This thick paint has numerous pits, scratches and dents which create an artificial appearance of natural wear and age. But in fact, such defects are only in the paint, not in the wood. Most metal pieces used in the new horses have a rusty appearance. The rust is applied at the factory when the item is being assembled; the rust is not caused by age.

A key consideration when evaluating a horse is practicality and functionality. If a seller says it's a child's rocking horse, it better be strong enough for a child to sit on. Are normally removable parts glued in place? Does it appear too fragile for a child to play with? Are parts adjustable for different sized children? Do parts that are supposed to move, move freely? Also consider the safety factors. Are there exposed pieces of rough wood or wood with sharp or pointed details? Are there protruding pieces of rough or sharp metal ? Are the stirrups and handles made to fit a child?

Wholesale prices for the new horses ranged from around $40 for stick horses to $150 for the large tricycle horse. Other styles were priced from $40 for small rocking horses up to nearly $200 for the largest combination platform/rocker. Most of the horses shown were available in several sizes.

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Fig. 1

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Fig. 2

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Fig. 3

Figs. 1-3 New 2-piece plastic eye in Fig. 1. A hole is drilled in the head and the black post is inserted in the hole; the half-round amber cover is then glued on top of the post, Fig. 2. You can detect the plastic eyes be scratching lightly with a pin. Fig. 3 shows a typical new plastic eye mounted in a new horse.

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Fig. 4 A hobby horse from the 1912 Sears Roebuck catalog. It is covered in real skin, has real hair mane and tail, glass eyes, adjustable stirrups, removable leather saddle and bridle and applied metal horseshoes. Weight 40 lbs., 33" high, about 40" hoof to hoof.

Platform/Rocking Horses

Original platform rocking horses combined two features--rockers and wheels. Mounted on a wood platform with wheels, the horse was used as a floor pull toy. Or, the platform could be mounted on rockers and then used as a regular rocking horse. In the reproduction horses, the platforms cannot be removed and they often lack wheels. Some new platforms do come with new cast iron wheels so do check for plastic eyes, raffia tails, and other details previously mentioned.

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Fig. 5 This new platform rocking horse copies an authentic Victorian style. Platforms are removable in vintage platform rockers, usually released with just two bolts. Platforms are not removable on the new pieces.

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Fig. 6 Another new platform rocking horse. This example has a very elaborate saddle and harness. The platform cannot be removed from the rocking base.

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Fig. 7 An illustration of an original platform rocking horse. The platform was designed to be removed so it could be used as a floor pull toy. It was usually fastened by two bolts (shown exaggerated in the drawing above). Some, but not all, originals came with a vertical brace (on the back side) that helped support the horse in the rocking mode. Horses with one leg raised are more likely to have the brace than a horse with no legs raised. (see catalog image below).

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Fig. 8 Platform rocking horse from Sears Roebuck catalog, 1912. Note description "Rocking horse and platform horse combined in one". Covered in real skin, has real hair mane and tail, real leather saddle and bridle, glass eyes. Includes 4" metal wheels, nickel plated iron hardware. Overall size, 40 x 51". Platform releases with two bolts. Note vertical brace in back.

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Fig. 9 This horse has all four feet on the platform, does not have a back brace. Shown in a 1914 catalog of Butler Bros. Horse measures 22x25, rockers are 36".

Tricycle Horses

This particular reproduction seems to give buyers more trouble than any others. Many new tricycle horses commonly sell for $300 to $700.

Part of the problem may be that there is so little information about the originals which are very scarce. The original shown in Fig. 13 was located in a 1907 general catalog published in England (rarely seen in the US). The only photo of an original was also English, a Sotheby's auction catalog, London, May, 1987. Their photo shows the identical horse as the catalog illustration. Sotheby's attributes the horse to "English, ca. 1900". In 1987, the original tricycle horse brought $792.

As with the other horse reproductions, the new tricycle horses have plastic eyes, rafia type tails and a carved mane rather than a real hair tail and mane. A couple of examples we have seen have had their plastic eyes painted over or replaced so be sure to use several tests if you encounter one of these pieces.

One variation of the new tricycle horse includes cast iron bracing above the rear wheels. This bracing was never used in the old tricycle horse. Cast iron would never be used to provide strength because it is too brittle. But again, since the new pieces are made as reproductions they use materials that would be impractical and illogical in real toys built for daily play.

Some sizes, like the 15x15" variation shown in Fig. 10, is obviously too small for a child to ride. No small toys made in this tricycle horse shape are known.

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Fig. 10 The new tricycle horses come in several sizes from about 15x15" (too small for a child to ride) up to 36x36". Decoration varies; sometimes the saddle is carved into the horse and painted bright colors, other saddles are simple pieces of leather or vinyl.

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Fig. 11 Top view of cast iron brace which appears only on new horses. It is on both sides of the rear legs above the rear axle.

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Fig. 12 The pedal on this particular tricycle horse jams against the wheel, it cannot make a complete revolution. This piece cannot function as a real tricycle.

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Fig. 13 Original tricycle horses are supported by two almost concealed steel rods running parallel between the hind legs to the rear axle.

Misc New Horses

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Fig. 14

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Fig. 15

Figs. 14-15 A reproduction of a stick or pole horse. This new piece has plastic eyes and "antique" finish. The scratches and dents are not in the wood, but in a very thick coat of paint textured with rags and brushes to create a worn appearance. A detail from the stick horse shows a wide open mouth with lickering tongue and bared teeth common to the reproduction. This style of mouth is unlike any mouth in old original carvings.

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Fig. 16 Some new horses, like this example, are available on a wheeled platform without the rockers. Sold in various sizes.

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Fig. 17

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Fig. 18

Figs. 17-18 There are many versions of the new horses available. Some new horses, especially those with this stirrup-shaped support (Fig. 18), are described as "carousel" horses. They range in size from as small as 10 x 12" up to about 30 x 36". These sizes are too small to have been used on a real amusement ride. The new horse (Fig. 17), also offered as a "carousel horse", is 42 inches tall, 39 inches long.