Enjoy the Ride: Collecting Antique Carousel Animals
Between the 1890s and the 1920s – a period known as the Golden Age of Carousels – there were an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 carousel wheel operating across the U.S.
Manufacturers such as the G.A. Dentzel Company, the Muller Company, Marcus Illions and the Looff Company produced amazing, hand-carved horses and menagerie animals to delight children and adults alike.
Beautifully crafted and intricately painted, these whirling attractions were works of art – but today it's believed that less than 200 examples remain in operation.
In recent years, organizations such as the National Carousel Association have made concerted efforts to preserve these surviving machines, and track down and restore those languishing across America.
The vast majority of carousels were dismantled and left to rot, or broken up for parts. Today, the original hand-carved animals from these long-lost rides are highly sought-after by collectors, who regard them as treasured works of American folk art.
Here are just a few examples of the rarest and most valuable antique carousel animals to have sold at auction in recent years.
Dentzel Carousel Rooster
(Image: William H. Bunch Auctioneers)
This carved Rooster figure was made by the G.A. Dentzel Company of Philadelphia, circa 1885, and is one of only 4 – 6 examples known to exist.
The company was founded in 1867 by German emigrant Gustav Dentzel, who pioneered the 'Philadelphia Style' of carving, known for realistic and graceful depictions of animals.
Having originally been discovered in the town of Orange, Virginia, this remarkably rare carousel rooster sold at William H. Bunch Auctioneers in 2016 for $75,000.
Previous examples had sold at Sotheby's in 1898 for $148,000, and in 1991 at the Norton Auction Co. for $145,000.
Loof Mermaid Carousel Horse
(Image: Millea Bros.)
This carousel horse was made by Charles I. D. Looff, the German master carver who built the first carousel on Coney Island in 1876, and was later responsible for building California's famous Santa Monica Pier.
Loof established what became known as the 'Coney Island' style, which was more elaborate and decorative than the 'Philadelphia' style or carving, and featured horses in dramatis poses.
Dated circa 1895, and featuring a rare mermaid decoration, this outside row-standing horse sold at Millea Bros. in 2014 for $12,000.
Daniel Muller Carousel Tiger
(Image: Brunk Auctions)
This early 20th century tiger is attributed to Daniel Muller, who worked alongside his brother Alfred Muller at the G.A. Dentzel Company before founding their own business, D. C. Muller Brothers, in 1903.
The tiger is believed to originate from a carousel at West View Park, an amusement park in West View, Pennsylvania which opened in 1906 and closed in 1977. The tiger sold at Brunk Auctions in 2011 for $21,000.
Shenandoah Travelling Carousel Horse
(Image: Green Valley Auctions)
This important carved horse was originally part of a travelling carousel, which operated at various fairs and Confederate Veterans Reunions throughout Shenandoah County, Virginia in the late 19th century.
'County Fair' style carousel animals were often smaller and less elaborate in nature than other examples, as they were designed to be packed and unpacked with ease.
The horse was one of eight attributed to local Shenandoah carpenter James W. Sheetz, and passed down through the collection of a single family for almost 100 years, before selling at Green Valley Auctions in 2007 for $50,000.
Miniature Travelling Carousel Elephant
(Image: RSL Auction Company)
This rare miniature elephant was originally part of a travelling carousel ride, designed to be assembled and broken down quickly and easily as the fairground made its way from town to town.
Believed to have been made circa 1905, by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company of Hatfield, Pennsylvania, the unrestored elephant retained its original factory paint, and was sold by the RSL Auction Company in 2015 for $20,000.
Looff Coney Island Carousel Giraffe
This tall standing giraffe was carved by the Looff Company of Coney Island, and features its original paint along with jeweled cabochon highlights and glass beaded eyes.
The giraffe is believed to have stood on the Coney Island Carousel which Loof built in 1903 for Feltman's Pavillion – home of Feltmans restaurant, where the hotdog was invented around 1870.
Complete with its original painted finish, the giraffe sold at Fontaine's in 2014 for $23,000.
Dentzel Carousel Lion
(Image: Wickliff Auctioneers)
This outer-row standing carousel lion was carved by Gustav Dentzel, circa 1890-1910, and originated from a collection in New Mexico, before selling at Wickliff Auctioneers in 2014 for $41,000.
It's believed the lion could once have stood as part of Dentzel's carousel in Audubon Park, New Orleans, which was later transferred to President’s Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico, where all the menagerie animals were removed and replaced with horses.