An antique rocking horse is a beautiful thing. They bring images of a time when children were happy with innocent games, before the days of toys and video games that emitted beeps and explosions. A real antique horse can cost thousands of dollars, but how old are they and how can you tell the difference between the real and the fake?
In the United States, toy horses were manufactured as early as the 17th century by parents in their workshops as gifts for their children. These were generally simple toys and rocking mechanisms came later. In Europe, bow horses were made around 1750 and rocking horses on a swing were made around 1880. The dates are similar for the US.
An ancient rocking horse from Europe is very different from one from America. Americans are often referred to as ancient “folk art” horses. The designs are simple and the manes and tails are usually made of horsehair. If saddles and reins remain, they will be leather. Some were painted and others were polished or left natural.
European horses, especially British ones, mostly date from about 1870-1920. Again, the manes and tails were made of hair, and the stud was made of leather, often attached with brass clasps. Usually they were painted. They don’t usually have a manufacturer’s name, but some do, and the three most important manufacturers were Collinsons (1836-1993), FH Ayres (19th and early 20th centuries), and Tri-Ang Lines, which also made rocking horses. covered in fur.
So how do you know that the horse you are looking at is an ancient rocking horse? First, it will look old! But be careful! The old can be faked. You need to know where to look. First, look at the delicate parts of the horse: the ears, the lower part of the face, around the eyes and the legs. The most important thing is to look at the seat. An old rocking horse should have signs of wear, not only in the paint, but also in the worn wood in the places where the chair was rubbed. Also, the kidneys may have rubbed around the neck.
Second, the tack. On an old rocking horse, this is almost always leather. A carved and painted saddle is unusual for a true rocking horse. Make sure the leather is worn. Again, take a special look at the saddle seat. A European one will probably have brass tacks to fix it, but this is not always the case. Nails and other metal fasteners can rust artificially, so be careful.
Third, the mane and tail of an ancient rocking horse will almost always have been the hair of a real horse or cow. If you find one with a carved mane, it’s probably newer than you thought.
There are some excellent companies that make breeding horses and they should not be confused with a fake antique horse. If you do your research, check out some pictures on the internet, and buy from a well-known dealer, you shouldn’t have any problems and you will enjoy your old horse.