The American Carousel


The Golden Era of the American Carousel from 1880-1929 was a period when carousel animals were carved from wood.   This was a classic era for wood carvers and they produced animals that still spin on antique carousels and are valued collectibles today.

Three styles of carousels evolved in this Classic Carousel Era:   Country-Fair,  Philadelphia, and Coney Island styles.  Refer to my Carousel Catalog for many of the subtle characteristics.  Most realistic is the Philadelphia style,  County-fair animals were sturdy and occasionally relocated, and the fancy Coney Island figures were ornate and designed to populate permanent carousels.   Half are horses, the other half “Menagerie” animals.   Sizes varied with outer row carousel animals, larger 55-72”, a slightly smaller middle row, and even smaller inner row.   The outer row usually had a “King” horse, the largest, fanciest and most appealing, and most replicated today.

Three poses of classic carousel figures are Prancers, Standers, and Jumpers.  The jumpers were the only ones with feet leaving the carousel deck and were the animals going up and down on some carousels.  For each animal there was a plain and a fancy, or “romance” side.  In America the romance side was the right side.

The Golden Era of the American Carousel generated a “lingo” of its own, and some of those terms are:

  • Coney Island Style – the fanciest, glitziest style,  Examples are M. Illions, C. Loof
  • Philadelphia Style – realistic.  Examples are Dentzel and such carvers as D. Muller
  • County Fair Style – traveling carousels with plenty of charm.  Examples are Parker and Herschell-Spillman
  • “Golden Era” – American Carousel Era 1880-1929; animals were almost totally wood
  • “Menagerie” – non-horse animals on the classic carousels
  • “Trappings” – the saddle, bridle, all straps and decoration on the animal
  • “Hippocampus” – combination horse and sea creature
  • “Head Man” – the master carver in large carousel shops who carved the head and intricate details of each animal
  • “Romance (fancy) side” – outer right hand side with more detail in America, the other side the plain side
  • “King Horse” – the most outstanding outer row figure, almost always a horse.  Today these are the most desirable collectible animals and most often replicated by carvers.
  • “Stander” – with three or four feet on the deck.  Standers did not jump but remained on the floor
  • “Prancer” – hind legs on the deck, front legs pawing.  Prancers did not jump but remained with back hoofs on the floor
  • “Jumper” – all feet off the floor;  these animals went up and down.

Some of my own terms used here are:

  • “E.C.O” – Enhanced Cut-Out, creation of Babb’s Woodcarving
  • “R.O.” – Rough Out
  • “F.C.” – Fully Carved, not completely sanded and no finish applied

I enjoy giving my programs on “The Art and Joy of the American Carousel” to various groups in central Indiana.  I utilize scores of my carousel carvings to illustrate this joyous and wonderful story of the carousel.