Be sure to consult our Buyer's Guide & Fakes Database before purchasing a carousel figure. Each day, more and more knock-offs come on the market. Some look old but looks can be deceiving. Become an informed buyer.

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by Bruce Zubee

For more information on fake carvings, visit Jane Hooker's Site in the UK. Also, be sure to visit our "Fakes" Database for pics of phoney phillies.

I've prepared this guide to help you make informed decisions when contemplating the purchase of an antique carousel animal. As with most popular items, carousel figures are often reproduced, synthetically aged to give them an antique appearance and then sold to unsuspecting buyers as antiques. Armed with the facts below, you may be able to avoid getting stuck with a very high priced piece of fire wood.

If, after reading the following information you still have questions about a particular piece, please send us a photograph of the item in question and we'll be more than happy to identify it for you at no charge. Photos should be sent to us at:

Tip Number One:

  • Authentic wooden carousel figures are NEVER carved of solid wood. Bodies of carousel figures were made of wood formed into a "box". This made them hollow which, in turn, minimized the weight of the animal and also allowed for some expansion and contraction of the wood without "checking" or developing deep cracks.

Tip Number Two:

  • Authentic wooden carousel figures do not look "rustic" and do not show "chisel marks" on their bodies. Authentic pieces have a very smooth, refined finish to the bodies and trappings.

Tip Number Three:

  • Authentic wooden carousel figures do not have pole holes drilled through their saddles. An authentic piece has the hole positioned in front of the saddle. EXCEPTIONS: Mexican figures, some European figures and "child size" figures where, due to size and construction the pole hole must be drilled through the saddle.

Tip Number Four:

  • Authentic wooden carousel figures do not have fancy trappings on both sides of the animal. AN EXCEPTION to this would be some European carvings. The statement above applies mainly to American carved figures.

Tip Number Five:

  • Authentic antique wooden carousel figures were never "signed and dated" by their carvers. Some figures from the Looff factory were stamped or branded on the bottom "Made by Looff". There is also a famous Illions "signature horse" with the name "M.C.Illions" carved in a shield-like decoration on the side. Some Parker horses wear metal shoes with the words "C.W. Parker, Leavenworth, Kansas" cast in them. Unfortunately, there are quite a few "reproduced" Parker shoes on the market. You won't find a "penciled" signature on any authentic carvings however. Many modern-day restoration artists and carvers do sign and date their work.

Tip Number Six:

  • Aluminum horses attached to a "Coca Cola" base are NOT carousel horses. These are cast repros which have been produced in Mexico over the past several years. They were made in the likeness of Herschell/Spillman and Parker horses but they never rode carousels.

Tip Number Seven:

  • All American carved figures face in a "counter-clockwise" direction while carvings from England face in a "clockwise" position. The reason for this is simple. The British felt in necessary to mount the wooden steeds in the "proper" fashion...inserting the left foot in the stirrup and swinging the right leg over and up onto the animal. The Americans on the other hand were more concerned with people being able to "grab the brass ring" while spinning round and round. Considering that most of us are right-handed, the machine would have to travel in a counter-clockwise direction so that our right hand would be free to reach for the ring.

Tip Number Eight:

  • Authentic carousel figures DO NOT have removable wooden parts i.e. ears and tails. Just imagine how long they would last on a carousel full of children!

Tip Number Nine:

  • Check the carving of the mane and tails. If the carved grooves look as if they were combed with a little rake with "V" shapes its an import - not an authentic piece.

Tip Number Ten:

  • Stenciled patterns on saddles of carousel horses and other animals is usually a good indication that the item is an imported reproduction.

Tip Number Eleven:

  • Hooves that resemble upside down flower pots and thin ankles are a dead giveaway that a figure is not authentic. Poor leg/foot treatments are the norm in carvings imported from Asia. Authentic carousel figures of all types have very realistic features.

I would strongly suggest that you shy away from purchasing figures on the internet unless the seller is known to you. The online auction services are filled with misrepresented carousel collectibles. Unfortunately, after you've paid your money, you have little recourse. I've heard many a horror story about online purchases. Don't be fooled by an unbelievably low price either. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

If you'd like to purchase an authentic antique carousel figure but don't know where to begin, check our Resources section for a list of reputable dealers. The people listed there are known to us and you can purchase in confidence from them.

For more information on fake carvings, visit Jane Hooker's Site in the UK. Also, be sure to visit our "Fakes" Database for pics of phoney phillies.

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