The beloved rocking horse that you, your parents, and your grandparents all enjoyed as children could be worth much more than just its sentimental value. Given that these popular children's toys have been around since the 17th century, there is a long history of different styles and types which all appeal to collectors in varying ways. Take a look at some of these highly desirable antique rocking horses to see whether you should permanently retire your childhood steed or let it out on a few more rides.
Origins of the Rocking Horse
Conventional rocking horses were not created until around the 17th century, but historians have concluded that the early examples of equestrian-themed toys from the medieval period (like the hobby horse) were the inspiration for these more sedentary horse rockers. The earliest rocking horses were made out of solid wood and often tipped over because their center of gravity was so high. However, the Victorian period improved this rocking horse style and created toy horses that were both hollow and set into "safety stands" to prevent children from falling over. Unfortunately, the Great Depression and both World Wars decimated most of the historic rocking horse manufacturers in existence, with only a few remaining to create quality products in the 20th century and even fewer lasting into modernity.
Types of Antique Rocking Horses
There are two main different types of antique rocking horses that you may either come across or already own. Both of these types were manufactured long after they were first introduced, so they're not a dead giveaway as to a rocking horses' age.
- Bow Rockers - Rocking horses whose legs extend onto two separate wooden curves which allow the horse to move back and forth are considered bow rockers and were first introduced in the 17th century.
- Marqua Stand Rockers - Rocking horses which sit inside a wooden frame where the horse moves back and forth are considered marqua stand rockers and were first seen during the 1880s.
Antique Rocking Horse Manufacturers
Antique rocking horses were supremely crafted by talented artists and carpenters, and the list of manufacturers is quite exhaustive. Unfortunately, a considerable number of manufacturers never included maker's marks or logos on their horses, and so can only be identified using either an expert's testimony or the occasional maker-specific characteristic (like paint color, bridle material, and so on). These are some of the antique rocking horse manufacturers you may encounter.
- F.H. Ayers
- Collinsons & Sons
- Stevenson Brothers
- G & J Lines
- Baby Carriages
- Lines Brothers
- Crossley Brothers
- Ragamuffin Toys Ltd.
- Haddon Rocking Horses
- Brassington & Cookie
- Parker Brothers
- G. Woodrow
- J.R. Smith
Identifying Antique Rocking Horses
When trying to better identify any antique rocking horse, you should use its materials and type to give yourself an approximate age; for example, a bow rocker might be much older than a marqua stand rocker because of when its style was first produced. Similarly, checking for authentic materials, like genuine wood, antique pigments, real leather for the bridles and saddles, and many other characteristics will help you begin your search for categorizing your antique rocking horse.
Antique Bow Rocking Horses
Antique bow rocking horses are some of the most aesthetically pleasing rockers because a bow rocking horses' full body is always on display. Since they've been manufactured the longest, early examples of bow rockers can be very valuable, due in large part to their age and their craftsmanship. A mid-19th century bow rocking horse with some obvious wear to the paint and lacking a saddle sold for nearly $3,000 in an online auction.
Antique Marqua Rocking Horses
These Victorian rocking horses were rather popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries because of their safety and stability. Generally, these rockers are larger and require more space than bow rockers do because of their frame systems. Marqua rocking horses which are still fully functional can be quite pricey; an early English version of the framed rocking horse from the 19th century is listed for between $5,000 and $6,000 in one antique auction.
Antique Metal Rocking Horses
Antique metal rocking horses were often made out of low-cost tin, and because of their mass-production, they're not particularly desirable to collectors. This means that these mid-century rocking horses are only valued between $15-$50 on average.
Evaluating Antique Rocking Horses
As with most antiques, a historic rocking horses' condition (including the paint, frame/rockers, saddle, and bridle), materials used to make it, and craftsmanship quality heavily contribute to how appraisers determine their values. However, authentic antique rocking horses are generally worth anywhere between $2,000 and $7,000 depending on the aforementioned characteristics. Therefore, there is a lot of opportunity for monetary gain in selling antique rocking horses, but their steep prices make them a more difficult collectible to purchase. For example, even a Collinson rocking horse made in the 1950s is projected to be worth $2,000, and a restored Lines Brothers Edwardian Rocking Horse recently sold for a little over $3,000.
Whether to Restore or Retire an Antique Rocking Horse
The collecting community cannot decide whether you should keep your antique rocking horse untouched or restore it to its finest condition. Unfortunately for owners, this decision can sometimes alter the value of their rocking horses. No matter if you choose to invest in having your antique rocking horses professional restored - as these delicate works of craftsmanship should only be worked on by a professional - or managing it in its current state, there will almost always be an interested party around the corner.
Retiring Your Antique Rocking Horse for Good
Whether or not you're considering selling your antique rocking horse or passing it down to the next generation, your best option for ensuring it retains its quality and value is to permanently retire it away from any moisture, dust and dirt, and grimy hands. Since antique rocking horses have given a lot of rides over their lifetimes, you should give them a much deserve period of rest and relaxation.