One of the most charming of all folk art pieces, the rocking horse, can be traced back as far as the Middle Ages when they were mounted on wheels and used by young “would be” knights for jousting practice.
Made in both Europe and the United States for over 150 years, the rocking horse is considered by many to be the most popular of all carved wooden toys.
By definition a rocking horse is made entirely of wood, with a carved head and shoulders. It is mounted on a pair of broad plank rockers, or on later examples, suspended by springs from a frame. The entire object is usually painted to depict a horse and has a seat mounted between the rockers or across the frame.
Many of the 19th century horses were covered in pony hide and decorated with horsehair tails. Early 1800s horses are often one-of-a-kind designs carved by individual craftsmen in their home workshops. However, as the century progressed the demand for wooden toys for the children of the affluent spurred the opening of many toy factories. Factory-made horses from this period are often identifiable by their gesso coating over which paint was applied.
During the 1880s American firms produced dozens of horses. One of the greatest contributors to the development of the rocking horse was American inventor and toy maker Jesse Armour Crandall. He is credited with 150 patents in his 75-year career including the spring-base rocking horse frame, which produced an up-and-down bouncing motion and the “Shoofly”rocking horse. The “Shoofly” is is a highly collectible miniature rocker designed for children too small to ride a rocking horse. Variations on this popular rocking horse were produced by other companies well into the 1900s.
A shortage of materials during World War I brought a sharp decline to the production of the rocking horse on both sides of the Atlantic.