Did you have one of these as a child?
I did, it was the latest, and very affordable, version of that perennial childhood favourite, the rocking horse. Genuine period ones are fetching pretty high prices and are sought after by interior decorators – to look pretty not to be played with, of course.
The go to makers of traditional wooden rocking horses today are Stephenson Brothers, set up by twin brothers in 1982. Their Uncle James had been making them for years but felt that Gameboys were the future so agreed to train his nephews before closing his own business. They have proved him wrong – there is still a market for beautifully made horses and they continue to flourish. Here is how they see the History of the Rocking Horse:
The history of rocking horses can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when a popular children’s toy was the hobby horse – a fake horse’s head attached to a long stick. Children would place the stick between their legs and “ride” the horse around. These toys can still be found today.
The hobby horse was replaced in the 16th century by the barrel horse, which consisted of a circular log supported by four legs and adorned with a fake horse head. Crude in nature, this toy mimicked the back of a horse better than a hobby horse.
The rocking horse in its current form is widely believed to have first appeared in the early 17th century. It was around this time that bow rockers were invented, introducing rocking to the world of toy horses. There were, however, improvements to be made to the first rocking horses. Being made from solid wood, they were heavy and their centre of gravity was high, so they could easily topple over.
Seventeenth-century rocking horse believed to be that of Charles I
It was in the Victorian age that the ‘safety stand’ was introduced and the idea of making the horses hollow was conceived. This made the horses lighter and more stable, and gave birth to the idea of a secret compartment being fitted into the horse’s underbelly.
Fine example of a Victorian Rocking Horse
The family heirloom horse could store photographs, mint coins, locks of baby hair and other such trinkets for future generations to find.
Here’s an image of a horse on wheels circa 1800 – not a rocker but you get the idea.
During this era the style of choice was the dappled grey rocking horse, which was a favourite of Queen Victoria. Her love of rocking horses was instrumental in increasing the popularity of the toys.
During the 20th century there was a significant decline in rocking horse makers, largely as a result of the World Wars and the Great Depression. By the 1960s it seemed like the craft was disappearing forever. Fortunately, a few skilled craftsmen began returning to the art of making rocking horses, restoring old pieces to their former glory and creating new designs. It is thanks to the work of those determined craftsmen and all those working at Stevenson Brothers today, that these beautiful toys continue to enchant adults and children alike all over the world.
If you are thinking of buying a genuine antique or vintage rocking horse be sure to take some time to study the basic tips. I found this article to be very informative and I hope it will be of help to you too: