In this festive time of year when our thoughts turn to buying gifts and toys for children it seems fitting that, the Artifact of the Month is a historical plaything. Even our ancestors took time to play and this rocking horse stands silent testament to many imaginary horse rides.
Painted white, dappled with gray and black spots, the horse has a yarn mane, ribbon for a rein, a horsehair tail, and sits on a wood and metal stand. Sized for a young child, the horse is approximately 31 inches long and 27 inches high.
This rocking horse was a family heirloom for many generations, before it was donated to the museum in 1983 by Mrs. Cecil (Elva) Clark of Macomb. Family history indicates the horse dates from 1896.
Toy horses in some form or another have been around for thousands of years. Children of ancient Greece and Egypt played with toy horses. The earliest form of the toy riding horse dates back to the medieval ages. Known as the “hobby horse,” it was little more than a stick and a mock horse head. Yet despite their simplicity, hobbyhorses were enjoyed by children of many eras. Hand-made rocking horses originated as toys in the early 1800s and by the late 19th century, they began to be manufactured in factories. With a growing middle class during the Victorian age, families could afford to buy more expensive toys and rocking horses gained in popularity and production increased.
Rocking horses originally were made to sit on bowed rockers, like a rocking chair. However, in 1877, toymaker P.J. Marqua of Cincinnati, Ohio, came up with a new idea to improve the safety of the rocking horse. Marqua patented the ‘swing iron safety-stand’. This stand provided a fixed frame on which the rocking horse swung on swing irons. Being fixed to the stand, the horse was safer, and a child could not rock too hard and fall over. It also solved the problem of damage to floors. Another advantage was the horse on a stand took up less space. While rocking horses made on the swing iron safety-stand were very popular, production slowed with the onset of World War I and never regained popularity afterwards.
Technically speaking, the riding toy horse owned by the museum is not a ‘rocking’ horse because it does not sit on bow rockers. It sits on a Marqua-type swing iron safety stand. Some might refer to this riding horse as a “swinging glider horse,” but even though they are not on rockers, horses on swing stands are still called rocking horses.
The “Artifact of the Month” program celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. It was last December 2008 that the first artifact from our collection was highlighted. Each month since then a different item has been carefully selected, researched, and displayed. During this past year, the museum has had many visitors to view the artifacts on display and the program will continue in 2010 to highlight the incredible variety of items here at the museum. With more than 6,000 items in the museums’ collection, there are many stories to tell.
From an essay by Heather Munroe