As a fun way of learning about valuable antique carousel figures, let's travel to Portland Oregon (the home of Thinkwhile's sister) with noted antique dealer Elmer P. Thinkwhile and his long-time companion, P. J. Livingston.

Livingston: "Your nephew and niece seem discontented on this automobile ride, Thinkwhile. They've dropped two gobs of pink gum on my carpet."

Elmer Thinkwhile is at the wheel of his colleague's 1948 Rolls Royce and, more importantly,  paying time with the two brightest, handsomest, most promising future antique aficionados ever born.  Sissy's kids, he says to himself, will cheer up when they learn about old time amusement park rides. 

"Did you two know," Thinkwhile says, trying to sound like an old-time riverboat guide, "Portland is called the "City of Carousels.  That's because it's home to more operating antique merry-go-rounds than any other city in the United States!"

The owner of the classic car turns to the children in the back seat, hoping to discourage them from mischief. "There's an interesting story behind Uncle Elmer's tale ..."

Jenny, age 6, blows through a green "Blubber" straw she got at McDonalds.  Livingston coughs, slightly aware that he has just swallowed a shot wad of gooey paper.

"After the conclusion of the Civil War," Livingston says, clearing his throat. "a flood of European craftsman immigrated to America and had difficulty finding work. Some of the wheelwrights, blacksmiths, and carpenters turned to producing primitive carousels like those from their home lands.  Men like Gustav Dentzel, a premier artisan of his era, carved and painted not only magnificent horses, but goats, giant pigs, deer, buffalo, giraffes, ostriches, goats, even bears and scary lions and tigers.  Antique enthusiasts, like your uncle and myself, will gladly part can tens of thousands of dollars for a superior example."

"One that's 60+ years old, in a good original state, with exceptional artistic quality.  Isn't that a fascinating story, children?" Thinkwhile says.

"Sylvester made me spill my ice cream cone!" Jenny says.

"Tell Jenny to quit picking my nose!" Sylvester wines.

"Thinkwhile!" Livingston cries out, reaching for a roll of paper towels, "my original leather seats!"

In a short while, the Rolls arrives at Willamette Center Park.  Its carousel is one of the only 300 remaining rides with old hand-carved figures.  Once, there was over 6000 such attractions. Livingston eyes a half horse/half fish figure called a hippocampus.  It retains a beautiful aged coat of blue/green "park paint." Although it's unsigned, the dealer "attributes" the exquisite carving is to Charles Looff.  Looff is credited with installing the first carousel at Coney Island in 1876. His figures, like other respected carver/painters command high prices. Carousel art flourished until the 1930's when, television, the depression, and maintenance-free aluminum figures took their toll.  Carousel carvings are classified by dealers and collectors into three general types:

  • Philadelphia Style: Realistic.  Bold, anatomically correct, rococo carvings.  Key artisans;  Gustav & William Dentzel, Daniel Muller, The Philadelphia Toboggan Company. 
  • Coney Island Style: Imaginative, flashy, highly ornamented carvings. Sometimes decorated with inset jewels and carved rose figures.  Key artisans; Charles Looff, John Zalar, M.C. Illions Carrousel Works
  • Country Fair Style: Functional sleeked down carousels often intended for traveling carnivals. Key artisans; Charles Dare/NY Carousal Manufacturing Co., C.W. "Colonel" Parker.

Thinkwhile points his finger at a jewel decorated horse.  The mane is golden.  The imaginative carved saddle is shaped like a leopard. "Look children, this is a Coney Island figure!  It's like sneeking a peek at animal on the endangered species list.  Isn't it lovely."

"I wanna go on the roller coaster," Sylvester says.

"I want a cotton candy," Jenny says.

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