History of the Rocking Horse

rocking horses

Rocking horses date back to the 17th Century. King Charles 1 of England rode one of the earliest examples of a rocking horse when he was a young boy. His horse survives to this day. Socrates is another great historical figure who galloped about with his children on their rocking horse While toy rocking horses have amused, trained and educated children of all ages for centuries. In the Middle Ages they served a serious purpose for budding knights who practiced jousting on wheeled horses.

During the late 18th Century you would see the more recognised designs which are made by todays craftsmen. The Victorian style horse on bow rockers was designed with safety in mind and is therefore good for little ones because its unlikely to be able to be overturned. During the 19th Century, wooden toy making evolved from a lone craftsman in his workshop to the industrial scale production in a factory. Toys were now widely available to the more well off customers worldwide.

In 1851 Queen Victoria visited the workshop of J.Collinson and sons. When asked to select a rocking horse she chose one painted dapple grey. After this visit the company produced only dapple greys. Migrating to the United States in 1885 William Long advised that he makes rocking horses “in the neatest manner”.

In the late 1800’s, several different rocking mechanisms came onto the market. One design was the “swing iron safety stand” developed by P. J. Marqua of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, and was patented in London in January 1880. The “safety glider”as it was more commonly known had a great advantage over the more traditional rocker as the base stayed where it was with the movement only in the mechanism above it. Because of this the designers could give the user a longer, more sweeping swing, and thus it is used by almost all rocking horse manufacturers today. Most of the factory produced wooden horses were painted a characteristic dapple-grey. In 1878 a patent obtained by Philip Marqua in the United States covered his design of a swing stand for rocking horses. Two years later a letter of patent was granted to Herbert Haddon of London for the same device. English rocking horse makers quickly saw the potential for this design and by the late eighteenth century rocking horses were offered for sale mounted on either bow rockers or swing stands.

Rocking horses were very popular throughout the UK especially during Georgian and Victorian times. They also did very well in Germany and in America until the middle of the Twentieth Century, when sadly production of wooden rocking horses almost disappeared apart from a few master craftsmen.

The first world war of 1914 to 1918 saw a decline in the manufacture of rocking horses due mainly to a shortage of materials and the skilled craftsmen required to make them. Fortunately for us, the rocking horse in all its glory has enjoyed a renewal in popularity during recent years and there are now several rocking horse makers around the world who are able to offer quality horses.

The last twenty years has seen a re-birth of this lovable family toy, with modern materials such as wool and faux fur meaning that it has become more affordable as a toy.   Although those wooden craftsmen creations are still held as the creme de la creme of rocking horses. Today, antique wooden rocking horses have become collectors’ items while new artists have come into the market with their own personalized approach to this fine tradition.

Nowadays you can get Rocking cars, tractors other farm animals and many more creations, meaning that its appeal has widened even further. No matter what your desire or willingness to spend, you can find a rocking horse for your child or avid collector, or…even yourself.

If you ever road one your self you know the memories that stay with you. There is a charm and essence of riding that steed by yourself. I believe that if you had the chance if they had one adult size and maybe a little padding you would take a turn every now and again on your rocking horse.

I hope that all children get to enjoy their own special rocking horse.


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