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The History of Rocking Horses

The rocking horse as we know it dates back to the 17th Century when wooden rocking horses first appeared in Europe. A very few of these early rocking horses still survive in museums and private collections. These include one of the earliest ridden by King Charles I of England when he was a boy. Socrates' children are also said to have ridden rocking horses.

Toy animals have been part of ancient and primitive cultures since recorded history and horses have always been a very important part of many cultures, frequently as symbols of wealth and social position.

Rocking Horse

Crude toy horses placed on wheels appeared around 500 BC and there are records of toy horses in ancient Egypt. Ancient Greeks and Romans also had terra cotta toy horses and chariots made of clay. The ancient Greeks used "stick" horses, the precursor to the "Hobby Horse". These hobby horses was just a crude horse's head on a stick but continued to be popular toys well into Medieval Times. In the 16th century, hobby horses developed into the "barrel" horse. A "barrel" horse was a log on four wooden legs with a crude horse's head on the end of the log. During the 17th century rocking horses began to appear with the more familiar deeply curved rocking base.

It wasn't until the 18th century that wooden rocking horses began to appear as handcrafted creations. Probably, the most famous is the classic English Dapple Grey rocking horse.

By the 1800's, rocking horses had changed to the traditional form. The Victorian style horse on bow rockers is considered the safest form because of the width of the rockers and resistance to being overturned. During the 19th Century, wooden toy making evolved from a cottage industry into a factory production. Toys were now available to satisfy hundreds more of the affluent society on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the late 1800's, several inventive rocking mechanisms sprang onto the market. One alternative rocking mechanism was developed by Philip Marqua of Cincinnati, and was patented in London in January 1880 as the "safety stand." This has the distinct advantage over the rocker in that it does not move across the floor and takes up less space for an equivalent size horse. Because of its safe design, the safety stand allows a longer swing and is used as an alternative to the bows by makers today. Most of the factory produced wooden horses were painted a characteristic dapple-grey.

Rocking horses were popular throughout Great Britain during Georgian and Victorian times. They also flourished in Germany and in America until the middle of the Twentieth Century, when production of wooden rocking horses almost disappeared.

The first world war of 1914 to 1918 saw a decline in the manufacture of rocking horses due to a shortage of materials and the skilled craftsmen required to make them. The last thirty years has seen a remarkable re-emergence of this much loved traditional toy and there are now several rocking horse makers around the world who are making quality horses.

Today, antique wooden rocking horses have become collectors' items while new artists have emerged with their own design to make the colectors' items of the future. There is a great range of designs and styles available and horses are made in a wide variety of materials from cloth to plastic and with a wide range of prices.

The Relko horse was the first of it's kind to be made in natural laminated wood..

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