Treasures: Ageing rocker
Prudish Victorians even expected little girls to ride their rocking horses in a side saddle. Until the First World War, rocking horses came fitted with detachable pommels. When in place, they secured the rider's upper leg, just as on a real side saddle. Rocking horse pommels could also be removed and the existence of pommel holes under the front of the saddle cloth is one way of ascertaining the age of the toy. If it has them, it was probably made before 1914. Often, children being what they are, miscellaneous objects were shoved down through the holes into the belly of the rocking horse.
The earliest rocking horses came on rockers, known as bows. These were exciting to ride but not particularly safe. The rocking horse tended to move across the floor and small fingers could get trapped under the bows. When the Marqua (also known as a swing-stand or safety-stand) came on the market in 1880, it replaced the bow almost entirely. Rocking horses now swung from a cradle; they were safer, much more stable, and became a widespread, popular toy.
Most, but not all, the rocking horses found in Ireland are English-made. The exceptions are those made by the Shillelagh Rocking Horse Company (1916-1920) and the Galway Toy Industry (1919-1927). Both companies are associated with the appropriately named Mr R Hunter, who was probably their driving force.
English rocking horses are much more common, with the most famous being made by Lines (1880-1930), the largest manufacturer of Victorian rocking horses, and Ayres. F H Ayres was based in London from 1864 to 1940 and supplied most of London's department stores, as well as making rocking horses for export. Now Ayres rocking horses are highly collectible, especially some of the more inventive patents.
"Collectors of rocking horses tend to aspire to particular makes and models," explains David Kiss of The Rocking Horse Workshop in Shropshire, England. "Ayres made some very good horses and some very peculiar horses, including one with a moveable head."
Because rocking horse manufacturers often neglected to label their creations, it can be hard to identify the maker of a particular toy. Experts will look at details like the brackets on a swing stand and whether the runners have pointed ends. "You'd never be able to identify a horse from just one aspect," says Kiss. "But no matter what you're looking at, quality stands out."
A horse that will be of interest to collectors will have turned wood pillars, glass eyes and fine carving. It should also look anatomically possible.
While all rocking horses are stylised, the best ones look as though they could jump from the stand and gallop away. There's something exceptionally beautiful about the rocking horses made by the Leach family in late 19th-century London. They seem to have been made by someone with a good understanding of what a real horse looked like and their proportions seem more natural than the work of other makers.
Although unusual rocking horses can sell for up to €12,000, this is very unusual. "You can get a decent rocking horse for €1,200," says Kiss. If you have an antique rocking horse, he recommends that you keep it in a dry place - an attic rather than a shed - and resist the temptation to give it a lick of paint. "A horse in its original state will be much more desirable than one that has been restored," he says. "The more original it is the better." A shabby-looking rocking horse with its old paintwork intact will be worth considerably more than one that has had a renovation job.
As someone who restores rocking horses, Kiss often finds that he is asked to return a horse to its former state by revealing the original paintwork below a more recent job. "Some people like their antiques almost derelict, but a lot of the rocking horses that I restore are going back into service. I will reveal the paint if it's practical and what the customer wants. Most of the time they don't want it repainted. They want their old friend back and it needs to have a sense of calmness about it."
If you're in the market for an Ayres rocking horse, there's one going under the hammer at Dolan's Art and Antiques auction, which takes place in Kelly's Hotel, Rosslare, on Sunday April 30 at 2 pm. The rocking horse, which probably dates from around 1920, has undergone restoration and is estimated to sell for between €1,800 and €2,200. See therockinghorseworkshop.com and dolansart.com
In the salerooms
An auction of Great Irish Interiors will take place at Sheppard's in Durrow on Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 April, beginning at 10.30am each day. It will be followed on Wednesday 27 by an afternoon auction of Classic Art, which begins at 2pm. Pieces of interest in the sale include a carved oak coffer (est. €2,500-€3,500) dating from the late 16th century. The oak panels are interestingly carved with eight of the 12 apostles, interspersed with mermaids and mermen. On a similarly maritime theme, but from a different century, a 19th-century statuary white marble chimney piece (est. €40,000- €60,000) is carved with a relief of Neptune in a shell chariot drawn by seahorses. The chimney piece came from Leixlip Castle in Co Dublin. See sheppards.ie
Adam's History Sale takes place on Wednesday 26 April. Potential highlights include a Proclamation of Independence of the Irish Republic (est. €150,000-€250,000). It's one of only two known copies signed by the printer, Christopher Brady. The sale also includes a pair of Irish George III flintlock cavalry pistols (est. €3,000-€4,000) by Rigby of Dublin, each stamped with firearms registration marks for West Cork. See adams.ie
The next sale at Matthews Auction Rooms, The Square, Oldcastle, Co Meath, takes place on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 April, beginning at 2pm on both days. It includes several interesting items including a Victorian deep-sea diver's helmet and a Victorian carved ivory penis, from the collection of an Anglo- Irish military family. See matthewsauctionrooms.com
Antique & Vintage fairs
The North Tipperary Antiques Art & Vintage Fair, organised by Hibernian Antique and Vintage Fairs, will take place in the Abbey Court Hotel, Nenagh, on Sunday 23 April. Expect furniture, silver and jewellery, coins and banknotes, china, porcelain, books, comics, movie posters and clocks.
The next auction of fine jewellery and silver at John Weldon Auctioneers takes place in Cow's Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin, on Tuesday 25 April at 2pm. Items of interest include a Tiffany diamond cluster ring (est. €3,000-€5,000); an 18ct gold Cartier flower brooch, hallmarked London 1955 (est. €3,000-€4,000); and a diamond and emerald set brooch/pendant (pictured above), signed Judd Guide (est. €1,500-€2,500). See jwa.ie