Fairground carousel galloper horse

A c.1895 large fairground carousel galloper horse by Anderson, estimated at £5000-7000 at Sworders.

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John Barker, who has collected for more than half a century, sold a small group at Sworders in 2018 and has now decided to sell the bulk of the collection at an auction on March 7.

He is keeping around a dozen pieces to pass on to his grandchildren and is selling the rest. He said: “I can’t lie. It is a wrench parting ways, as each piece is exceptional and it’s been a lifelong passion finding and restoring them. However, I look forward to seeing how they are enjoyed by other collectors, knowing my name will always be connected to them.”

Barker purchased his first carousel carving from a junk shop in Cookham aged 14 and estimates that as much as 80% of his collection has been acquired from the US, where some of the very best pieces were exported to collectors from the 1960s-90s.

Chamberlain mount

A 1900 carving model of Joseph Chamberlain from a carousel of 12 centaurs, estimated at £6000-8000 at Sworders.

Among his favourite pieces in the sale is a torso mount from a famous ride created by the celebrated Burton-on-Trent carver Charles Spooner. This model of Joseph Chamberlain wearing a tam-o’-shanter and monocle was part of very topical carousel of 12 centaurs carved with the heads of Boer War leaders that debuted at the Neath fair in Swansea in September 1900.

Chamberlain, then secretary of state for the colonies, was not first choice with the punters who preferred to ride Kitchener, Roberts, Baden-Powell or other ‘war heroes’. Quietly removed from the ride and replaced, it was unlikely Spooner ever carved another.

This lot, the 2ft 5in (73cm) top half of the figure, is expected to bring £6000-8000.

Spooner produced a huge variety of animal figures for fairground roundabouts, ranging from the usual galloping horses to ostriches, bears, lions, donkeys, pigs, goats and turkeys.

Elephant fairground mount

A c.1890 juvenile elephant fairground carousel mount by CJ Spooner, estimated at £7000-9000 at Sworders.

Among the other rarities in the sale is an ‘outside row’ carving of an animated juvenile elephant wearing a colourful saddlecloth (estimate £7000-9000). There are also several examples from the Bristol workshop of Arthur Anderson. The son of a woodcarver who had made figureheads for wooden ships, he turned out dozens of animals for fairs all over Britain in the early 20th century. 

Fairground organ

A 35-key juvenile fairground organ by Limonaire Frères, c.1910 estimated at £12,000-15,000 at Sworders.