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Gustav Dentzel (circa 1905)
Gustav Dentzel pioneered the modern carousel in America. Talented men
followed his lead, including Marcus Illions, Charles Looff, Charles
Carmel, and the carvers of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and the
Spillman Engineering Company. Their creations became the centerpiece
of hundreds of amusement parks and trolley company resorts across the
United States and Canada.
Dentzel arrived in America in 1860 at age 20, settling in
Philadelphia where he opened a cabinet shop. Carousels were not
unknown to Gustav, for his father, Michael, had carved and assembled
one of his own in Germany in 1837. Michael travelled with it from town
to town making a modest living selling tickets to the ride. It was not
surprising that his son's plans were to follow the same path. After
building his first machine, Gustav Dentzel took it to several towns
making money from its operation. This venture proved so successful
that he changed the name of this company to "G. A. Dentzel, Steam and
Horsepower Caroussell Builder --- 1867". Despite the name he continued
to operate the horse driven machines for most of his income. It was
nod until 1880, when steam power caught on, that the popularity of the
rides began to increase. By this time, a competitor had entered the
market, Charles I. D. Looff.
Charles I. D. Looff (circa 1911)
Charles I. D. Looff joined the carousel industry with his first
machine in 1875, carving a menagerie of animals from scrap wood
gathered from the furniture company where he worked. He opened a shop
in Brooklyn and soon turned out his second carousel, much more refined
than the first, and installed it at Coney Island. Looff's creations,
like Dentzel's, were reminiscent of the German style of carving. Both
the Looff and Dentzel companies paralleled each other in design and
production until the mid-1880's when the newly developed electric
trolley had a profound effect on the amusement industry.
As with many manufacturers, the seeds of competition are nurtured
within the parent company, and so it was with the carousel industry,
particularly with Looff. As business increased in the 1890's, his
staff of carpenters, carvers, and painters also increased. Among the
forty talented craftsmen were four young carvers who where to later
form their own companies: Carmel, Illions, Stein and Goldstein.
Charles Looff created horses in a simpler but more elegant style.
The legs of Looff's jumping horses were slender and graceful and were
always portrayed with a great deal of motion. In order to depict a
greater sense of realism, several carvers, including Looff, designed
manes with cut through openings. Although such manes produced dramatic
effects, the difficulty and length of time involved in the carving
process limited their use.
About 1905 Looff started making saddles that resembled a scoop.
This design left a good sized space beneath the cantle which Looff
filled with a variety of gargoyles, flowers, cherub heads, and other
The production of Looff's horses ceased when he died in 1918.
Marcus C. Illions (circa 1923)
Within five years of his arrival in New York in 1888, Illions'
reputation as a master carver spread throughout greater New York. He
not only carved animals for Looff but created sculptures in both wood
and stone for churches and other office buildings. He also created
highly ornate facades for circuses and carnivals.
In 1900 Illions was offered the job of refurbishing a fire-damaged
Looff carousel at Coney Island. The enthusiasm he had for the job is
apparent as this machine had the fanciest and most spirited animals yet
produced in the industry. This flamboyant interpretation characterized
Illions' style throughout the life of his company.
Many companies were switching to simpler animals and carving
machines, but Illions' creative talents and belief in the traditional
methods drove him to produce even more ornate horses than before.
Throughout the life of the company, Illions maintained strict control
over quality and design. The carving of faces and manes he reserved
for himself, therefore, the head was almost always the focal point of
Charles Carmel (circa 1914)
When Charles Carmel first opened his own factory, he borrowed
freely from the distinctive features of the animals of Illions, Looff,
and Stein and Goldstein. Some examples are the feathers, fish scale
blanket, bedroll, and tassels. Then, with some ideas of his own, he
captured the essence of a carousel horse in the expression, proportions
and flow of the mane. He went on to create what many consider to be
the classic Coney Island style horse.
Of all the Coney Island carvers, Carmel's creations were the most
realistic. This may be due to the proximity of Carmel's shop to the
stables of Prospect Park which offered a wide assortment of horses for
Unlike most of his competitors, Carmel disliked the use of glass
jewels, but ironically, many of his animals fell into the hands of M.
D. Borelli. Borelli was a frame maker who bought animals from Carmel,
then studded each animal with hundreds of jewels, sometimes
obliterating the carving.
The unusual batwing saddle, seen on some of Carmel's creations, is
a typical example of the creativity that this artisan was capable of
Carmel created horses exclusively for frame makers who would
construct whole machines and put their name on the finished product.
As far as is known, Carmel's name has never appeared on a carousel, nor
is there a signature horse (a horse carved with the initials or name of
the maker) existing.
Spillman Engineering (circa 1924) Carousel's Lead Horse!
Formerly in a partnership with the Herschell-Spillman Company,
Alfred and E. 0. Spillman reorganized in 1920, under the title of The
Spillman Engineering Corporation. They relied on many of the old
Herschell-Spillman Company designs. They created primarily simple
traveling rides, designing their animals to be easily lifted and
transported, but they also built several carousels designed with a
permanent location in mind. One of these was at Lincoln Park in Los
Angeles, California where it burned in 1976. Fortunately, they removed
one of the animals before the fire consumed the rest of carousel.
Fantasy Island's lead horse (the fanciest horse on the outside row) is
a faithful reproduction of that horse.
Philadelphia Toboggan Company
The Philadelphia Toboggan Company was originally formed in 1900 by
Henry Auchy and Chester Albright for the purpose of manufacturing
amusement rides. Mr. Auchy's desire to include carousels in their new
product line drove him to search out and hire some of the best carvers
available. After producing several experimental carousels, Auchy and
his partners decided to go into full scale production. The earlier
rather plain horses with sweet expressions were transformed into
larger, fancier creatures by 1910; and by 1914 they had developed into
more muscular, compact animals bearing ornate trappings. Their last
carousel, #89, was produced in 1934. Within several years all the
other companies had either gone out of business or were producing
simplistic, machine-carved animals.
Stein & Goldstein (circa 1912) - Fantasy Island's Logo
When Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein formed their partnership
they had a clear idea of the style they wanted to create. It was
defined by Long bodies with wide saddles, huge buckles, and deep relief
flowers. But probably the most distinctive traits are the Roman nose
and the almost Asian eyes that grace these beautiful animals. As with
several other contemporaries, Stein and Goldstein used fish scale
blankets, and lots of fringe.
Stein and Goldstein were among the few carvers to own and operate
most of the machines they produced. Because of this, their production
was limited to only 15 carousels between 1912 and 1925, when they
turned solely to operating. Full Stein and Goldstein machines are rare
today. Among those in operation, is the one in New York's Central Park
which contains some of the largest horses ever carved.
Fantasy Island's logo horse is typical of the craftsmanship for
which these two gentlemen were noted.