I was thrilled to come across this very rare image of a privileged youngster surrounded by his fine toys! There are so many noteworthy toys shown in this amazing image – including a Billikin Doll and some stuffed animals that appear to be by Steiff. For this post, I want to focus on the wonderful, jointed, wooden animals seen in the image. The elephant, donkey, horse, and ladder all appear to be part of a Schoenhut Circus set!
According to Countryhome.com:
In 1872, German immigrant Albert Schoenhut began producing toy pianos and xylophones in a one-room workshop. But it was the appealing line of string-jointed, poseable Humpty Dumpty Circus animals that eventually brought the A. Schoenhut Company, a Philadelphia-based manufacturer, international success.
Schoenhut’s wooden circus had a long production run, from 1903 until 1935, which accounts for the variations in packaging, size, and finishing techniques used on the animals. The company began making just a few basic circus figures—the clown, donkey, and elephant—later adding more animals, performers, wheeled cages, and props, all made to fit under a canvas tent. Often the pieces didn’t come in boxes at all—you’d go to a toy counter and buy what was available. In other instances, several figures would come packaged in a cardboard box, or in the case of a big set, a wooden box with a colorful illustrated label.
The early animals had glass eyes and were hand-shaped and hand-painted. After World War I began, for reasons of economy, they switched to painted-on eyes and did less hand-shaping. In the 1920s, they came out with a reduced-size circus: a tent with 20 to 25 pieces. Toward the end of that decade, they downsized even more, offering single boxed pieces and a $1 set consisting of three miniature figures. The miniatures were produced only in 1929, and are incredibly rare.
Oldwoodtoys.com lists Schoenhut’s collection of circus figures to include:
A Lady Circus Rider, Lady Acrobat, Ringmaster, Gent Acrobat, Negro Dude (a minstrel), Chinese Acrobat, and a Lion Tamer. Animals included an Alligator, Brown Bear, Polar Bear, Buffalo, Bulldog, Burro, Arabian Camel, Bactrian Camel, Cat, Cow, Deer, Donkey, Elephant, Giraffe, Gazelle, Goat, Goose, Gorilla, Hippopotamus, Brown Horse, White horse, hyena, Kangaroo, Leopard, Lion, Monkey, Ostrich, Pig, Poodle, Rabbit, Rhinoceros, Sea Lion, Sheep, Tiger, Wolf, Zebra, and a Zebu.
What fun our little friend must have had with this circus set! I wonder how many additional circus characters were waiting inside his house on that sunny day?!
I have included a photo below of a great ad from 1928 showing a boy and girl playing with a later version of this circus!
If you’re interested in purchasing the original photo used for this post, it’s listed on EBay! Check the link to my items at the top of the page!