Auction takes a roundabout path Carousel horse collectors find auction bargains

Posted: June 08, 2003

Decked with jeweled armor and painted saddles, manes permanently flowing in oceanlike waves, about 50 carousel horses, chariots, and other circus collectibles filled the William Bunch Auction Gallery in Chadds Ford yesterday, waiting for new owners to buy them and take them home.

About 120 potential buyers milled about the hall, snapping photos, scribbling notes, and murmuring about how much the horses might bring.

"This is a monster crowd," said Steve Crescenze, a dealer from Welcome, Md., who restores the horses for a living and collects them on the side. "Maybe this is another indication that things are turning around."

But by noon, just an hour into the sale, auctioneer Gordon Riewe's expression looked as gloomy as the rain that poured down outside.

"All I can get is $8,000?" Riewe said to the audience, which packed the hall but seemed reluctant to bid on a 1915 painted dog valued between $9,000 and $11,000. "You would have paid twice that a couple of years ago. Ladies and gentlemen, you are all sleeping at the switch."

It was a far cry from the late '80s and early '90s, when the market was so hot that practically any carousel horse sparked a vicious bidding competition, and prices for rare horses soared into the six figures.

Prices have fallen since then.

The most expensive horse for bid at yesterday's auction, for example, sold for $87,900 in 1988, when the market was at its peak. Studded with round multicolored jewels, the 1908 "stander" (a horse that stands on three legs and does not bob up and down) was carved by Charles Carmel, a Coney Island carver known for flamboyant work. Auctioneers set its value between $30,000 and $40,000. It sold for $27,500 to Crescenze, the dealer from Maryland.

"That was a bargain," said Ken Weaver, Riewe's partner in the auction. But Weaver said he was "very happy" with the sale. "A lot of the more expensive horses were selling," he said, "and those are usually harder to sell."

Smaller items sold for anywhere from $10 for a set of carnival posters to $3,250 for a carved wooden lion's head. The carousel horses sold for $2,000 and up.

After the auction was over, Riewe said he was encouraged by the number of people who came. "It was a good auction," he said. "We had a lot of new people. I think there were some new buyers."

One new buyer was Ed Anyzek of Gloucester City, who spent $17,500 on a 1915 restored carousel horse to give to his wife, Barbara.

"It's payment for 47 years of marriage," he said.

Anyzek, who owns a plumbing, heating and fuel oil business, said he prefers car and truck auctions, but decided to go to the horse auction instead because of the weather. "I've never been to a horse auction like this, but from what I see I think they're cheap," he said.

Others left empty-handed.

Wes and Barbara Chan of Westminster, Md., have been attending such auctions for seven years, and have five carousel horses already - one in the family room, one in the living room, one in the bedroom, and two in the kitchen.

"We buy them because we like them," Wes Chan said.

Barbara Chan said she had always wanted her own carousel horse. She fell in love with them as a child, on visits to a small amusement park near her home in Baltimore.

The Chans didn't buy anything yesterday. They just didn't see one that they liked.

"I don't buy them to resell them," Barbara Chan said. "They have to speak to me."

Contact staff writer Leslie Pappas at 610-313-8125 or

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