Herschell Carrousel Museum preserves vintage art | Information about antiquities and teaching history


Most history buffs like to wander around museums. However, the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, New York, takes its visitors around – and around and around. Housed in the former Herschell factory house, the museum primarily displays donated artifacts, including items from private collectors and other non-profit or for-profit organizations.

Ian Seppala, the museum’s executive director, said that when the museum is engaged in its open collection periods, it pays for “specific items that complement a collection”.

The three levels of the museum include old and historical artifacts of historical significance held in the collections area as well as an educational collection, which can be used for programs, and donated items that are used as decoration or offered for sale. in the gift shop.

The museum’s Roundhouse features a 1916 Allan Herschell Special No. 1 carousel that patrons can ride. Photo submitted

The museum houses a 1916 Allan Herschell Special No. 1 carousel, which visitors can ride. It is one of the first built by the Herschell company. The museum bought it in the 1980s.

“I’m not free to discuss what it cost, but it was a significant investment to get a working carousel that was built here,” Seppala said. “Being able to buy one is pretty rare.”

Only a few hundred pre-1970s carousels are still operating in North America. The museum features the 1916 Herschell Carousel in its rotunda, a structure that was historically built to test carousels before they were moved to their buyer’s site. Seppala is proud of the return of the 1916 Herschell Carousel to its home territory and the first place it ever turned.

“The horses were carved here, the horses were painted here, the engine and the gears were built here,” he said.


Driving a 1916 carousel is one of the activities available at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, New York. Photo submitted

Although the original Roundhouse collapsed in the 1980s due to heavy snowfall, the new one housing the 1916 Herschell is a replica and stands in the same location.

The museum’s Special Carousel No. 1 had been erected in two parks in Ontario, Canada until it was put into storage where it remained until the museum purchased it.

The museum also has an Armitage Herschell Co. silage cutter, produced by the first Allan Herschell company founded in the United States in the early 1870s, which produced steam-powered agricultural equipment. The date on the silage facer is 1872. The business operated until 1900. Allan Herschell then turned to creating amusement rides, particularly carousels, in the late 1870s to early 1880s.

The museum has 15,000 objects in its collection and displays about 25% to 30% at a time. A rotating exhibit remains on display for one year. This year’s exhibition presents the works of the sculpture classes of the museum’s historical sculpture classes. The museum also periodically changes its other exhibits.


Driving a 1916 carousel is one of the activities available at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, New York.

“Most museums only display about 10% of their objects,” Seppala said. “We are higher and we want to go even higher.”

Objects in the museum include musical organs, carousel horses, historical banknotes and ephemera from other places as well as items such as horsehair tails. Most of the largest exhibits are currently on display. Many of these items that are not on display need to be restored, are duplicates, or are difficult to view due to their small size.

Seppala said the dating of the carousel items is based on documentation and research in books.

“Herschell animals have a specific square-style face that is quite recognizable from others,” he said as an example of what to look for. “Learning (about) the specifics of what you are trying to collect is extremely important. In the rides, there is the Philadelphia style, the Coney Island style and the country fair style.

Herschell’s sculpted carousel horses are country fair style. This means that they are hardy, small in size, and able to be taken apart and reassembled as traveling rides.

Seppala also looks at the ears and nose to determine the time period of the horses. Early Herschell horses had elongated ears and flared nostrils. These styles changed as master carvers changed within the company.

“Materials are extremely important to note,” Seppala said. “The Herschells only used basswood and poplar wood. With all vintage carousel horses, you are looking for wear, like the connection between the shoulders and the neck. Herschell wooden animals do not use nails. It was all glue and joints.

But, some carnival owners could have fixed a broken leg with whatever was at hand, whether or not it was the proper glue or nails.


This father and daughter enjoy riding vintage carousel horses at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum. Photo submitted

Seppala seeks “coherence between animals that are together or inside the animal. Are all four legs nailed the same way? »

He also looks at photographs to compare the sculptures to other well-known and accredited carousel animals.

Herschell made over 40 different sculpted animals for carousels. The most famous “menagerie” animals include a dog, a boar, a rooster, a zebra and an ostrich. In horse variants, Herschell has created many different models, such as Stargazer, a horse that looks up, and Trojan Warhorse, which features a Mohawk-style mane and docked tail.

Seppala uses Google Alerts online to find new Herschell items for sale. He is looking for both sales and restorations. He also visits auction sites and interacts with carousel collectors on Facebook groups. He bases the value of the items he finds on the selling prices of similar items in the same condition.

Restoring a carousel item depends on its condition and rarity. Items that have already been repainted can be stripped and repainted to their original colors by its group of skilled volunteers, who have been trained in carousel preservation. The group also sculpted new parts to replace the missing ones. Seppala holds a master’s degree in museum studies and historic preservation.

Safe storage and display of wooden carousel animals depends on limiting ultraviolet light and keeping pests away. They should also limit touching objects, as too much contact can degrade the paint on the object. And, some of the original paint is lead-based.

The museum maintains constant temperature and humidity and stores the oldest exhibits in a controlled environment. Group organs can only be played if the area is at a certain level of humidity.

The organ is operated by scrolls of paper, which use binary code to tell the organ which notes and which instruments to sound. The museum has 11 of these organs, one from each company that made them in North Tonawanda. The museum has the only existing functioning Wurlitzer perforator. This allows the museum to make rolls for the organs of the Wurlitzer marching band.

Currently, the museum features five ‘kids’ rides from the 1950s, but plans to add more interactive exhibits in the future.


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