Pull along toy horse
Skin-covered toys like this horse were the forerunners of the soft toys that emerged commercially in Europe in the late nineteenth century. Compared to timber, metal or plastic toy animals, those with a furry texture have long appealed to children, not only because of their feel but also because of their convincing portrayal of live animals. They closely resemble living animals yet withstand cuddling and torment without protest.
The earliest recorded toys covered with animal skin were toy horses in the late sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century skin-covered toy animals, particularly horses, were produced in France, Spain and Switzerland. The largest number were made in Germany, and skin-covered horses on rockers, platforms and wheels were exported to America, England, Russia, parts of the Orient and Australia from the 1870s to the 1930s. Just as the German skin horses had fine legs and neat heads, similar attention to detail was applied to harnessing; the harness on this toy horse is a good example. Many were made with removable saddles and bridles to teach children how to put them on. The horse's stance on its platform gives it the appearance of walking with a realistic asymmetrical gait.
By the early twentieth century imitation fur was being used, but skin-covered toy horses remained popular until the 1930s. They became uneconomical to produce after the Second World War when unborn calf skins became difficult to acquire and the wages of animal skinners increased.
Assistant Curator, Science and Industry, 2007