In recent years, carousel animals have become hot collectibles. Luckily there are many wonderful carvers out there recreating the masterful old carousel horse designs. However, there are also some unscrupulous people out there willing to try to pass off a bad reproduction as the real thing. Here are a few clues about separating the fakes from the fabulous!
Look at construction. Real carousel horses were usually constructed from basswood boards. They were created literally like a box, with a hollow underside to make them lighter and more manageable. The head and legs were added later. If the animal you're considering buying is made of SOLID wood, it is NOT a real carousel horse (or even a good reproduction)!
The pole goes through the horse in front of the saddle, not through the saddle.
A real animal has a very smooth finish. A rough carved look should be a huge warning sign that it is not an antique animal or even a good reproduction.
A "Coca-cola" base does not mean the horse is an antique. Metal mechanical horses of the type found as kiddie rides in department stores are still being made and sold. These might be found mounted on a "Coca cola" base and being sold as "antique" animals. They are NOT! They are generally made in the mold of a Spillman or Parker horse.
The old carvers usually didn't sign their work, so a signature can be a warning sign that the animal is not an original. Do not confuse signatures with company marks however. On original animals, you might find "M. C. Illions" on a hoof or "PTC" on a shield. These will usually be carved right into the animal, so they are NOT signatures, but company marks. The NEW carvers often DO sign their work however, so take that into account when examining the animal. A new reproduction, if well made, is not a bad thing. In fact, I've seen new reproductions by good carvers that are absolutely breathtaking.
Ebay and similar auction services have more fakes than real antique animals. Remember, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. A genuine antique carousel animal, even in bad shape, could cost thousands or even tens of thousands. But don't let the prevalence of unscrupulous sellers prevent you from paying a reasonable price for decor-quality imported reproductions. After all, those Indonesia-made fakes don't look ANYTHING like real carousel horses but would still probably make a great inexpensive dust-catcher in that little corner that needs something to liven it up. Just go into the transaction with your eyes open and check out the wholesale prices FIRST. Don't let the buyer try to tell you that he "found it hidden" in his uncle's barn/auntie's attic/grandpa's outhouse. He found it on the internet just like you can.
For more great information and photos of fakes, check out the Carousel Buyer's Guide at Carousels.com. It is a wonderful resource.