In 1972 Charlotte H. Dinger, paid a chance visit to a Philadelphia antiques shop, and walked out with the foundation of an unlikely collection, and an even less likely career. She came to be known as one of the worlds leading collectors, and foremost authorities on antique carousels and carousel art.
To hear her tell her story in later years, Mrs. Dinger had two transforming experiences in her life. The first occurred during a childhood visit to the old Olympic Park in Maplewood, NJ. She became so enchanted with the flamboyantly beautiful wooden horses, whirling around on the amusement parks carousel. She promptly announced to her parents that she wanted one of her own! Charlotte Dinger did come to realize her dream, and so much more. The carousel pictured here this web page, is the machine she did rebuild, own, and operate. The second experience came during a 1972 visit to the antique store, where she encountered an old and faded carousel horse. For all its neglect and disrepair it evoked a strong and powerful nostalgic recollection of her bright childhood fascination, so she paid $75 on the spot.
After bringing the many pieces of the small wooden horse home, she began stripping away the successive layers of thick paint. The obscured delicate carved features soon began to show. Her childhood fascination was well on the way to becoming a full-blown adult obsession.
Inspired by her initial purchase, Mrs. Dinger soon tracked down what she realized was a treasure trove of two dozen carousel horses. They were stacked like so much firewood in a Philadelphia warehouse. Their next destination was the Dinger's garage. By this time Charlotte Dinger was in full swing. Figures that had been stripped from thousands of carousels from the turn of the century were now recognized as valuable examples of neglected art. Charlotte Dinger was in the midst of rescuing many of these wonderful steeds.
Her husband Carl, only mildly irritated at the loss of space for the family cars, could hardly complain. He, too, was a collector, but then again his collection of baseball cards did not require repeated additions to the couple's home.
Over the next two decades Mrs. Dinger tracked down, bought and restored scores of horses, and other carousel figures. She became familiar with the history of the American carousel, from its beginnings in 1867 with the work of a German immigrant, Gustav Dentzel, until its decline after the introduction of the automobile, and its abrupt demise during the Depression of the 1930s.
In time she became an expert in the subtle distinctions in the work of such carousel masters as Charles Loof, (known for friendly, smiling steeds) Sol Stein and Harry Goldstein (creators of the Central Park Carousel.) and many other great carvers.
She helped found the American Carousel Society to spread the word among other collectors and carousel lovers. Later she became a consultant to Sothebys, and also started her own publishing company to produce the definitive coffee table book, " ART OF THE CAROUSEL ". When her collection threatened to outstrip the capacity of her home, she put together a traveling exhibition that was on display at museums across the country.
Other collectors, recognized that antique carousel figures were not merely curiosities, but examples of an important American folk art. The prices of choice specimens soared to astronomical levels, as much as $175,000 for a single carving. Since her death in 1996, The Charlotte Dinger Collection still endures, and can be seen in various traveling shows across the nation.
Anyone who hasnt seen some of this collection in person, may have caught a glimpse of a few of her prize pieces in the family mail. The United States Postal Service has twice used Mrs. Dinger's collection as the basis for an issue of commemorative stamps depicting carousel animals. Despite her interest in collecting individual carousel figures, Mrs. Dinger campaigned to keep the dwindling supply of working carousels intact. ( According to the American Carousel Society, which estimates there were once 3,000 to 6,000 carousels in the country, from the famous Flying Horses on Marthas Vineyard, where children still ride on the oldest American carousel, assembled in 1884, to the last carousels produced in the1920s.) There are now only 133 left. With all her instincts as a collector, and her appreciation of carousels and carousel art, she has preserved a legacy for the future. Charlotte Dinger did realized her childhood dream The Fairy Tale Experience Of Whirling Around On A Beautiful Carousel