This lovely original Victorian rocking horse frolics in our sun lounge. It’s now for sale, and I’m including a copy of the rocking horse ‘bible’ seen with it in the photo below.
1890s G&J Lines Rocking Horse
Early design, with ears pointing forward and flared nostrils
Showing patent date of 29 January, 1880 on the base of the stand
I started learning about early rocking horses to help me understand more about early horse tricycles so I could assess their authenticity and age. Relevant points in common are how the head and ears are angled, facial expressions, how the hooves point, how the body is constructed. There is an important link with tricycles and pedal cars because one of the early rocking horse makers was G&J Lines. As ‘Lines Brothers’, the family started Tri-ang and became the biggest toy manufacturer in the world.
In the late 1890s they were making both rocking horses and horse tricycles in their London workshops. This example is one of the first G&J Lines rocking horse designs, showing the patent date of 29 January, 1880 on its base plank. Notable features of this model are its forward-pointing ears, flared nostrils and exposed teeth.
My friend Jan is a professional rocking horse restorer and she found this wonderfully preserved example still with its original family. Even more remarkable are the two photographs (below) showing it around the turn-of-the-century and again in the 1950s with different generations of the family’s children.
The horse was repainted some decades ago. Jan’s friend Debbie has patiently removed some of the overpaint to reveal the original paintwork underneath. Debbie provided me with some horse-hair for its mane and tail. My inclination is to leave the rest of the overpaint as it is, to illustrate how antique rocking horses can be painstakingly ‘un-restored’ back to original condition.
PATENTED JAN 29 1880
The above photos from THE ROCKING HORSE book by Patricia Mullins
In the Nineteenth Century, British toymaking was mainly carried out in small anonymous workshops and homes, with pieces made individually in people’s homes and sold on the streets as penny toys, or in small workshops, with more extravagant toys for the wealthy often being produced by jewelers, engineering companies, or individual craftsmen.
This meant that most local toymaking in the period was necessarily low-tech, using cloth, wood and other basic hand-craftable materials, with little or no mechanisation. An exception was lead-cast models, which (after a craftsman had sculpted the mould) could be used to churn out mass-produced castings that would then be hand-painted … but in general, toy companies were rare. Industrial toy production using metalworking techniques had started in earnest in Southern Germany, but with the German factories producing mass-produced metal toys for the international market, there wasn’t much point in UK companies even trying to enter that market until after WW1 (apart form Meccano Ltd, whose construction toy system was patented in 1901, and couldn’t be copied). One medium that could be mass-produced for toys was paper and card, With Benjamin Pollock’s toy theatres selling well, and Deans Rag Book Co starting in 1903 to extend the printing process to cope with cloth toys, books and kits.
G&J Lines, however, needed substantial workshop space to make full-size hand-carved wooden horses to sell to saddlers (before they branched out into making wooden rocking-horses), and with Allen & Co making prams, and the crossover encouraging the company to make wooden sit-on-toys with wheels, G&J Lines found themselves with a number of manufacturing sites dotted around London, apparently making them the largest toy manufacturing company in the UK. Nowadays, G&J Lines is best remembered for being the company that spawned Lines Bros, owners of Tri-ang.
George Lines retired in the 1890s, leaving his brother Joseph Lines to run the company, and Joseph groomed his four sons, Arthur, William, George and Walter, to eventually take over the company. This ‘next-generation’ plan faltered after World War One, when Walter, Arthur and George returned from the War with new ideas about manufacturing and markets. The appearance of early tanks on the battlefield had made it clear that the days of horse-based warfare were numbered, and it didn’t take much imagination to realise a possible parallel with the future of the family’s wooden-horse-based business. The War had been increasingly fought with industrially mass-produced guns and equipment, and the Brothers returned with a determination to move away from wooden hand carved horses towards metal wheeled toy vehicles. This idea apparently didn’t go down too well with Joseph, and three of the brothers, Arthur, Walter and Will, struck out on their own to found their new company, Lines Brothers, in 1919.
Lines Brothers, headed by Walter Lines (who had by this time become a well-respected figure in the toy industry in his own right) became a next-generation toy manufacturing company, combining the brothers’ in-depth knowledge of the toy industry with a determination to break away from some of the restrictive attitudes that had been in place in their father’s and uncle’s company. Lines Brothers became a huge company, largely based on the brothers’ experience of the day-to-day running of a toy business, and their experience of what had worked well (and what hadn’t worked!) at G&J. Lines Brothers went on to become the biggest toymaker in the UK, even including companies such as Meccano… but the experience that had built Lines Brothers had been largely acquired at G&J.
Without a viable ‘succession plan’, G&J Lines closed shortly after the death of Joseph Lines in 1931, and the company and its product lines, brand names and assets were then taken over by Lines Brothers, reestablishing the family business’ continuity, so that Joseph’s sons did (in a sense) end up running the business after all … but as a part of their own multinational company.
Having acquired their parent’s product lines, the brothers preserved and enlarged them, and a significant part of the new company’s catalogue was devoted to ranges of prams and ‘ride-on’ toys.
As a further nod to the company’s origins, when Lines Brothers set up a Canadian offshoot company in the 1940s, they called it Thistle, and used a logo with a red ‘Triang-style’ triangle, but with a central image of a thistle head in memory of the G&J Lines logo.
1898 PATTERN ROCKING HORSE & BICYCLE HORSE