1925 Zoo Werkstatten Rocking Horse


Against a background of German expressionism, and coinciding with the Bauhaus movement, Zoo Werkstatten of Munich created a unique style that still seems contemporary over 90 years later.

Was its post-modern design influenced by masks? – because this mid-1920s rocking horse’s face bears some similarity to Picasso’s horse in his 1937 Guernica painting, and Picasso explained that it was his study of African masks that led to his radical change of style.

c1925 Zoo Werkstatten Rocking Horse



HEIGHT: 27″ 

(Now sold)

According to the authorative book ‘The Rocking Horse: A History of Moving Toy Horses’, the distinctive ‘Zoo Werkstatten’ rocking horse draws on a 1906 British patent for a horse that features in the 1906 A.W Gamage catalogue. It is a rare horse, with two other known survivors in museums in Stockholm, Sweden and at the National Museum of Australia.

I’ve not found defininitive information about the history of ‘Zoo Werkstatten’ of Munich, the maker of this horse. But its title suggests that its workshops were at Munich Zoo. There had been various zoos established in Munich from 1770 onwards, but each subsequently closed. The first ‘Munich Zoo Hellabrunn’ opened in 1911. According to its website:

“Although the zoo survived the hardship of the First World War it had to close again in 1922. All the animals and mobile fixtures were sold. Munich had lost one of its attractions. In 1925 Kommerzienrat August Baumgartner founded a zoo committee within the ‘Hilfsbundes der Münchner Einwohnerschaft’ (‘Advocates for the inhabitants of Munich’) in order to open a new zoo. In 1928 the Munich Zoo opened its gates under the management of Heinz Heck. It was put on a solid financial basis with the foundation of the Munich Zoo Hellabrunn AG in 1929. At the same time it was the first Geo-zoo worldwide.”

I’ve found some similar wooden toys made by ‘Zoo Werkstatten’ whose age was given as 1925. The above information shows that Munich Zoo had closed between 1922 and 1928, so I believe that the ‘Zoo Werkstatten’ company used the premises for its workshops during that period. But I don’t yet know if ‘Zoo Werkstatten’ was a private concern or established by the zoo authorities in order to provide funding for the zoo grounds during its period of closure.

This rare rocking horse was completely restored in recent years. The Zoo Werkstatten horses in the Swedish and Australian museums are shown on bow rockers. The Swedish example has a replacement bow rocker, while the Australian one has the original bow rocker as illustrated in the Gamages catalogue, with small wheels underneath. It would have had reins, plus extra rope or a bar to link the horse head to the stand. Rocking the horse provided forward motion and pulling on the reins stopped it.

The stand on this example is known as a Marqua stand, patented by Phillip Marqua of Cincinnati in 1880. Its British patent dates from 1885. I’m not sure if the Marqua stand was on it from new, but it was certainly fitted to it 70 years ago, as the photo below shows the previous owner as a child on the rocking horse in 1948.













Ludwig Hohlwein in Munich and Lucian Bernhard in Berlin were the leading exponents of Germany’s new ‘Plakatstil’ – ‘poster-style’. This framed the main features with taut lines devoid of ornamentation to create a dynamic image. By 1925, Hohlwein had designed 3000 different advertisements and had become one of the best-known German commercial artist of his time. His zoo posters included Nurnberg, Berlin and Munich zoos.


National Museum of Australia photo with thanks to – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-10/spirited-exhibition/5733424

Munich Zoos history with thanks to – http://www.hellabrunn.de/en/about-hellabrunn/history

Ludwig Hohlwein with thanks to – http://www.iconofgraphics.com/ludwig-hohlwein