All the fun of the fair is represented in Sworders’ March 7 auction of a famed fairground art collection

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Many of the exquisitely carved rarities are late-19th and 20th-century productions acquired over a 50-year period

A rare and important carved fairground carousel mount torso by C J Spooner
A rare and important carved fairground carousel mount torso by C J Spooner

STANSTED MOUNTFICHET, UK – Step right up! On March 7, the British auction Sworders will present the John Barker fairground art collection. The dazzling array of late-19th and early 20th-century antiques includes superbly carved carousel horses and panels, painted signs and other regalia.

Barker’s passion for carnival art harkens to his grandfather, who worked the fairgrounds in their golden era, The John Barker collection represents more than 50 years of collecting. As Barker recalls, he purchased his first carousel carving from a junk shop in Cookham, England, at the age of 14 and estimates that as much as 80% of his collection was acquired from US sources who exported some of their very best items to collectors from the 1960s to the 1990s.

After the success of selling a small portion of his collection at Sworders in 2018, John Barker has consigned 47 different fairground attractions to the March 7 sale, having kept around a dozen pieces to pass on to his grandchildren. “I can’t lie. Parting ways is a wrench, as each piece is exceptional and it’s been a lifelong passion finding and restoring them. However, I look forward to seeing how they are enjoyed by other collectors, knowing my name will always be connected to them.”

Among Barker’s favorite pieces in the sale is a torso mount from a famous ride created by the celebrated Burton-on-Trent (England) carver Charles Spooner. Particularly adept at catering to public taste, this model of Joseph Chamberlain wearing a tam-o’-shanter and monocle was part of very topical carousel of 12 centaurs carved with the heads of Boer War leaders, which debuted at the Neath Fair in Swansea (Wales) in September 1900.

Joseph Chamberlain, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, was not first choice with amusement park patrons, who preferred to ride models of Kitchener, Roberts, Baden-Powell or other “war heroes.” The Chamberlain effigy was quietly removed from the ride and replaced, and it is unlikely that Spooner ever carved another. The auction lot – the 2ft 5in (73cm) top half of the figure – is expected to bring £6,000-£8,000 ($7,590-$10,125).

Spooner produced a huge variety of animal figures for fairground roundabouts, ranging from the usual galloping horses to ostriches, bears, lions, donkeys, pigs, goats and turkeys. A couple of rarities in the sale are an “outside row” carving of an animated juvenile elephant wearing a colorful saddlecloth, estimate £7,000-£9,000 ($8,860-$11,390) and an ornate pair of juvenile “Dobby” horse carousel mounts, likely taken from a juvenile ride owned by WH Marshall & Sons of Bradford (England). 

There are several examples from the Bristol workshop of Arthur Anderson. The son of a woodcarver who had made figureheads for wooden ships, he turned out dozens of superb animals for fairs all over Britain. When he died in 1936, it is said that the classic English fairground horse died with him. A large, circa-1895 Anderson galloper, probably carved for Walter Sharples, whose initials appear to the saddle, is guided at £5,000-£7,000 ($6,325-$8,860); while a rare juvenile carousel mount in the form of a lion, with initials for the famed Worcestershire (England)-based showman Alfred Scarrott, is estimated at £3,000-£5,000 ($3,795-$6,325).

To view the fully illustrated catalog or sign up to bid, visit Sworders online at

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