dapple greyIs it dapple grey rocking horse or dappled grey rocking horse? It may even be dapple gray rocking horse or dappled gray rocking horse! Whichever it is (and I prefer 'dapple grey'), we have had a lasting love affair with the dapple rocking horse.
Georgian and early-Victorian dapples on rockers are the focus of much rocking horse nostalgia and a replica rocking horse of this type is always an eye catcher. The dapple grey rocking horse in the picture is not an original but a skilfully antiqued 'Victorian rocking horse' from The Kensington Rocking Horse Company.
what is a dapple grey?A dapple grey is a painted rocking horse with a characteristic pattern made by dappling or stippling. It would normally be a painted white rocking horse with a black or dark grey dappling, which could vary from a light and subtle to a strident pattern which appears to have been stencilled. In practice though, it is really a painting technique. It defines one of the classic rocking horses, probably the classic rocking horse and it has inspired many a rocking horse dream!
1851 and all that!Queen Victoria's visit to the Liverpool rocking horse works of J. Collinson in 1851 is widely quoted as being the defining moment in creating the British love affair with the painted dapple rocking horse.
Amongst rocking horse legends is the claim that Collinsons immediately ceased making all other rocking horse styles in favour of the dapple grey, which they continued to make until their eventual demise.
Certainly, it is reasonable to assume that Queen Victoria's choice of rocking horse will have been noted by a fashion-conscious British upper middle-class, who were the most likely to be rocking horse customers, but the dapple grey rocking horse had in fact been visible in the nurseries of the children of the aristocracy for many decades previously.
why dapple grey?Theories abound as to the reasons why the dapple grey was created in the first place, but the origin of what has become a rocking horse tradition remains a mystery.
Of course, the distinctive grey or white horse has always stood out from the crowd and caught our imagination. The racehorse, Desert Orchid, is an example from a decade ago. We also know that children respond more readily to colour contrast and striking patterns and simple spotted patterns have been a feature of many children's toys, including wheeled toy horses from their inception.
It seems most likely than dappling evolved as a compromise between the spotted horse and the more subtle markings of a real horse.
why paint rocking horses?There was a very practical reason why painted rocking horses were preferred: we look back at Victorian rocking horse making with a nostalgic eye. And rightly so! But it is easy to assume that the cabinet-making and woodworking techniques and rocking horse quality were better than was really the case. For the most part, these were pine rocking horses which were not necessarily made or finished to the highest standards by the rocking horse makers.
Before painting, the horse was smeared with gesso - an adhesive and filler based on gypsum - and this could be used to hide a multitude of rocking horse maker's sins!
(If you are considering buying a rocking horse today, one of the tips is to ask whether your chosen rocking horse maker is as keen to offer a polished hardwood finish as a painted rocking horse. You can expect the best rocking horse makers to be quite happy to offer both).
a friendly dapple grey?In my view, some Victorian rocking horses were fearsome! Some of them do not seem the stuff of rocking horse dreams, but might have prompted rocking horse nightmares! Gnashing teeth, glaring painted eyes and bold brilliant red ears do not fit my idea of a friendly rocking horse!
Nowadays, the best rocking horse makers have toned down the characterisitcs of their replica rocking horses through the use of glass eyes, for example. A fearsome rocking horse is the exception, though the heads of most modern dapple greys are still too liberally daubed with red paint for my taste. I have come to realise that I prefer a warmer and more diffident face on a rocking horse. The slogan, the friendly face of tradition is used by the Kensington Rocking Horse Company and I find its subtle and understated dapple grey rocking horses to be closest to my personal taste.