John Barker's passion for fairground horses, carvings and gypsy wagons started at a very young age, inspired by his grandfather, who was a gypsy, always talking about gallopers and gypsy wagons. Indeed, one of his grandfather's brothers, John Barker, also travelled with a set of gallopers, so you could say it is in his blood.
This seemed to ignite something in John to want to own the very finest pieces he could find, so it is no surprise that this developed into a major part of his life:
'I bought my first galloper horse at the age of fifteen, found in an antique shop in Cookham run by one of the Smart family. The horse was an outside row double-seater, carved by Spooner around 1920, and was from one of the Billy Smart's gallopers. I would always look for the very best quality galloper mounts and juvenile horses carved by Fredrick Savage, C J Spooner and Andersons, because of their skill to create these magical figures from wood and to almost breathe life into the figure; to create these wonderful works of art which are now from a long-lost past.'
John has now been collecting for forty-five years and has built up one of the finest collections of Fairground Art to exist in private hands:
'I particularly love juvenile menagerie figures, as they are smaller versions of the large horses and cockerels, and have an incredible charm to them…they also don’t need much space! I have taught myself over the years to decorate these masterpieces with gold leaf and signwriting enamels. I try to get each piece back to how it was when first decorated. Of course, many people say they should not be restored, as they like them in old rough paint, but in my opinion these things do not look right unless they have been fully stripped back of old paint and redecorated. All these things have been decorated by the showmen that operated the rides over and over again through the century since these things were introduced on to the rides, so to leave a beautiful galloper mount in layers of old show paint seems to me breaking with the one-hundred-year-old tradition of having these rides and mounts decorated to the highest standard, as the showmen that travelled these rides took great pride in their machines and wanted to give their customers an amazing experience. The only exception is, of course, if ever one is lucky enough to find a mount in original paint applied by the carver's workshops.'
A rare Anderson of Bristol juvenile fairground/carousel cockerel, c.1900. Estimate £1,500-2,000
The items for sale with Sworders are part of John's collection and these are all totally original and the very best of their type, being carved by Savage, Anderson, Spooner and Lines Bros. These incredible fairground mounts rarely come up for sale and are almost impossible to replace, with most of the collection having been brought back from the States and Europe, where most of the top quality pieces were sold during the 1960s to -1990s. They have all been lovingly restored by John, with the exception of the incredibly rare C J Spooner Centaur of General Redvers Buller, which he purchased from a collector in the States many years ago, having already been restored.
A rare C J Spooner fairground/carousel 'Boer War' centaur in the form of General Redvers Buller (1839-1908), c.1900. Estimate £5,000-8,000
John's passion for these antique mounts led him to write two books, 'Roundabout Relics', which is about these wonderful fairground pieces and their carvers, and 'Romany Relics', which is about gypsy wagons and the coachbuilders that made them. It is his hope that these pieces bring the new owners as much pleasure as they have brought to him. As he rightly says: 'these are masterpieces of art as much as any piece of fine antique furniture or old master's oil paintings; one just never tires of looking at them and marvelling at their incredible form and their long history at travelling fairs - the stories they could tell!'.
Each fairground figure for sale comes with a wallet containing photos of each piece prior to restoration and then showing it through the restoration process.
Fine Interiors - Tuesday 13 March
9 March 9am - 5pm
11 March 10am - 1pm
12 March 9am - 5pm
13 March from 9am