Sunday, July 22, 2012

Crandall's Acrobats, 1867

My birthday last month was one of my happiest ever: I receieved an antique toy that had long been on my "It's Hopeless" wish list, as I had only ever seen it in museums or an occasional high-end auction. But then, just a couple of weeks before the big event, we found one from an online toy dealer, and at a reasonable price.

The toy is now one of the oldest in my collection, and, I think, one of the most beautiful. Patented in 1867 and made throughout the 1870s, Crandall's Acrobats were created by Charles M. Crandall, born in 1833. His business was first located in Covington, Pennsylvania, and later moved to Waverly, New York. He became one of the preeminent American toymakers of the 19th century, specializing in wooden toys, and is now famed for his building blocks, jointed figures, and puzzles.

The Acrobats came in a wooden box with a paper label, which reads:

[Crandall's Building Blocks]
Crandall's Great Show,
Full of Fun and Frolic, and Most Brilliant in Costume.
Will exhibit at the house of the purchaser Afternoon and Evening.
Admission Free, Children Half-Price.
[Patented Feb. 5th, 1867]

Inside the box are pieces to make five acrobat figures, comprised of separate torsos, heads, legs and arms. The legs and arms feature hand painted details, while the torsos and heads have beautifully lithographed paper designs, all different, printed on each side of the figure, which doubles the number of combinations possible.

Here are close-ups of some of the heads:

Yes, clowns are scary...this one especially so.

The Acrobats feature one of Crandall's most innovative designs: the pieces have slotted sides that  allow them to be connected in a dove-tail fashion. This enabled children to assemble the figures in a variety of combinations.

When assembled, the acrobats stand about eight inches tall:

The set also came with several slotted bases, into which the acrobats could be inserted. Then children could use the enclosed booklet or their own creativity to build acrobatic pyramids.

My set still retained remnants of its original booklet, now in an incredibly fragile state.

I'm off to hold my first matinee, "admission free and children half-price."


  1. What a wonderful birthday present Tracy! I love reading about the history of yur toys. So informational. Glad to see you yesterday too! Hope you had a great weekend. Take care, Janice

  2. They are beautiful, and I'm so glad you finally got them. I do think they would work really well for a nightmare in a horror movie though.

  3. Hi Janice! Your antique show was a lot of fun, and it was great to see you and everyone!

    Hi Christine! Yep, they are a bit on the spooky side. I keep them securely in their box.

  4. Wow, these are wonderful. I learn so much here, love the history.

  5. You lucky lucky girl!!! Congrats Tracy! That's some fantastic find!
    Hope all is well!

  6. Hi Linda and Michelle! Glad you like 'em!

  7. Happy belated birthday Tracy. You get the best presents ever! This is a fantastic toy, never seen it before.

    1. Hi Lynn,

      Thanks! I searched for this toy for YEARS; couldn't believe it when I finally found one. It was a happy birthday, indeed.

  8. Wow! So glad you found these and were able to share them with us. They are awesome. I had no idea they were that tall until you mentioned it in one of the pics. I think (in all your spare time - Ha!) that you should use these for a stop-motion short film! A horror one of course, as Christine said!

  9. Hi Brian!

    I didn't realize how big they were either, until I actually held them. Somehow they seemed like they would be small toys, from the pictures I'd seen in books.

    And yes, absolutely they would make a great stop-motion horror film!

  10. Hi tracy!

    Will you let me know what you had to pay for this wonderful toy? I have one and am thinking of ebaying it. if youd prefer to keep it anonymous.

  11. Hi there,

    I'm afraid I don't remember what we paid for this, sorry! The price depends so much upon the condition, and the market at the time/place you sell. My best advice is to search for completed auction listings and see if anything comes up, or search completed eBay,, etc.

    1. Hi again, I found my purchasing info. on this toy. I'll email you.

  12. Hi Tracy. I read this post a while ago and been always jealous of your find. And boys will be boys, so I just had to have this!(haha)
    I recently found a set in remarkably the same condition as yours. I'm the happiest 37 year old guy in the world :)
    Here's a link to my photos:

    1. Hi! Glad you got a set of your own, and I'm sorry I made you feel jealous! You found a gorgeous set: the colors on yours are some of the brightest I've ever seen. You've got a beautiful and very interesting toy collection, gorgeously displayed. And I see we also share the Mego Spiderman and the Mickey Mouse lustre wear children's tea set.