Albert Schoenhut, a German immigrant, began producing piano toys in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1872. Thereafter, Schoenhut's toy production expanded to include dolls, dollhouses, blocks, and other wooden toys. In 1903, Schoenhut purchased the patent for a clown toy that would become one of the most popular American toys of all time. The first Humpty Dumpty Circus consisted of a clown, chair, and ladder. As the popularity of the circus toy increased, the company added new animals, personnel, and accessories.
Like all the toys the A. Schoenhut Company made and sold, the Humpty Dumpty Circus was commercially produced to compete in the marketplace. Its design expressed a unique artistic vision. The style of the whole is unmistakably by the same hand and is easily recognized as having been made by the A. Schoenhut Company. While variations occurred over the years – caused by demands dictated by popular taste or economic pressures – its basic style remained unchanged during the thirty-two years the circus was manufactured.
During the period when Schoenhut Company produced its Humpty Dumpty Circus toys, the management continually experimented with and reinvented uses for individual pieces. When popular taste or economic imperatives occasionally required a figure or animal be discontinued, the company dropped them. At other times successful solutions expanded the use of parts. This was why the Bandsmen also became the Safari Hunters in the Company’s “Teddy’s Adventures in Africa” toy. Boxes too, often functioned as more than mere containers. One clever conversion occurred when they were also used as the bottom of tents.
All animals and figures were made in at least two styles, and many in additional ones. The most obvious style changes occurred between the pre- and post 1918 period. Prior to 1918, most animals had glass eyes and hand shaped (tooled) heads. Early personnel from the pre-1918 period had two part heads; the face was made of a composition-type material and glued to a wooden lathe-turned base and neck. Around 1910, some personnel were provided with bisque heads. In 1918, as a consequence of WW I, Schoenhut lost their German suppliers of glass eyes and bisque heads. As a result the company began painting the eyes of animals previously made with glass eyes, and initiated the production of the one-part head performers. In the post 1918 period, all animals had hand painted or decaled eyes and molded heads, and all late personnel had one-part molded heads.
To help bolster slumping sales, in 1923 the company introduced their reduced size circus. Many, but not all personnel and animals were produced in a reduced size. Despite the success of this new line of circus toys, the company failed to survive the Depression and was out of business by 1935.
About These Toys
Combination Canvas Tent and Ring
Personnel, Animals and Accessories – 32 pieces
Humpty Dumpty Circus Packing Box
* Schoenhut circus toys are American folk art
- Hand tooled wood
- Hand painted
* Early large menagerie-style tent on a revolving dowel support
- Tent is a combination circus tent and circus ring
* Packing box for figures is wooden and unusual green color.
- Front cover labeled Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus
- Inside cover labeled “Teddy’s Adventures in Africa”(In 1912 Schoenhut stopped producing Teddy’s Adventures in Africa sets in green boxes. It is likely that Schoenhut retooled the remaining green boxes for the Humpty Dumpty Circus.)
* Tent, packing box, animals and circus personnel were made before 1918. Schoenhut lost its German suppliers of glass eyes and bisque heads in 1918 as a result of WWI.
- All animals have unbroken, glass eyes
- All clowns have early two-part heads and wooden cones under their hats
- Black Dude and Hobo have early two-part heads
- Ring Master and Lady Rider have bisque heads
* The rarest figures in this set are the poodle, and the goat