Carving rocking horses has been a Stevenson family tradition for over 60 years. The quality of their workmanship is unquestionable, from the selection of the best kiln-dried timber (to prevent warping) and the standard of the joinery to the hand-stitched leather tack, the real horse hair for mane and tail, and realistic eyes. The insistence on perfection is clear, as each horse comes with a lifetime guarantee. Having made over 6,000 rocking horses to date, they are collected the world over.
Apart from their sheer beauty, the Stevenson horses have significant value because they’re unique: no two horses are the exactly same, each one bearing the individual mark and style of its maker. And new or old, rocking horses are appreciating assets, and like any work of art, are worth more when their provenance is clearly displayed. Every single horse that leaves Stevenson Brothers’ workshop is marked with a brass plaque denoting the name of the firm, the year of manufacture and the number of the horse. As your horse gets older and assumes the patina of age, this plaque will further increase its value.
Meet the Brothers…
Marc and Tony Stevenson, 49-year old fraternal twins who, in the little village of Bethersden (“The Rocking Horse Capital of the World”), some 50 miles southeast of London, are carrying on a 65-year-old family tradition begun in 1940 by their maternal uncle, James Bosworthick. The brothers promote their creations as “future antiques” built to last for generations.
Whatever their country of origin, “there is something magical about rocking horses that’s missing in today’s toys,” says Marc Stevenson. “A rocking horse frees a child’s imagination. A child can jump over the moon and be back in time for supper. He can soar across the Grand Canyon, chase down and capture the bad guys—and always win the race.” The appeal is not confined to children. Marc tells of a woman who ordered a custom-made rocking horse for her sister’s 84th birthday. “We wrapped it up in a white cloth and tied a red ribbon around it. When the woman opened it, I saw the years fall from her face.”
Marc Stevenson had earned a degree in graphic design, and Tony was a self-taught sculptor when they decided to go into business together in 1982. In retrospect, the partnership seemed inevitable. “Carpentry was in our genes,” says Marc. “My dad was a shipwright, and my uncle, James Bosworthick, was a cabinetmaker who had been crafting rocking horses and other wooden toys for 40 years.” When the pair decided to continue the family tradition, Marc recalls, “Uncle James seemed to be the key.”
But when the two young wanna-be entrepreneurs went to see their uncle, he brushed them off. “They had never done anything serious in their lives,” Bosworthick said not long ago over a glass of sherry at Hintlesham Hall, a 16th century manor house turned hotel. “I relented only after they had persisted for six weeks. In the end, I finally told them, ‘I’ll train one of you—for $1,500.’”
Tony, the sculptor, was chosen to attend his uncle’s impromptu apprenticeship. Six weeks later, he returned with enough knowledge to teach Marc the tricks of the trade. With a band saw dubbed Oliver, some mallets and chisels, and a load of English lime tree wood they picked up in a borrowed cattle truck, the brothers set up shop in a former RAF fighter shed located on their sister Leslie’s farm.
“We had rather lofty goals for 26-year-olds with almost no experience,” says Marc. “We wanted to be the best rocking horse makers in the world.” Working long hours, they glued together more than 30 blocks of wood to rough out the form of each horse. “Inside each blocked-up shape was a horse waiting to get out,” says Tony, who did most of the carving. Marc made bridles and saddles.
On October 20, 1982, their 26th birthday, the twins sold their first horse (numbered 001 on a brass plaque bearing the date and the Stevenson Brothers name) for $600. “We literally ran to the bank with the money,” Marc recalls.
Since then, the brothers have abandoned their uncle’s dowel and peg style to return to a Victorian method of mortise and tenon they feel is sturdier. Today, Stevenson Brothers is the largest producer of rocking horses in the world, turning out some 500 a year. They employ 18 workers in two administration buildings and a roomy workshop a mile down the road. Tony oversees the carvers; Marc directs promotion and sales, though when Christmas orders mount up, Marc takes his turn at the mallet and chisel as well.
And things can get hectic at any time. “Not long ago we had a rush order from Australia for six horses,” says Tony. “I had to make them so fast I carved the last one with his tongue hanging out.” One customer ordered a horse four years in advance. Marc asked: What’s the hurry? “My child’s just been born,” was the reply. “He’ll be ready by then.”