Here are 2 old Schoenhut clowns with their chairs and an elephant from the Schoenhut Circus. Also pictured is a Schoenhut piano with much of the paint gone.
In 1872, German immigrant Albert Schoenhut began producing toy pianos and xylophones in a one-room workshop. But it was the appealing line of string-jointed, poseable Humpty Dumpty Circus animals that eventually brought the A. Schoenhut Company, a Philadelphia-based manufacturer, international success.
Schoenhut’s wooden circus had a long production run, from 1903 until 1935, which accounts for the variations in packaging, size, and finishing techniques used on the animals. The company began making just a few basic circus figures—the clown, donkey, and elephant—later adding more animals, performers, wheeled cages, and props, all made to fit under a canvas tent. Often the pieces didn’t come in boxes at all—you’d go to a toy counter and buy what was available. In other instances, several figures would come packaged in a cardboard box, or in the case of a big set, a wooden box with a colorful illustrated label.
The early animals had glass eyes and were hand-shaped and hand-painted. After World War I began, for reasons of economy, they switched to painted-on eyes and did less hand-shaping. In the 1920s, they came out with a reduced-size circus: a tent with 20 to 25 pieces. Toward the end of that decade, they downsized even more, offering single boxed pieces and a $1 set consisting of three miniature figures. The miniatures were produced only in 1929, and are incredibly rare.