They say desire enters through the eye. I first saw the horse head on AuctionZip, while browsing upcoming country auctions. By the time I sat down in my reserved plastic folding chair for the all-day sale, I knew I had to have it. Five hours and $250 later, it was mine.
The life-size (yes, life size) cast iron horse head measures 28 inches long and weighs at least 100 pounds. Four holes in the lozenged back-plate are for masonry mounts. That and the rusty patina suggest that it spent a lot of years outdoors, though there are plenty of ways of faking age. Although deeply rusted, detailed modeling still shows through. It makes a statement, to say the least.
So what could it be? Well, it’s possible it’s just a reproduction for the design and decorator trade. But if it were genuine architectural salvage, here are a few possibilities.
- Emblem of a boucherie chevaline. Butcher shops specializing in horseflesh abounded into the early twentieth century and are still found western Europe, most notably France and Austria. The symbol of these butcher shops is a horse head mounted over the door. Most examples, however, are gilded zinc or tole, not the much heavier cast iron of this piece.
- Architectural element from a commercial stable or tack shop. Here in Warrenton where equestrian businesses flourish, variations on this idea are common. Nowadays these tack shop signs are usually fiberglass or plaster, but stone and iron examples were once common. A ca. 1900 cast iron horse head that once graced the facade of Manhattan’s Kauffman’s Saddlery is currently on the market for $35,000.
If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably American (or at least, not European) and designed to be mounted on the wall of a saddlery, farrier’s or livery stable, explaining both the subject and medium. But the number of almost identical examples on the internet makes me question its authenticity. In photographs, similar casting flaws appear around the mouth that make me wonder if all came from the same modern foundry.
So what’s it worth? Without any certain provenance there’s no way to assign the high values of the Kauffman piece or even a French butcher’s sign. But there are reliable comparables. At the time of this writing, there’s a nearly identical one on Ebay with a minimum opening bid of $499. Another is being offered by an architectural salvage company in Indianapolis for $935. And four more, also strikingly similar, are being sold by a design store in Phoenix for $2,800 each. Thus, whether it’s genuine or not, it has market value as a piece of decoration with a big look. If we settle on an average of the three most similar examples we get a number that seems about right. So that’s what I’m going with:
Cast iron horse head of unknown date and origin, possibly a saddler’s sign. Approximate value: $1,400.
Now let me put the question out there: what do you think it is and can you help us identify it with greater certainty?