Charlotte Heiss Dinger  (1930 - 1996)
by Bob Ritger

Visiting my aunt Charlotte was always fun when I was growing up.  Aunt Charlotte (actually my mom Lorayne Heiss's cousin) lived in Morristown, New Jersey while we lived in nearby Mendham.  A visit to aunt Charlotte's was like a visit to a toy museum as her house was full of carousel animals, antique toys and memorabilia.  I remember when her collection grew so large that she had to have an enormous barn built on her property just to house her acquisitions.  Charlotte was terrifically friendly to me and I'll always be grateful to her for taking time to answer my questions ranging from family genealogy to restoring wooden figures.  She helped me understand who was who in the Heiss family tree and welcomed me on several occasions when I visited her at Carousel World which she built and operated out in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

It is humbling to see her lasting imprint on American culture through her passion for the carousel.  Below I've included an obituary for Charlotte and a description of her book The Art of The Carousel.

 

Obituary:  In Memory of Charlotte Heiss Dinger - Author, Collector.

Charlotte Dinger , author and a founder of the American Carousel Society , died on Saturday , October 19 , 1996 from complications following a massive heart attack at the Morristown Memorial Hospital , Morristown , NJ. She was 66. Mrs. Dinger , a devoted collector and restorer of carousel figures , authored the book , Art of the Carousel in 1983. The book , now in it's sixth printing , is a nostalgic review of the historic development of the carousel and is a comprehensive guide for collectors , museums , galleries , and carousel enthusiasts. Charlotte also authored the chapter Carousel Animals for Time-Life's Encyclopedia of Collectibles. Charlotte was a founder , a member of the Board of Directors, and the first Chairman of the American Carousel Society. She also served on the Board of the New State Opera. She was a consultant to Sotheby's in New York City and was the Owner and President of Carousel Art., Inc., as well as the Executive Director of Carousel World in Lahaska, Pennsylvania where much of her carousel animal collection is exhibited.

Mrs. Dinger was born in East Orange, New Jersey, graduated from Millburn High School in 1947 and studied at Hobart and William Smith College. She is survived by her husband of 45 years, Carl W. Dinger Jr., two sons, Carl W. ( III ), and Jeff E. and two granddaughters, Ashley and Caleigh. A memorial service for friends in the memory of Charlotte will be held at Carousel World , Peddler's Village , Routes 202 and 263 , Lahaska , Pennsylvania , on Saturday , November 16 , 1996 at 2 : 00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Jonas Salk Institute, Institute Relations, 10010 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California, 92037 or the the American Carousel Society Charlotte Dinger Memorial Preservation Fund, 3845 Telegraph Road, Elkton, MD 21921-2442.

Art of the Carousel by Charlotte Dinger

About the Author: In 1972 Charlotte H. Dinger, paid a chance visit to a Philadelphia antiques shop, and walked out with the foundation of an unlikely collection, and an even less likely career. She came to be known as one of the worlds leading collectors, and foremost authorities on antique carousels and carousel art. To hear her tell her story in later years, Mrs. Dinger had two transforming experiences in her life. The first occurred during a childhood visit to the old Olympic Park in Maplewood, NJ. She became so enchanted with the flamboyantly beautiful wooden horses, whirling around on the amusement parkís carousel. She promptly announced to her parents that she wanted one of her own! Charlotte Dinger did come to realize her dream, and so much more.

The second experience came during a 1972 visit to the antiques store, where she encountered an old and faded carousel horse. For all its neglect and disrepair it evoked a strong and powerful nostalgic recollection of her bright childhood fascination, so she paid $75 on the spot. After bringing the many pieces of the small wooden horse home, she began stripping away the successive layers of thick paint . The obscured delicate carved features soon began to show. Her childhood fascination was well on the way to becoming a full-blown adult obsession. Inspired by her initial purchase, Mrs. Dinger soon tracked down what she realized was a treasure trove of two dozen carousel horses. They were stacked like so much firewood in a Philadelphia warehouse. Their next destination was the Dinger's garage. By this time Charlotte Dinger was in full swing. Figures that had been stripped from thousands of carousels from the turn of the century were now recognized as valuable examples of neglected art. Charlotte Dinger was in the midst of rescuing many of these wonderful steeds. Her husband Carl, only mildly irritated at the loss of space for the family cars, could hardly complain. He, too, was a collector, but then again his collection of baseball cards did not require repeated additions to the couple's home.

Over the next two decades Mrs. Dinger tracked down, bought and restored scores of horses, and other carousel figures. She became familiar with the history of the American carousel, from its beginnings in 1867 with the work of a German immigrant, Gustav Dentzel, until its decline after the introduction of the automobile, and its abrupt demise during the Depression of the 1930s. In time she became an expert in the subtle distinctions in the work of such carousel masters as Charles Loof, (known for friendly, smiling steeds) Sol Stein and Harry Goldstein (creators of the Central Park Carousel.) and many other great carvers. She helped found the American Carousel Society to spread t he word among other collectors and carousel lovers. Later she became a consultant to Sothebyís, a nd also started her own publishing company to produce the definitive coffee table book, Art of the Carousel. When her collection threatened to outstrip the capacity of her home, she put together a traveling exhibition that was on display at museums across the country. Other collectors, recognized that antique carousel figures were not merely curiosities, but examples of an important American folk art. The prices of choice specimens soared to astronomical levels, as much as $175,000 for a single carving.

Since her death in 1996, The Charlotte Dinger Collection still endures, and can be seen in various traveling shows across the nation. Anyone who hasnít seen some of this collection in person, may have caught a glimpse of a few of her prize pieces in the family mail. The United States Postal Service has twice used Mrs. Dinger's collection as the basis for an issue of commemorative stamps depicting carousel animals . Despite her interest in collecting individual carousel figures, Mrs. Dinger campaigned to keep the dwindling supply of working carousels intact. ( According to the American Carousel Society, which estimates there were once 3,000 to 6,000 carousels in the country, from the famous Flying Horses on Marthaís Vineyard, where children still ride on the oldest American carousel, assembled in 1884, to the last carousels produced in the 1920ís. ) There are now only 133 left. With all her instincts as a collector, and her appreciation of carousels and carousel art, she has preserved a legacy f or the future. Charlotte Dinger did realized her childhood dream - The Fairy Tale Experience Of Whirling Around On A Beautiful Carousel.

 


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