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"Excelsior" pull toy

Object Name: Steamboat pull toy
Date: ca. 1870
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Medium: Iron, tin, paint
Dimensions: Overall: 14 x 21 x 7 in. (35.6 x 53.3 x 17.8 cm)
Place made, possibly: United States, Forestville
Place made, possibly: United States, Cromwell
Description: Fanciful representation (in tinned sheet iron) of side-wheel steamer; four tiered decks with windows and doors stencilled on sides in dark green; open deck on bottom level, near the bow, with steps leading to next deck; cast iron paddle wheels at center, paddle wheel cover rises to top of third level, decorated with lithograph illustration of golden-haired woman depicted in green dress with white collar, and hat with green feather and veil of lighter green, holding reins of white horse; wheat-sheaf motif stencilled at top of cover; decks trimmed with acanthus-leaf patterned strip; two pairs of smoke-stacks, taller pair at bow, crowned with acanthus-leaf decoration; wire suspended between smaller pair; gong suspended between larger pair; American flag (with irregular number of stars and stripes) mounted at stern.
Credit Line: Purchased from Elie Nadelman
Object Number: 1937.478
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Marks: Stencilled on each side, on paddle wheel covers, in brown: "EXCELSIOR"

Gallery Label:

This object was once part of the folk art collection of Elie Nadelman (1882-1946), the avant-garde sculptor. From 1924 to 1934, Nadelman's collection was displayed in his Museum of Folk Arts, located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The Historical Society purchased Nadelman's entire collection in 1937.

George W. Brown, the designer of this vessel, began his career as a clockmaker, adding toys to his repertoire in 1856. Brown’s pattern book, containing original toy designs rendered in watercolor, includes a sketch listed as "Giant riverboat ('Excelsior')." Penciled over the design for this ship is a large ‘X’, which may indicate that the toy was deemed too elaborate to be commercially viable. Indeed, it was never put into general production. The Nadelman example is one of only two “Excelsiors” known to have been made.

Designed to be used on dry land, the proportions and function of this boat are inconsistent with its real counterpart - there is no indication of an engine, or a walking-beam that would connect the smoke-stacks to a motive power.


The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman, Riverdale, NY


Edith F. Barenholtz, ed., The George Brown Toy Sketchbook (Princeton, NJ: The Pyne Press, 1971), no. 31.


"Winter Antiques Show," 7th Regiment National Guard Armory, New York, NY, January 25-February 2, 1986.

"Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman," Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, NM, September 6–November 29, 2015; New-York Historical Society, May 20–August 21, 2016; Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA, September 17–December 31, 2016.