This is a question that is often debated. On one side is that fact that buying an antique carousel animal is denuding what's left of our American carousel legacy (down to about 150 operating carousels from the carousel heyday of about 20,000). Some feel that this is denying our children of their heritage and blotting out the history of the American carousel.
On the other hand, those who buy antique animals may in fact be saving them from total destruction through neglect. However it doesn't help a neglected, rotting carousel animal to be hung on a wall or pole until it completely falls apart. You wouldn't do that to a Picasso painting would you? Carousel animals are worth the expense and work of restoration. Then perhaps one day you'll be tempted to share your prized work of art with the children of your town by having it mounted on a beautiful carousel or another public space where it can be enjoyed by everyone.
Personally, I like the idea of finding abandoned carousel animals and restoring them, but am not as favorable to taking animals off operating carousels and selling them off. I know this happens mostly out of necessity as many towns with operating carousels have no clue about the treasure in their midst and will simply just decide to get rid of them. This is such a shame and probably the product of ignorance.
Beware of the fakes out there but if you actively seek out a good reproduction of a carousel horse, you will find there are plenty of carvers out there willing to accommodate you. Some even carve animals to your specifications so you could have a horse in the colors of your favorite football team or to match your living room. The cost of a new animal might be comparable to what you would pay for an antique animal, not including restoration costs, so it could be quite a deal!
You can also "do it yourself"! Some carvers will sell you a wooden carousel horse "top" that needs finishing and will help you finish and paint your own horse! That's a GREAT deal--what better personal touch could your carousel steed have than your own loving hands? For an even better deal, you can buy a resin-cast mold of a carousel horse and paint it yourself to look great! Here's a link for finding resin-cast molds!
Fiberglass or wood? Which carousel is better?
So your town or local shopping center is going to set up a carousel? Which one is better--a fiberglass carousel bought complete from the manufacturer or an old or newly built wooden carousel?
I love the idea of a community coming together to build their own unique carousel. Such machines exist in Missoula (MT), Salem (OR) and most recently, Decatur (IL). A community-built carousel can be the heart of a new downtown revitalization project or perhaps the centerpiece for new construction or a new park. On the other hand, if you want an older carousel but don't have the time or funds to build one, there are actually companies out there who will locate, operate and maintain a carousel on your city property in exchange for the gate receipts. That's not a bad deal either.
Is fiberglass bad? When no other carousel is around, fiberglass is GREAT! The nearest carousel to my home in Illinois was a fiberglass Barango carousel (built in South San Francisco, CA) that occupies a spot of honor in the food court at the local shopping mall. The animals are all fiberglass reproductions of Dentzel, Illions and Muller animals but the kids riding it don't know the difference. It is a blast to eat lunch there and watch the carousel go round and round, carrying dozens of kids yelling in delight. An extra treat is to see the wide eyes of children just taking their first ride, being held on the animal by a parent who was even more eager to get on the ride than the kids were!