Remembering Dan Horenberger
By Sandy Lechtick
I met Dan Horenberger at an automaton auction in Beverly Hills five years ago. He was explaining the intracies of one of the clockwork mechanisms and seemed to really know his stuff. He was a warm, down to earth fellow. I soon learned he was the baranger expert who worked for John Daniel at Baranger Studio for two decades, and who had written the definitive book on Baranger Motions. I knew I had to get to know this guy!
Over the years, we compared notes on Barangers and his assistance helped me build my collection. He also kept his eyes and ears open on other mechanical advertising displays and automatons. However, he made it clear his true love- and station in life was fixing, building and brokering historic carousels, fairground organs. He had an international reputation.
A couple years after we met, he told me he was working on a very cool automaton and when it was available, he’d let me know. Months went by, I’d call him periodically, but not yet. Finally he called and offered me “The Mesmerizer”, a 1910 Decamps magician, one of John Daniel’s favorite automatons prominently displayed in his collection. John, a former professional magician had taken this automaton and his “mesmerized” assistant and displayed them in a large glass case, added eerie music and breathing and red velvet curtain from his magic act. Boy, was I excited and told Dan I’d call him the next day to come to his place- only about 30 minutes from my house. You can imagine how crest-fallen I was when he sent me an email that evening that one of the three people he had reached out to had made, a great offer and bought it- unseen. Dan told me he played no favorites but he who stepped up to the plate first and said “I’ll take it”, without haggling, would get it.
I was upset that he had sold it without giving me a chance, but learned a valuable lesson - when Dan Horenberger called with something cool at a reasonable price, it would not be around long- and I’d need to move quickly. As it turned out, I reached out to a friend (a prominent dealer) who I thought might know about the transaction. He said, “Sandy, how did you know I bought the piece, the ink is barely dry.” Eventually though, my enthusiasm won him over, and he sold it to me, albeit $1500 more than Dan offered it for sale!
Dan and I spoke a few weeks ago and he encouraged me to check out all the carousel animals at the Nov. 2016 Donnely auction near Chicago. Since I was attending the Nov. 2016 Chicagoland Antique, Advertising and Jukebox Show in St. Charles, I told him I’d hook up with him and learn more about the carousel animals. I was quite surprised when he did not show up. At these events, he was like a proud father. Two years previous, I spent time with him at the Donnely Auction where he had three or four complete carousels in the auction he had either worked on or was selling.
Two days later, I got a text that he had suddenly died at his computer.
Dan was a remarkable fellow. While he was a specialist in merry-go-rounds, he was quite mechanical and had experience in mechanical music, automations, baranger motions, carousels, clock-work mechanisms and more. He was a true expert. He was also a "go-to" guy on finding and brokering cool devices. I’ll miss him as a straight-shooter and fellow who was an important part of the history of much of what we collect.
Sandy Lechtick is a So. California collector of early 1900's coin-operated penny arcade machines, barangers and mechanical advertising window displays.