07/31/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
IN CHARLOTTE DINGER'S EARLIEST memories, the painted horses go round and round, the lights flash, the band-organ music plays. "I used to go to an amusement park in Maplewood, N.J.," she says. "They had one of the greatest carousels. I remember saying as a child, 'I want one of them.' "
Sometimes kids never give up. In 1972, Dinger, still determined in middle age, bought a carousel horse for $75. Now, more than 100 of her steeds are on exhibition at the Carousel World museum in Lahaska, Pa., near New Hope. And three are on a new series of 32-cent stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service.
Thanks to her collecting—and her 1983 hook Art of the Carousel—Dinger is considered an expert. She won't say how much her collection is worth (just as she won't reveal her age, other than to say she is in her 60s), but horses can sell for as much as $120,000—a big change from when Dinger started collecting. "People were just leaving them out in the yard to rot," she says.
Naturally, Dinger laments the passing of the carousels where her horses once galloped. "There are about 70 grand park carousels in the country," she says. "There might have been 500 in the old days."
Dinger and her husband, Carl, a retired manufacturing executive, have seen the collection take over their home in Morris County, N.J., even after 4,000 square feet of additions. Fortunately, Carl's own aspirations as a collector are modest. "My husband has baseball cards," says Dinger, "but that's all. I'm enough for one family."