Dolphins are mesmerizing to humans, as much for their perceived intelligence as for their otherworldly underwater lifestyle. In Greek mythology, Dolphins acted as messengers and guardians for the oceanic god Poseidon, who created the constellation Delphinus to thank his dolphin assistants for retrieving a favorite nymph. The god Dionysius was also said to have transformed a band of Etruscan pirates into helpful dolphins that would rescue endangered ships.

Unsurprisingly, Dolphins became symbols of protection and guidance for Greek and Roman sailors, and were thought to predict calm seas and fair weather. The animals were featured in murals, mosaics, and sculptures, like the central column of a fountain at Pompeii which depicts Cupid and a dolphin intertwined. The freshwater dolphins of the Ganges River in India were also bestowed with protective qualities through their association with Ganga Mata, a Hindu deity. Like the Greek goddess Aphrodite, Ganga is often shown being carried by a team of dolphins.

Because of their slender curving form, decorative dolphins have frequently been adapted for more prosaic duties, like holding candlesticks or lamps. Companies like Cambridge, Heisey, and Imperial Glass made many of these popular products, typically using a brightly-colored glass dolphin to support a light fixture on its upturned tail. Other dolphin figurines and decorative bowls were made by Fostoria, Tiffin, Westmoreland, Pilgrim, and New Martinsville Glass.

Around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, dolphin-shaped decanters were popular gifts from liquor companies to their clients, many of which were produced by the Legras St. Denis glassworks in France. Danish jewelry designer Georg Jensen worked many dolphins into his natural motifs on brooches or pendants, while costume jewelry masters at Coro glazed the swimming mammals in rhinestones. Dolphins became a favorite feature of English sterling silver producers as well, carefully balancing all manner of trays, bowls, and salt cellars on their wide tails.

Finally, while research suggests that dolphins are, in fact, very intelligent and use high-pitched frequencies to communicate underwater, the stereotype of a clever, communicative dolphin has also been perpetuated by pop-culture icons like Flipper. From 1963 to 1967, Flipper delighted film and television audiences by busting criminals and rescuing children from harm, generating a short run of collectible merchandise like lunch boxes and View-Master sets.


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National Carousel Association

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