Something new….something old.

The weather in the last few days has lulled us into thinking it just might be Spring! This means it will be Morris season proper soon. Tomorrow, a day early, I will be adding a May Day post as of course, on the day itself I will be up with the lark and off to tootle my whistle at 5.30 a.m. for Brackley Morris men and won’t be at my computer.

Brackley men ...a very long time ago...some of them are still dancing 😉

Meanwhile, can I guide you over to my NEW BLOG? Whimsicals

Please do go and have a look. It’s been created by popular demand as I had originally no intention of doing anything like it. It’s a bit of fun and if you feel like contributing to a worthy cause ( the Katharine House Hospice in Banbury – ) you can contact me on PastMastery to ask for information on the pomanders. I can easily send you pictures in an e mail or I will post them on the Whimsicals blog! I can make almost any figure for any occasion in any colour way.

Here though on this blog…. let’s explore another dummy board. And since you all love them so much…let’s do another Dummy Detective Story!

You remember way back at the beginning of this blog when we were introducing the types of figures that we might see as we go about the world, we mentioned that very rare creature…. the Blackamoor. ( Just Hangin’ Around )

It’s a very old word and …… no I am not being rude in using it… is just a description of objects, be they porcelain, metal, plaster or wood, which are made in the form of the black person. They are usually boys and sometimes men. We often find them made as candle holders and these are often referred to as Blackamoors. ( Gueridons )

The first reference I can find, to a blackamoor or black boy dummy board is in Ben Jonson where he mentions them

( 15741637 ) in the early 17th century in his play ‘Bartholomew Fair ‘ ( Act 1, Scene i ) where he quotes “ I thought he would have run mad o’ the Black Boy in Bucklersbury (Tavern) that takes the scurvy roguy tobacco there.

“This Quiet Life” Susanne M. Newstead

There must have been earlier references but this is quite early for a dummy board.

The phrase “at the sign of the Blackamoor “ or “ at the sign of the black boy” began to be synonymous with the address of a tobacconist. This is probably because the tobacco plantations were staffed mainly by black slaves.

When one such shopkeeper in Philadelphia in the U.S. moved his premises he took out an advert in the newspaper where he mentions no new address by street or number but that he can be found “under the sign of the black boy”. They were also characteristic of Linen Drapers and Pewterers and this sort of painted figure was commonly placed outside coffee houses in the 17th century.

Are there any surviving ones?

Not many…in fact with my own eyes I have only seen two. One is 19th c. and not very worthy of the name Blackamoor but the other is early 17th century and is a wonderful example.

The 19th c. American Black Boy

And this is how I found the Oxfordshire Black Boy.

As it is said, they used to be placed outside pubs and so me (with my crafty mind ) 🙂 thought that I would see how many pubs there were that still had the name, The Black Boy, The Black man, The Blackamoor or The Black’s head. There were quite a few.

The new sign at the Black Boy in Headington Oxford. Pity it's not in keeping with the old one...but more PC I suppose?

As I was reading through an old document about one of these pubs which had been burnt down in the 1930’s I found that they had had a dummy board in an alcove above the front door. Was it rescued from the fire?

I crossed my fingers and rang them.

No it had perished.

BUT, the lady who ran the pub had seen one not far away.

I couldn’t believe it as it was a quarter of an hour’s drive away from where I lived!

I rang that pub….. also called the Black Boy. ” Do you have a dummy board ?” I asked.

At first the lady was very circumspect. No, they didn’t have a dummy board. ( AHA! I thought…she, for one, knows what I am on about…that is, in itself, unusual!) Most people just grin, stare or frown. The answer was too quick! 😉

I managed to convince her that I was a bone fide { or as DD says…Bony Fido 😉 } dummy board scholar and was not going to steal it!

IN the end I got an invitation to go and look. The lady had removed it from the public bar to her home as, the patrons were throwing darts at it and it was riddled with little holes, and was very yellowed with age…and nicotine!

The most perfect 4 foot black boy or Pompey as they were known…Black Princes, with his tobacco plug still in his hand. So this one had been made to advertise tobacco. Amazing that he was an advert for the stuff…and that he was covered in the resulting muck!

No I wasn’t allowed to take a photo… but the owner had a black and white one which, sadly, I’m barred from sharing with you here. I can’t tell you where he is either…. just in Private collection in Oxfordshire

A little while later I painted a miniature in oils ( now sold ) and so you can see his colours. He was quite delightful.

Sad that he is no longer on show…but in 1974 he was valued, because of his rarity, at £10,000. What would he be today? Nearer to 20K I suppose. Not really the sort of thing you want on display in a country pub!

Mind you it would be quite difficult to tuck him under your arm and make off with him.

Before you ask…..Yes…. I thought about it! 😉

2 Responses to “Something new….something old.”

  1. Angelique Miniatures Says:

    Such a lovely story and so interesting too. The costumes on the boards are very inspiring. It has been a while since I made my last little blackamoor boy but I’m definately thinking of it again now, having seen your post.

  2. pastmastery Says:

    Thanks Louise…. you must do another Blackamoor and when I next speak about them I can add your illustration to my blog!

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