Archive for May, 2010



I learned something very sad today.

And I’m sorry that I didn’t learn of it earlier or find out in the way I did.

I was browsing the web for dummy boards as I do every so often, partly to keep an eye on what’s new out there in the way of new makers of figures ( which is always great to see ) and partly to trawl the antique sites for new historic figures that may add a smidgeon of knowledge to the wadge of information I hold on dummy board in general, when I came across a reference to the death from cancer of Maggy Howard, last year.

She was a wonderful artist who is perhaps best known for her atmospheric pictures of Chillingham cattle. See Chillingham wild cattle

What few people knew was that she was a wonderful interpreter of the dummy board long before any one else ( including me ) had thought to re-visit this art form and pull it into the 20th century.

She will be sorely missed, not only because she was a thoroughly nice lady but because she was such a consummate artist willing to share her knowledge with those of similar persuasion.

And she lived up the road from me in Northamptonshire.

She allowed me access to her archives and I will just reproduce a few of her creations here on this blog to give you a taste of what she could do with a bit of plywood and some acrylics!

Perhaps the funniest and quirkiest dummy board she created was this

The Boars head

This was a double sided dummy board in true trompe l’oiel fashion. Some of the apples were real and some painted. Not easy to see which is which I have to say!

This one I call Maggy’s rabbit  though I think the actual creature went by the wonderful name of Wooster! 🙂


Maggy was famed for her animals and particularly her cats and this fire screen featured three beautiful Persians.

Mimi, Kiri and < ahem> Nosher? Which is which I wonder?

Dogs too were captured by her brush and here we have a very willing Collie who looks so lifelike you almost expect her to wag her tail! I think Maggy was a bit of a Mrs Noah at heart!

The Collie dog Nellie

She wasn’t averse to the odd pig either!

They look so content! A Saddleback and a Wiltshire White.

Her dummy boards are scattered far and wide across the world and they will most certainly be the ‘antique dummy board’ of the future. If you are lucky enough to own one…hang on to it…..they will be valuable one day….if you see one for sale…snap it up. You are unlikely to get another chance to buy, one of the best 20th century dummy boards made in this country…and let’s face it…there aren’t many good totally hand made modern ones anyway! Many that you see for sale have been airbrushed to a stencil and consequently were churned out as mass productions….like the early figures made in London at the end of the 17th beginning of the 18th centuries, by sign and coach painters. Only…they hadn’t the luxury of the ‘airbrush’! 🙂

I must say that I was very glad that I got to know ( though not really well enough ), Maggy. She was a very talented lady. She knew just a little about dummy boards…until she met me! 😉 but she was willing to listen and learn about them and I was happy to sit and natter for hours with her, about her commissions, some of which were quite comical and had a funny story attached to them.We didn’t paint in the same way or with the same materials….or even, in some cases, the same subjects but like me, she loved the old dummy boards with a passion few share.

The art of the Dummy Board was well served by Maggy Howard. I hope that my very little taster of what she did with just part of her artistic life, will serve as a monument to this thoroughly entertaining, up front and versatile artist.

Henry I have painted in miniature.


“IN reverse order..the winners are…..”



What you have all been waiting for  😉  … the results of the PastMastery competition.

From 187 entries in total 34 were correct in part and only 26 were completely correct.

Some of you got the pictures right but not the actual captions. Better luck next time.

So many of you got it right that I have decided to give a second and third prize too,

so the third name out of the hat was


The second name was


And..our overall winner is ( da dada da da da DAAAAA…)


Nina gets to choose what she would like to have from the figures I posted on the blog and her blog has gone into my blogroll. I will also put a special post out when she gets her prize, featuring her work.

Melanie will get a reproduction of the Oudry Fireboard and a piece on the post.

And Daisy will get a small dog and a bit on the post.

They will all be sent  off as soon as I get the addresses, in a response to my e mail, to the winners. When they arrive I’ll post any comments  here on the blog.

I am a bit disappointed that there were not more entries from the U.K. but never mind.


Man with barrel organ.


Number one was the back of the Street Musician c. 1780 5ft. This figure is at the V&A museum in London.

The Gardener...number one ...not two! Some of you got confused!


Number Two is the back of the Mid 18th century  Gardener from Wilberforce House Yorkshire 50 inches.

The front of Aaron...a dummy board designed for a church.


Number three is the back of Aaron…the caption read ” Saint Georgie as a dummy board? No actually it’s Aaron but it’s Biblical – it’ll do!”

The Saffron Walden Maid.... not my version though


Number four is the back of the Saffron Walden sweeping Maid c. 1730 5ft.

Lydiard Girl...again...not my copy!


Number five is the back of the early 19th century Lydiard Girl.

Mary from the Dairy right way round!


And Number six is the back of Mary from the Dairy, a life sized dummy board at Sulgrave Manor Northants. Actually a tapstress or barmaid.

Hope you all enjoyed that bit of fun…

The next competition will be probably at the end of the year… and I will be giving away…

A SPECIAL COMMISSIONED CHRISTMAS PIECE OF YOUR CHOICE. YES…That’s right…I will paint you a Christmas special….what ever you like. And it will arrive in time for you to use it to decorate your Christmas dollshouse or roombox. So KEEP reading the blog… the next competition requires you remember something important about dummy board figures! 😉

See….. I told you I would be testing you later…. 🙂

The Real Thing?


My last post prompted this response from Nina…in Canada.

What a fascinating history! I think he’s a 17th century painting but a 19th century dummy board :)

{ ah… but you can’t have it both ways…..!says I…tee hee }!

It’s interesting how each age feels free to cannibalize “vintage” pieces — those pieces that are old enough to look out of date or tacky but not old enough to be really valued …. I remember my Mum in the 1970s painting all kinds of very nice little oak pieces of furniture from around 1910-20 or so :(

A great debate has raged over the last century or so, in art history circles, about this type of canvas on board figure.
They have been ( are still are being- some of them are in quite well known collections. ) passed off as The Real thing, ie: figures made in the 17th century, mostly, I have to say through the ignorance of the dealers selling them. When you point out that they may not be, and why, most people are convinced…and act accordingly. Just a few hang onto the fact that the public will be as ignorant as they were and continue to market them as the oldest figures. They fetch higher prices of course! ;)
My personal opinion is that he is a 19th century dummy board…if he wasn’t intended as a dummy board when he was painted, personally I think he has to be 19th century. But I would still like to hear from anyone who can argue that they might be The Real Thing. Lively debate is a good thing for academic growth!  😉

Nina talks about the cannibalisation of Vintage items by the following generations . I know that it has been happening ever since a man could hold a chisel and wield a paintbrush. I have been reading the new book ‘Courtiers’ by Lucy Wortley. ( HEARTILY RECOMMENDED ) Even in the first half of the 18th century ( which I suppose we all think of as the epitome of Georgian style and it is said, most people in this country hanker after this era ) they felt compelled to update and renovate, to ‘make good’ ( as they thought ) and re-fashion.

We are, as a species, compelled to alter and ‘improve’ on what has gone before. It’s only really in the latter half of the 20th century that we began to question what we were doing and how we did it. Now the fashion is for consolidation not restoration or renovation. If a thing is broken, we tend to mend it in a way that it becomes obvious that it has been mended. We no longer work to touch up but to prevent further deterioration and when we do replace, we use materials or methods that make it obvious that it isn’t a repair that mimics the real thing so closely we are fooled into thinking it’s no repair at all!

It goes for dummy boards too. The figure of a seated sewer we looked at in the post Cats and Pigeons , the  early 18th century Temple Newsam Girl, has been re-mended for apparently, she had seen ancient damage to her sewing hand. Someone in history, no idea when or who, had repaired it badly and had given the poor girl six fingers! 🙂

Temple Newsam Girl c. 1700

She was repaired again recently. Her hand was replaced by a ‘new’ one painted in acrylics! I for one throw up my hands in horror as I do feel that this is an unnecessary desecration of an old dummy board, no better than the poor repair of the past. Why acrylics?

To show that it HAS been repaired….to allow future generations to work out that her hand is not The Real Thing.

Well really..Deary me….are they going to be so thick then?

Recently a friend has had an extension to her house. She has a large Victorian farmhouse and wanted to add a ‘garden room’ ( as you do ). Was she allowed to add it in the style of the rest of the house? Was she to be permitted to build it in brick…even in reclaimed Victorian brick?

Victorian brick...stone extras?


It had to be in a material totally divorced from its locality ( which has hundreds of very nice red brick Victorian properties. ) It has to be made in another material which was not only totally unsympathetic to the area but to the rest of the building. STONE!

And the planners reason for this?  So that in years to come, people will not believe that the extension is 19th century.

I ask you!? 🙂

So whilst we might decry the practices of the past…we are still at it…in a different sort of way!

I had an e mail the other week from Kirsty and Ian.

We have just returned from a holiday in Norway and found some dummy boards there. Are they really Norwegian? The lady in the Historic House said they were.We wondered if they were the real thing….because of what you have told us.

Nice to hear that people are keeping their eyes open.

And they kindly sent me some pictures.

The "Norwegian" children

Now where have you seen these before?

Don’t you think that they are very like some of the figures we have been examining in previous posts on our home grown dummy boards of children? This time the little boy has a rather fluffy dog!

Pair of mass produced figures at Trerice House a PastMastery miniature.

They may have ended up in a Norwegian country house but they are in fact English through and through.

The ‘mass produced’ by sign painters jobbies again. What was it I said?

That these are the most often seen dummy boards, that they were mass produced and that they found their way into collections all over from,

Hong Kong to Iceland ( A bit on the side )

So well done Kirsty and Ian. You were right. They are not Norwegian.

Another example of things not being The Real Thing. I would love to find an example of a Norwegian dummy board…a home grown one with provenance. Anyone out there know of one?

A lot of nonsense has been talked ( and committed to paper ) about this art form. Because there has been no real study ( and here I must point out that without the contribution that Dr. Clare Graham and her pamphlet, Dummy Boards and Chimney Boards published in the 19080’s by Shire, made to the world of art history, I would not have been able to make the ( forgive me…) leaps forward in the study of dummy boards that I have, ) there has been no real debate or exchange of ideas. The computer has changed all that.

So now we can do much more comparing and contrasting. People ( such as Kristy and Ian, Kim and my next commenter Phillipe ) can send me photos at the press of a button and every time this happens, the bag of knowledge gets a bit fatter, the photo album fills up and a lot of the silliness can be consigned to the bin!

Lastly Phillipe asks:

Are those cut out figures of trees and plants also real dummy boards ? ( I’ve translated from the French.)

If they are sufficiently trompe l’oeil, I suppose they are.

I think the orange tree is quite an old pattern. They were used in the 17th century of course though I don’t know  of any survivors. There are some 19th century ones though. There is a wonderful account of a dinner party held at Ham House in the 17th century where various bit of food were made as dummy boards. In this account we hear that pies and puddings were made out of pasteboard ( like cardboard ), that the table was decorated with pretend flower arrangements and small trees. Perhaps this is the sort of thing  we would find if we went back there?

Regency fruit basket c. 1800...PastMastery miniature 1 inch across. Before cutting out.

Of course…they would have to be a be bit bigger than this one….. 😉

This is the end of the answers to your questions for a while… keep ’em coming!

A question of belonging?


Goodness me….. my little competition is proving a great piece of fun. 🙂 ( scroll to the end for a link.)

Not all of you have got it right of course, but so many of you HAVE. The hat is filling up…..but not too many….

When I first started this blog I had no conception of how many people might be interested in dummy boards.

I knew, of course, from the reception my book This Quiet Life gets and how many folk e mail me with their finds or their acquisitions, that people are eager to know about them  and that a scholarly tome on the subject was long overdue.

But how many would follow me week in week out, feel that they wanted to belong to this blog…well I’m staggered! All for a bit of paint on a bit of wood!

And as for the  competition post….well…it’s amazing. The stats have gone st(r)atospheric!…But I am very surprised that those of you in Britain ( where I am ) are lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to entries…come on you lot!  😦

Another few days and we shall have a winner.

Meanwhile, in fits and starts, we shall tackle a few of the e mails I have had over the past few weeks. I’ll answer the questions and illustrate them with real dummy boards from my collection of photos, if I may.

Firstly, Kim asked about a figure she had seen in a window of an antique shop in London. She passes it every day on her way to work, was intrigued by it and sent me an address. I e mailed the shop…and got a picture.

You have seen this one before; as a bit of fun, I used it in my Morris Dancing post on May 1st ( or more properly April 30th.) morris-merrymaking-and-mayhem I call him the Pimlico Boy, for where he was found.

A young man…yes it is a boy in the costume of the early 17th century. Boys were dressed in skirts until they were about five or six, when they were said to be ‘breeched’ – right up until the 19th century and just poking into the 20th. My mother has a nice picture of my Grandfather dressed in a frilly frock like this!

Love the dog...where's his skirt?

An interesting account of the ‘breeching’ of young Frank, is to be found in a charming letter contained in the ‘Lives of the Norths’, a 16th century account of family life by Roger North.

“…Never had any bride that was to be drest upon her wedding night more hands about her….some the legs and some the arms, the taylor butt’ning and others putting on the sword…They are very fitt, everything and he looks taller and prettyer than in his petticoats.”

The Pimlico Boy

So here we have a young boy before he is breeched, looking rather cross I think, – well so would you! 😉  from about 1600.

He has the fashionable ‘kerchief’ dangling from his belt…they had just come into fashion, and a silver rattle is held in his left hand. He is wearing a very strange lumpy hat over a beautiful lace cap. These hats were very popular in Holland and the Low Countries in the 17th century and we often see young children wearing them in portraits and the peopled interiors of the school of Dutch artists known as Dutch genre paintings. The rims were padded so that if the child fell and bumped their head…they would bounce. ( Maybe we should bring them back)?

Here is a nice picture by Nicholas Maes of the very same type of hat!

What a well behaved child! .Recognise the lady? Yes a lacemaker

So that points us to a Dutch figure. The lace and the costume as a whole tells us this too.

There is however, at the bottom a little plaque which says that this is a young man called Wylber ( possibly ) Teltingh again(  possibly or Yeltingh..and very Dutch, ) and that he was born ( geboren ) in 1588!!!

Now throughout this blog I have been stressing, have I not, that the dummy board is a 17TH CENTURY ART FORM!

How can this be? 😉

There may be just a very few earlier figures. The form didn’t just arrive fully fledged. Someone had to have the idea and others had to improve on it over time.These people, as far as we know were the Dutch painters of the late 16th century and three-  Gysbrechts, Bisschop and Hoogstraten, spring to mind. ( I always remember them as  Grevious Bodily Harm!)

We know they were into trompe l’oiel,; we know because there are still pictures in various galleries in Holland by these artists and very clever they are too.

a Bisschop still life

and a Hoogstraten still life

Gysbrechts still life

There are several references too, to this triumvirate of painters, in contemporary  documents which say that they were known for making dummy boards in their lifetime. Have any survived? I have never seen any example where I can hold my hand to my heart and say…this is G, B  H! 😉

Ah well….. one just might turn up one day. That’s the thing about my speciality…it certainly is an open subject. In fact I’m on the track of one at the moment and will report as soon as I know anything.

So… is our young man The Real Thing…is he one of the very earliest dummy boards?

I’m sad to say he probably isn’t.WHY?

  1. He has a plaque and that makes us a bit nervous about him. The original dummy board would not have had such a thing and the Victorians, in particular, were very clever at trying to make us believe in their curious little labels, by aging them and writing….well often…nonsense on them! This plaque may be real…but read on…
  2. He is a canvas on wood figure. This rings a lot of alarm bells to a dummy board scholar! Why would a dummy board maker go to the trouble of making a board and then adding canvas to paint on…? Did he think perhaps that there would be less of a problem with warping of the table and consequently flaking of the surface paint? Probably not.
  3. If we look at our boy’s shape…it’s odd. Most early dummy boards are quite contained shapes. I think we have talked about sticky out bits before on this blog.  😉 The 17th century or if you like 16th century dummy board artist would have been much happier with a shape that wasn’t going to have bits lopped off by accident. Sticky out bits are dangerous….ruins yer design don’t y’ know….!
  4. They painted people.… not furniture. If you think about it…you don’t want half a bit of furniture. It destroys the trompe l’oiel effect As does the stand, which is monumental. All early dummy boards would have been painted straight down to the ground. ( ok …so it might be a later addition… but still …) and after all the main aim of the artist was to make you think that there was a real person standing there in front of you or on the edges of your vision. They were a visual joke…a deception.

So our little lad is probably a 19th century approximation of an early dummy board.

The painting, however is the real thing. The type of paint is correct…the style of painting is right BUT …. he has been cut out of a real 17th century painting and mounted as a dummy board, probably in the 19th century. Hard to say when really but this was the sort of cannibalism the Victorians indulged in…they weren’t very kind or thoughtful about ‘old stuff’ and just ploughed on regardless, I’m afraid.

Ah well… and there are quite a few of them about. I’ll feature some others in a  later post on this blog.

Now, to the burning question….does this make our little boy,  a 19th century dummy board….or is he a 17th century one?  Where does he belong?

Answers on a postcard please!

😉   …no I mean let me know your thoughts! Post a comment.

And talking of answers…..I have a competition running at the moment. For the post you need to read for the PastMastery competition ( those who have not yet entered…) click here all-back-to-front

answers to

It’s easy…promise!

All back to front!


This competition is now over. This post reveals the answers and the winners.

I asked a little while ago if anyone would be interested in a bit of fun…. to identify the dummy board…from the back!

It seems you would!

So here we have a  PastMastery competition!

Anyone, anywhere can enter and I shall pick the correct answer from the emails I receive. SO it’s a case of send in your answer to

and I will put all the correct ones in a hat and draw out a winner.

Shall we say that a week from this post I will announce who has won and if they have a blog or a website I will feature a link to it on this blog? This allows everyone, who wants to, to have a go regardless of time zone. Does that sound fair?


The winner may choose from the following:

The Oudry fireplace board smoking, girl peeling

The photographic dummy boards

Girl with blue gloves

These are all photographic reproductions of miniature 1/12th PastMastery figures which I have painted in oils on bass wood over the past few years. I’ll post the prize to you at my own expense, regardless of where you are!

They are made in exactly the same way as the hand painted ones, except that they are photographs mounted onto basswood. Of course, they don’t have the PastMastery seal as they are not originals. But I will send you a leaflet explaining the figure you have chosen, which if you were to buy a photo figure, let’s say at a show, you wouldn’t ordinarily get.

If you’d like a dog….please choose  two.

Now for the shapes you have to identify!

Here they are.

There are six figures to identify.




NUMBER FOUR This one is a bit of a puzzler...odd angle but familiar!



You will have seen photos of these full sized historic figures on the blog over the past three months…look through the posts… just have to imagine what they might be like if you turned them round and looked at them from the back! What I am looking for is what I call them in my captions on the various posts on the PastMastery blog. OK?

I haven’t made it too easy!


Look forward to seeing what you all think!


Black, white and colour


Two pieces of good news. I have sold The Boot! It will be off to a good home at the weekend. Its spell in the showcase at KDF, paid off!

And I have found something I needed to find and am pretty happy about it.

I know how you, my dummy board fancying public, love a detective story. The tale of my ‘discovering’  dummy boards is pretty amazing in itself and you have had some of my success stories here on this blog.

And now here again, we have a puzzle, a tale of mystery, of lost and then found and all by sheer serendipity! I’ll tell you about today’s find.

Years ago, when I was just beginning to have a glimmer of understanding of this strange and little known art form; when I’d got to the stage where I had got a goodly number of them under my belt and was starting to be able to get a handle, so to speak, on the different types, the ages of them, what they meant, I came across a brief  reference to an American magazine article about some dummy boards from the United States…only a tiny mention on one page mind you, in a British book on antiques.

Old books are such an essential part of research.

I sent to the British Library for the article. When it arrived, it was in black and white and in itself only two incomplete pages. This is always galling for the dummy board hunter as, you do so hope that what you are going to receive will be in glorious technicolour, enabling you to see every little detail, every hair of the dummy board dog, every pimple on the end of the aristocratic nose, every fashion plate’s flick of the artist’s brush.

Poo, you think…black and white and not a very good photo at that! What can we learn from that? More to the point…what have I paid for? 🙂

The text wasn’t terribly helpful either. It didn’t tell us where the dummy boards were, where they had been, or anything about them. There wasn’t even a date on the photocopy, for photocopy it was – and rather a poor one at that.

A brainwave and a little digging around in an Oxford library, eventually gave us a date for the Antiques magazine article.

And on careful inspection, we did see a tiny little line of printing to the side of the photo. Just a few dots really.

Thanks heavens for magnifying glasses.

Sherlock does it again....

The line of printing was a person’s name and a reference to an American Newspaper. I wonder, I thought, if this is the photographer?

An e-mail to the newspaper later and we find that the photo is very old indeed. No one knew anything about it at all except that it was out of copyright.

That is a Good Thing ( thanks to “1066 and all that” ) for a dummy board enthusiast, as so many photos nowadays are copyrighted and it costs an arm and a leg to obtain permission to publish. Everyone is out to make money. Few will let you have a photo for nothing, though, I have to say, I have been incredibly lucky, with many of my illustrations.

The original photo. Elizabeth the First and Sir Walter Raleigh

So it’s nice to know that we can have this black and white photo and use it, but how much better, as I have said, to have a colour one, with more detail.

And a colour one has turned up this very day!

The current owners of the dummy board pair ( for it’s this pair we spotted in that old document) have sold it recently at Christies  in New York and it has appeared online at their site. They always have such good photos. I was doing my usual scout round the web today and I found them. More to the point, I remembered the above black and white image and made the connection! The little old grey cells are still in fairly good working order then?

Don’t answer that!

SO here they are. The man, I think has been reversed in this photo.

Overcoming Gremlins is the post where you last saw them.

Liz and Walt...yes you have seen them Overcoming Gremlins

Christies say they are late 18th century or early 20th, 36 inches high, oil on wood and they are probably English…though  my thoughts are they may indeed be American and they look twentieth century.  Perhaps an analysis of the wood of the table could tell us if they are made on an English wood, or an American speciality and that would give us something to go on. More than this we don’t know. We do know they fetched $1250 ( at today’s rate about £850) which is quite a staggering amount for a late and small dummy board pair. The fact that they are small and quite well painted, probably has something to do with it as they could be easily accommodated in the modern home. No massive Baronial pile would be necessary to show them off well.

They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea….and they’re not mine. I prefer something with a bit more of a history. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Tudor/ Elizabethan dummy boards don’t exist. ( the age ended in 1603 ) From all the evidence we have to date, they are a 17th century phenomenon. If we had to call them anything, we might say the dummy board  is possibly Jacobean, ( early 17th century ) probably Carolean ( mid 17th century) and certainly William and Mary, ( end of the 17th century and just into the 18th. )

Dummy boards have been faked over the past one hundred years or so. These two would never pass for the real thing and so they would never even pass as fakes. They are simply a bit of fun. Maybe they were made for the theatre, as an advert.  If they are indeed English, maybe they were made for display in an upmarket Tea Shoppe, housed in an Elizabethan half timbered building. They may even have been, as was the Master Apothecary I mentioned in a recent post, a display in a museum or themed exhibition.

Whatever they were for…It’s nice to think someone liked them enough to pay so much for them.  😉

And it’s nice to see them come from black and white into the world of colour! I would never have guessed they were red!

Cats and Pigeons


Well, I am back from KDF and none the worse for wear. I survived the trip on the train with ‘The Boot’  ( to understand this read…a previous post… Letting Go ), in a bag . It is now sitting in the Showcase in  the Foyer of  the Town Hall in Kensington. If no one buys it, it will come home on Sunday.

The 1/24th scale boot house with tiny little children.

It was wonderful to see all my miniaturist friends and to look at all the brilliant things they  have been up to, over the  past year or so.  Long may they continue to be so creative.

I delivered Small Dog and the Lydiard Girl to  Sandra of Diminutive Dolls and she was thrilled. What is more, so was Small Dog ( PHEW!) People can be odd about their own portraits. We don’t always see ourselves as others do. But at least they won’t bite you if they think you have made them look like a walking  bathmat!

Anyway…Sandra will take over from here and we can  all watch the progress of the Lydiard Girl’s nursery on her blog. And the conversations that Small Dog and  my own Wire Haired Fox Terrier, Delphi Dog have been having on email,  behind our backs!

So, today we shall go back to dummy boards! And to another detective story.

I had an amazing piece of luck yesterday morning! Before I left, to speed off for my train, I  thought I  would  just take a quick peek at blog stats  to see what was what. It intrigued me that some people had been putting into the search engine the term ” Victorian dummy boards” and that they had arrived at  my blog. As  all of us know, who have been reading this blog, dummy boards are not exactly a  Victorian  spectacle.

So I did the same.

I do periodically look at the term Dummy Board Figures in Google images anyway.  It helps me to find new sites and old figures. And after putting in ‘Victorian dummy boards ‘  yesterday…I came  up with  a new figure I hadn’t seen before. Well….that’s a bit of a  porky! I have seen it!  But not this particular one.

The Sewing Lady- at Temple Newsam House Leeds U.K.

You will remember that I have said, probably several times, that some  figures were repeated over and over. { Yes I know I am a bit of a bore  😉 }

This one of  course is no more Victorian than I  am! It’s earlier…much earlier.

A long while back in my searching for original dummy boards, I came across a document written in 1976  that listed, in particular, two figures that were claiming to be early American dummy boards. What a find, I thought!

One dummy board that is in the collection for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, in Boston, Massachusetts. ( Historic New England ) was thought to be a named figure of someone who had actually lived, – unusual enough in itself. We know that there are very few absolutely kosher figures with cast iron identities….and this one was supposed to be one of those.

Now it seems there are two.

Where there are two…in my experience, there are likely to be, in the strange world of the dummy board figure, several others.

The figure I found in that document is purported to be that of a seated Mrs. Elisabeth Janvrin Adams( 1687-1757) of Portsmouth and Newington , New Hampshire. ( Two Early New England Dummy Boards ).
Tradition Janvrin-Adams Family lore states that when asked by an interested contemporary what she was sewing, Mrs Adams replied “ I am making a shift for Phil”. Phil, a diminutive for Phyllis was a popular name for a Negro servant, who we are told, was a member of the Adams household at the time.

Elisabeth Janvrin...or is it?

Now we wonder if this is all a bit of nonsense?

It looks now, as if this figure might be a stock  design.

Seated dummy board figures are quite a common pattern. We have several early ladies peeling apples { though some sources say they are peeling potatoes…well – really!} 🙂

seated pair c. 1700 Private Collection U.K. By kind permission of Sampson and Horne, London. The lady is peeling an apple, the man is smoking.

We have men smoking, as above or reading books. There are ladies and some children { yes amazingly – in those days they were seen and not heard remember: )  } just…well…sitting…. and there are others which seem to be servants…doing… things.

Seated girl c. 1700 Private Collection

And there are a few who are sewing.

So Elisabeth Janvrin may not be Elisabeth Janvrin at all.

The other interesting thing about this figure is the fact that recent microanalysis of the wood of the table ( you will recall this is the board that the figure is painted on), reveals that it is made from European Scots Pine. It was acquired for the Athenaeum in Portsmouth, Maine U.S.A. in the mid 19th century and came with a provenance from the Janvrin Adams’s home in Newington, New Hampshire. The lady’s first husband was known to have been a trans- Atlantic trader and it is said that he may have imported the figure directly from Europe. It has been suggested that she may have been painted on the remnant of a Scots pine shipping crate which an American artist has used as a medium.

Or, let’s face it, have we just got a straightforward English  or more likely Dutch import?

Has someone been telling porkies…or, at the very least…did someone in the past invent a very nice provenance for this figure?

Will we ever know?

Another interesting fact.

The face of the girl  at Temple Newsam House is one we see now and again in other dummy boards.

There are  several figures of seated peelers with this face. This has the same taste, doesn’t it, as one of my previous posts on that other group of girls…the Sweepers { see. Cleanliness is next to Godliness ) where a bunch of figures all have the same  face? It would be wonderful to find out who this girl was. Who was the model for this group of figures?

The face of a seated peeler..the same face?

NOW,  what I need is another piece of luck. I need to find another one like it. Then  I will be sure  that  what we  have  is another group of similar if not the same  figures, probably made  by the same person, from the same model and not a particular one off. Not Elisabeth Janvrin at all.  And not American..but Dutch!

😉 That should put the controversial  cat amongst the  art historical pigeons!

A dog and her girl.


At last, Small Dog and the Lydiard Girl which are destined for Sandra’s nursery, are finished. I will take them to the Kensington Dollshouse Festival with me today.

Here is a link to Sandra’s work in progress. She has come along way in a short time. Progress Report

When we last saw them, they looked like this…..

The Lydiard Girl and Small Dog...nearly there...

Now they are completely painted with a coat of PVA to protect them from the blade and have been cut out by Stephen, Dr. Guillotine himself! 🙂

Here is how it went. { Please excuse Stephen’s horribly earth-stained hands…he has been pond building all week! }

The First Cut

The first cut is horizontal into the white of the background wood. You are used to this by now. You know we cut off all the surplus first.

Then we have a vertical cut straight down to the base.

Cutting off the surplus

Dr.Guillotine strikes again...but heads WILL NOT roll I assure you.

The head is cut around.Dr. Guillotine is tempted but I have my beady eye on him! Easy so far.

The waist is indented. ( If  only it were this easy in real life to lose inches!)

Now we come to the tricky part of the right hand side. Ah…you thought it was all going to be plain sailing? Small Dog’s ears….you see?

They stick out…..not that I am saying that Small Dog has big sticky out ears! Perish the thought. She has already remonstrated with me ( and she has emailed to get Delphi  on her side ) about the fact I called her akin to a bathmat.  Of course I didn’t mean SHE was a bathmat…just that at that precise moment, my rendition of her looked like a bathmat ( keep digging Sue!) 😦   *sigh*

So I had better make it absolutely clear… Small Dog does not have sticky out ears….but her dummy board does!  ( phew )

The blade is run back and forth along the flat between Small Dog’s ears ( oh no I can see that will be construed as an insult too!) We shall have to be very careful here as there is a risk of chopping off her ears! They go across the grain and not with it.

The flat between Small Dog's delicate, perfectly proportioned, elegant ears! 😉

And down the side.

Why…you ask, did I paint in a background to have it chopped off? Has Dr. Guillotine gone mad?

No. I needed a darker background against which to put Small Dog, so that her lovely white wispy hair could be painted in. ( That should help to smooth her ruffled hairs….) We shall cut as close as possible to this to allow the detail to show up.

Now we cut the other side.

The neck is cut into ( ouch! )

And we indent the waist and the arm here.

Straight down to the base.

....nearly there....

The base is measured. Note the very precise and exact measuring that goes on in order for the bottom to be level. (LOL  ha….all done by eye!) And it is cut with a scalpel.

Such precision... 😉

The final cut


Now they are filed, sanded and bevelled. ( the edges are angled to reduce the width of the board upon which the painting is done, to help with the deception.)

The Lydiard Girl figure is an old one and so I am going to crackle varnish it to give it an aged appearance. I hope Small Dog doesn’t mind being aged…. I can see this is something else she might be cross about <sigh>. This involves my ‘secret recipe’ for aging things… ( if only I could do the same and have a recipe for “youngering”….things. I’d make a fortune! ) 🙂

Now I know what you are thinking! Crackle Varnish…PAH! that’s easy.

BUT…it’s not so easy to make the crackles ONE TWELFTH SIZE ,  <blow own trumpet>….well I have perfected a way of doing it. Say n’more.

Here is the finished article, painted, varnished and with a base, and sitting in my display house. They look very happy.

Ready for their new home...

I do hope that Small Dog approves of her dummy board. Even small entirely well bred ( and < ahem> drop dead gorgeous,)  dogs have very sharp teeth…..


See you at KDF…if she spares me…..

Double Entendre….moi…?


Now that we are having a bit of a rest between commissions ( not much though ) and have explored a bit more of the world of the full sized dummy board, it’s time we went back to one of the first figures we painted here on the blog. You remember the lovely Lace Maker by Caspar Netscher, we started some time ago? The finished figure has been with her new owner for a while now but I haven’t documented the actual end of her so we shall look at how we finished her off! 😉

This is how she looked when we last left her.

The lace maker - not quite finished

It’s wonderful how, on this picture, you can see the wood grain underneath the figure. That’s how I like them to look in real life. We must remember that the original dummy boards are made of wood and that if we are being true to our original form, we should also make sure that the miniature figures we make look as though they are made of wood too. A small point but an important one. No one wants a hand painted figure that looks as if it’s been printed on plastic!

Above:the painting is finished, she has her PVA layer { If you don’t comprehend this… and I’m not surprised..then go here – Coming a cropper } and is ready to cut…several steps forward of the first photo you see in this post . Note that the first approach is into the body of the wood through the largest area, towards her middle.

The first cut

The second cut into the middle

The first piece comes away. We aren’t cutting into the figure yet…just round her.

The first piece is off!

Now we are in a position to go around her left arm and over the lace she is making, close to…..

Round her knee...!

…over the knee and down. ( sounds a bit naughty doesn’t it?)

Down to the bottom!

Then we go up to her chin and cut a    ‘V’. The blade is turned as much as it can be, ( remember it’s rigid and won’t go round corners!)… {does sound rude!}

Into her false move...and it's curtains.... 🙂

Here it is being guided around her head. ( HEAVENS!)

Round her head...

Guiding it around her neck

The straight of her back is cut, and the tiny ‘v’ shape is indented into the nape of her neck. (phew!)

The next process involves making small adjustments to her back where the folds of her jacket are rumpled up. { I’m not surprised…  😉  }

Lastly, the base is cut straight with a knife.

The base is cut

I am generally terrible at making sure the base is straight. Stephen has his work cut out ( forgive the pun ) and I often have  to add a tiny bit here and there to make it even. Nowadays I tend to paint in too much base and Stephen is able to cut it off, without too much nonsense. 😉 …..Perhaps a reaction to the grumbling…”AND just  what am I supposed to do with this?” LOL

So here she is cut and in her rough state. The tiniest adjustments will be made with the file and sandpaper.

Here we are filing her face… no- I said FILING…..

We’ll have to make quite a steep bevel on her face otherwise she will look as if she has a double chin!

Round her tiny nose..

The bevel is filed and the whole thing is sanded. A layer of PVA is painted carefully onto the edges to prevent burring. She is now ready for the base to be added.

{<Aside.>Do you think it would be a fun idea to have a silly competition to ” identify the dummy board” from the back? They do look the strangest shapes sometimes…might think about offering a prize for the first correct answer….? }

Here she is painted  and complete with her PastMastery seal. This is to prove that she is a REAL  hand painted figure…. one of a kind. I’ve added a small drawing pin into the photo, so you can  judge her size a little better.

The finished Lacemaker.

In this photo she is busy in the Old Kitchen of my display house. You can see she has acquired company in the form of the miniature 19th century Springer Spaniel! It’s a big kitchen…she’d get lonely!

Busy at work.....

This is what my customer said when she had opened her package. She wrote to me;

I am so genuinely thrilled with my Dutch lady. I had no idea that such a tiny figure could look so real. She stands out marvelously from any background I set her against. What a very clever girl you are to get so much detail into such a small space.  I really must get a move on with her ‘home’. I can’t lag behind now!

Another satisfied customer!

Looks as if we might have another two commissions soon. We shall document them here for you to follow.

And I shall try not to make them sound too naughty……

Oh well… alright…if you insist! 😉

Double entendres…don’t you just love’em?

Tee Hee!

Next post? We shall see what has happened to Small Dog and her girl.

Cafés, Cottages and Chemists


It looks as if poor old René was delayed in the dust cloud and all the problems with aeroplanes! But at last here he is in his new home. His new owner has sent me a photo of the cafe. Very French!

The Black Cat Cafe.....somewhere in France

Nice to see him settled in and hard at work! Where are all the customers though? AH…they too are stuck in the dust cloud delays I expect 😉

The lady, who owns René has also sent me a few pictures of her very ingenious houses. They are made from the lids of old Singer sewing machine cases! How clever is that!

Here we have the Fisherman’s cottage

The fisherman's cottage

And then two views of the Gamekeeper’s cottage.

Inside and out. You can see they were once sewing machine boxes!

Very cosy

Very cosy indeed!

Thank you Sheree for sharing this with us!

Sheree is about to embark on making a Tudor house and whilst historic dummy boards, of course, didn’t exist at the time of the Tudors, it doesn’t matter what we do now. Sheree has asked us to make a dummy board for this new house, based on a picture of a Tudor person.

Did I say that Tudor dummy boards didn’t exist? Well, no, the actual form of the dummy board, as  all of us who have been reading this blog, know, is a 17th century invention. But there are a few ‘old ones’ around.

What about this one…..? Ah yes… made for the theatre no doubt in the 19th century.But not really Tudor.

This sort of commission is not new for us here at PastMastery. We made a 1/12th Apothecary last year for display in a bothy.  In the picture below ( at the end of this post)   he is shown on our stand at the front of the display house, with some of his wares. He comes from even further back in time….the 14th century.

The Master Apothecary full sized figure in situ. Such a wonderful light effect!

The Master Apothercary is an historical name for a medical person male or female who formulated and dispensed medicines  to physicians, surgeons and often patients themselves— a role now served by a pharmacist or a chemist.
The original figure is a late 20th century dummy board figure specially designed for an historical reconstruction of an Apothecary’s house at a museum of medieval life, in Stratford Upon Avon ,Warwickshire, England and painted on plywood in acrylic paints, this dummy board was very effective in the dark environment of the wattle and daub booth made to house him. We don’t know who painted him but it was obviously a competent artist for the depiction of his weathered face is very good indeed.
Sadly the museum is no longer functioning and the dummy board is now lost but I captured it on camera and it is part of the database of dummy boards I hold. Hopefully someone thought him nice enough to rescue and we hope he is happy in a new home…..somewhere.

This miniature version would be very at home in a medieval dollshouse, castle or bothy. Of course, he doesn’t have to be an apothecary, he might just be a cook selecting the herbs to flavour his latetst soup! 🙂

If I can get the ‘owner’ of our Master Apothecary to send me a picture of him in his new abode, I’ll post it here on the blog.

EVENING EDITIONread all about it!

I’ve just had a few more pictures of the ‘sewing machine house’ from Sheree and thought I would share them with you.

Here is another view of the Fisherman’s cottage. He is selling his catch from the little shop at the side of his house….and guess what? The fish are made by our very own AIM member, MAGS of Mags-nificent Miniatures.

The Fisherman's Rest

Here is what his house looks like inside.

The Fisherman's cottage close up

And…oh…René has some evening trade at last!

The Black cat cafe....with customers!