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I gave a lecture last evening, to a local NADFAS group. ( National Association of Decorative Fine Art Societies ). And what a very nice lot of people they were!

I took along my replica full sized figures and my roombox ( a 17th century parlour ) to house those miniature figures which are based on the oldest dummy boards that you might find. And of course a few of my mini figures to people it and a few more besides.

Life sized PastMastery dummy board of Bonnie Prince Charlie's father as a boy.One I take to shows with me.

Click here to see the 17th century roombox with dummy board miniatures.

People were absolutely amazed ( they told me ) that dummy boards could be made so small for the dolls house. What a good idea!

I think so of course!  And so too, those of you who are, dear readers, mini fanciers,  do you….  😉

I gave my lecture on the origins, types and uses of dummy boards and illustrated it with a computer Powerpoint display and 60 photographs of this and that. Of course this lecture was aimed at people with a decorative arts interest and not a miniature one, but nevertheless, they appreciated the tinies; it’s a good way to get the point across without having to lug too many great big and heavy figures to and from the car!

PastMastery - Life sized take on the servant in Livery at the V&A in blue for a change. A heavy old dummy board to cart about!

Some points that came up after the lecture, during the part where I had invited questions from the floor, were:

The backs of the figures are so interesting. Why are there so many different types of stands? Why not just one way of making them stand up? What can these backs tell us about the figures?

I thought we might, in the light of the recent competition we ran, a few posts ago, All Back to Front do a feature on BACKS and particularly,  STANDS.

The back of a dummy board to the historical scholar, is just as interesting as the front….and in some cases can tell you more  about the origins and age of the figure than the front can.

In my study of this art form I have come across more than 800 figures now. I have seen over 200 of them with my own eyes and have been privileged to handle them. ( albeit with little gloves on, with some of them!)

I always look at the back and if I can’t see the figures in the flesh…or should that be the *wood*,  😉  I ask for a photo of the back.

I have made a list of the types of stands that we find.

*Those with hooks and eyes to be fixed to a wall with a rod and a small base or a bar along the bottom for balance or if they are made of very thick wood, no bar.
*Those with very heavy rebated bases, of wooden blocks where the feet are sunk in.
*Those with blocks behind the feet which act as balancers and props.
*Those with flat bases or bent metal rods and heavy sand bag type arrangements for weight or actual weights.
*Those with large bases and/or fins or props rather like the leg of an easel or folding fins.

All the figures I have ever seen have one or more of this type of stand. In other words any one of these groups may have the added ‘belt and braces’ of the other.

Now what we want to know is….which came first don’t we?

A tricky one!

The oldest figures we find, and by those I mean dummy boards that have a record somewhere  { no no….the police aren’t after them…  😉  } in an early inventory, a document , an advert, a letter , something like this.  Those which, by evidence of costume  ( not always reliable of course ) and paint type, might be considered 17th century, have a hook and eye system, or the remnants of one somewhere on the reverse.

This is often the only clue we get as to the age of a figure. A hole and a bit of metal sticking out! There are a few of those.

The system would work like this.

The dummy board would have a small bar at the very bottom on the reverse. The feet, on a small dark background or the dress, would be painted to the ground. This doesn’t destroy the trompe l’oeil effect and there would be a small eye screwed into the back of the figure at neck level ( usually ). OUCH!

To this eye, would be attached, a rod ( usually metal) and this would in turn be fixed by a hook to an eye which would be screwed into the wood panelling of the early room in which the figure was displayed.

And you thought that all those little holes in panels were woodworm. TUT!

Often, when looking at a dummy board back we can see the evidence of the lost hook and eye system. A gouge large enough to have housed a screw, a bit of metal still in it where it has broken off, evidence of the wear and tear that the metal bar creates on the varnished surface…this sort of thing.

The Sulgrave boy...and the hole in his head where the eye has been taken out ...rather brutally!

Sometimes we guess that there has been a hook and eye but can’t actually see it because there is a label ( this has happened to George  the Grenadier at Canons Ashby House in Northamptonshire U.K. ) stuck over it! How annoying!

George the Grenadier from Canon's Ashby c. 1700- looking cross because his hole has been covered up! 😉

Sometimes the subsequent stand covers it up. Equally annoying!

And sometimes someone has filled it in! MOST annoying!

But a keen pair of eyes and a magnifying glass might help to discover it.

This type of stand was unobtrusive and held the figure in front of the panelling at a distance that allowed it to throw good and realistic shadows. It did the job well.

A V&A figure known as Vanity. c.1630 The sort of figure with a hook and eye system.

Then along came a change in fashion. Wood was suddenly passé. Your panels are gone. You now have nice white plastered walls. What do you do? You can’t screw anything.
You can’t hold it upright any more!
NO this is NOT a job for VIAGRA!
p  l  e  a  s  e  😉
Dummy board manufacturers ( if this is the right term), had to be inventive. They decided that a large block behind the figure to weight it would be the right way to go. So some figures that had been around for a while had their hooks and eyes ripped out
( it was a brutish age !) and these were replaced with bars. Sometimes this was not quite as successful as hooks and eyes as the trompe l’oeil effect of some see through ( and by this I mean those who had the space between their legs cut out …OUCH again!  yes… a very brutal age) figures, was lost…like George.

George's feet and the bar visible through his ankles.

The wistful early 19th century Norwich dog

and the block behind. Strangers Hall Norwich Museum, Norfolk.
Time goes on again and these bases become a bit unsteady in some cases. The blocks are removed and the base is squeezed into a rebated block.

The very sweet, Sudeley Girl c.1630 Sudeley Castle Glos. with a *new* rebated stand.

It’s now not so important for the figure to be trompe l’oeil. We are at the stage in history when it wasn’t so easy or so much fun any more, to deceive people into thinking that the dummy board was a real person or animal. Perhaps we had just had new windows installed ( ah yes…the equivalent of the double glazing salesmen were around then too!) so more light was flooding into the house. Maybe we were a bit more prosperous and so we had knocked down a few walls to make bigger rooms and so dark corners weren’t so readily available in which to hide our visual joke. And of course, we could afford more and better candles or gas lighting.
Some of the figures we see have had an easel leg attached to the back or a fin like a triangle. These are much later and were basically so you could fold the leg or fin up and store the item when not displayed. You can see how some dummy board got folded up and stored in an attic and were forgotten about.

The easel leg of the 19th c. Zealand Girl. By kind permission of the owner.

The back of Elie the servant girl a PastMastery 4 ft figure. By kind permission of the owner.

Sometimes the figures were rather heavy ( especially if they were made of oak ) and so additional weight was needed to help to keep them upright. Lead weights were then added to the backs, some of them rather pretty with delicate engraving on them. We do wonder if they were designed for some other purpose and then were added as an afterthought, to a dummy board figure ?
And then there was the metal stand which I think we will find is a 19th century invention.The back of the very charming Thomas Wallace Esq. c. 1790 by kind permission of the owners.
Metal was becoming cheaper to make and fashion and so cheaper to buy. By the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th, the Industrial Revolution was well underway and folk could afford to add a new fangled  shaped iron bar to their dummy board, old or new.

The rather dishy Thomas Wallace c. 1790. and above his metal stand.

So there we are. Why dummy boards have so many differing types of stands.
And some, blessem’ have no stands at all!

LOOK! No stands....The propped up pig! V&A museum London 19th c.

I shall be away at the Wimborne Folk Festival in Dorset at the end of this week so there will be no more posts now till perhaps Tuesday of next week.

I am not going there to tootle my flootle with the morris men, though there will be many sides there, 40 odd in all I’m told, but am going as a spectator for a change.

I will take my pipes…just in case though….You never know..someone might need me…..  🙂

Tootling on May Day in Brackley town square.


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