Archive for October, 2010

Post Early for Christmas!


It is now , as I type, only 8 weeks and 2 days to Christmas!


It creeps up on you like a nasty illness! ( Not that I think, actually, Christmas is anything like an illness, I love it!)

I have not really been unaware of its presence lately. Over on my other blog, Whimsicals I have been Christmassy for a while now, as indeed I must, when my predominant product is perfumed with orange and cinnamon, pomegranate and plum pudding fruits, warm gingerbread and spruce. ( Not together you understand!) 😉

So I thought we would have a little taster, just to remind us that Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat and that it would be very nice if a few people could put a penny or two in the impecunious miniaturist’s hat!

One might wonder, on a blog devoted to dummy boards, what I might find to talk about that is related to Christmas.I’ve often said that there is practically no area of life into which the dummy board maker, over the last 5 centuries or so, has not poked his paintbrush! This celebration is not sacrosanct.

Christmas, of course as we know it, is a relatively modern festivity. I suppose we can really say that it ‘took off’ at the end of the 19th beginning of the 20th century. It was at this time that the dummy board maker, working in his decorative art studio where he, for the most part turned out signs for shops, painted carriages for the wealthy, and possibly embellished the dainty furniture and Art Nouveau walls that were becoming  all the vogue at this time, turned his attention to producing work specifically geared to the decorative demands of the season.

Christmas is without doubt, all the fault of the Germans….or more properly the Germanic peoples. They were the ones, eons ago, who thought about decking the halls with boughs of holly, kissing under mistletoe ( though it may have more sinister origins actually ), praising the holly and the ivy ( full grown or otherwise ) and dragging in the Yule log. That gives us a clue. Yule.

Dragging in the Yule Log ( Chambers book of Days.)

If you are one for old manuscripts, boring dead old languages and bits of ‘arcaniaand you know that I am, you will know that Yule or Giuli was a festivity practised by the Ancient Anglo Saxons way back when, in the deep mid- winter, when frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron and water like a….. oh for goodness sake…..!  and it was originally, a celebration of the Mother……How interesting…..

And so the whole thing is still, more or less ( if you take out the wanton greed and commercialism of our modern age ) a Paean to motherhood, babies and all that soppy stuff. Nothing originally, of course to do with yer actual Christ. ( But that’s another story). 😉

So it’s to Germany and Austria that we must look for the Christmas dummy board.

IN a tiny town out west, in the U.S.A. ( where else? ) run by a wonderful chap called Brian Goddold, ( wonderful name too), is a CHRISTMASABILIA COLLECTION!

I kid you not.:)

He has scoured the globe for all ‘old’ things to do with Christmas. He has 17th century Thuringian balls ( well! )  😉 made of glass, real silver tinsel from the 18th century, boxes full of 19th century dolls made of celluloid, glittery shapes made from strung beads, ancient moth eaten paper chains and this…..

Oh Christmas Tree, oh Christmas Tree, How lovely are your branches. < ahem>

This is a 19th century dummy board of a Christmas tree, standing four feet high. ON it we see all the usual paraphernalia we would expect on a tree of this age. Little bells, wrapped sweets, cones, dolls, jesters or punches with the hump; fruit, stars, candles ( real of course ), wonderful pull along animals and the ubiquitous bauble.

It was made at the end of the 19th century in Nuremburg, in Germany’s Bavarian region for display in chocolate and confectioners shops. They would slide them into the window amongst all the goodies that the shop had to offer.Gorgeous cakes and pastries, delicately decorated chocolate boxes and  shaped edible creations in the form of angels, bells and snow topped trees.

The shops around the towns of Germany/Austria would purchase our Christmas Tree to be novel and different and they would push the boundaries of decorative decency, filling their windows to bursting point with every example of the chocolatier’s/confectioner’s art, in order to be The Best In Show. And yes, believe it or not, there were prizes for the best one.

This little tree is a bit of an enigma. On it , it clearly says, Merry Christmas. What would a German tree be doing with an English greeting?

We think it’s possible this one was made for the export market…but we have no idea where it went. It was bought at auction in 1999 and had been in the U.S. for a while then. Maybe it was made for the American market. What ever, it’s a very ( forgive me ) sweet thing!

A chocolate museum in Austria the sort of building that would house the dummy board Christmas Tree

This tree is pretty unique. I know of only one other and sadly, that was photographed in the 1980’s and has since disappeared.

The second Christmas tree, rather crudely cut from his very cluttered original background.

The same thing applies though. It was a window display, a eye catcher, a point of sale accessory.

Another interesting Winter dummy board, is the Mistletoe girl.

This four foot high figure was made also at the end of the 19th century and is a direct copy of that wonderful painting by John Everett Millais ” The Mistletoe Gatherer”. Many paintings, as you have heard before on this blog, have been transferred to the dummy board form, over time and this one lends itself perfectly.

The Mistletoe girl

Nothing is known about it, except that it is painted by a talented artist and copyist and it is in private collection in France where it has been for many years.

There she sits, in the snow, her sickle in hand, a bundle of mistletoe strapped to her back, waiting for….well we don’t really know do we? Is she waiting for a customer to come and buy a sprig or will she sell the whole bundle to one greengrocer? The choice is yours.

And you have quite a bit of choice if you are looking for a figure to decorate your house this Christmas too. Modern Christmas dummy boards abound. There are bunnies dressed as Santas, Santas in every colour you can imagine….including red. There are anthropomorphic creatures of every phylum with which you may prink and preen your parlour.

Modern Naive Santa

A more 'traditional looking' Santa

However, if you really want CLASS – in the same collection as above in the U.S. are two most beautiful 4ft. Father Christmases. These too were for coffee, confectioner’s, chocolate shops. These too were hand painted in exquisite detail in Nuremburg Germany in the 19th century.

The green St. Nicholas with his traditional companion, the hare.

Of course they are not the sugary sweet Santa Claus in red that we see everywhere at Christmastide. They are the more earthy, rustic, original St. Nicholases.( I’ll show you the brown one later in the season.)

I couldn’t resist painting them in miniature, as I have the first tree and the girl gathering mistletoe. I doubt I will get the opportunity to see the like again, in my lifetime. They are so rare.

If they were available as a full sized figure, and I had a couple of thousand pounds ( each!) lying about I would certainly buy them could I come across them in auction. It’s possible I  could of course copy them full sized….but somehow their history gives them a real charm  a modern copy would never have.

The mini figures are available from me, at a lot less than a thousand pounds  😉 and all the Christmas figures featured here will be on show at the Kensington Dollshouse Festival in London on the 4th December.

Please do pass by the stand. You may never get the opportunity to buy them again.

I’m giving up painting them in the New year.

More anon.

So it’s a definite case of Post Early For Christmas!



Bad News – Good News?


A very sad thing has happened. It has never happened to me before. Do you want the bad news, or the good news first?

I had an e mail yesterday from the daughter of the lady who has commissioned my Governess and child.

My commission is never to be delivered. The nursery into which they were to have been ensconced will never be finished. My creation is surplus to requirements.

My poor client has died!

Well…I knew she was elderly but according to her daughter Margaret, she didn’t quite expect to be called that miniature mansion in the sky quite yet.

So there is no going back…nothing for it but to declare that my Governess and child are homeless.  😦

My client did thoughtfully send me a deposit, which I must say I require from all my commissioners, be they large dummy boards, little ones, mini pictures or full sized ones. Margaret will not require this sum of money to be returned, she tells me. She is not a miniature fancier. She has no interest in dolls houses or their contents. One thing is certain, my double dummy board will not be required to swell this particular collection and I have no idea what will happen to all my client’s mini bits and bobs.

So I will have to put my pair on sale at Kensington Dollshouse Festival on December 4th. And since I have been paid for a good part of the work I have done, I will be able to offer this dummy board to the masses at a reduced price!

Have a look at:

All in the Stars

for a look at the figure as it is at the moment. There is a bit more work to go on yet. I’ll post a picture when it’s complete.

BUT there is Good News- if anyone here is after a *one off * Georgian Governess and a young boy… speak now…or forever hold thy peace.

This dummy board can be had for An Even Better Price to readers of this blog. E mail me from

Some good may come out of the bad.


The Fashion for Fripperies.


This is a question, posted on my website contact page, which turned up in my inbox a little while ago.

Dummy boards are quite old aren’t they? I haven’t seen all that many but those I have seen don’t seem to be quite as knocked about as I think they should be, given the fact that they have been trundled from here to there. Why? Are they fakes?


Definite fakes?


Now this is a very interesting question.

Firstly, the gentleman asking the question is an antiques dealer and has seen just a few in his career. He is also in America, where really old dummy boards, ie: those that are 17th and early 18th century are quite rare.

Most dummy boards circulating in the auctions of the United States are 19th century imports from Europe or are American copies of 19th century figures. Those that are really old tend to be in collections of museums which hang onto them. Some have been sold out of those collections lately but few are really significant historically. The exception to this might be the pairs of late 17th/early 18th century children figures which we have talked about before. These were made in London by sign and coach painters in the area known as Saffron Hill, where these artisans collected and are what we might call nowadays, mass produced. ( As much as anything not made by machine can be.) 😉 We have spoken about these before in A Bit on the Side.

They are the most commonly found dummy board figures of all and are represented in practically every country where we find this art form.


late 17th/ early 18th c. boy at Forde Abbey Dorset.


There are, as there must be, a few fakes about. They were quite commonly produced in the late 19th/early 20th century when the fashion for this rather, what might be called, esoteric artifact became a little more widespread.

People were becoming more affluent and had more disposable income than heretofore. In order to beautify their homes they wanted to forge a closer connection with the past ( think William Morris and his cronies,) and there was a fashion for harking back to the past.Quite a few small figures were produced at this time which were most certainly intended to deceive the purchaser into thinking they were buying the real thing, the real 17th century McCoy! You would be no one unless you had a few antiques dotted about. Even in a rather modest home.

So yes….to answer the question, some of those figures you have seen Bill, might be fakes.

A pair of small children from the 17th century, made between let’s say 1680 and 1720 might fetch £3000 – £4000 today at auction ( depending on who is there to bid, of course ). If you could churn these out and convince people they were the real thing you would be, as they say, quids in! It was no different in the past.


Little girl end of the 17th beginning of the 18th century. Forde Abbey Dorset.


Now to the problem of condition. Bill is quite right when he says that some of them don’t look as if they have ” been around a bit”.

The other thing our 19th century ancestors were good at was Restoration, with a capital R!

Many conservators now ( note the  c. word), spend hours undoing the damage that our well meaning but rather hubristic forefathers did, to buildings, antiques and textiles for example and decorative items.

Now we tend to CONSERVE things. In the past they mended them, made them good, put back that which was missing and ‘tarted things up’. 😉 IN some cases they changed the thing beyond all recognition!

Art conservation is the preservation of antiquities for the future. This includes the examination and documentation of items, some treatment and preventative care, all the while supported by research and education. The conservator will discover the causes of any deterioration and will try to prevent further trouble. The work done is generally reversible.

Restoration involves repairing, cleaning and sometimes an informed reconstruction of the work. The most common task today, of restorers, for example, is the removal of accretions from sculptures or paintings. Restoration tries to bring the artifact back to what we think it might have looked like when new. The major problem here is that there may be differing  views on what we think the artifact is supposed to look like, and  inappropriate restoration may adversely affect the item’s long-term preservation.

Many dummy boards have been restored. Some have been completely overpainted. And this is why when we look at them it’s sometimes  difficult to tell if they are the real thing or not, if they are historic or not.

I hope this answers your question Bill.

Let’s go a little further. There is a fashion at the moment, for Vintage. I’ve touched on it before in…Shabby Chic and said how I deplore it. Rusty old garden chairs, scarred wooden furniture, items that really belong in the garden shed, torn books or paper items, old boxes, crates and jam jars, chipped enamel ware and faded fabrics are de rigueur in the fashionable home of the moment. I truly cannot understand it.

If I have something that I adore which has seen better days, I would keep it…yes…but I wouldn’t put it on show to draw attention to the fact that I hadn’t ( or my ancestors hadn’t ) looked after it very well.

And some things belong out of sight. Generally those things worth keeping, are and have been, looked after.

We do have, we are lucky, many fine antique items which adorn our home. I look after them. I cosset them. I polish. I handle carefully ( yes I DO use my 18th century glass) and if something is damaged I get an expert to look at it and either conserve it or restore it properly, if I am unable to do it myself. {Before you ask……no I don’t own any historic dummy boards. They are far too expensive for me. I wish I did. 😉 }

If I did own an old dummy board, would I get it Restored?

I think I would. I don’t think I could live with an item quite as distressed as this….


Soldier dummy board possibly mid to late 19th c. Thanks to Malcolm Gliksten


But I would make sure that it was obvious it had been restored, to the right eye. I would most certainly do something with the two from Forde Abbey ( above ), for example …they are so sweet.

Homespun style is not my thing. I am old fashioned and I like a thing to look as if it is well cared for, not well used; I like it to have been carefully designed and skilfully executed, not look like something a four year old could have come up with. Simplicity is all very well…but true simplicity is deceivingly clever and there are few fashionably decorative things around today which could be dignified with this epithet.

If I see one more hessian sack cut up and turned into one of these silly hanging, marginally dove shaped, button for eyes, badly sewn creations for an equally silly price…..I will scream! *What skill in that eh? It’s not even as if they are novel. They are everywhere.

If I was trying to find something a bit different from an online gift shop, I would be hard pressed. They are all the same…..We are all supposed to have pretty, pretty homes, in whites and pastel colours ( not very practical with dogs and children), with twee little fabrics and boudoirs for bedrooms ( my husband might have something to say about that )! We should all have open shelved kitchens with bric a brac on every shelf, edged with pretty, pretty lacy wotnots, ( again I think Stephen’s nerves might be a bit frayed by that  feminine touch,) forgetting that the reason we all developed doors on our kitchen cupboards was to keep out flies and dust!

Oh dear…I won’t go on….

I’ll stick to my dummy boards….. they at least were laboured over ( generally ) by skillful craftsmen who knew their job, had served an apprenticeship of 7 years and who were paid a pittance to create something clever, which has lasted centuries and in the main, are beautiful to look at even today.

*No apologies to those who like this kind of unsophisticated stuff! 😉

The fashion will change. It always does.


The beautiful Baton Rouge Girl English 1680 by kind permission of the museum.


All in the Stars?


I feel like a jelly that’s been sat on 😉

I’ve been a bit poorly this week and so haven’t got on with my commission as I should. It has been sitting drying for quite a while. It’s a good job there is no hurry. My client is in the throes of constructing the nursery in which my figure will sit and hasn’t got as far as she would like either…. must be something in the stars!

Here is a horoscope for Aquarius today….

“Oh dear. Things have been a bit slow lately.Perhaps you feel that you haven’t done as well as you ought to have done. It is, though, hard to imagine how anyone else could have done better had they faced the same circumstances. Working through complicated problems and long lists of jobs is as easy for you today as slicing a hot knife through butter. { I wouldn’t say it’s quite that yet…} Your concentration span is impressive, and your mind is bright and alert. ( Mmm is it ever? } You also know that if the conventional route doesn’t work, you have plenty of lateral thinking ideas up your sleeve too. All power to you, Aquarius. You know how to get the job done”

Well….doesn’t that make you feel a bit better 😉

You will remember, Teresa Thompson very kindly let me “borrow” her dolls for a dummy board of a Governess and her charge, as I couldn’t find anything which was good enough as a reference.

Here are her dolls.I have had to crop the photo, as my client didn’t want all four children. It would have made it quite a wide figure too and the board I paint on would have had to be joined. As it is, it only just fits.

Now we have prepared the board, transferred the design and the painted in the outline.

Just the beginning.

The Governess is quite young in Teresa’s doll. I am going to make mine a bit older.

Here is the first layer of paint.

The first paint layer and the board stuck to the painting slope.

Teresa took as her model, the painting by Hogarth, of the Graham children.

William Hogarth. The Graham Children. The Tate gallery. London.

So we can do the same and use the picture as an aid, to faces and dress.In addition I shall use the face of an 18th century dummy board girl, from Sweden, for my governess.

Incidentally, do you remember we were talking about a dummy board which was holding a bunch of cherries? This was in The Girl in the Red Dress .

One child is holding up cherries in this picture. The youngest one, sat in a kind of cart, seems to be fascinated by them and isn’t looking at the bird in the cage or at the viewer.

Cherries, as we said, are often a symbol of death in infancy. The eldest child here isn’t the deceased child, but the smallest one is. He died whilst this picture was being painted, hence the symbolism of the cherries. We must remember infant mortality was high in the 18th century.Sad.

I’ve said it before on this blog…but it’s amazing what we learn when we seriously make a study of something……about  other things, I mean. Subjects additional to those we have chosen to study that is.  Quite by accident. I wonder if that too is in the stars? 😉

So here is what we have so far.

The Governess and little Lord..somebody. Miniature about 3 1/2 by 5 inches

Three layers of paint and the detail is emerging and the realistic depth of the characters. More to go on of course and then the final details.

Sorry this is a short post…. hopefully the words will flow from the pen ( or keyboard in modern parlance ) next week when I am feeling better.