Archive for November, 2010

All I want for Christmas…..


This just a quick post to say that we shall be at the Kensington Dollshouse Fair on Saturday December 4th. Find us in the very centre of the Main Hall.

This is the last time you will see us there as we shall be exhibiting no more.

SO do drop by and say hello…or goodbye. < sigh>

Just to remind you of

Our display house with the 17th century roombox.

what we have for sale… here is a picture of a previous show.

The London Street

The Morning Room.

Many of the figures you see here are still for sale. They will be heavily discounted at this show.

The Grand Salon

These figures are the ones offered as a prize in the PastMastery competition and so are not for sale.

The little pug, the basket of kittens, the Ginger jar and the fireboard are still available.

Handel's music room

Handel and Mozart might decorate your own music room some day but Boccherini ( Dear Luigi ) stays with me. He is my favourite. Handel’s cat on the stool is for sale though.

There are a few I am keeping back for myself. For my new project. Hush Hush. A very few, I simply cannot bear to part with.

And for the rest…well…it’s rather like being the last puppy in the pet shop before Christmas Day. They all need to go.

All I want for Christmas is that my creations go to good homes.


A Messy Business


You are all enjoying yourselves with my little competition.

To date we have had 288 views of the blog, 7 right answers, a few puzzled readers and several failures. This is mainly thanks to Debbie  of Debbie’s Tiny Treasures who featured my PastMastery post on her blog and got everyone to have a go. Thanks Debbie. And thanks to those who have written to me.

Told you it was going to be simple but not easy!

Today we are going to nip back to the 17th century again as promised and I think, since we are in the run-up to Christmas, we shall go shopping.

Now shopping today, is a frantic affair. It’s mostly a do-it-yourself jobbie with us loading a trolley or basket with bits and bobs and then taking it to a till where a pre-pubescent being with a  nose ring and tattoos tots it up on a glorified calculator, tells you how much you owe and gives you the change the computer insists is correct. Hmmm.

Hardly any pleases or thank yous. And of course this can, in the main all be done under the same roof, should you wish. You can buy your mince and your mints, your flowers and some flour, go to the hair care aisle for shampoo and purchase a nice hung hare for your dinner, all in one place. Everything is packaged to within a inch of its life. No mess

Not so in the 17th century. No do-it-yourself then. And plenty of mess.

Some plaices, I mean places, have bitten the dust entirely. Take the Chandlers for example. Or the Cordwainers.  Mm see what I mean?

We are going to the shops which line Piccadilly in London!

The River Thames c. 1600 with the only bridge across the river.

Now it looked of course, nothing like it does today.

They say this is the oldest shop front in London.... from after the Great Fire of 1666.

No motor cars but plenty of horses ( and what they leave behind ); the difference between the rich and poor was very, very noticeable unlike today and there would have been no posh designer bags with logos advertising the latest boutique or the favourite brand of trainers.

Piccadilly before it was a circus!

Folk would have been loaded up with purchases yes, but their owners would be nowhere to be seen. You see….you didn’t DO your own shopping! Rather like nipping into Debenhams to get yourself a PERSONAL SHOPPER, you had a servant to fetch and carry, especially those who could afford to shop in Piccadilly.If you went shopping yourself, you sat in a wood panelled hall while shop assistants flitted to and fro bringing you goods to feel and look at.

There are two schools of thought as to how this place got its quaint name. Piccadilly.

The name may arise from the fact that a  tailor named Robert Baker, owned a shop on the Strand, in the late 16th century and early 17th century. He amassed a large fortune by making and selling piccadills stiff collars with scalloped edges and a broad lace or perforated border, that were then the height of fashion.

wearing of a piccadillo ruff.

It is also said that this street, when known as Portugal Street ( before Piccadilly) was a less than salubrious area and that gentlemen of a needy disposition would frequent the ladies of easy virtue around and about the buildings here. Many of these so-called gentlemen were married of course. Once it became known that one had frequented this area and of course it always DID { servants can’t keep secrets you know 😉 } one’s peccadilloes might be bruited abroad. This word comes from the latin pecado – meaning sin and so this area might have been known for the naughty goings on, the minor transgressions of the flesh that were every day occurrences here.

Who knows. What ever the name…it’s a memorable one!

Our mistress has sent us to Piccadilly to purchase some everyday requisites. Things that are essential to the living of a refined life. You will of course understand me when I say….

TEA, SNUFF, WHITING, YELLOW STARCH, POMADE…{No..nothing to do with a drink like Appletise}. SEALING WAX and CERUSE. All messy stuff of course.

Tea..? Well we still have that of course, but now we buy it in little perforated bags. IN our 17th century guise, we nip into the specialist tea and coffee shop. It’s sold by the pound, is incredibly expensive and has to be kept under lock and key. It’s weighed out for us to our employer’s own receipt. When we get it home it will be locked into a tea caddy with a glass bowl in the middle where it will be mixed as needed by the mistress before being taken to the kitchen to have hot water poured onto it. Then up it will come to the drawing room again to be consumed by the elegant folk from little porcelain bowls ( no, not a recognisable handled tea cup in sight.) Us poor servants get the dregs later re -heated and a bit thin on taste. Messy process just for a bitter thin drink that scalds the tongue?

Full sized dummy board of a servant with a tray of early Batavia ware tea cups. C. 1700 U.S.A.

Snuff? White powder for the Master who is fond of sniffing it up from the back of his hand and then spraying everyone for yards around, when he sneezes! UGH!


Whiting? Absolutely essential to any ladies’ maid. Needed for the proper cleaning of white leather gloves…soooo fashionable at the moment.But messy to apply.

Yellow starch. No laundress worth her salt would be caught without a drop of this to add to the final rinse when washing the fine folks’ ruffs. Nice fashionable yellow colour…makes ’em look like they have jaundice I think! Not good for the hands…..

Pomade? For brushing onto the wigs and for applying directly to the hair to whiten it. It’s said to keep lice and mites at bay. 😉

Sealing Wax? No such thing as an envelope to put letters in yet. That is a long way off. You fold your letters into a tiny square and seal it with wax to prevent tampering. Of course, it isn’t foolproof. Us servants know how to get under the seal when we need to…. but it’s a messy business sticking it back!

Ceruse? The mistress insists on a flawless white complexion. A sticky mixture of chalk and white lead applied to the face, neck and bosom gives her this. Sadly as it dries out, it cracks and bits flake off into her soup. Poor soul, she is so short sighted, she can’t see it. Good job really.

And what is in it for us servants?

Perquisites. Originally this word meant something acquired, again from the latin perquisitum and shortened this word gives us PERKS!


Well…. the dregs of the tea as I’ve said.We get the left overs of the mixtures of the whiting ourselves for our own use though we have no posh gloves to whiten. No -we use it on our house shoes… those softer versions of boots that we wear around the home. We have no use for sealing wax as we can’t read or write. Snuff..UGH wouldn’t be seen dead with it and as for ceruse…. I pride myself on my peaches and cream complexion, acquired by splashing with icy water and rubbing with oatmeal stuffed into little muslin bags. No need for falseness. My hair is tied up in a little cap so I wear no wig….no need for pomade, though I do love the smell of it….and now and again, I  try just a bit which has messily dropped onto the cloth I put round my mistresses’ shoulders, when dressing her hair.

My little bonnet....head of the Brighton servant. Dummy board Mid 18thc.

Two of our enterprising footmen, Mr. Fortnum and Mr. Mason have secreted away, in a cupboard, a lot of the candle ends from the light fixtures around the house; those that are half burnt down and are replaced each day. They say they are PERKS!

They plan to melt the left over beeswax ( for such they are and are very expensive and burn with a nice smell and a clear flame ) and re- mould them into candles to sell to a Chandler in Piccadilly.

I don’t think they will profit by it much though. If our Mistress was to get wind of it…oh dear! It would be a fine mess they would be in.

The Chandler, who began as just a candle maker but now sells everything we need for the home; paper, glue, pins, starch, things we might find today at an ironmonger, will want to know where the raw material came from. Won’t he?

I am going into the Cordwainers today too. My mistress needs her black boots repairing and I will take them to a cobbler but she says that Master Cordwainer must look at them for she needs a second pair and he must make them exactly to the same design. He is the man who will make the best shoes from the finest leather in the latest fashions. Therefore, he will make drawings from the existing pair before I take them for mending. Of course I only have one pair of boots. Good stout ones they are too. Even I, though, need pattens, little wooden overshoes like blocks, which raise me from the ground and keep the leather from the muck and mud ( and goodness knows what else) of the 17th century street.

Wooden pattens

It can be a messy business just going shopping, don’t you know !

Of course we all know that Fortnum and Mason has been on Piccadilly since the early 18th century. It’s said the store was founded with profits made by melting down candle stubs filched from Queen Anne’s palace. Who knows!?

Mr Fortnum or Mr Mason? One of the statues in the lobby of the Piccadilly shop.


Bonnie asks why yellow starch was so desirable. Hard to say. It was probably the cost.There were several colours favoured but yellow was more expensive than ordinary starch and so showed how wealthy you were. Apparently it was ‘invented ‘ by a lady called Mrs. Turner. She became embroiled in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in the Tower of London and was eventually hanged ( in a yellow ruff! ) at Tyburn for the crime. After this the fashion dyed out…I mean died out. Understandably!

The Venus Throw


I promised you a competition earlier in the year!

I think the time has come for us to have a go!

It’s going to be quite simple, but quite difficult!

The prize will be:


One of my HAND PAINTED, UNIQUE, NEVER TO BE REPEATED historic miniature dummy board figures, worth over £200!

I have decided that as most people, it seems, favour the Georgian era, for their dollshouse, I will give as a prize one of my Georgian Gainsborough dummy boards.

I have said it many times on this blog but….. it was the custom in the late 18th and the 19th century for artists to reproduce famous paintings as dummy boards. Sometimes they were copied perfectly. Sometimes they had the face of another person substituted for that which the original artist painted.

Here is perhaps the most famous example.

Rembrandt's Maria Tripp as a full sized dummy board. 5 ft. 19th c.

And the original on which it was based.

The original half portrait of Maria Tripp.

This was quite the thing to do with Thomas Gainsborough’s work and there are a few dummy boards of his lovely portraits about.

I have painted four of his portraits as mini figures and am going to offer one of them as the prize in my, last, competition. Two that are real figures and two that aren’t.

Two sisters, not a real board but one I thought would make a lovely set of figures. And I was right.

Gentleman with greyhound... (and a friend) -a real 19th c. dummy board

Lady Sheffield..a famous real 19th c. figure. ( And her friend, Hogarth's pug)

The Grand Hall with Lady with Ostritch Feather in the foreground. ( The other three can be seen in the background.)

The last figure, not a real dummy board, leans on a pillar and I will be offering this too in the prize. You choose.

THE QUESTION YOU MUST ANSWER to win one of these figures.

What is the name of the only absolutely proven, known ENGLISH  historic dummy board?

Answers to me by December 12th please. E mail me at

If I have more than one correct answer I will put names in a hat and get Stephen to draw one out. I’ll notify you by e mail and you will feature on the blog, of course.

So get your thinking caps on.

To reiterate…

The prize consists of one HAND PAINTED miniature dummy board bearing the PastMastery seal, in a box with an explanatory leaflet. Choose from:

1. Lady Sheffield

2. Gentleman with greyhound

3. Lady with Ostrich feather fan and pillar.

4. Two sisters with dog

And the Venus Throw?

The Romans played a  dice game with four knucklebones. The Venus throw happened when each dice landed on a different side. It was the highest  throw you could have and so, considered the luckiest. It was also considered the most scary, for whole livelihoods, fortunes and estates could be gambled away on it! People too I believe.

I don’t expect you to gamble away your servant or wife though…never fear! 🙂

“This strange disease of Modern Life” Arnold.


What a steady stream of comments and e mails I have had now I have finally said, unequivocally, that I am laying down my dummy board paintbrush.

Thanks to everyone who has written with messages of support, compliments and condolences.

I am giving up painting boards for sale but I shall still paint tiny pictures. I am a ‘tiny’ person ( I wish.) I can’t do big. If I couldn’t paint…if I gave up altogether, I might as well not exist.

Girl with watering can 41/2 inches and the one inch fire screen Rose basket.

There are two things I live for ( besides my dog, my husband..note the order < ahem> and my friends, ) creativity and music. Proper music that is. Music that was written with blood, sweat and tears many years ago by geniuses who had completed the training and knew what they were doing. Music that takes skill to execute today.

Boccherini and his 'audience'

Art ( in all its forms ) that was made by skilled and dedicated artisans.

Hogarth and his pug Trump. Wonder how he got his name don't we?

I’ve told you before I am an old fashioned girl….can’t be doin’ with this 20th/21st century stuff!  😉

Oh how I love the 17th century. I am a lady well out of her age.

I had an e mail the other day, one from a collector of my things ( yes I did have one or two ) 😉 who lives in London and who has A Title……{ Oh you…big head!}

She very sweetly told me

” Sue, you are a wonderful painter, a novel artisan, an unquestionable authority on your subject, a fabulous raconteur and a charming and proper lady to boot!”

I thought that was something coming from a’ ‘real lady’!

She urges me to carry on writing a blog of some kind as she loves to read it, for…

“Your pearls of wisdom, your understated humour which never fails to make me LOL and the absolute finesse in all you do and say.”

HEAVENS! ( Thank you from the heart of my bottom, Kate ) 🙂

Well yes…I am most definitely a lady out of her age. I deplore the demise of femininity ( and here I mean what it is to be feminine- not Feminism which is another thing entirely and not as you might think, mutually incompatible. )

And it has set me thinking that I might carry on a blog on the subject of modern life…..its  silliness and stupidities, its lack of decorum and grace and what it means to be a ‘lady’. And I would hope to do it in a sideways slanted way, gently!

Now, I can’t honestly, hand on heart say, that I am a Lady all the time. Like everyone, I have my moments. However, I do try.  I try to live by a rather idiosyncratic code which is rather old fashioned and might seem a trifle old hat….passe, antiquated and not relevant to today’s way of life.

So be it. I don’t like modern life anyway as I have said. I find it brash, loud, lacking in decorum or gentility and hard jolly work!

If you would enjoy something like that…. please tag along. And pass comment. I love comments…..they make me think.

I think my dummy boards would approve.

Elisabeth Bennet, Austen's famous character from Pride and Prejudice. 5ins.

They hail from an age that had far more charm than our own. They are charming artifacts in themselves, as you have found, those who have been with me in this blog from the beginning.

If they could speak, I’m sure they would make short shrift of the ‘me’ generation..politely giving them a nudge towards the art of selflessness and the importance of good manners.

They are in some cases quite beautiful to look at….if they could speak, again, they would tell us that beauty is not enough without charm and good breeding. Rather like one of these modern roses – without scent, a vintage car without any petrol in the tank or a beautiful purse devoid of pennies.

They have lasted an age. They carry on still. They are not a ‘flash in the pan’, as are many things today. They continue to lurk in the shadows, watching, waiting; serenely carrying on in the face of adversity, with grace and style.

I hope I can. 😉



Mme de Pompadour 6ins across. £250.00 - a figure I painted as a test to see if I could! 😉

My last post ( haha…. how apt), provoked quite a few outbursts from my loyal readers.

Tucked at the very bottom was a line.

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

“How can I do this?”…you cried. ” We shall miss you….”, ” You are unique!” – ( Thank you Jacky) ” No…you mustn’t!”- ( Thank you Dave ).

Not only will I be giving up painting tiny dummy boards, but I will be giving up this blog too. It’s been fun. It’s been a challenge. I loved writing and it has been a source of great pleasure to me to make you all laugh and to irritate you by turns 🙂 and…yes… educate you. It’s been a good thing for me, in that it has firmed up my knowledge of the dummy board figure and it has been a good thing for dummy boards because they needed an advocate….this all but forgotten art form.

Now I want to concentrate on my book and on collecting the ( very costly ) permissions for copyright and the ( even costlier ) permissions for photos to be reproduced. I have no more to say on the subject really unless I just put the whole book on here. And I really don’t want to do that.

There are other reasons too, why I am giving up.

You know that my health is not good. I find that painting miniatures hour upon hour is not a good thing…well…actually even just ten minutes is a trial!

I am giving up doing the shows after February 2011 too. Why is this? I think they are too high cost for returns. I think they are not proving useful to me and I know that they are detrimental to my health as it takes me weeks to recover. I cannot do them alone and Stephen has to have time off to help me. He hates doing them and being self employed he loses money if we don’t make any. Now, I wouldn’t mind too much if I was inundated with orders mid way between one show and another. But they are a mere trickle. I get perhaps  three or four a year. Commissions are very nice but I would like to sell some of the figures I have Already Painted, between shows, those that are historical replicas. That is after all why I started doing it. To offer the miniature world something they had never seen before and couldn’t really buy anywhere else. Hand painted in oils on wood.

I have come to the conclusion after about six years of making them, that the Miniature world is not yet ready for them.

I have exhibited, I have lectured, I have blogged, I have evangelised for my subject. To no avail.

I do not sell enough to make it worthwhile.

Girl with White Pinny and The Cocker Spaniel. Both sold.

I’m sure you have heard it before but if I had had a £ for every person who had – a. promised to come back and buy one or – b. thought they were absolutely brilliant and such a clever idea and blah blah…. I would be doing very well thank you.

I know my loyal followers enjoy my scribblings as much as I like to pen them…but not enough of you have put your hands into your pockets and have purchased, once you have read about my antics with my antiques ( sorry!)

So in February, after the Thame show, PastMastery mini dummy boards will be no more.

Regency bowl of fruit. Actual size. It's about an inch in real life and the most difficult piece I have ever done.

If you feel like owning one, you can either come and purchase at KDF or Thame, for the last time, I will be having a SALE! Or you can e mail me and tell me what you might like, from my existing figures. I am doing no further commissions.

Those of you who, who are owners of a PastMastery figure may, in the fullness of time, hopefully, think that they have a unique item which is a limited edition and which I trust will become a real collector’s item.

From this post till I finish I will concentrate on my silly stories illustrated by dummy board photos.

This I know you buy!

The Candle Girl who lights up!

Thanks to all those who I haven’t mentioned who have sent messages of support. They are much appreciated.

And a swansong?

There is a beautiful madrigal by Orlando Gibbons ( click here to hear a wonderful rendition by the Hilliard Ensemble.)

The Silver Swan who living had no note, when death approached unlocked her silent throat.

Leaning her breast against the reedy shore, has sung her first and last and sung no more.

Farewell all joys, oh death come close mine eyes,

More geese than swans now live more fools than wise!

Sums up how sad I feel I think.