A Wonderful c.1930 Ventriloquist’s Dummy Attributed to Herbert Brighton; ‘Silas Brown’

Origin: English
Period: Early 20th Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1925-35
Height: 33 inches
Width (Shoulder to Shoulder): 11 inches (both approx)

The early twentieth century period dummy of high build quality, having six mechanisms to include a crier and smoker, presented with two separate suits; the original green tweed suit and later blue RAF uniform, the male dummies head, (named Silas Brown, see below), with applied dark curly hair and the body constructed of a combination of paper maché, and plaster composition parts with lower limbs with fabric attachments with the papier-mâché hands painted in a very light skin colour, the legs consist of black painted papier-mâché shoes. The face also in a light skin color with rose tinted cheeks; the thin set lips are painted red, the eyebrows and eyelashes black, the glass eyes brown and the characteristic red highlight accents to the forehead, jowl and eyes and the inside with trade label for ‘Theatrical & Sports Costumier – The Sign of Four - Nottingham’ and his legs contain fillings as newspaper cuttings from the Daily Telegraph, December 28th 1935.

In good original condition Silas has overall signs of wear and use. There is the expected flaking and craquelure to the paint, mainly to the extremities, especially the nose, which is all too common. The RAF uniform can be removed, revealing the tweed suit under which is lacking it’s original bowtie but is complete otherwise. There are overall signs of wear and use and chipping to the arms and feet. The mouth, lip, and glass eye mechanisms are all working as is the arm function to the right arm. The smoker hole is fine and although the crying pipes are in situ the rubber tubes that lead from them at the reverse of the head have perished but we can’t see any reason why these couldn’t be re-established. There are signs of slight face repainting including the unusual addition of blood from ears and his hair is thinning slightly but is very realistic. He sits in the tweed suit more comfortably for it is original to the figure whilst the RAF costume is at least ten years later and is a little more ill-fitting. Both costumes will be presented with the figure.

There are handwritten prop notes in the figures pockets which are charming and read:

“From Schoolmaster; Silas Brown has been in my school many years – I cannot speak very highly of him, he is generally late, has given me a lot of trouble – last in the school – first out – is sat near the door”

And the second note reads: “Parson: I have not known Silas for long cannot say whether he is an intelligent boy or not, I have not seen him at church, very regular – leaves school for I ??”

The name of Silas Brown may be taken from the 1937 film ‘Murder at the Baskervilles’ .

The trade label inside for Theatrical & Sports Costumier – The Sign of Four – Nottingham, was located on Derby Road in Nottingham and was home to the Nottingham Guild of Magicians. It was in existence until at least 1982 when Su Pollard made a documentary about Nottingham and visited the shop as it was one of her favourite places to buy joke items.

Herbert Brighton, who used to perform under the name Benson Grey, lived in Pitsea in Essex and died in around 1960 and was a very respected maker but whose work has remained slightly off the radar given that his work is not signed. We can attribute this figure to him simply because we have sold many figures, two of them by Brighton. This figure has many more functions than the majority of other figures we have sold in the past which makes him a little more exceptional.

The uncanny nature of ventriloquist’s dummies has enthralled and spooked people for decades, and they continue to feature in horror films to this day. The idea of the ghost in the inanimate object is not a new one, Freud has written at length on the subject in his discussions on the uncanny, and ghost stories have featured dolls and portraits coming to life for centuries.

A very covetable vent figure with an abundance of mechanisms and a plethora of tangible history and character.