A Fantastic Trio of c.1930-50 Ventriloquist’s Dummies; Peter King Esq, Entertainer


Origin: English
Period: Early/Mid 20th Century
Provenance: Peter King Esq.
Date: c.1935-55
Measurements on Request

The large mid twentieth century period dummies of high build quality, with seven operating mechanisms to the Insull Davenport no.2 and four to the Cecil Gough figure (to include a water tube to the mouth) each constructed of a combination of paper maché, and plaster composition parts with lower limbs with fabric attachments, whilst the parrot is composed of wood and mock feathers on a pole, having three mechanisms.

The dummies survive from the stable of Peter Maher (Stage name Peter King) and are supported by a host of ephemera and photographs. There is even the original receipt for the Insull Davenport figure of 1956 showing the amount paid and several photographs of the entertainer at work.

All three figures are in fair to good overall original condition, with expected wear to the papier mache at the noses and protruding areas. Most of the mechanisms work but because of the complexity of them some are sticking and they could do with some attention. The costumes for the dummies are all original and of good quality, especially the shoes though some are in need of a clean and the insull figure does have a few holes to the shirt garment. The parrot has some repair work to the reverse with visible stitch work but again his mechanisms work and he is found in original order.

John Leonard Insull (born 1883) was Britain's leading and most prolific ventriloquial figure maker of the twentieth century and between 1952 and 1974 he produced no less than 2017 pieces. He spent his early days in Wolverhampton and began his career as an apprentice to a joiner, however he soon developed a taste for magic and decided to go on stage under the name of Hinsle, the Comedy Illusionist. He was often assisted by his wife Gertie Rees, who did a clog dance; and eventually they toured the world together. Leonard Insull worked with his son (also named Leonard Insull) who specialized more in animated slot machines. The collaboration ended with the death of his son in 1957 aged 43.He created many hundreds of items for Davenports magic shop. Noted figures include Lord Charles for Ray Allen and Archie Andrews for Peter Brough which sold for £34,000 in 1999. Leonard Insull died in 1974. Len insull started making dummys in the early 20s for a ventriloquist called Coram the Ventriloquist, he embarked on a venture that would ensure a permanent and illustrious place in the history of ventriloquism. Then after the news of Insull's work reached Lewis Davenport, he asked Insull to supply figures to his magic business. He made two basic heads for Davenports: a No.1 head with three movements: bottom lip, top lip and turning eyes; and a No.2 head with the above plus two winks, moving eyebrows, and ears. One of these figures is a no.2 - and the best you will find. There is a possibility that the parrot is by Insull but it is also possible it was made by

The other larger figure is probably by Cecil Gough and as such is a rare figure as he was one of the more obscure makers working in the 1950's. He made figures with both the English style mouth, moving leather lower lip, and slot jaw. His figures were cast from Celastic, a cloth permeated with plastic, and they came in a variety of styles and sizes.One of the great things that Mr Gough gave you with his figures was a choice of some fantastic clothing of the period. The different style suits are simply terrific and Gough gravitated to the English style of controls.

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.

With a wonderful provenance, unusually and desirably supported by the original ephemera, this trio of vent figures are a real collectors dream.