A Fine Quality Mid 20th Ventriloquist's Dummy Attributed to Leonard Insull


Origin: English
Period: Mid 20th Century
Provenance: Ex John Styles (Magic Circle)
Date: c.1940-60
Height: 45 inches (at maximum)
Width (Shoulder to Shoulder): 13 inches
(all approximate)

The large mid twentieth century period dummy of high build quality, with fully operating eyes, upper lip and mouth in red jacket and black trousers, white shirt, red and silver tie, check socks and black leather shoes, the head with short mohair chestnut hair and the body constructed of a combination of paper maché, and plaster composition parts with lower limbs with fabric attachments with the hands painted in a light skin colour. The face is also in a light skin color with the typical Insull reddened cheeks; the lips are painted red, the eyebrows and eyelashes black, the glass eyes hazel.

In good to very good overall original condition, there is only some small chipping to the face and wear commensurate with age elsewhere. The costume for the dummy, although not all original, is good quality, especially the shoes, though the jacket is probably a later replacement, it is of the same period and in excellent condition. The three function mechanisms are in good working order. There is a paper sticker inside printed ‘John Styles of Sidcup’ pointing to the last owner who is a magician and entertainer belonging to the magic circle and International Brotherhood of magicians and is still working today.

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.

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.

This rare example, almost certainly crafted by one of the best makers of vent figures the world has ever produced, and with no expense spared in his creation, is a superb fully loaded example for the professional.