A Rare & Rather Unusual c.1910 Ventriloquist’s Dummy Possibly by Alfred LeMare

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Origin: English
Period: Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Ray Elgar and Previously John Stafford, Paignton. 1902-1981
Date: c.1910
Overall Height: 33 inches
Width (Shoulder to Shoulder): 9.5 inches
(all approximate and at extremities)

The turn of the century period male vent figure of early build in very original condition, with four operating mechanisms to animate the lips, mouth, smoker pipes, and eyes (lacking rod), the brass head stick travelling to the bottom board of the body, the whole in a soft yellow workman’s overall with green collar and wool scarf, with green composition socks and very good quality leather boots, the head with a felt cloche hat over medium length mousy brown hair with blue glass eyes, rose tinted cheeks and red lips with prominent eyebrows, and the body constructed of a combination of paper maché, and wooden composition parts with the carved wooden hands painted in a light skin colour.

In fair to good overall original condition, there has been no over-painting to the face which is pleasing and the whole is in fine fettle considering its advanced years, the only condition issue are a crack to one side of the face where the join of the front and back meet and a digit to one hand missing. The mechanisms are working aside from the eyes which need a new rod fitting. The tubes have perished for the smokers in the mouth but this is always the case. The costume for the dummy is good quality and all original though it is obviously tired and dirty in places. The scarf is in two pieces and is fragile. The movement stick and controls are in part later replacements, with some novel Yes/No buttons from an electrical appliance added to the ends to make them easier to function. The first stick would have been wooden.

This figure was in the collection of Ray Elgar, conjuror and puppeteer, who had a huge collection of marionettes, puppets and marionette theatres and also held a large archive of related ephemera. The figure was almost certainly owned by John Stafford of Paignton before that (as a lot of Elgar’s pieces were from Ray) who was a famous and successful Punch and Judy performer down in Devon.

Out of all the known makers this figure is most similar to that of Alfre LeMare. He began business in 1861 making property for theaters, but he later specialized in magic and ventriloquial goods at his shop in Manchester, England. He supplied figures for Fred Russell and Arthur Prince. In today's collector world of ventriloquist figures there are a few very rare figures and one is the Alfred LeMare. This builder worked in the 19th century and early 20thC and created his figures of both paper mache and wood.

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.

There is something of the German or Italian in this figure, he is a little reminiscent of Pinnochio, and he is certainly unusual for his type, thoroughly charming and early figure in as original condition as you are likely to see.

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