A Wonderful c.1910 Ventriloquist’s Dummy; ‘Willy’

Origin: English
Period: Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: The Estate of Fred Crone Esq.
Date: c.1900-15
Length: 31 inches
Width (Shoulder to Shoulder): 9 inches
(all approximate)

The early twentieth century male ‘drop jaw’ vent figure of high build quality, stage name Willy, in original condition, with several operating mechanisms to animate the drop jaw, eyes and eyelids in a classic and evocative black suit, the head of dark hair and the body constructed of a combination of paper maché and wooden composition parts.

This early figure is presented in as found condition, and he is rather tired. If wanting him to function as was he needs some attention to the mechanisms to make them fully operational, though two work to an extent. He has the totally original costume, which is well made. The hands and shoes are wooden, one of the hands is a later replacement. There are two hairpieces present for the figure, one more threadbare than the other. There are maybe more mechanisms than there are levers – certainly the figure has a mechanism for raising hair, with a strip on a hinged lever to the top of his head. There is an interesting label to the inside “Demo from…Professor ????’  Refined, Clever, Original. Conjurer High Class Entertainments, over 1,200 testiminials”. The label is in keeping with the very early twentieth century.

This dummy is named 'Willy' and was used by Fred Crone, known as Major Crone or  'Doodles', and the figure was used for performances at Blackpool Tower, Lytham St. Annes and other venues. The vendor’s late father owned the dummy and documents relating to the figure will be sold with him, proving he was working in the 1920s in Blackpool Tower. In 1927 it was written: “A Leyland correspondent writes: “It may interest you to know that ‘Doodles’ (Mr Major Crone) who is so very valuable to St Annes Each year on Hospital Fete Day, was kind enough to come over to Leyland on Saturday for the May festival, on the crowning of the Rose Queen. He added greatly to the life of the proceedings and the crowds were kept in continous laughter at his funny antics. The general opinion here is that St Annes is lucky to possess such a born jester as Mr. Crone and one feels he must be a great asset where charitable causes are concerned, with his marvellous agility and never ending hunour. Yours truly – one who laughed loud and long at him”.

One does not often have any provenance or paper work with a vent figure, especially an early one such as this, and so he proves a great find of folk art, allowing us to picture Willy entertaining the crowds in rainy Blackpool nigh on century ago.