An Early 20th Cased Ventriloquist’s Dummy; ‘The Davenport No.2’ by Leonard Insull; c.1908-1925

Origin: English
Period: Early 20th Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1908-25
Height: 36” (at maximum)
Width (Shoulder to Shoulder): 11”
(all approximate)

The large early twentieth century period dummy of high build quality, with seven operating mechanisms in tweed suit with two war medals including the “Defence Medal” with check bow-tie and black leather shoes, the head with short very dark brown 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 moving eyebrows black, the glass eyes hazel. The whole is presented in the original quality tin and iron bound carrying suitcase trunk, in keeping with the period.

In good overall original condition, there is a crack through the top lip and some other areas of wear. The huge variety of seven mechanisms work and some have been recently repaired. The costume for the dummy is good quality, especially the shoes. The whole of the costume is original and slightly tired but thoroughly charming.

The trunk is of high quality and has several labels to include the stamp of the owner ‘Brigadier T. Young of Singapore’. The dummy has obviously traveled all over the world. There are remnants of shipping labels to each side.

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. This is a no.2 - and the best you will find.

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 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.