An Unusual & Interesting Early 20thC Ventriloquist’s Dummy c.1925-35

Origin: English
Period: Early 20th Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1925-35
Height: 32.5”
Width (Shoulder to Shoulder): 12” (both approx. & at extremities)
Suitcase: 22.5” w x 11” d x 7.5” h

The early twentieth century period dummy having unusual and very distinctive features, by an unknown maker, possibly that of Herbert Brighton, the figure with three mechanisms, flying hairpiece, eyes and mouth, presented in his original cream and gold suit with gold buttons; the male vent figure’s head having a removable rear head cap to reveal the mechanisms and with applied shocking ruby red curly hair, the body constructed of a combination of paper maché, and plaster composition parts with lower limbs with fabric attachments with the wooden hands painted in a light skin colour, the legs having black painted wooden shoes. The face also painted in a light skin color with very well accentuated rose tinted cheeks; the thick set lips are painted red, the eyebrows and eyelashes black, each with black stylised highlight accents to the forehead, jowl and eyes, the glass eyes being brown and the figure presented in his original brown leather suitcase.

In fair original condition the figure has overall signs of wear and use as one would expect but crucially he has not been badly restored or tampered with. There is the expected flaking and craquelure to the paint, mainly to the extremities, especially the nose, which is all too common. The suit is original and thankfully there has been no over-painting to the face. There are overall signs of wear and use and chipping to the arms and feet. The three mechanisms need some attention; they are working to an extent, but not effectively. The mechanism for the top piece hair crown flip is operating nicely but the eyes and mouth need some maintenance. The hair is mostly all present but is coming away a little from the surface of the head in places. The rubber inside the mouth is possibly remnants of a smoker but it may just be a stylised and rather odd version of a tongue. The suitcase is seemingly original to the figure and fits the period.

This highly characterful figure is perhaps by a maker named Herbert Brighton, who used to perform under the name Benson Grey and lived in Pitsea in Essex and died in around 1960 and was a very respected maker but whose work has remained slightly off the radar given that his work is not signed. However Brighton’s figures didn’t typically have a drop jaw so we can only leave the maker of this figure as unattributed.

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.

A mysterious and, yes, admittedly rather scary figure (!) but one with a huge amount of idiosyncrasy and folk art merit that deserves further research.