History of the Dummy Board

Sir StephenThe earliest figures in existence, from the evidence of costume, date from the early part of the 17th century and resemble soldiers, servants, children and animals. Although they have been associated almost exclusively with the fireplace, their exact use cannot be truly known. We know from some contemporary diaries, letters and accounts, however, that they were employed variously as pretend servants, summer fire screens and chimney boards, lantern and visiting card holders and simply as decorative jokes to fool the unwary guest!

Later in their history they became advertisements in front of shop premises, props for theatres and pleasure gardens and ornaments for inns and restaurants. They were so popular at one point that they were turned out on an almost mass-produced level by sign painters and itinerant interior decorators.

The heyday of the silent companion was in the late 17th early 18th century, when many of the figures around in museums and collections today were made. Dummy boards sometimes known as silent companions, are found in many forms: from infants to Indians, Archbishops to aristocrats, pigs to pork -pies, from musicians to maidservants and men at arms. The most common type found today are small pairs of children, girl and boy, which were 'mass produced' in the late 17th, early 18th century. All the best houses had them, but they fell out of favour a little in the 19th century. Although some were still made, they were not generally of quite the same quality as the earlier ones.

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