Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Dummy boards of c.1620

On Saturday I went to Hinton Ampner House where I saw two lovely 1620s dummy boards of children. Dummy boards, also known as silent companions or conservation pieces are life size painted wooden representations of people. They were around mainly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and they are good sources for costume information, though beware copies were made in the nineteenth century and there are people who make reproductions nowadays

The two dummy boards depict a boy and a girl, and to me say about 1615-1625 and Dutch. The boy is unbreeched, wearing skirts but carrying a wooden sword, and with a muckminder (large handkerchief) attached to his belt. The girl has the very rigid style of coif that appears in many Dutch paintings of the time, and would appear to require a wire frame, which the Dutch call an Oorijzer, and I love the wicker basket.

I was aware of the dummy boards in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection, particularly the two c.1620 boards which are probably a pair, and possibly represent industry and vanity. The one representing industry has appeared in several costume books where she is usually described as a maid. She is not alone there are two almost identical dummy board figures of women with brooms, in Lullingstone Castle and Stoneleigh Abbey. Although described as a maid because she has a broom and an apron hitched to one side for working, her clothing has been considered too rich for a servant. She wears a shadow or cornet on her head, a falling ruff and turned back cuffs decorated with lace. These are very similar in style, though nowhere near as ornate, as the ones worn by Margaret Layton in the famous c.1620 painting of her wearing her embroidered jacket.

The companion piece, described as vanity, has her hair down and a mirror in her hand. She wears a pearl necklace and earrings, and the lace decorating her apron appears to match the lace on her cuffs and on the collar of her very low neckline. The low neckline is of a style often worn by James I’s wife Anne of Denmark as can be seen in a 1617 portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.  This dishabille style also appears in the portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton .  The pairing of industry and vanity, or similar, is common at this time, as in the title page of the embroidery book The Needles Excellency, where Wisdom (with a book), Industry(with her sewing) and Follie, are shown side by side.

There is a small Shire book on the subject: Claire Graham Dummy Boards and Chimney Boards 1988


  1. Thank you so much for your lovely link Pat.

    I'm glad I found you.

    I do a lot of research on dummy boards and am considered the world authority on them.I'm preparing a book on the subject to be called 'This Quiet Life '. Clare Graham is a friend of mine.

    I would be so grateful for some help. I know a little bit about costume,- only what I've picked up over the years but a real expert would be such a help. Besides...we could have such lovely discussions about lace etc.

    I have subscribed to your blog... I had one on dummy boards which I have kept online for the interest value but to which I no longer add.
    I'm on Facebook...are you?

    Please do say we can correspond. It would be such a help when I find something I'm unsure of. I have a pressing problem at the moment about three small figures that live in Devon....might we put our heads together?

    Best Wishes

    Sue Newstead

  2. Hi Sue
    Yes you will find me on Facebook. Mine's an unusual name, shouldn't be a problem. I believe I looked at your blog when writing this, so thank you.

    1. Thank you Pat.... I'll send you a friend request. Sue