Thursday, April 20, 2017
The Silent Companion!
The dummy board or chimney board is a life-size, flat wooden figure painted and shaped in outline to resemble a real person. They come in all shapes and sizes - solders, servants, children, even animals. These first silent companions as they were also known, were produced in the 17th century and were intended to be decorative jokes. There are stories from the period of telling of how, for example, one gentleman placed a wooden maidservant at the door of his salon and everyone found it highly amusing when one of the guests tried to tip her. No doubt such impostures were easier in the days of poor lighting! In 1777 Miss Sally Wister of Philadelphia wrote in her diary that the cut out wooden figure of a British
A secondary use for such wooden cut outs was to act as a firescreen. Although some were used to shield people from the heat, this did cause the paint and varnish to warp, and where they were made of paper stuck onto the wood there was a double danger that they might catch fire. The figures were better used to mask an open fireplace during the summer months.
Some animal figures from the past few centuries also survive, including cats, particularly tabbies, dogs, pigs, parrots and rabbits. Whilst many of these boards were created by sign-makers, some were designed by established artists.
There was a rumour that Van Dyck had painted a board that resembled a maidservant at Lullingstone
Have you seen any "silent companions"? Do you find them fun, attractive or creepy?! Would you have one in your own home?
Posted by Nicola Cornick at 2:01 PM
Labels: chimney boards, dummy boards, historic house, waxworks
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I've come across the occasional 'chimney board' in Stately Homes, but I didn't realise they came in such an interesting variety of characters. A most enjoyable post.
I don't think I've seen one ever! I have seen the American Indian tobacco shop ones in films though. I didn't know about them, but love the idea. Shall be looking out for them now. I should think in candlelight they might well have been creepy or startling. Great fun though.
Thank you both! I do think they are fascinating in a rather sinister way, and the history of how they developed is very interesting. I've only ever seen "human" ones, not animals. Apparently they were also used for extras in theatrical entertainments!
Thanks for this, Nicola, a wonderful post, as always.
Maybe they were company for lonely spinsters, etc.! I find them a bit creepy, too, Nicola. Today we get the cardboard cut-outs of policemen in shops etc., so the idea is still around.
I don't think I've ever seen the cardboard cut outs of policeman, Melinda, but yes, of course we do still have our own "modern" versions. Which is a bit strange, in a way!
There used to be a cardboard cop in our local Boots, but he suddenly vanished. Maybe he had been 'nicked'!
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