18th century Punch heads

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18th century Punch heads

Postby BilBug » 12 Aug 2009, 03:13

Having searched this Board and a variety of books (Speight et al.), and not finding an answer, I thought it would be helpful to seek information directly from Board members:

As a history educator/interpreter of the 18th century and a puppeteer, I am often asked to perform at various 18th century events. I am looking to find what diversity of materials, if any, there would be for making Punch heads besides carved wood. In addition, I am also looking for primary source documentation for whatever method used.

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Postby Chris » 12 Aug 2009, 09:37

I'm sure the answer is both on the website and in the books. Heads were either of wood or papie-mache.
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Postby johnstoate » 12 Aug 2009, 13:30

Also wood with leather nailed on to create the features, and (possibly) cloth stuffed to create features and hardened with paint.- A technique that I believe was used for children's dolls around that era, and therefore was a contemporary method for creating heads. I maintain that anything you can make using the materials & tools available at the time is authentic, since it is always possible that someone made it at the time! :D
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Postby Chris » 12 Aug 2009, 23:51

By that argument you could have stone age medicine men prescribing penicillin or having steel blades in the bronze age.
I would be interested in your source for the doll information.
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Postby johnstoate » 13 Aug 2009, 00:34

Who's to say that either isn't true? - All that's missing is the 'evidence' -The so-called 'missing link' still eludes the archaeologists, As for being asked,(singularly) for sources, again. - The doll museum in Lincoln
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Punch and evidence

Postby BilBug » 13 Aug 2009, 01:25

Being that the events at which I attend, and at which I would perform, are "period correct" I am constrained by what historical evidence there is. Many "reenactors" use the "if they had it, they'd of used it" defense". However, that really isn't sufficient for historical accuracy. My own clothing and equipment are patterned upon period items with primary documentation and provenance.

As to Punch, carved heads would pretty much be the norm as I can see it (though the history works I mentioned above don't really go into the "mechanics"). I am wondering if anyone has read about other 18th century techniques, such as glue and sawdust or something that would give a molded figure and a very tough head.
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Postby Chris » 14 Aug 2009, 22:39

In a very long association with old puppets, and with much reading, I am of the opinion that wood and papie mache are the only contenders for the pre- Victorian period.

If you wish to supplement the scarce information we have on puppet materials with that from the history of doll making then this tells the same story.

Several oil paintings of the early seventeenth century depict noble children playing with wooden dolls dressed in finery. Wood is the oldest material used for making dolls for sale. Turned dolls were mass-produced from the seventeenth century. Wooden dolls were very popular throughout the eighteenth century. The head and body were carved by professional doll-makers and the face and hair were painted directly onto the wood.

A mixture of paper, sawdust, plaster and glue, called composition, was developed around 1800 as a cheap alternative to wood - later than the period you enquired about. It could be formed under pressure, allowing for the mass production of dolls.

However since puppets (other than toy puppets) were never mass produced like dolls I don't feel that the doll techniques are entirely relevant.

But wood was available, plentiful, and labour was cheap, and as the body of the puppet - the jointed marionette - had to be wood - then one must surely assume that is what the whole puppet was made from. Certainly from early Victorian times cloth and papie mache were combined with wood in an attempt to make heavy puppets lighter. You got upper arms and legs made of calico attached to carved wooden lower parts, for example.It is possible that such techniques were used earlier.
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Postby BilBug » 17 Aug 2009, 21:51

Thanks for the replies. I wanted to be thorough and figured asking here would be a good way of supplementing other reading and investigation. Thanks.

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Postby rosemarybeetle » 15 Oct 2009, 17:33

There are pictures of historic puppets available on the V&A's website under Search the Collections, with materials listed. Search for puppets
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Postby rosemarybeetle » 16 Oct 2009, 13:39

Hi BilBug

as you asked for primary sources, here is the link to images of historic puppets available to access via the "Search the Collections" feature of the the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). This shortcut is to the search for the word "puppets", which lists 70+ of them, but also try other words like "marionettes", etc:

http://bit.ly/VandA-puppets

This has just been relaunched with access to almost all the internal catalogue records being online for the public to take advantage of. That's over a million object records!



I hope it helps. It is fascinating to see old puppets. I love these.

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Postby BilBug » 11 Dec 2009, 03:43

A belated thanks for the link. I haven't checked back for sometime and this was a pleasant surprise!
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