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'Living' marionette

  • Date:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and painted wood torso with woollen cotton and satin fabric clothing, brass buttons, a metal badge and rods.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Michael Andrews

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is one of a set of four 'living' marionettes or neck-puppets that were given to the museum in their original wooden travelling case, complete with the tabletop proscenium and black curtains used for his act. It was purchased by the donor's mother from the owner, a showman who lived in the north of England and it was believed to have been used for sea-front entertainment.

The act appears to have consisted of the four marionettes, or more accurately rod puppets, that represent a guardsman, a lady and two gentlemen in tweeds - possibly a father, his daughter and her two suitors. Each puppet has tapes attached to its shoulders that tied around the operator's neck so that the operator's head which poked through the black drapes became that of the marionette in front of the drapes. The limbs of the figure are worked by four metal rods, two attached to the elbows of the figure and two to its feet, held by the operator and an assistant wearing black gloves.

The act appears to have originated in France and was known before the Victorian magician Dr. Lynn (1831-1899), also known as High Washington Simmons and Washington Blythe made the act popular in the 1870s when he was appearing at the London Aquarium. Dr. Lynn's act is mentioned in Hoffman's Modern Magic, 1880, when he notes: 'On a small stage a real living head, attached to a miniature body, sings, talks and acts; and it is plain to the audience that while the head is really a human one, the body is but a toy.'

Physical description

Headless carved wooden figure of a Guardsman wearing a light woollen fabric red jacket with cream collar decorated with metal insignia, five brass buttons, a white satin belt, gold lamé fabric cuffs and a 'medal' pinned to the jacket made from a metal coupon issued with Priory tea. He has black trousers with red stripes down each side. Four metal rods are attached for manipulation, one to each elbow and one to each foot.



Materials and Techniques

Carved and painted wood torso with woollen cotton and satin fabric clothing, brass buttons, a metal badge and rods.


Length: 54 cm neck to sole of boots approximately, Width: 17 cm shoulder to shoulder approximately

Object history note

The donor said of the theatre and its marionettes in an e-mail to the museum: 'I think my mother saw it advertised in a newspaper up north on the retirement of the original owner/performer. I seem to remember it had been used on the sea-front up north. She probably bought it in the late 1920s or early 1930s and the theatre is probably at least Edwardian.'

Descriptive line

'Living marionette' of a Guardsman wearing a red jacket with cream collar decorated with metal insignia and brass buttons, with black trousers with red stripes down each side. Headless puppet with carved wooden body and four metal rods for manipulation. Used by a travelling showman with a tabletop theatre, ca.1890, using his head or that of his fellow performer as a talking head. Given by Michael Andrews.


Wood; Paint; Cloth; Metal


Hand carving; Hand sewing


Entertainment & Leisure; Dolls & Toys


Theatre and Performance Collection

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