- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
Photograph on postcard
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Black and white photographic postcard showing two children wearing fancy dress. The girl in the photograph is seated, wearing a large white ruff and dark top, with a black and white spotted knee-length skirt. On her lap she holds a large soft toy repsenting the character Dismal Desmond. The boy is standing to her right side, wearing a similar outfit, with the top exchanged for one with long spotted sleeves, and matching trousers. Both subjects' shoes are decorated with pom-poms. On each of their heads is a large, pointed party hat resembling Dismal Desmond.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Photograph on postcard
Marks and inscriptions
'GWENNIE and ARNOLD DISMAL DESMOND'
Printed in blue letters on reverse.
Object history note
Purchased by the museum in 2018 [2018/418]
The photograph shows the hats being worn by the original owners, siblings Gwendolen and Arnold McKerrow. After Gwendolen died in 2004, they passed into the possession of her daughter, Emma Mandley – who consigned the hats and photographs to auction.
Historical context note
Fancy dress parties and costumes were wildly popular at the turn of the twentieth century. It was a craze Dean’s Rag Book Company took full commercial advantage of; from 1910 they offered customers the opportunity to send off for free remnants of their printed fabrics and instruction booklets to make fancy dress costumes for men, women and children.
These two hats feature the ‘Dismal Desmond’ character – a toy introduced by the company in 1926 accompanied by a ‘Dismal Desmond song and dance craze’ and claimed by the company as “a ‘howling’ success”. The character also starred in his own cartoon series, ‘Dismal Desmond the Doleful Dalmatian’, and radio travelogue and was the subject of records, books, charity balls and ornaments – as well as fancy dress costumes.
Richard Ellett (born 1876) was Dean’s Rag Book’s Chief Designer, and likely responsible for the creation of Dismal Desmond. Ellett was a theatrical designer who was also interested in the possibilities offered by the merging film medium, and was responsible for securing rights for the creation of a range of character dolls from a hit musical comedy in 1915, introducing Charlie Chaplin to the range, and post-WWI, for developing new ranges of character dolls from film and theatre and adding humour and distinctive personality to toy characters. Dismal Desmond speaks to this focus on distinctively characterful creations, and the company’s successful translation of one character across a range of mediums.
Photograph of Dismal Desmond party hats being worn by Arnold and Gwennie McKerrow
Children; Fancy dress; Dogs
Photographs; Fancy-dress; Character merchandise
Museum of Childhood