ML from the Midwest sends me photos of this little flocked papier-mâché mechanical “noddy” dog, late 19th century. This is a life-sized model of a spotted black on white dog – A Boston Terrier -with a fluffy raffia collar, realistic soulful brown (glass) eyes, a whisker-y snout, a pink protruding tongue, and a crisp silver leash with a circular pull mechanism. The antique toy is in excellent condition, and is the treasure of ML’s collection.
What does the pull mechanism do? Well, it makes the jowls and bottom jaw move, emitting a life-like bark or ‘speak’. As it is pulled, the head, which is cantilevered with weights, nods and bounces. As it does, you’ll catch a glimpse of rows of dog teeth in that pink mouth. The little white paws belie tiny wheels; Sammy Chop-Chop (ML’s kids named the dog) can sail with you as you take him for a walk.
ML has had this since her childhood and wasn’t allowed to take it on many walks; I know this because it’s in excellent condition. By the way, ML never had to make believe a BARK for this little terrier when she frightened her kids with this toy. Even though over 100 years old, this little dog’s voice box machinery activates (sometimes) when the leash is pulled a certain way. The vicious creature will even growl if you exert less pressure on the pull. The growl is activated by the links on the chain abrading a sounding box in the interior of the dog. It is guaranteed to strike fear in the other inhabitants of ML’s doll collection.
The very early (1890) lifelike “growler” dog pull toys were made in France in a variety of breeds: English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, and the rare French Snapping Bulldog, in all colors from white to spotted to brindle. The best of them have superior sculptural features like an articulated rib cage, muscular hind ends, and individualized toes. By 1900, England got in on the “growler” act and came out with its British “Bulldog Mascot,” the name proclaimed on its aggressive looking thick red leather studded collar. Typical of British pugnacity, this pull toy’s protruding lower jaw is set with two long canine teeth that curl up onto the dog’s front lip. His protracted mandible is fearsome. He is of course British white, with huge paws and articulated musculature. Whereas the French Bulldogs look adorable, the English Bulldogs look menacing, and are larger, at 24” long.
What is unique about ML’s terrier is his French style raffia collar, common to all French breed growler pull toys. Dog collars, a status symbol, have been around for millennia. Ancient Egyp tians collared and leashed their dogs; ancient Greek sheep dogs (which had to be white so they could be seen at dawn and dusk) wore spiked collars, called a melium to protect the dog’s neck from wolf bites. In fact the body of a dog petrified in the lava flow of Pompeii in 79AD is wearing a collar, which, when examined by infrared, was inscribed with a thank you message from its owner, whom the dog pulled from an attacker. Our little dog tags today with Fido’s name is a memorial to the Renaissance metal collars that were fastened with a dangling elegant padlock. One person held the key – the dog’s owner, so one’s dog was claimed as ones possession. Like today’s rich lady dog with a Swarovski crystal studded collar, 18th century dogs had sterling or gold bands, often inscribed with a witticism. Alexander Pope’s dog bore “I am His Majesty’s dog a Kew; Pray tell me Sir, Whose dog are you?” ML’s French raffia collar is a precursor to today’s green movement collars of hemp fiber. Raffia is pretty, cool, and comfortable.
ML’s growler is in excellent condition – which is everything in the antique toy world; in fact, in only two areas of the antique and collectible world is condition the top determinate of value: Toys and Books, especially children’s books. You can only imagine that so many of these Growlers, made of paper stretched over a wire support, might not have lasted if YOUR KID had gotten a hold of it. I know ML had to safeguard it from HER kids for it to have held up this well. Many such Growlers have broken legs and dislocated jaws, and are worth--with damage-- around $900. ML’s Papier Mache Growler Noddy is also complete, rare, whimsical, a work of sculpture – and worth $4,000.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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