Trio of 19thc. Carnival Knockdown Cat Dolls
Dating from 1890 to the early 1900s, these are some of the earliest carnival knockdown dolls – also known as carnival punks that I’ve ever come across. Introduced more than 100 years ago, punks were used as targets in games of chance where the object was to knock them over with a baseball or softball on the chance of winning a prize.
The three knockdowns here are constructed of heavy canvas filled with sawdust on a metal-clad wooden base. Unlike later examples designed with scary clown faces, these whimsical “cats” are as charming as they can be. The faces are hand painted, so each cat has a slightly different expression. At some point in their lives, the knockdowns were given girls’ names – Janice, Elaine, and Jean Joan – possibly by carnival employees who worked the game.
Given their age and original purpose, this trio of knockdowns is in very good condition. As the photos show, there are water stains on the canvas, and there are signs of wear, especially where the canvas meats the base. Height and circumference is as follow: Janice 15-3/4″ & 20″; Elaine 14″ & 20″; Jean-Joan 13-1/2″ & 19-1/2″. For someone interested in early circus or carnival memorabilia — or unusual “cats” – this would make a rare, hard-to-find addition to a collection.