Early Straw-Stuffed Music Store Mannequin

A curious object, indeed, this 36-inch-tall figure dressed in a marching band uniform was probably made as a mannequin for a music or uniform store window. With the coming of the Industrial Age and innovations such as the sewing machine; large, plate glass windows; and electric lighting, retailers across Europe and in American discovered a new way to showcase their merchandise: large, brightly lit store windows. And the star of many of those storefront displays was the mannequin.

There were “display dummies” for every retailer’s budget. This particular example has a molded wooden head, a straw-stuffed clothe body and kid hands. His shoes are leather. His red hair is mohair. And his cap is made of cloth-covered tin. This old fellow has held up quite well, but under his cloth chest, you can feel a break in the straw. The straw has also settled in his right leg, which is slightly longer than his left. And, as the photos show, his right hand has been replaced.

Not only is this hard-to-find mannequin a piece of mercantile history, he’s also an impressive example of early doll-making techniques in America. Based on the history of mannequins from the 1870s on, I date this particular piece to the turn-of-the-20th-century and probably not later than 1915. When I acquired this fellow, he had a cord around his neck and was handing from a hook on an old churn. He deserves more respect than that, so I asked my blacksmith to make him a custom display stand, and I’m including a show photo of him properly displayed.

NEW PRICE: $3600

“L. Frank Baum, who went on to create the immortal Oz books, was fascinated with the field [the display industry]. He got his start in 1898 as editor of the first trade magazine on show windows and two years later he wrote a book on the subject. … In it he discussed the importance of mannequins to attract customers to the store’s goods.”

                                              –SMITHSONIAM Magazine, April 1991

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