A Rough Guide To Collecting Pelham Puppets Pt 2
By The Puppet Surgery
The Yellow Box
Pelham Puppets, the brainchild of the late Bob Pelham, were produced between 1947 and 1992. Prior to being called Pelham Puppets the company produced puppets under the name of Wonky Toys. These are the earliest and, arguably, the most valuable examples of Bob's creations. The most recognisable packaging the puppets came packed in was a colourfully illustrated yellow box, pictured above. However, for the first 9 years of the company the puppets came packed in simple brown cardboard boxes, seen below with Hank. The yellow box appeared in its first form in 1956 and was used, with variations, all the way through to the late 1980's when the candy stripe design was introduced.
The type and style of box the puppet is packed in is a good indication of when the puppet was made. If the box is missing there are other ways to estimate the date of a Pelham puppet. Once you know what to look for, its paintwork and construction can more accurately date a Pelham Puppet.
1950's Hank Pelham Puppet.
With the early brown box.
For many, the beauty of Pelham Puppets lay in their personality. All, hand made and hand painted. This meant that no same two characters looked identical. They were the last hand made, hand painted, mass produced and world exported British toy; rightfully earning their place as a part of British toy history and putting Marlborough wilts on the world map.
Roughly dating a Pelham puppet ' what to look for'
From 1947 to the 50's for the standard 12" marionette range of Pelham Puppets used an 8" folding cross control bar. Using black linen strings threaded through small steel eyelets, attached to the control bar, enabled one to control the puppet movement. However the very first controls they used for Wonky toys were especially crude and looked very much 'home made'. Around about 1954 the company introduced the 'anti tangle' device. By adding coloured rubber washers to the metal eyelets it enabled one to easily remove the strings should a puppet get tangled badly. Now that the strings were colour coded for each of the puppets movements it made the task of untangling simpler, even for children. For a short period of time between 1954 and 60's a smaller 6" folding cross control bar appeared as opposed to the more familiar 8" folding cross control. Of course there were other types of puppet that used different controls but the one I mention here was used mainly on the SS, SM and SL ranges.
Probably the most confusing thing about Pelham Puppets is the prefix that comes before the character name. LS Boy, SS Girl, SM Chef, LA Bengo etc. etc. What do they mean? Well, other than Bob Pelham who created them,the answer is nobody really knows. However, they do denote how the puppet is made. It is thought that the S means 'Standard' representing the standard range.
SM = Puppet with a moving mouth, in the 1980's this prefix changed to DL for Deluxe. ( Standard Mouth ?)
SS = Puppet with a wooden ball head and painted features and toggle feet
SL = Puppet with a moulded head or head and body parts.
LA, LO, LB, LD, A = Small animal puppets.
LS = Wooden ball head with painted features, threaded bamboo legs and half ball feet, strung on a T- bar control, known as a simple dancing puppet.
JC = Most probably the obvious of all prefixes known as the Junior Control! An 8" tall, wooden ball headed puppet strung on a T- bar control.
LM = A more obvious prefix, for one puppet only from the 1950's called the 'Lanky Man'.
LL= One puppet only, Lulabelle, the Hula Girl. This changed in the 1980's when she joined the Deluxe or DL range.
Other prefixes include:
GL= Glove Puppet with a moulded head.
GS= Glove puppet with wooden ball head.
GM= Glove puppet with a moving mouth.
MR= Magic Roundabout Characters.
WH= Wooden Head Characters.
Another good indicator of age is the type of hands. The earliest ones were wood and then went on to be made in lead, composite and finally plastic. As a rough guide 1946-48 wood 1948-50's lead, 50's-60's Lead or composite, 60's -70's Composite, 70's - 90's Plastic or composite. Below you can see pictured a small selection of hands found on a number of characters from the LS, SS, SL and SM standard range of puppets.
As you can see from the pictures above the colour of the paint used up until 1959 favoured a brown hue. From about 1949-51 the small and large chunky hands (A&B) were made of lead. All hands from this period are found on both male and female characters.
Here you can see 1960-70's composite hands that favour the pink/purple hue. During this period the smaller hands are found mostly on female characters whilst the larger one is found on both male and female. The chunky hand (B) is dropped from production and no longer used.
Here you can see how the colours differ from the brown hue of the 1950-60's to the pink/purple hue of the 1960-70's
There were many styles of hands produced during the factories lifetime and the most common materials used were composite and plastic. The wooden hands used at the start of the company were replaced by lead to speed up production. The wooden hands had to be carved and thus labour intensive, albeit they were crude representations. Using a mould, poured into with lead, sped up production. The lead set quickly and no sooner had it been poured it was ready to paint. Like the wooden hands, lead was used for a relatively short period of time, numbering just a few years. Between 1950 and 1951 a new method and material was introduced and changed the future and fortunes of the company, a composite material made of volcanic ash (ground pumice stone), animal glue and water.
The composite material used for Pelham Puppets was originally used in doll making. The compound was mixed as a hot liquid then poured, via a tap, into aluminium moulds, cooled on ice beds and dried in a wind tunnel over night. Once dried the compound became an ideally weighted and robust material. Well suited to making puppets and resembling grey china bisque, it was moulded in to many puppet parts, namely heads, hands and feet. Bob Pelham discovered this technique from a chap whose company made dolls. Bob eventually purchased the method for his own use and the first characters to be made with this material were 'The Alice in Wonderland' range and 'Mr. Turnip' at the beginning of the 1950's. The first heads made in this material were solid. Eventually, as they refined the process, they became hollow.
Although quite robust once dried it had two major faults: 1. The wooden dowel glued into the neck of heads, which took the screw eye and made the joint between the neck and shoulder, would swell and crack the composite if left in a damp environment. 2. Possibly the worst fault was that if left in severe damp conditions or even immersed in water, the composite would quite literally melt.
Other types of hands included those made for the Disney puppets, Baby Bimbo, Hank, Lanky Man , the early Snake Charmer and the Giant. Also the 1963 range of anthropomorphic animals, SL Pig , SL Frog, SL Elephant, The Three Bear's, SL Owl, SL Crow, SL Scottie Dog, SL Yogi Bear, SL Huckleberry Hound etc. etc.
The first large open hands in composite appeared in the 1960's on the SL Wizard, the SL Witch, SL Merlin, SL Old Man, SM Pirate, SL Saxophone Player, SL Horror Boy and SL Pinocchio. These went on to dominate in 1970's and 80's and were found on all male puppets and some female ones in the SM range, but this time made of plastic. Small open hands in plastic were put on the 1970's and 1980's girls, although these too started life in composite in the 1960's being found on the junior range puppets and the SM Horror Girl, who became the SM Girl. There were two other types of small open hands made in composite from the 1950's through to the 1960's and another from the 1960's through to the 1970's. The ones from the 1950's and the 1960's were found only on the Jumpette range, Noddy, Andy Pandy and the SL Monkey. They were quite crudely sculpted but so right for that period of time, their beauty being in their imperfection. The Small composite open hands of the 60's and early 70's by comparison were far more refined.
Small round wooden discs were used as hands on the wooden head range, the Lollipop puppets and Magic Roundabout range.
Legs can also help to date your puppet. Up till about 1969 the standard range puppets had legs mostly made of wood with metal strip knee joints. In the 70's they had plastic jointed legs fixed with a black cylinder pin at the knee and in the 80's they use threaded plastic barrel legs. Plastic threaded barrel legs were used on only some puppets from the 50's onwards and were made of a mottled soft plastic, it was wasn't till the 80's that the standard range had legs that were only threaded made of a harder plastic that gave a crisper finish.
We hope you have found these rough guides helpful and wish you luck with wining or selling the Pelham Puppet of your interest.
Copyright 'The Puppet Surgery' 2001-2010