New Minstrel Folk ToyBy Mark Chervenka
New Minstrel Folk Toy
This black minstrel dancing toy was offered by a large antique reproduction wholesaler. It loosely resembles vintage dancing toys of a similar design. It is made of brightly colored hand painted carved wood.
The jointed wood figure is supported slightly above the base by a wire arm. Pressing a hinged paddle makes the figure "dance". It is titled "Dancin' Minstrel" in hand painted letters on the paddle. Wholesale price for the toy was $18. No permanent mark; this sample had only a removable "Made in China" paper label.
Several features lead one to believe that this is a vintage folk toy. First, it is entirely hand carved and hand painted. There are obvious tool marks from the knife and strokes from a paintbrush. Next, there are relatively crude leather hinges (Fig. 4). attaching the paddle to the base. Finally, there is the hand twisted appearance to the wire support arm (Fig. 3).
Folk toys were rarely titled or labeled by their makers. Factory-made toys similar to this were titled but with machine printing or a printed paper label, not with hand painted letters. Like many Chinese reproductions made of painted wood, this example has a very strong odor of fresh paint. The smell remained strong after leaving the toy outdoors for 15 days. The eyes of the figure are decidedly oval in shape. Black minstrel's eyes in old toys are usually perfect circles.