Soft toys in painted canvasBy

Soft toys in painted canvas

Painted canvas toys date from about 1900 up to about 1940. Most commercial painted canvas toys were made primarily in England. English toy makers even had a special name for painted canvas, rexine. A set of circus animals made of painted canvas has been reproduced in China. Known new pieces include an elephant, tiger and bear.

The amount of hand work in the new animals is really quite amazing. Especially when you consider the low retail price: the tiger and elephant were $11.95 each, the bear $9.95. Legs and all joints were hand sewn; eyes, claws and other details were all hand painted. The joints are particularly well sewn. Buttons on the outside of each joint anchor multiple twists of thread. Thread passes through the first joint, through the body and through the opposite joint into a second button. The thread acts like an "axle" so legs and arms can move.

But that's what makes these new toys strange. After sewing these complex joints, the legs were all glued to the bodies; the legs don't move.

That is the single biggest clue to catching these reproductions. All similarly constructed joints on original painted canvas toys move. In the new toys, the buttons and thread that connects the joints are all for appearance only. The new legs are glued and painted in.

We believe the new figures were intended to copy a commercial playset, not home made folk toys. The ball and wire hoop accessories are typical extra features commonly packaged with commercial sets as opposed to something made at home.

The polyester stuffing in the new animals fluoresces bright white. The great majority of most pre-1940 toys are stuffed with natural products– such as excelsior, kapok, etc.– which generally do not fluoresce. Glue used around joints also fluoresces.

A wooden hand pained wood ferris wheel was offered with the animals for $19.95. Like the animals, it also arrives with factory applied "antique" finish.

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Fig. 1 Elephant, 8″ tall, painted canvas body, hand sewn construction.

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Fig. 2 Detail of elephant. Hand sewn ears, glass eyes. Holding hand painted metal flag.

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Fig. 3 Typical new joint. The side towards the body (facing the reader) was never painted. The dark thread (black arrow) runs through this leg, through the body and connects to the opposite leg.

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Fig. 4 Tiger 9″ long, painted canvas. Wire circus hoop with painted canvas base, 5″ tall.

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Fig. 5 Circus bear 4½″ tall, painted canvas body with soft fabric collar. Multi-colored hand stitched ball, 2¼ dia.

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Fig. 6 Hand sewn red fabric collar on bear.

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Fig. 7 Detail of typical button joint from elephant.

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Fig. 8 Carefully formed foot on tiger. An example of how hand sewing was used to produce sculptural-like 3-D detail.

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Fig. 9 Hand braided tail on elephant

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Fig. 10 New painted wood ferris wheel, 13″ × 12″ × 4″. Paint is rubbed and scratched to suggest age and wear. Assembled with Phillip screws, a modern fastener.