Antiques column: The pure joy of finding a rare puppet

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My mother was a lovely lady, but she was also a very strict disciplinarian, especially in my early years.

It was therefore somewhat out of character for her when on my sister’s eighth birthday she bought me a present to unwrap. That year I was six and it was the only time I ever received a present when it wasn’t my birthday.

Perhaps six was my rebel year and it was kept in check with a Pelham puppet. That was my present. I still have the puppet, but a rebel child would never keep the box, which was bright yellow as were all the boxes after 1955.

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The puppet was the Clown, one of the more common examples produced by Bob Pelham and his happy band.

Pelham PuppetsPelham Puppets
Pelham Puppets

It began as Wonky Toys in 1947. Called Wonky because during the war Bob Pelham made donkey models from strung wooden beads which led to his nickname ‘Wonky Donkey Officer’.

Originally the firm made simply strung wooden toys. However, a threatened court case from another toy manufacturer claiming the manufacturing rights to the toys Bob was producing led to a change of name and direction and Pelham Puppets was born.

The company began with just four employees and ended with a factory full of loyal passionate workers, until it closed in 1986.

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Collectors categorise the puppets by the type of head. Some are very common like the clown I received and these are relatively cheap to buy. Others which are much rarer like the Bookworm family, can be worth many hundreds of pounds each.

As always condition and boxes play a vital role in determining the value of a puppet along with rarity. Nothing is ever more exciting to an auctioneer than two determined collectors perusing one rare puppet that neither of them currently own. Pure joy.