Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Dan Leno Inkwell, 1901

The Victoria & Albert Museum

In some ways, this painted metal souvenir inkwell is a little disturbing. It has been made in the form of the head and shoulders of the music-hall and pantomime star, Dan Leno (born George Galvin 1860-1904), who is dressed for the Dame role of “Sister Anne.” Pantomime often involved men dressing up as women. It was the Nineteenth Century version of “Little Britain.”
The figure of Leno is placed behind an open book of the same base metal used for the sculpture. This book makes the base of the ink well. Upon the seemingly open pages of the book are painted the name “Dan Leno” in copperplate lettering. His hair is modeled and painted as if decorated with a green ribbon around a lady’s bun,. Behind this, there is a hinge, allowing the head section to tip backwards, revealing a chamber in which houses the small clear glass inkwell.

Leno played “Sister Anne” in the pantomime “Blue Beard” by J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins at Drury Lane Theatre in 1901. He was enormously popular as evidenced by this souvenir.

Aside from his great success in Pantomime, Leno was a popular fixture of the music halls where he delighted audiences with long, rambling anecdotes from his own life. Also in 1901 he performed for King Edward VII at Sandringham—much to the King’s amusement. After this, Leno was dubbed “the King's Jester.”

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