Origin: Found in Maryland.
Materials: Carved and painted wood clown head, metal spring, cloth suit, wooden box.
Size: 4 ½” w x 4 1/2” d x 4 ¾” h., 10” h. when open.
Needed something fun to do Saturday afternoon, so headed out to a local antique group shop? And there he was. Look at that smile. How can you not love folk art? What a totally awesome handmade Jack-in-the box. When he popped out of the box, I was smitten. This folk artist definitely had an eye for design, creative imagination and the skills required to create a unique piece of folk art. The maker’s inspiration possibly came from an example seen in a toy store, or a book illustration.
The carved wooden clown head has small glass eyes and a strip of black animal hair attached to the top of his head. Ears are carved into the side of the head and accentuated with black paint. The artist painted clown makeup that features a wide winsome smile, arched eyebrows, red cheek and chin dots, and accentuated eye lashes. He wears a multi-colored costume composed of colorful red, green, gold, striped fabrics, and circa 1920-1930 floral fabric sleeves. The clown figure is attached to a metal spring that projects him out of the box when the lid is opened.
Early jack-in-the-box toys were called a punch boxes in Europe. Originally, many of the figures that popped out of the box were Punch or Judy characters or a black devil. The punch box figure in the Brown painting is Judy. Punch and Judy were favourite European puppet show characters.
‘A Surprise Party’ painted by John George Brown in 1888, Accession Number 88.1 by Detroit Museum.
During the 19th century, Punch boxes or Jack-in-the box toys were made by cottage industry craftspeople working in the Sonneberg and Oberammergau, regions of Germany. Their toys were merchandized through Nuremburg wholesalers and exported to Europe and America. Examples are shown in the Brown painting and early McLoughlin children’s books.
I collect old children’s books, and remembered jack-in the box illustrations in McLoughlin Christmas books. These 19th century illustrations show the type of punch boxes made in Germany and sold in American toy stores.
Santa Claus and his Works, by geo. P. Webster, published by McLoughlin Brothers, n.d. (circa 1876). Thomas Nast was the illustrator.
A jack-in-the-box is timeless. Imagine a child’s expression when this grinning clown popped out of the box.