When I fist spotted this adorable dog, I thought I’d be adding a new piece to my chalkware collection, but the second I picked him up, I knew better. Sure, I’d be adding him to my collection — who could resist that face?! — but he isn’t made of chalk or plaster.
This vintage dog is made of composition, a mix of sawdust and glue molded into shapes that’s both heavier and denser than paper mache. Composition was used primarily from the late 1870s through the early 1950s. The height of the market for composition toys and home decor pieces was the 1920s (popularity due to novelty of a new material) through 1940s wartime (when rationing limited options for manufacturing). The invention of new, inexpensive and more durable hard plastics in the 40s brought about the end of composition items by the 50s.
I’ve seen (and own) composition dolls, and quite a number of small toy animal toys and figurines (mostly nativity scene pieces), but nothing quite like this charming dog. Outside of the doll world, this golden pup is the largest vintage composition piece I’ve seen. At five inches tall, he seems too large to have been a child’s toy; likely an inexpensive display figurine for the home.
The crazing, or cracks in the lacquer or sealing finish caused by changes in humidity and temperature, are common. Thankfully, the worst of the crazing (and resulting loss of color due to damage to the sealer) is limited to the backside and bottom of this vintage piece.
I call him Old Yeller because I like to imagine I’m saving this yellow lab as I’m making him part of my collection of dogs.