"The Happiest Music on Earth"
Traditional Limberjack Dolls
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Jig dolls are traditional wooden or tin-plate 'toys' for adults or children. They are dolls with loose limbs that step dance or 'jig' on the end of a vibrating board or platform in imitation of a real step dancer. In London they were frequently operated by street entertainers or buskers. In England old soldiers from the Great War sometimes busked with them to supplement their meagre war pensions. Typically the dolls are between 20-30 cm tall and are jointed at arms, hips and knees; some also have ankle joints. Today, jig dolls of one kind or another can be seen in the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Europe, parts of Asia, and Australia.
Dancing dolls have been popular street entertainment for hundreds of years. Older versions dating back to the 16th century were known as Poupées à la Planchette or Marionettes à la Planchette. These puppets, operated by a horizontal string attached to the musician's leg, 'danced' on a board on the ground as the musician tapped his foot. They were, and still are, popular street entertainment throughout Europe.
At some stage, possibly in the mid-19th century, the string was replaced by a wooden rod fixed into the back of the body, or attached to a wire loop on the top of the doll's head, with the doll dancing on a vibrating board. Later, some jig dolls were automated.
Jig dolls are essentially home-made toys. Typical versions could represent sailors, male and/or female costumed folk-dancers, Native Americans, Morris dancers, Punch and Judy, even animals such as frogs, horses, chickens, dogs, and cows, etc. They may be clothed, painted or left as bare polished wood. Sometimes the heads are whittled to show distinctive facial features. Historical figures have also been made.