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Got an empty space? Try a dummy board.
A "dummy board" is a decoration first used in the 16th century, probably in Holland, then England. It is a figure made from a flat piece of wood carved to make a tall flat "person" to stand in a corner of an empty room. The edges of the board were beveled so they would not be seen from the front. There are boards attached to the back to make an easel that propped the figure up a short distance from a wall or chair. The figure was painted with oil paint and covered with varnish so cleverly it looked like a live person or animal. The figure was put in a dark area at the top of a stair, the end of a hall or a corner near a door. Some were made to look like household help, a sweeping maid, a seated girl peeling apples, a maid carrying a tray with food. Some were soldiers. Many were men, women, boys or girls dressed in the expensive clothes of the day. Each held a sword, book, bird, flowers or other appropriate object. A few looked like poor peasants. Dogs and cats also were made as dummy boards and placed near a fireplace or chair. There were even some figures that looked like real gardeners that were put outside. These are rare today because the weather damaged them. The dummy boards are hard to find today, but an antique pair sold recently for $6,000, and a single one for $950.
By TERRY KOVEL, Kovels' Antiques and Collecting
June 29, 2012