Growler, papier mache French Bulldog pull-toy (France, 1890s)

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Growler, papier mache French Bulldog pull-toy (France, 1890s)

Bulldog, papier-mache Growler, 1890s.jpg (i)
BTMM map 017.gif
Arch Two , Area 17
Toy Variety (display)
Shelf 1

A wheeled, painted, papier-mâché French Bulldog "Growler", from the 1890s.

The "Growler" with its moving head might possibly be the ancestor of the modern "Nodding Dog" bulldog car-shelf toy, that in turn inspired the "Churchill" bulldog character that appears in the "Churchill Insurance" television adverts.

The Growler

The first "Growlers" appeared in 1880s France. Following the ban on bloodsports such as bull baiting in the UK in 1835, a great number of Bulldogs who were then 'unemployed' were exported from England to France and after some selective breeding which decreased their size and improved their temperament, the French Bulldog emerged as a breed and was extremely popular both in France and in the UK with well to do and 'society' families. The popularity of the breed led to these almost life sized and very life like toys being made in great numbers. After all, if one couldn't obtain a French Bulldog, the next best thing was a French Bulldog toy. Various different designs were created but they were all instantly recognisable.


Typically, the body of the Growler from the neck down is a single piece of papier-mâché, attached to a papier-mâché head with a hinged jaw and glass eyes. The feet have wooden castors half-embedded, and a chain from the Growler's neck allows it to be pulled along a hard surface like a dog on a leash. The chain disappears into the back of the Growler's neck, and connects to an internal mechanism so that when the chain is pulled, the dog's head moves, its mouth opens, and it emits a growl or bark.

The joint between the head and neck is concealed by a wide black badger-hair fringed collar. These collars were almost ubiquitous on real French Bulldogs of the era (and up to the early 1930's) and were 'fashionable' representations of the badger or boar hair collars worn by their earlier "working" Bulldog ancestors as fighting collars so that the stiff hair would provide some protection for the neck if attacked. Although most of the early French Bulldogs were not working dogs, it was apparently fashionable for them to still wear the authentic badger-hair collar, and the papier-mâché toys followed the convention.

The outside of the body and head is covered in a 'plush' coating to approximate the look and feel of the short hair of the breed.


Due to their papier-mâché construction (and their habit of getting accidentally crushed, or dropped, or chewed by real dogs), original C19th Growlers in good condition are comparatively rare – this, coupled with the absolutely distinctive "look" of an 1890s Growler toy, gets collectors very excited, resulting in surprising high prices at auction.

However, as with other high-value toys that have a fairly simple construction, fakes and reproductions have started to appear on the market.

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