Category Archives: Beggar’s Opera

Royal Doulton’s ever popular miniature Polly Peachum figures.

Polly Peachum and her counterparts hold a special place in the hearts of many figure collectors due to her prominent appearance in the HN Collection from 1921 until WWII. Polly is central to Royal Doulton’s first series of figures, designed by Leslie Harradine, and each is based on the Lovett Fraser costumes for the 1920 revival of the opera at the Lyric in Hammersmith, London.

A display of miniature Polly Peachums in an appropriately sized display!

Originally produced in a typical larger size as two models – one standing HN463 (with 6 other colourways) and one curtsying (again with 4 more colourways), the latter is often referred to as Polly Curtsey in early publicity for the Beggars Opera series.

A 1925 calendar with Polly dated 1925.

It is the latter model (316) or second version of Polly that has inspired this post, for as a miniature figure she can be found in more recorded and unrecorded colourways than any other Royal Doulton figure.

Polly mounted on a bell push.

Today she can still be found mounted in all manner of useful objects from calendars to bell pushes, and a host of other objects in between! Whilst more easily found versions of her such as M21 in pink are relatively inexpensive, other more unusual versions can easily reach four figure sums, which considering her diminutive size (6cm) is quite astonishing!

One of a number of colourways that Polly can be found in!

Interestingly the first versions of this miniature Polly appeared in 1925 as part of the HN, thus pre-dating the M series and it is from this period that most unrecorded variations appear. There were 8 original HN colourways of her and the most popular were incorporated into the M series upon its launch in 1932.

Another variation of our heroine!

Questions around the markings on the bases of some of these early versions remain unanswered including why some carry early HN numbers such as HN8. My explanation is that these seemingly erroneous references actually refer to the colour of early full size HN figures such as the Crinoline and Picardy Peasant which have been given to Polly as well.

Polly labelled HN1265 to her base, referencing her colourway based on Lady Fayre HN1265.

Royal Doulton’s Beggar’s Opera series.

Original poster for the opera.

Leslie Harradine as well as establishing a new standard in figure modelling in the early 1920’s, was also responsible for the first set of figures, The Beggar’s Opera Series, inspired by the theatre. Harradine’s figures all closely resemble the costume designs Claude Lovatt Fraser the designer for the revival of this piece at Hammersmith in 1920, as you can see from these pictures in the article.


Harradine’s The Beggar and the original sketch for the stage costume.

Once made up Lovat’s costumes were thrown to the studio floor and walked on, had paint thrown on them, and where necessary as with the Beggar’s costume, were then slashed and dirtied. He reasoned that the characters from the play were from 18th Century London low life and spent much of their time in jail.

Here is the original Captain Macheath figure compared with the original theatre poster and Lovat Fraser’s design.


Again the original design and the Doulton figure Captain Macheath.

This first series of figures set the tone for future sets by teaming a popular English theme together with an emerging Doulton house style of decoration.

The series proved a huge success and in Doulton’s first official publicity catalogue after WWII, they themselves lament the withdrawal of this popular set! The main female character Polly Peachum is also immortalised in a miniature version, and incidentally more colour variations of this one miniature figure exist than any other!

Two versions of Polly Peachum against her original costume design. Incidentally the curtsying Polly was at first called Polly Curtsey.

Whether you collect just individual characters from this series or the whole set, they make an eye-catching display!

A favourite colourway of mine for Polly Peachum.