This fairly scarce, if not rare partial set of fourteen hand-colored portraits of Chaucer’s pilgrims all on horseback. (A full set is comprised of twenty-nine pilgrims.) They measure between 2.5"-3" high by about 2.5"-2.75" across. Of the fourteen figures in our set, ten figures are mounted on flat wooden boards and set in wooden bases, and four are on wooden boards with an easel-type back. The colors are magnificent, bold and bright 100 years later. All but one of the ten figures in wood bases have the ink stamp mark 'The Alley Workshops, Oxford' along with 'Made in England' in pencil script. The four easel type figures are unmarked. This set is in wonderful condition, having retained exceptional color overall a beautiful set. I have researched this set for years to no avail. I discovered a partial set of Alice in Wonderland figures online just recently, and then I came across others online, so many thanks to those online sources for helping me solve this mystery.
This partial set of hand-painted toy figurines represents fourteen of the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, including The Doctour of Phisyk, The Monk, The Clerk of Oxenford, The Persoun, Chaucer, The Squier, The Knight, The Prioresse, The Miller, The Wyf of Bath, The Hoste, The Somnour, The Pardoner and The Frere. In 1922, Oxford mapmaker Cecily Peele opened the Alley Workshops, a whimsical literary-themed gift shop, with a specialty in “wild and tame toys”: “From advertisements published in the early 1920s, it is clear that the Workshops’ principal target audience was the growing number of financially independent female students” (Barron Maps). The full set of Canterbury pilgrims includes all the characters mentioned in Chaucer's prologue:
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
We have the aforementioned fourteen pilgrims. The portraits are based on illuminations in the fifteenth-century Ellesmere manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, now at the Huntington Library.