Bonzo is probably the most popular character collected from the 1920’s right through to present day. A strange looking creature with a pudgy face and bright blue eyes he has appeared on everything from postcards through to toffee tins. I felt the urge to find out what made this little dog one of the top collectors items on the market and why he was so envied by all in his day.
Pictured – George Studdy, Bonzo’s creator. Image courtesy of Richard Fitzpatrick.
George Studdy, Bonzo’s creator was born on 23rd June 1878 in Devonport, Plymouth. He had one older sister and a younger brother and all were brought up in a strict household due to their father Ernest Studdy, being a lieutenant in the 32nd Regiment, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Ernest was hopeful that one of his sons would also follow a military career but due to an injury to his foot George’s life took a completely different path.
His Aunt was aware that George had a love for art and gifted him £100 to start him on his way. He attended evening classes at Heatherley’s Art School and also one term at Calderon’s Animal School where he studied animal anatomy. He began to put a portfolio together and was then able to sell some of his sketches to publications and make a little money for himself. Comic Cuts was the first ever publication to buy his work on a regular basis and this was the start of George building up his client base amongst the Fleet Street publishers.
Pictured – The Bonzo Book.
By 1912 George’s reputation was formidable as a cartoonist and had illustrations appearing in all sorts of publications from “The Tatler” to “The Sketch”. An odd little dog kept appearing in his illustrations but it was not until 1918 when the editor of “The Sketch” became interested in what was known as “The Studdy Dog” that this little character really began to develop. Changing from recognised breeds over the years this little dog began to take on the form of a more cartoon character appearance, a mischievous pup he really caught the hearts of all the readers but there was one thing missing – his name! After receiving a host of letters from readers asking when this pup’s name was going to be divulged. The Editor of “The Sketch” Bruce Ingram, made the decision in 1922 and announced to the world that that this dog was called “Bonzo” and changed Studdy’s weekly illustration from “This Week’s Studdy” to “This Week’s Bonzo” thus the first official appearance of the cute little pup as we know and love him today.
George and his wife Blanche had a daughter Vivienne who appeared in some of these sketches alongside Bonzo but she was not always happy with the end result especially when “Heads I win” was published. It wasn’t the fact that a little girl was crying against the wall with a headless doll in her hands and Bonzo grinning with a dolls head in his mouth that upset her but the fact that her knickers were showing and her socks were half way down her legs “I would never had looked that dishevelled!” she told her father.
Pictured – A collection of various Bonzo soft toys. Image courtesy of Richard Fitzpatrick.
Bonzo went from strength to strength and was in huge demand. Other publications wanted him on board and he was a regular image on various advertisements. He even appeared in neon lights in London’s Piccadilly Circus. The little pup began to pop up everywhere and so also did a host of Bonzo merchandise. Items such as scent bottles; plates, ashtrays and condiment sets were just the tip of the merchandise iceberg. Every toy shop in the country had Bonzo Toys that were made by both Chad Valley and Deans Rag Book Company. George was producing hundreds of postcards, which was the strongest market and today are collected all over the world. Bonzo even stared in 26 films for which George and ten other artists had to illustrate thousands of drawings, these ten minute films were released during 1924 and 1925.
Sadly “The Sketch” finally made the decision to give poor little tired Bonzo a holiday after over 5 years of publication – this was to be his final appearance in the newspaper although George returned with other characters such as Ooloo! in 1929. Although he was no longer in “The Sketch” his image appeared in the countless postcards published by Valentines of Dundee and Dean’s published him in many Bonzo books from 1935. George Studdy sadly passed away in 1948 but the Annuals continued to be published up until 1952 other artists were used but the quality was no where near as good so Bonzo too was laid to rest
Pictured – A modern enamelled badge. This was originally made by Richard Dennis to accompany the publication of The Bonzo Book by Paul Babb & Gay Owen. The badge has proved so popular with collectors that the Richard Dennis company still makes it today. Image courtesy of Richard Fitzpatrick.
This strange little dog was part of people’s lives for over 30 years and is still very much part of collectors lives today. Anything associated with him now commands high prices on the secondary market especially the more unusual items. “Bonzo The Life and Work of George Studdy” is published by Richard Dennis Publications and written by Paul Babb and Gay Owen. Both are avid collectors of this little character and Paul explained to me that it was Studdy’s humour that made Bonzo such an interesting item to collect. The rarest items in Paul’s collection are original artwork and paintings that he acquired at an auction many years ago when illustrators were not so sought after or highly regarded as today.
There are so many different pieces of merchandise to collect but one of the most sought after items by collectors is the Bonzo toffee tins manufactured by Cowan and McKay of Glasgow these sell for £400 upwards on the secondary market. “The Sketch” produced four portfolios in the early twenties and these come up for sale and fetch between £200 to £400. A paper mache Crosley Radio store advertising statue recently sold for $1,914 (approx £1,050) but don’t despair because not all Bonzo merchandise is out of reach. If you wanted to start a Bonzo collection then the postcards can be bought for just £2 or £3 or some of the many salt and pepper shakers that were produced on mass by the Japanese start at around £20.
Pictured – A Crossley Pup Store Display Model. Image courtesy of Richard Fitzpatrick.
Other Bonzo related items to look out for are the board games that were licensed during the 1920s and 1930s. One of the most common ones is “The Bonzo Chase” based on the snakes and ladders game this was produced by “Spears Games” and commands over £100 today for a good condition example.
Pictured – a Bonzo postcard.
A combination of Studdy’s sense of humour and Bonzo’s mischiefness created the phenomenal popularity that surrounded this character for over 30 years. Although it has been a very long time since this cheeky pup graced any bill board or newspaper he is still very much in our hearts today, and his memory lives on through the eyes of the collectors.
Thanks to Richard Fitzpatrick for the use of images.