Dolls have been part of our history for thousands of years. During my research, I’ve found that some dolls are more curious than others. In this post, I’d like to share with you the art of Pulgas Vestidas.
The smallest dolls in the world are a form of anthropomorphic taxidermy. Can you guess what creatures?
In the late 19th century, and for reasons which I am yet to fathom, Nuns in a convent in Mexico began to dress dead fleas in tiny costumes. Their strange art became so popular that by the 1920’s, those who had the patience, some tweezers and also very good eye-sight, were also getting in on the act. Within a short time, this unusual art called ‘Pulgas Vestidas’ which literally means ‘dressed fleas’, became part of the Mexican tourist trade.
Tiny fleas dressed in human clothes were set in matchboxes. Sometimes the fleas were set in whole scenes and miniature dioramas of village settings appeared. These tiny creatures were placed as families and as people going about their daily routines holding tools and goods. Bride and Groom sets were the most popular of these unusual scenes, and also farmer and wife sets. The wedding scenes saw the little pests equipped with a veil and a top hat. Farming scenes showed miniature tools and goods, the farmer with a miniature sombrero on his head and his wife an apron!
Sadly, many of these curiosities from the early 19th century did not survive. This was mainly because people became increasingly aware of hygiene. From the 1930’s, anything to do with fleas was increasingly regarded as unhealthy. Subsequently, pulgas vestidas along with flea circuses lost both their charm and their popularity and were probably resigned to the dustbin.
Pulgas vestidas are now very desirable to the dealer or collector, be sure to snap them up quickly if you see one for sale. Dressed fleas are now extremely rare and valuable collector’s items, generating hundreds for a wedding pair and thousands for a whole collection.
But the lost art has been brought back. There is a person currently dressing fleas and has declared himself to be the only person in the world who still practises this art. Click here to visit his website: http://timcockerill.com/main/curiosities/mexican-dressed-fleas/
- Header photo from The Natural History Museum, London
- ‘Fleas in Dresses’ By Unidentified Seattle Times photographer – Scanned from reproduction in Kate C. Duncan, 1001 Curious Things, University of Washington Press, 2000, ISBN 0295980109, p. 144., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5179303
- Antique Collection from The Art and History Museum in Brussels (Twitter): https://twitter.com/ArtHistoryBRU/status/1039813435880599553/photo/1