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Bob Pelham first displayed the larger-than-life 6ft 9in (2.05m) model with a shock of orange hair and outsize carved wooden shoes at Harrods during Christmas 1953 and then at the British Industries Fair in 1954. Later Bimbo greeted children as they passed the entrance of the Pelham factory in Marlborough, Wiltshire.

Small versions of Bimbo were among the best-selling of all Pelham marionettes but there is only one giant and he formed the centrepiece of a huge assemblage of Pelhams formed by well-known collector Kaye Casey, who died last year.

At Bamfords of Derby on September 16 he attracted many admirers (not all of them puppet collectors) before selling at £4100 - almost certainly a record for a Pelham Puppet and a substantial increase on the £400 Casey had paid for it in the 1990s.

Having made her first purchase at a Doncaster toy fair in the early '90s, Casey amassed over 1500 puppets, ultimately building an extension to her Lincolnshire home to display them.

The puppets are being sold in Derby across three sales totalling 1200 lots. That more than 20 puppets sold for prices of £500-plus in the first sale alone (further dispersals are planned for November 25 and February 3) suggests the catalogue will set new benchmarks in the nostalgia-fuelled juvenilia market.

Head Models

Collectors categorise Pelham Puppets by head type. Those carrying the initials 'SS' have a spherical wooden head, 'SM' denotes models with a larger wooden head and an opening mouth, while the most common 'SL' puppets have hollow heads produced using a mould.

The early wooden puppets made by Bob Pelham in the first days of production in the late 1940s command a premium.

Among the rarities from the SM range were boxed figures of Russian Man from the late 1940s or early 1950s and Punch, a very early issue with cast lead hands c.1947-48. Very few of either of these figures are known and they took £750 and £1400 respectively.

Previous sales (such as those held by Hartley's in Ilkley) have demonstrated the appeal of puppets depicting forgotten comic characters of the '50s and '60s. Here Harris Tweed and The Boy, two 'SL' figures made following a tie-up with the Eagle comic c.1953, sold at £900 and £700. As always condition is key. Both were boxed - the former including a promotional leaflet.

Another well-known rarity from the late 1960s is the SL Mermaid  with cascading hair and revealing torso. This example, with blonde rather than the more typical ginger hair, was in good condition although not in its box.

Two similar figures with orange hair in poorer condition sold on eBay for just under £1300 each in June. This one sold for a mighty £3200.

Special Orders

Bob Pelham would occasionally receive commissions from the theatre and screen to produce one-off puppets. As made-to-order 'specials' - usually much larger than the standard marionettes at between 2ft and 3ft high - these can be particularly desirable although they are not always found in good condition.

Examples from the Professional range included a blonde-haired Cabaret Singer in a gold evening gown (£650) and a Skeleton with comic dropping jaw and wooden body parts painted in black and white (£1300).

Collecting Base

Close to 200 registered bidders (roughly half in the room and half online) contributed to this sale. The fact that the factory exported to 40 countries in its heyday ensures that today collectors from America and continental Europe add to the core collecting base in the UK. 

And there is much more to come. In addition to every puppet in the Alice in Wonderland series (including the Fish Footman - one of which sold for £580 at East Bristol Auctions in August), the Casey collection includes an apparently unique run of 1963 Animal Range puppets. This includes the super-rare Tortoise, for which fireworks are expected.

The buyer's premium at Bamfords of Derby was 17.5%.