Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Bunnies and Bunnykins...

My daughter had a porridge bowl like this, from memory a present at her birth or christening.

Posting yesterday's vintage Easter cards with so many depictions of bunnies and rabbits reminded me of my daughters Bunnykins bowl from when she was a baby and the somewhat risque picture on it.

What? Bunnykins is indecent?

Yes, the plates and cups we used as babies and that we used for our toddlers do have an aspect inappropriate for the kiddies.
Some background before we look at that aspect...
The bunny with eggs is the strongest symbol of Easter, much more than Jesus crucified or Jesus resurrected. Go to the shops and see how many images of the Easter Bunny are displayed with the chocolate eggs, and compare how many images of Jesus are there.

When the early Christian church sought to expand, it frequently adopted local festivals and religious practices and incorporated them within a Christian framework. Easter is one such example:

Easter is associated with rebirth and resurrection:
• The word Easter comes from Eostre, a Germanic (and later Anglo-Saxon) goddess who symbolised Spring and fertility. In pagan times a festival was held in her honour.
• Rabbits and hares have been symbols of fertility from ancient days and also came to be associated with Eostre.
• The egg is a pagan symbol of the rebirth of the Earth in celebration of Spring. The exchange of eggs goes back to antiquity.
• Easter is a mix of pagan and Christian customs, the celebration of spring, rebirth and new life in pagan rebirth and fertility festivals having been combined with the resurrection of Jesus.

Yes, but what about the Bunnykins?

We’ll get to that.

It’s not a surprise that rabbits and hares are symbols of fertility. They are prolific breeders with the females being able to conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first. This is known as superfetation. Rabbits and hares mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year. In addition, the mating urge at spring, the fights between males and the females rebuffing advances have created an impression of rabbits copulating ten to the dozen. The frenetic sexual activity and the ability to reproduce have given rise to such expressions as “ breed like bunnies", "multiply like rabbits" and “go at it like rabbits”.

And the Bunnykins?

Patience, dear readers.

Bunnykins chinaware and figurines are part of the Royal Doulton range, these days also being available in melamine. The original Bunnykins designs and artworks were created by Mary Barbara Bailey (1910 – 2003), the daughter of the Royal Doulton maufacturing director, Cuthbert Bailey. From childhood she had drawn the countryside in which she grew up and the animals kept by her six siblings, including pigs, cows, horses and ferrets. In 1934 her father came up with the idea of Royal Doulton expanding into nurseryware. Mary Bailey carried out the illustrations used to decoate the new range of products, harking back to her childhood drawings, memories and the stories told by her parents about bunnies and foxes.  Mr Rabbit, with his round glasses and pipe, was modelled on her father.

What was originally thought to require a dozen drawings eventually became thousands of illustrations.  She often drew late at night in her clositered cell, by candlelight, so as not to upset the Pioress.

Royal Doulton and Mary bailey even produced a special mark for the Bunnykins range of nurseryware that is still used to the present date and this is where it becomes risque.

The mark on the back or bottom of each Bunnykins plate, bowl and cup, known as a backstamp, is:

That image is certainly consistent with the common sayings about rabbits as quoted earlier.

There is an alternative explanataion, that the rabbits are depicted in a tug of war pose from her childhood memories of tug of war contests.  Whilst it looks like the bunny on the right is holding a rope, that would mean that it was towing the object behind it behind rather than facing the object and pulling it towards itself. That would also mean that the middle buuny is pushing in a quite strange and somewhat ineffectual way. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the third bunny, the one on the left, is doing on either interpretation.

One further bit of irony: Mary Barbara Bailey was a nun.

From 1929 she had been an Augustinian nun by the name of Sister Mary Barbara, residing in an enclosed convent in Sussex. Permission for Sister Mary Barbara to carry out the illustrations was given by the Prioress of the convent on the basis that neither she, nor the convent, received any financial recompense. She died in 2003 aged 92.


  1. I was in a department store today to see about purchasing a Bunnykins bowl as a birthday gift. I've always loved the surprise "tug of war" symbol on the back (I favour the alternative interpretation!) and I was shocked when I turned over the display bowl to see only ONE lonely bunny on the back!! Do you know anything about this change in the backstamp? An internet search has yielded nothing.

    Sylvia - Canada

  2. I haven't been able to find anything about a single bunny backstamp but will look into it further. Perhaps the Bunnykins people read this post and changed it :-)

  3. Thanks. I have emailed Royal Doulton Customer Service. Hopefully they'll get back to me!

  4. Perhaps it had something to do with someone being caught by police with lewd images. Royal Doulton would be well aware of this as was the media at the time.

  5. A) Those are all boy bunnies, and
    B) Lady; you have a dirty mind!

  6. A) Those are all boy bunnies, and
    B) Lady; you have a dirty mind!


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