2628NEDI Dressed Fleas W&W CUTOUT ALL

Five sets of Mexican dressed fleas (Pulgas Vestidas) sold at Woolley & Wallis for £1000.

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Also referred to as Pulgas Vestidas, the practice soon spread into the wider community and eventually became a novelty aimed at the tourist market.

Usually modelled as a bride and groom, the tableaux sometimes feature a farming scene or occasionally a full mariachi band with their instruments.

Pulgas Vestidas were still being made into the 1930s and a few sets are kept in museums, with Oxford’s Museum of Natural History owning five sets. Others are held by Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Another five of this miniature sets – each about just 6 x 8mm - found their way onto the UK market at Salisbury auction house Woolley & Wallis (26% buyer’s premium) as part of the January 17-18 Furniture, Works of art and Clocks sale.

“I’ve heard of these sets before, but this is the first time we’ve actually handled any,” said works of art specialist, Mark Yuan-Richards. “They’re incredibly intricate for something so tiny and drew a lot of interest. They really have to be seen to be believed.

“The sets would have come to the UK via tourists who acquired them in Mexico, but they are so tiny and delicate that it is no surprise that few examples have survived. They would have appealed as a curiosity, especially to the late Victorians, who had an obsession with anthropomorphism – animals or objects with human characteristics.”

Estimated at £500-800, they hammered at £1000.

Yuan-Richards added: “Because these are such rare survivals, very few examples are recorded at auction. Some sets in the US are known to have fetched several thousand pounds, but they are a very esoteric area of collecting.”