clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How whimsical/horrifying! Here’s a book of clown faces painted onto eggs.

In the clowning world, you stop people from stealing your face by painting it onto an egg.

Clown eggs against a pink background from The Clown Egg Register by Luke Stephenson and Helen Champion
From left to right, Ancient Hazzard, Frankie Saluto, and Popov.
Chronicle Books
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

In the world of clownery, tradition has long dictated that a clown must never steal another clown’s look. To that end, British clowns have developed a system that sits at the exact intersection of twee whimsy and nightmarish menace that makes clowns such an enduring fixture in both children’s entertainment and horror movies. (Of course it was the British.)

The Clown Egg Register by Luke Stephenson and Helen Champion
Clown Foottit.
Chronicle Books

To prevent the theft of a clown’s face, members of Clowns International (a UK-based international group) must painstakingly paint their clown faces onto eggs (!), then enter those eggs into the Clown Egg Register (!!), housed in the Wookey Hole Clowns Gallery-Museum in Somerset (!!!), and I swear to god that all of the nouns I just listed actually do exist.

The Clown Egg Register is the subject of a new book of photographs by Luke Stephenson and Helen Champion. It’s a nicely made book, with clown egg photos on one side of the page and informative biographies on the other side. You can learn about which clowns have made innovations in the realm of unicycling or building oversized shoes, and which clowns have striven to break the clown glass ceiling. (What up, Fizzie Lizzie, who entered clowning when it was still male-dominated!)

But the book couldn’t answer my most burning question, so I did the only reasonable thing I could. I wrote to the book’s publisher and demanded to know, What the fuck, British clowns?

Or, as I put it in my very professional email, “Is there anyone who can explain to me why ... eggs?”

No one really knows, the publisher informed me politely, but probably because eggs are round, like faces.

A likely story. The Clown Egg Register was first developed in 1946 by Stan Bult, and then revived in 1984 (it now uses ceramic eggs, since many of the blown eggs from the first iteration of the register have been damaged).

But Kodak began selling personal cameras in 1888. There was an easy solution to the problem of how to keep a record of faces, is what I’m saying, especially since it takes three days to properly paint a clown egg and mere minutes to snap a picture. And the cost of a single personal camera for the use of the registry is surely much less than the cost of the professional artists who painstakingly paint each egg.

No, the Clown Egg Register was clearly built for the express purposes of reminding us all uncomfortably of that roomful of disembodied heads in Return to Oz and haunting our nightmares forevermore.

That, or it was built for purposes of “whimsy” and “wonder” and “fun.” You decide.

The Clown Egg Register is on sale now.