Covered Wagons: Prairie Schooners and China Doll Hairstyles

A rare and early Kestner Covered Wagon china doll has pink tinted skin, brown eyes, painted lower lashes, and feathered eyebrows. Notice that her eyes remain white, though her skin tone is pink.

Most of the first settlers who came to the west coast of America arrived in covered wagons, beginning in the 1840’s. By 1871, railroads were open to California and Oregon, and migrants could travel more easily by rail than by wagon. The wagons left indelible marks in our imaginations, on the landscape, on the endurance and stamina of the migrants, and as a legacy. Part of that legacy was widespread negative repercussions for our country’s indigenous populations. One legacy that poignantly remains in a more positive light is the china doll with the hairstyle referred to as Covered Wagon.

The Prairie Schooner, America's Classic Covered Wagon
A covered wagon for westward migration deemed a “prairie schooner” because it appeared to be sailing across the waving prairie grasses.

The German factories that made the china dolls with molded hair, that we collectors adore as antiques today, did not give the dolls or their hairstyles names. Rather, it was the early collectors, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who attached descriptive names to the different styles of dolls in order to have a working vocabulary when referring to them with other collectors or historians. The Covered Wagon doll was so named because the simple hairstyle of the doll was one that became popular in the 1850’s as one easy to maintain while travelling by wagon.

This 9 1/2″ Kister Lydia hairstyle doll is a rare example on a wooden body, circa 1845.
This larger doll by Conta & Boehme has longer hair than many Sophia Smith dolls, but shorter than most Lydias. Her curls end in a ledge at her neck as is typical with the Sophia Smith style.

The advent of china doll shoulder heads for the open market was the mid 1840’s. The earliest china dolls had bun hairstyles modeled after current fashions including hair looped around the ears such as Queen Victoria’s wedding style, and spaniel ears which featured sausage curls over the ears and a bun in back. Starting about 1845, the “Lydia” hairstyle with center parted smooth hair on top and long sausage curl ringlets all around and dropping in length over the shoulders, was common for china dolls. Another similar style of about the same time is known as “Sophia Smith.” This style is like “Lydia,” except the ringlet curls are shorter at neck level, and end in an undercut ledge. The Lydia and Sophia Smith styles, as some of the oldest and rare china dolls, are scarce, expensive, and sought after by serious collectors.

This Kloster Veilsdorf doll with exposed ears, known as a Greiner type, is similar to a Covered Wagon hairstyle, yet not the same.

The first of the “plain and plentiful” china dolls was the Covered Wagon hairstyle that made its appearance in the early 1850’s. (The other styles referred to as “plain and plentiful” are the “flat top” and the “low brow” which come along later in the 19th century.) The Covered Wagon style is similar to Sophia Smith with center parted smooth hair on top and short curls around the head. The main difference is that the covered wagon curls conform to the shape of the head, tapering at the bottom, rather than having a distinct ledge as for the Sophia Smith. It appears that most of the Covered Wagon china dolls were made by Kestner & Co. and A.W.Fr Kister, while Kloster Veilsdorf made their unique variation with exposed ears known as “Greiner type.”


This beautiful Kestner Covered Wagon doll has clear blue eyes and deep red lips. She is dressed in her original black silk mourning dress which is badly shattered. She has always been a cabinet doll, never played with, as evidenced by her pristine painted hair with no rubs. Circa 1860-65.
Karen is an exceptional Kestner Covered Wagon doll with brilliant blue eyes and delicate lips. She is on a replacement body.
A very large Kister Covered Wagon shoulder-head, 7″ tall, has two-toned black and brown painted brows. The brow shape with her pursed lips give her a stern look. She is grouped with a wee dollhouse sized doll, a pink tint Kister, and a Kestner shoulder-head.
These two Kestner blue eyed Covered Wagon hairstyle china dolls, from the collection of Joy Harrington, have painted lower lashes and feathered brows, like the similar brown eyed doll shown at top and below. Mary Krombholz states in her books on identifying German china dolls that no other porcelain factory besides Kloster Veilsdorf painted china faces with eyelashes; yet she pictures a doll like these in her section on Kestner dolls, stating that it has painted lower lashes. There are, obviously, exceptions.
This beautiful rare Kestner Covered Wagon doll with brown eyes, soft leather arms, pointed cloth feet, period correct clothing, and red leather shoes dates to the 1850’s. She is 23″ tall.

  Covered wagon china dolls are some of the oldest antique dolls that are still readily available to collectors, often at a reasonable price. A fair number of them can be found with the rarer brown eyes. They carry that quintessential primitive charm, evoking the stamina, endurance, and spirit of those American pioneer women who braved the adventure of crossing this wide continent to its westernmost regions to forge a new home.

(All dolls shown are from the author’s collection unless otherwise noted.)

This mid-19th century girl is holding a mid sized Covered Wagon china doll. The girl’s hairstyle is in short cork-screws with pointed ends, similar to the doll. Her gaze is defiant, as though she has already inherited that spirit of endurance.


The Makers: A New Page

Promised long ago, here, finally, is a brief description of the seven prominent German porcelain factories that produced china doll shoulder-heads, china doll parts, and the Frozen Charlottes or full body porcelain bathing dolls.

To view this new page, just click on the link in the column on the Left.

A pink tint Kestner china doll

Coming up next will be an exciting post on covered wagon china dolls. See you soon with this story!

Rolled Cloth Dolls: An Early American Amusement

Rolled cloth dolls in two sizes, made by the author.

Cloth dolls have long been known to be the perennial favorites of children through the centuries. Never deeming to boast the beauty and artistry of early manufactured dolls made of wood, papier mache, china, wax, or bisque, they are nevertheless soft, comforting, and companionable to the young child. Eliza Leslie in American Girl’s Book 1831 says, “Linen dolls, when large and properly made, generally afford more pleasure to little children than those of wax, wood or composition [meaning papier mache], as they can be handled and played with freely.”

Even more prosaic are Lina Beard and Adelia Belle Beard in The Original Girl’s Handy Book, first published in 1887:

No such beautiful dolls as delight the hearts of the children of to-day ever peeped forth from the Christmas-stockings of our grandmothers or great-grandmothers when they were little girls. In those times there were not, as there are now, thousands of people doing nothing but making toys for entertainment and pleasure of the little ones, and the motherly little hearts were fain to content themselves with lavishing unlimited affection and care upon a rag, wooden, or corn-husk baby, made and dressed at home. Since then almost every child tired of, and surfeited with handsome and expensive toys, has been glad at times to get grandma to make for her a real old-fashioned dollie which might be hugged in rapturous moments of affection without fear of dislocating some of its numerous joints, or putting out of order its speaking or crying apparatus; and might in times of forgetfulness be dropped on the floor and suffer no injury thereby.

One antique rolled cloth doll, and three new hand made cloth dolls.

Perhaps you have a child or grandchild who would benefit from a soft doll of huggable proportions. Or perhaps you would like to add a bit of Early American whimsy to your doll collection or home. I first found instructions for the Rolled Linen Doll in Paula Walton’s article in Early American Life, Christmas 2009 edition.

Paula Walton’s article.

Paula’s article is based on Eliza Leslie’s instructions in American Girl’s Book 1831, but gives more complete steps and patterns for those of us who did not learn to sew a straight seam by age five.

Here are my steps for making these dolls:

Gather cotton or linen materials for making a 5″ or 8″ doll. The cotton fabric can be a fabric width of 45″ or so, and may need an insert of soft fabric, such as old flannel, to make the doll full enough. Fold and press under 1/4″ on the top edge for gathering the top of the doll’s head. The arm strips are about 3″ and 2″ for the two sizes of doll.
Roll the body fabric, keeping the top edge even. You may fold the fabric in half before rolling. Leave the outside edge longer, as the fabric will bunch a bit in the roll.
Remember to wax your thread before sewing. This helps it to pull through the fabric smoothly, and avoids tangles.
Sew the seam half way down the body from the head to the waist. Gather and sew the top of the head tightly. Wrap the waist tightly with a thread and tie off. I could not get my dolls to spread much from the waist down.
The dress is just a tube with a seam in back, hemmed, and the neck gathered in. You can sew the dress by machine or by hand. I sewed my dolls all by hand. Here are the even cartridge pleats going into the dress neckline.
The arms are rolled and the side seam sewn; then the end is tucked in and sewn shut for the hand. The arm is sewn into the gathered sleeve at the top, then sewn over the dress without making an armhole.
I drew a cheerful pencil face on my 8″ doll. I gave her a simple one-piece bonnet and a pinafore apron that is tacked on at breast and waist.
The 5″ doll does not have a face or a bonnet.
The antique doll on the left is circa late 19th to early 20th century. She has a faded pencil drawn face. Her arms are sewn to her body, her dress has real sleeves that fit over her arms, and it is removable, but sewn together in back.
The antique doll has split and sewn legs. She is made of a soft cotton waffle weave fabric with a muslin mask head. My doll is the roll all the way down. She has an antique collar half with tatting lace pinned on for a petticoat.

I hope that you will be brave and ambitious enough to make a rolled cloth doll or two of your own from the minimal instructions listed here and in The American Girl’s Book 1831. Or perhaps you can find a copy of Early American Life containing Paula Walton’s more detailed instructions. This simple doll of rustic charm is well worth the effort!


Illustration from The Original Girl’s Handy Book. Girls playing with home made corn-husk dolls.


Beard, Lina and Adelia Belle Beard. The Original Girl’s Handy Book: Tess Press, New York, 1887.

Leslie, Eliza. American Girl’s Book (1831) or Occupation for Play Hours: Monroe and Francis, Boston and New York, 1831.

Walton, Paula. “A Common Linen Doll:” Early American Life, Christmas, 2009.

Summer Days for Stella Julianna (Or How to Make Good Use of Your Rag Bag)


It had been ever so long since Stella Julianna had been outside. She took her pet chick out to play in the grass, taking a leash in case she lost track in daydreams, as she was wont to do.


The warm sun and a soft cool breeze were just right to get her thoughts flowing. “I wonder where this little breeze sails off to when it blows away from here. . . And where else does the sunshine touch.”


“This grass is so green. Could it really be greener on the other side?”


“If I climb this towering wall, will I find the wide, wide, wonders of the world?” All the places we didn’t go this summer? Maybe I’ll find my Great Aunties in Nebraska, or my cousins in Connecticut. Maybe the ship is waiting to take us on our Alaskan cruise, or an airship to take us to Inverness, or even Santorini.”


When the sun began to lower toward the western horizon, and the shadows made a comfortable gloaming in the bedroom, Stella Julianna yawned and put on her new rag-bag nightgown.


She hoped that her night dreams would be as interesting as her daydreams were.


And a story before bed is always welcome. Sweet dreams and sleep tight. (I can say that because my bed is a rope bed that needs tightening!)

Cloth doll embroidered face big hands cutwork apron

This is a late 19th century rag doll with an embroidered face. Her clothing was surly rag bag findings.

The origins of the rag bag are obscured in the depths of history. In the 18th and 19th centuries, women saved wool scraps, often from their own spinning and weaving, to trade when the tin peddler came around. He used the wool rags in his work of fashioning his tin wares to sell. Yet we can also be sure that many a mother made use of her stash of fabric scraps (especially those charming cotton muslins and prints) to make a rag doll or two for her children when no other resources were available, and she could not possibly spend money on a store bought doll. Of course the rag bag was also the source of many of the interesting patchwork quilts of the 18th and 19th centuries. Many a little girl made use of this resource as well, to make a doll–perhaps a rolled doll–for herself or a sister, and to make clothing for the dolls. The results could be surprisingly satisfactory (to us looking back from the 21st century) when girls of the past were taught to sew a straight seam by hand by age five.

19th c early fabric nine patch quilt

19th century nine patch quilt with early rag bag gleaned fabrics.

My grandmothers most likely had rag bags, though I never had access to theirs–what vintage fabrics I could have found! My mother had a rag bag that I did raid to make clothing for my little dolls. Now I have a rag bag (or two or three) of my own that I sometimes supplement with promising garments of interesting fabrics from thrift stores.


Stella Julianna’s new summer nightgown was made from a full size family garment that had worn beyond wearability, yet still had areas of good fabric. By creatively choosing the cutting layout, I was able to use decorative elements of the former garment, such as the front placket and ruffle edging, in the doll gown without the extended work of making them from scratch. And there is enough fabric to clothe another doll or two!


This vintage photo of my first son shows him attired in a sleep romper I made for him to stay comfortable in the warm summer climate on Okinawa. The romper was made from a rag bag find–his grandpa’s cast-off pajama bottoms. The cuffs of the original garment were used for the new garment pant bottoms.

Victorian Girl in Garden with Doll 1889

This is the perfect time to stay indoors to get creative with your (or your grandmother’s) rag bag. Or, take your gleanings out under the trees and start stitching. Happy sewing!

Abigail Brownell Has Her Article Published!


My 1850’s Kloster Veilsdorf factory china doll that I purchased in 2012 is one of my most favorite dolls. I am so happy that my article presenting the story of her unfolding provenance has been published in the Summer 2020 issue of Doll News, The United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC) magazine!


If you are a UFDC member (and live in the United States) then your copy of Doll News probably arrived today. I will be honored for you to read my article and give me your review.


If you are not already a member of UFDC, perhaps you would consider joining a local Doll Club, or becoming a UFDC Member at Large. As a member, among other benefits, you will receive by mail a copy of the exemplary 180 page periodical, Doll News, four times a year:

Be sure to let UFDC know that I (Jennifer Stewart of Oregon City) recruited you when you join from this site.

This article about Abigail Brownell introduces you to her, tells you about the type and specifics of her as a doll, and brings you the story of her unfolding provenance, her history, and her loving spirit. When the publisher’s rights expire, I may be able to share the complete article with you here.


Do get your UFDC membership started so you don’t miss out on any of my future articles that are planned for this fantastic resource for anyone wanting to know more about the research, education, conservation, collecting, and appreciation of dolls.

Antique 1-4 tinted tintype civil war standing girl push cart covered wagon china doll (2)

This tintype of an American Civil War era girl shows a classic example of a “no pattern needed” cotton dress of the mid 1800’s. She pushes a covered wagon hairstyle china doll dressed as a lady in her cart.


On Mortality and the Eternity of Personal Objects

1927-2 Little Rock Quinton with toys holding doll (2)

This is my father with his toys, and holding his composition doll, 1927.

A strong point of mine is seeing connections between events and objects. So when global events such as the pandemic, police brutality, and Holocaust Remembrance Day converge with my Facebook doll postings and updating my doll records, I find connections.


Two little antique china heads from the mid 19th century who used to be play dolls.


Paint rub and wear is visible on the backs of these small china shoulder-heads that used to be play dolls with bodies.

I find it rather poignant that while we value human life over objects, people die, and many of the objects that were part of their life persevere. I was thinking about that as I considered several little china shoulder-heads without bodies in my collection. The heads have rubs to the paint on the back of their hair, which indicates that they were once part of a doll with a body and were played with. Then I envisioned young girls, and perhaps boys, playing with these dolls, and what that would look like. The nursery, bedroom, or parlor of their home most likely had a wooden floor. If the family was wealthy enough in the mid-Victorian era, they may have had rugs on the floor, which very likely were small, and not room sized. So the dolls would have been dropped and bumped on the floor repeatedly, leading to wear to the back of their hair and noses.

Antique photo 1940s siblings with doll

This boy looks quite mischievous with his hands on his sister’s cloth body composition doll. Rough play is definitely in store for this doll who already has a dinged nose! Circa 1930’s

Girls frequently carried a doll by her arm– in her right hand, holding the doll’s left arm. This is why play dolls often have wear and tearing to the left arm more than to the right. Also, boys tend to be rougher with dolls, both their own, and especially with their sisters’ dolls. This accounts for many a broken bisque or china doll, and indeed, is the reason for the advent of the wooden Schoenhut dolls in 1911, because a granddaughter of the company’s founder had a brother who continually broke her bisque dolls.

Antique Victorian post-mortem daguerrotype of a child with her doll who was said to be haunted after the child's death

19th century post-mortem photograph of a young girl and her doll.

Obviously, not all material objects survive the original owner, giving another tangent to my contemplation; however, there are plenty of 19th century objects left to be pondered upon. It is likely that the early 20th century dolls, in the photo above and the one with my passed on father, are still extant, though the people in most antique photos with dolls are not. Certainly, many antique dolls in collections now had original child owners who died as children. Death, even for children, was an even more common occurrence in the 19th century, leaving in its wake orphaned dolls, post-mortem photographs and dolls dressed in mourning costume.


This china lady with a covered wagon hairstyle , circa 1865, is dressed in her original black silk mourning dress. While the dress is badly shattered from age, her china parts are pristine with no rubs, indicating that she has always been a cabinet doll, and was not played with.

I am aware that today is deemed Holocaust Remembrance Day. One image I saw, to illustrate that one million children died in this atrocity, was that of an old baby shoe held in the palm of a hand. My last post was about little antique shoes. While I don’t have any from the holocaust era, that image still gives pause for reflection about the children, now surely long gone, who wore the shoes that I have. Like the china doll heads, the shoes have wear, indicating their usefulness in the life of that person long ago. It makes me wonder; who was that person, and what became of them? Who is remembering them now?


Antique shoes worn by a child well over a hundred years ago.


As we continue to track the the progress of our current pandemic, and we mourn the vast loss of lives to covid-19, we have again the distressing situation of people leaving the physical plane of the material world, yet their possessions remain. I continue to ponder. Why do these material items of lives long gone remain? At least some of those possessions, no longer needed by the person who is gone, are likely to circulate into the inventory of possessions of someone who is still here. It is incredible to my mind, for example, how an exquisite  Roman tile floor from millennia past can survive all this time under a vineyard, and the individual people who made it and walked on it are not to be known to us in our time.

Genes from ancient Roman civilization resembles those from the ...

People of Ancient Rome–who are they as individuals?

Such are the ponderings of my mind through the recent turn of events in our culture, coupled with my work at home with my antique treasures. I value my antique items for the art and history that they embody, and more so because they were part of a person’s life in the past who found them useful and were prized by them.

To all of the families and friends who have lost precious people to recent events, may you continue to hold onto the stories, to the memories that keep a part of them alive, and to some special material object that retains the remnant energy of your loved one. Record that provenance if you can to carry the story forward.



Antique photo bearded man and girl holding china doll

Father and daughter holding a china doll.




One, Two, (Three) Buckle My Shoe


Can you tell from my recent posts that I have plenty of time at home right now to catch up with my creative work—both sewing and writing? Today’s small project was switching the buckle from the single brown antique child’s shoe to the blue pair to make a match.

I found this adorable pair of Victorian blue leather child’s shoes several years ago. When I bought them, the left shoe was complete with soft metal buckle and original lacing. The right shoe had no buckle and was laced with a modern cream colored narrow ribbon. Wanting to improve the pair closer to original condition, I diligently searched for an antique replacement buckle, or for single shoes that would supply the needed buckle. Eventually, I found a sale-lot of single antique doll shoes, including one with the buckle I needed. Unfortunately, when I received them, I found that the buckle, though the same style, turned out to be smaller than the one on my blue child shoe. I sewed it on anyway, and made a new twisted crochet cotton lace for the right shoe. As you can see, the lace that I made is too light in color. Perhaps a tea bath could solve that problem. . . .

Finally, after another year or so of not really searching, I came across this single brown child’s shoe with the same style buckle. This time, I made sure that it would be the right size before purchasing. Since the shoes themselves are similar, but not identical, they make for an interesting comparison of this type of Victorian children’s shoes. These shoes are a common style for children that were made from around 1860 to 1900.


Shoes were not shaped to fit the right and left foot until the 1850’s and later. Before that time, people shaped their leather shoes and boots to their feet by soaking them in water, then wearing them until they were dry. On my shoes, the sole of the single brown one shows minimal, if any, shaping as a left shoe. The larger blue shoes are just discernible as right and left.


My camera is not capturing the true colors. The brown shoe is slightly lighter than shown here, while the blue pair is also lighter; more of a cadet blue.

The brown shoe is 4 1/2 inches long at the sole, and the blue pair is 5 inches long. Both shoes here are machine stitched. A machine for sewing shoe soles to the uppers was patented in 1858. Before that, making shoes was a craft, as they were made by hand, and sewing a hard leather sole to the upper took much effort.  Remember the visit of the shoe cobbler to the Wilder farm in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, Farmer Boy? Wilder describes in detail how the cobbler made shoes for the family right there in their home.

Both of these shoes (above and below) have decorative variable zig-zag stitching surrounding the lacing and tops. Metal grommets are used for the lacing holes. Also of note is that the brown shoe is higher in front at the top, while the blue pair is slightly curved across the top. The brown shoe has a two part upper, while the blue shoes have a third part for the toe.


Another intriguing difference is that the brown shoe has a tongue, while the blue shoes lace without a tongue underneath. I could not find a reference about when shoes for children in the 19th century began to have tongues. It is my understanding that laced shoes without tongues are generally earlier than those with tongues. However, other features of the brown shoe would indicate that it is earlier than the blue pair.


Here is the pair of blue shoes with the right-size matching buckles. I like how they display much better now.   —And what to do with a single brown Victorian child’s shoe?


Fear not! A single shoe (sans buckle) can be brought to good advantage in a home filled with Victorian antiques and dolls!

Carte-de-Visite toddler girl wearing white lace shoes (2)

This Late Victorian to Edwardian era girl wears white shoes similar to the ones I have shown. Hers appear to have hard leather soles with a low heel.


Flower Child: Restoring a Small Hertwig Print-Body China Doll


I recently purchased a small Hertwig china doll who is inferior in her china head, face painting, and bisque limbs. Yet I like her because she is a doll made with an intriguing  print body.  Print bodies for Hertwig dolls were available possibly from about 1895, and definitely from Butler Brothers distributor from 1905 to 1907.  Many print body dolls are made in alphabet or flag print on the nanking (cotton) body. They brought a new twist to the old china dolls who were going out of favor by this time. The print bodies were considered to be educational for children. They are not easy to find in today’s market.

Hertwig ABC body Photo from Pinterest

Here is an alphabet print body. (Image from Pinterest)

Hertwig numbers print

This doll with a numbers print body is larger than the one above and has a more detailed hairstyle and face painting. (Image from

Hertwig Kate Greenaway print body Photo from

The nanking body of this doll has an intriguing Kate Greenaway print. (Image from

I purchased this doll because I had been searching for a print body doll, and I was captivated by the lovely floral print which I had not seen before. The pansies got me! I knew that the doll had some issues with her cloth body, and that she was leaking sawdust. She arrived with one hole covered with tape, and  another hole that I didn’t know about upon purchase. I did not handle her until now, as I made the repairs.


The patch on her right leg is complete, while the left one is in progress. You can see that the china part of this leg is almost torn free. Also evident is the excelsior (sawdust) leaking out as I work on her.

Repair work on this doll was delicate because the cloth is brittle. She had obviously not been living in optimal conditions these many years. I had to take care in placing stitches so as not to break the fibers further.


Rose, Carnation,  and Violet are shown on her front, along with a peek of daisy, and the meandering vine.


Pansies are evident on the backside, with a hint of forget-me-not. Poppy shows only a small bit under her arm.

This floral print body would be considered as educational because the flower names are printed with the flowers. They include rose, violet, carnation, forget-me-not, sunflower, pansy, poppy, and daisy.

While I didn’t like having to cover part of this doll’s endearing body with patches, she is much better off now that her body is stable. At nine inches tall, she will remain “au naturel” without clothing to show off her fine print. What a sweetie to behold!


The repairs are complete, and the cloth body stabilized.

Antique photo girl with star collar china and carriage

This girl poses with what appears to be a large Hertwig “lowbrow” doll in her carriage in the late 19th century.





The “Is-ness” of an Antique Doll: A Study of the Tenuousness of Being



Sometimes, I am struck by the notion of how beautiful it is that antique dolls that are more than 100 years old–a part of history before people who are on the planet now–even exist. The fact that they are “Being” in existence in our time is awesome! In my morning inspirational reading today, from the book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue, I found this deeply thoughtful passage:

 The most profound statement that can be made about something is that “it is.” Beauty is. The word is is the most magical word. It is a short, inconsequential little word and does not even sound special. Yet the word is is the greatest hymn to the ‘thereness’ of things. We are so thoroughly entangled in the web of the world that we are blind to the unfolding world being there before us. Our sleep of unknowing is often disturbed by suffering. Abruptly we awaken to the devastating realization that the givenness of things is utterly tenuous. Even mountains hang on strings. The ‘isness’ of things is miraculous: that there is something rather than nothing.

Those of us in the Pacific Northwest know intimately how the ‘isness’ of a mountain can altar profoundly, after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.


This doll dates to 1690 (yes, that is three and a quarter centuries old–quite old for a doll!) and is one of only two glass-eyed dolls known to exist from this period. Though she was purchased by Rosalie Whyel without her original dress, providence, and the corroboration of three parties with separate agendas, worked to reunite her with her original dress.

It is always amazing for me to see in person, and more often in photos, those astounding English wooden dolls from the 1700’s, and some earlier, that are still in existence! I was under the impression that not many household-type things from before, say, the American Revolution were still extant. I had an awakening in this idea after reading Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.; a book about Huguette Clark, her extreme wealth, and her love of dolls and art. I realized through this book that wealthy people do indeed own many remarkable things from many centuries past that are in a state of “Being” in their homes! Previously, I had thought that there were few items of ‘isness’ from as old as the 13th century, and that what is, were in museums.

For those of us who are the keepers of antique dolls, it is an intimate experience when a doll is altered by misfortune. My “sleep of unknowing” about the miracle of ‘isness’ for one of my dolls was disturbed by suffering last week when I discovered the tenuousness of her being. Here’s what happened:

DSC03206 (2) Price obliterated

This is my Taufling baby as she was when I purchased her.

A while back I found a fabulous 1850’s taufling papier mache doll that fit perfectly in an antique doll cradle I have. The cradle lived on the floor under a tall sofa table in my living room. I have two cats who like to play chase through the room. One day I came home and found the doll on the floor. At a glance, she seemed alright, and I placed her back in the cradle. Last week, however, I took her out to photograph her, and found that her shoulder-plate was quite broken! Yes, I was devastated that this thing of beauty entrusted to me was irretrievably altered! I surmised that my heavier cat had probably stepped hard on the doll after knocking her out of the cradle, crushing her.


I did the best I could to repair this doll, and she retains an ethereal beauty, serene in her antique gown, snug in her cradle, which is now moved to a less trafficked area in the apartment. But she will never retain the near-perfection that she had before her mishap.


Here is the doll after I repaired her shoulder-plate with white glue and strips of paper behind the cracks. The back of her shoulder-plate has a horizontal break, which is most likely where the pressure of the cat’s paw landed. I did not think to photograph her before the repairs because I was so devastated by the damage.

You may remember that I wrote briefly on this type of German doll, made in the Sonneberg region, when I wrote about the history of dolls in Japan.

Commodore Perry Dolls brought from Japan in 1852

These are the Japanese dolls that Commodore Perry brought from Japan in 1853.

The three-fold (mitsuori) dolls that Commodore Perry brought back from Japan in 1853 had a profound influence on doll-making in Germany. The ability of German doll makers to examine this type of Japanese doll, and the ichimatsu dolls with cloth connecting the solid parts, resulted in the taufling, or Motschmann, type doll. These early German dolls retained the Japanese features of almond shaped dark eyes and painted-on hair tufts above the ears, of the dolls that influenced them.


This 22 1/2″ taufling has a wax over papier mache shoulder head. He is redressed in antique baby clothing, and currently sports a tuft of alpaca wool for shaggy bangs.

The taufling dolls come in many sizes. The one that fits in my cradle is 12″. This one, shown above, is 22 1/2″ tall. He has the same body type as the smaller doll, with papier mache parts connected with linen fabric, and his hands and feet are “floating,” moving freely.

Baby 9 inch Motschmann doll

This small 9″ taufling is made in the same way as the larger dolls. He (I often think of these dolls as male) has painted hair tufts above his ears that are mostly worn off.


Anyone (most all of us) who has lost a loved-one, whether human or animal, knows the devastation of the loss of “Being” of the loved one in the physical world. Though cats and antique dolls don’t always get along, I am grateful for the “isness” of both in my world.


Sasha, my 20 pound tripod cat, believes that what is mine belongs to her. Having only one fore-leg, she has developed strong hind legs, to the detriment of one of my dolls. I still love her.


Dedman, Bill and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. Ballantine Books, New York, 2013.

O’Donohue, John, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. Harper Perennial, New York, 2004.




The Era of Isobel’s Dolls

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Some of the Antique Doll Study Club members and dolls presenting for Smithsonian Museum Day at the Zimmerman House

The doll club to which I belong, The Antique Doll Study Club of Oregon, presents some extraordinary programs and displays for the public, thanks to our innovative and creative members.  This Saturday past, for Smithsonian Museum Day, we presented a display of antique dolls representing a particular era in the Zimmerman House in Gresham, Oregon.

The Historic Zimmerman House was built in 1874 and was home to three generations of the Zimmerman Family.  Their furnishings and personal articles remain in this two-story Victorian home, with nine rooms open to the public.”


Four daughters, in elegant Edwardian attire;  the last generation to live in the Zimmerman house.  Isobel is pictured bottom right.

The third and last generation to occupy the house consisted of four daughters: Jessie, Olive, Mabel, and the youngest, Isobel. Isobel was born in 1899 and lived in the house until the end of her life in 1992.

Isobel Zimmerman as a child

Isobel as a child

Amazingly, the Zimmerman House still holds the contents of three generations who lived there, and the rooms display life in the early twentieth century.


The front door, open to invite guests this day.  The front parlor, where we displayed our period dolls, is to the right in this photo.


At the top of the stairs is a landing where the children played.  Isobel’s and her sisters’ toys are still there.  Since cousins, nieces, and nephews came to visit, this was a play place for boys, as well as girls.


A child sized dresser displays more toys of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century belonging to Zimmerman children.


A Zimmerman cradle with more family dolls and toys

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Here are the bisque dolls that Isobel played with as a child.


An upstairs bedroom displays two doll trunks in superb condition.  A third trunk is near the dolls in another bedroom, still filled with Isobel’s doll clothing.

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A dreamy view of the bright front bedroom.  In good weather, the Zimmerman children would go out onto the veranda from this bedroom, above the porch, to play.


The front parlor where we displayed our period dolls


One corner of the parlor is presided over by this elegant piano.

The era of Isobel’s childhood was 1899 to about 1913.  This is the period we chose for our presentation of dolls.  The dolls we displayed represented those that would have been available in stores and catalogs during the time of Isobel’s childhood.

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The main table with our presentation dolls

The Antique Doll Study Club of Oregon, presenting this display, has been a member of the United Federation of Doll Clubs for 45 years.  Many collectors of antique dolls consider their dolls to be representatives of the history, art, and science of the past.  Innovations were in progress during this time period which influenced materials and construction methods for toys and dolls.  The dolls of Isobel’s childhood era were made of cloth, wood, papier mache, bisque, china, wax, early composition, celluloid, and metal.


Our second, smaller table of dolls


These two dolls are made of an experimental material–Celluloid, an early type of plastic.

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Wax dolls continued to be available in this era.  Wax, reinforced with resin, was poured directly into a mold, or a head made of another material, such as papier mache, was dipped in wax to give it a more lifelike complexion.


Composition was a popular material for doll heads of this time.

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China dolls, though waning in popularity, continued to be manufactured to good advantage.  Fiona and Dorothy, holding the doll house twins, Pink and Blue, were proud to represent this category in the first decade of the twentieth century.

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The bisque dolls of this era were well represented, as it was the height of their popularity.  (Isobel’s own two bisque dolls, shown in a photo above, seem well-loved, as evidenced by their trunk full of clothing.)  Represented here are many German bisque dolls, with a few originating from France.  The Dolly Face is evident, as well as Character dolls and babies.  Some of the smaller dolls in front are all-bisque, while larger dolls have bodies made of other materials such as composition, stuffed leather, and stuffed cloth.

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Cloth dolls were also seeing innovations during this time, most notably with lithograth printing.  The tall girl in back is an Art Fabric Mills doll, purchased as a sheet of printed fabric, then cut out, sewn, stuffed, and dressed at home.  The Topsy Turvy doll, front right, was made by Bruckner for Horsman circa 1909, with lithographed and pressed heads.  Center, in the blue dress, is a Martha Chase doll with an oil paint covered cloth head.


Dolls made of wood continued to be available.  An American toy company, Schoenhut, had just begun to add dolls to their line in 1911. The bonnet girl in the red dress is a fine example of their early dolls.


Papier mache is another material used in doll making for decades that continued to be available during this time.


Dolls with metal heads were made during the Edwardian period.  These examples show painted, as well as inserted, eyes. One doll has a wig, while the rest have molded hair.

We Ladies of the Antique Doll Study Club of Oregon were delighted to visit with Isobel Zimmerman in her Edwardian era for Smithsonian Museum Day on September 21st, 2019.


Karen Humbert,  Maria Vaughan,  Polly Bingham,  Jennifer Stewart,  Pat Sharp


Kathy Moore,  Karen Humbert,  Jennifer Stewart,  Maria Vaughan

Even though, like Isobel, we grow up, we continue to value our dolls for the history, art, and science that they represent, and the joy they bring to us.

Isobel Zimmerman young Edwardian dress

Isobel Zimmerman as she may have appeared to receive us in her home.