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 worthpoint.com.)

Hertwig Kate Greenaway print body Photo from worthpoint.com

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

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.






Stella Julianna and the New Autumn Jumper


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I like living here with Mama.  I wonder what I will get to do next.

Stella Julianna glanced up from reading her book, Heather Bells.  She was contemplating her cozy life since she came to live with her Mama, Miss Jennie.  Many days, she played and daydreamed by herself.  She had toys and books just her size, and she loved snuggling and pretending with the soft animals, especially her giraffe and the very soft lamb.  She also liked listening to stories from the antique dolls.  Miss Ruby always had a tale about her adventures in New England last summer, and the older dolls reverently told about long-ago times when they lived with little girls who were all grown up and gone away now.


I was SO excited to go on this special doll outing with Mama!

Then there were the special times with Mama!  Julianna knew that she wouldn’t catch a wink of sleep the night before the Portland Doll and Teddy Bear Show in January!  She just knew there would be lots of things for her to look at there.  When the day came, she had ever so much fun!  She was admired by many people there, and even tried on a dress to help the mama of another Stella who hadn’t come to the show.  With Mama’s help, she found a sweet felt dolly for herself, hats, and oh, so many dresses!


My felt dolly is just the right vintage for me!  (1930’s)  And looky my new clothes and hats!  A polka dot party dress, a shamrock dress, a summer dress, a flannel nightgown, and even fancy dresses!

When she came home, Stella Julianna dreamed of lavender scented summer breezes when she could wear her new “Patsy” dress from the 1930’s, and play with the ducklings as they waddled over the lawn from their nearby pond.


Will everyone think I’m a china lady too?

While the weather was cold and rainy, Stella Julianna played fancy dress with her growing wardrobe.


Mama brought me this one from Hawaii before I came to live here.  She must think I’m Miss Coconut Queen.  But I’m really a mermaid!



This dress is much more comfortable.  All it needs is a blue ribbon belt.  (Hear that Mama?) Now, what to do–work or play?  Oh!  I know!  Laundry can wait for nice weather.  I’m playing Noah’s Ark!

Springtime came before she could say “Spring Freshet on Plum Creek,” and Julianna was wearing her pretty floral “Patsy” dress, admiring the Bleeding Hearts.


Going barefoot is the best!–and my lamb really IS the softest of all.

All summer long, Stella Julianna played and daydreamed.  She hoped that she would get to travel soon, like Miss Ruby did.  Mama told her that maybe when the next winter was over, a trip would present itself.  Then, the days began to shorten, and the nights became deliciously cool for blankets on the bed again.  Mama told Julianna it was time to make her a new Autumn dress.



Mama thought I would pick the blue flowers on the feedsack fabric, but I surprised her!  I want the green with bright bits fabric!  The purple flowers fabric behind me is the Gibson Girl blouse Mama is making for herself, but she stopped on it to make my new dress for Autumn.


The first thing was to sew new stockings.  I got two new pair–red for the Autumn Jumper, and blue stripes for another time.  Which do you like best?


My small clothes are all finished.  Thank you Holly Hobbie for sharing your pattern–only a few alterations were needed.  Next comes the fun part–the jumper! 


Isn’t it just splendid!  Even a beret with an antique green thistle button!


The back of me shows my matching hair bow.  Of course you know, every Stella dress needs a hair bow.

Now that Stella Julianna had a warm and comfortable jumper for autumn, she could settle into the cozy indoors for her lessons.


Mama thinks I can learn better at home, and I’m glad because I like it here best of all.  I will study reading, writing, arithmetic, science, geography, history, cultures, ecology, art, music, poetry, spirituality, and handicrafts . . .  Oh, so many things to learn about! I like best when I can curl up with a cup of cambric tea and my favorite Laura Ingalls or Beatrix Potter book.

Julianna was glad to have so many things to learn about, and a new jumper to wear while learning.  She hoped that there would be new discoveries, and maybe even travels, to tell about soon.

Ningyo: An Overview of Japanese Dolls, Part 4

B 33 Vintage boy ichimatsu

Dolls for Entertainment and Play

While all of the ningyo are invaluable to collectors of Asian art, it is the play dolls that are most endearing to doll enthusiasts. “Huggable” dolls, made for and played with by children, carry that undeniable charm of a childhood from long ago, or one in progress right now.

B 34 Bunraku Japanese traditional performing arts

Bunraku theater puppets. Note black hooded puppeteers who do not show up on the stage during a performance.

Bunraku-ningyo or Theatrical Dolls for Puppet Theater: Although there are several types of puppet or theater dolls in Japan, Bunraku puppets are perhaps the most complex and layered, and are considered as one of the most sophisticated doll forms in the world. The puppets are themselves of simple construction with loosely attached limbs for great mobility, and detachable heads for interchangeability. Their depth and mystery comes from how they are transformed on stage. Puppeteers wear all black with hoods to manipulate the puppets on stage, sometimes with as many as three operators per puppet. They transform the inert doll magically in great dramas of emotion, power, pathos, agony, heroism, and loss. To quote Alan Scott Pate once more, “Such is their extraordinary sense of vivacity onstage, that to see them on their stands, inert, after a performance it is difficult to believe that they are actually inanimate.”

B 35 Karakuri Japanese mechanical doll

Karakuri Mechanical Doll with western clockwork mechanism

Karakuri-ningyo or Mechanical Dolls:  Just as with the European automaton, there are dolls in Japan that can move by means of strings, hand cranks, and knobs, for home entertainment. Some are simple, such as a karakuri gosho figure who lifts his arms to don a mask. Some are more complicated tableaux. Many of these are divided into four categories: musicians, transformations, animal scenes, and performers. The facades of the bases depict longevity motifs such as cranes, turtles, bamboo, and pine.

Karakuri ningyo showing base with motifs

Karakuri ningyo with music box mechanism, showing base with motifs


B 36 Keue saiko Ningyo with wigs

Keue Saiku doll with many wigs

Keue Saiku: Almost all of the keue saiku depict animals, so could be classified as gangu, or toys, rather than ningyo. However, the interchangeable wig doll falls within this category. The figures portray at once a sense of whimsy and profound realism. “Saiku” means fine workmanship, and “keue” means thread planting, indicating the creation of these toys involved fine crafting by individually inserting silk threads in the figures.

B 37 Mitsuori kneeling woman

Mitsuore-ningyo illustrating the way in which the doll can fold its legs to kneel in the Japanese style.

Mitsuore-ningyo or Three Fold Dolls: Mitsuore, as well as ichimatsu, are also called daki-ningyo or huggable dolls, and are meant to be held and dressed. This is a style of doll that is more familiar to gaijin, or foreigners. This doll, introduced in the late 18th century, was an expensive toy doll with a technically complicated structure. It is pliable with cloth upper arms, easily dressed for a change of clothing. Because of the hollowed out backs of the thighs, this doll can stand, sit, or kneel.

B 38 Three Geiko with a Doll 1938

Three Geiko (higher-level apprentice Geisha) with a Doll 1938

As well as being play dolls for children, the daki-ningyo were also popular with geisha (“arts person”) and maiko, (“dancing child” or apprentice geisha). This is evidenced by images in woodblock prints and photographs in the mid-Edo through Showa periods. This type of photo became a populay souvenir for tourists after Japan was opened in 1853.

B 39 Japanese Boy Ichimatsu with Haori Better Quality 1

Ichimatsu Boy from author’s collection. His hair is painted on.

Ichimatsu-ningyo: While still holding artistic appeal, these are truly huggable play dolls depicting children of about six or seven years of age with their bendable fabric portioned limbs, and often a squeaker in their mid-sections.

B 40 Mitsuori Ningyo Boy Edo Period 2

Mitsuori Ningyo Boy, Edo Period. Of note is the shaved hairstyle of the period with longer hair in front of the ears.

Most early ichimatsu, before the Friendship Dolls of 1927, depicted boys. These dolls are individually artist made from molded parts covered with gofun, with some being more artistically rendered than others. A paper bearing the artist’s signature wraps the torso before the doll is dressed.


Ichimatsu from the author’s collection. Note the two babies in the front of the photo.

Ichimatsu depicting younger babies and miniature play doll families are also made as children’s toys.

C A 28 dollhouse size play ichimatsue dolls

These miniature dollhouse sized ningyo are from the author’s collection. The okaasan and otosan are 4″ tall. They come in a little basket with a lid.

B 44 Miss Tottori 1927 send-off party

Miss Tottori: Photo from the 1927 send-off party (Sending from Japan to USA)

Torei-ningyo, Friendship or Ambassador Dolls: The most famous of the ichimatsu-ningyo are the Friendship Dolls who were sent to America in 1927 after 12,739 department store variety “Blue-eyed” dolls were sent to Japan the previous year as an overture of goodwill following discrimination of Japanese citizens in the United States.

B 42 Japanese girls with blue eyed dolls

Japanese girls holding blue eyed dolls sent to Japan in 1926 from American children

Whole volumes have been written about these dolls and their experience as they have come back into the public awareness since the 1980’s.

B 43 Miss Wakayama by Hirata Goyo II

Miss Wakayama by Hirata Goyo II

They are each 32″ tall, dressed in exquisite furisode (long sleeved formal kimono), and were accompanied with stands, accoutrements, accessories, a passport, and a ship ticket.

B 45 Miss Fukuoka Full Dogu

Miss Fukuoka/Gunma Full Dogu

These highly artistically rendered dolls are the starting point of the Japanese Art Doll Movement. 45 of the original 58 dolls are now accounted for, though they are not all identified correctly, as their stands and accessories were mixed up in their early touring of the United States. Miss Fukuoka/Gunma resides at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon. Please click on the link below in “For More Information” to experience Alan Scott Pate’s 2014 lecture (69 minutes) on the Japanese Friendship Dolls at the Schnitzer Museum

B 46 BJD female

BJD girl

BJD Dolls: No overview of Japanese dolls can be complete without a mention of the wildly popular among young people today, BJD (ball jointed dolls).

B 47 BJD male nude

BJD nude male

The Volks company is one of the outstanding creators of these highly detailed dolls, often with the popular Japanese “anime” look.

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Ningyo of Japan serve significant cultural roles as ritual, guardian, and votive objects, as art for admiration, and as entertainment and toys for adults and children. Though dolls of Japan have been collectible as art in the west since the late 19th century, collectors of antique dolls are just beginning to discover the beautiful, “kawaii” ningyo. Kirei desu ne!

B 48 Dreamland by Charles Deter Weldon

Dreamland by Charles Deter Weldon circa 1883


For More Information:

Kaonis, Donna. “A Visit with the Herrings.” (Japanese Dolls) Antique Doll Collector, October 2015.

Kita, Terry. The Sun Shines For Us All: The Friendship Dolls From Japan. Valparaiso, IN: Valparaiso University, 2015.

Pate, Alan Scott. “Good, Better, Best: Evaluating Japanese Ichimatsu Dolls.” Antique Doll Collector, March 2017.

Pate, Alan Scott. “Courtesans and Heroines: Japanese Fashion Dolls from the 18th Century.” Doll News, Summer 2019.

Pate, Alan Scott. Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2008.

Pate, Alan Scott. Lecture: Japanese Friendship Dolls. Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, February 4, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBNGH2mno5A

Pate, Alan Scott. Ningyo: The Art of the Japanese Doll. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2005.

Stern, Itsuke and Anthony. “Wonderful Japanese Kokeshi Dolls.” Doll News, Winter 2015.

Stewart, Jennifer Anne. “Beyond Oceans and Decades: In Search of Ningyo.” Blog Post: https://quintessentialantiquedolls.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/beyond-oceans-and-decades-in-search-of-ningyo/

Make Japanese paper dolls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in38zVtiiZI