A Legacy of Lydia: Defining and Admiring a Rare China Hairstyle

Two reproduction Lydia china dolls, and one antique, from the author’s collection.

Recently on this blog, I explored the realm of Covered Wagon china dolls and their similar predecessors. Lydia, one of the very earliest china doll hairstyles, predates the Covered Wagon style by five to ten years.

First, it is important to realize that the German factories that originally made the glazed porcelain, or “china” dolls that we so admire as antiques now, did not name the dolls that they made. It was the early collectors of these dolls, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who gave names to the doll hairstyles as a way of having a vocabulary with which to speak about the dolls with other collectors.

As we saw in my page, “History of China Dolls,” these dolls first began to be mass produced in relatively small numbers in the 1840’s. Another hairstyle that was common during this very early era of china dolls was the bun hairstyle in several variations by the different manufacturers. One china hairstyle that is so rare that I have only seen a photo of it twice is the spaniel ears style. This style combines a cluster of long curls around the face and a bun in back. Spaniel ears was more common on the so-called milliner’s model papier mache dolls that pre-dated the chinas.

This doll from my collection, made by A. W. Fr. Kister, has waved hair covering her ears and a braided bun in back. Circa 1845.
This very early and rare brown haired china lady with spaniel ears hairstyle has long curls in front of her ears and a bun in back. She was sold on Ruby Lane long ago.

The Lydia hairstyle indicates long sausage curls all around the head and reaching the shoulders This hairstyle was popular for older girls and young ladies during the mid-1800’s. The dolls with this hairstyle were being produced from about 1845. They were definitely produced by A. W. Fr. Kister, and probably by Kestner & Co. and by Conta & Boehme as well.

This early Victorian lady wears the Lydia hairstyle. Her dress style indicates late 1840’s to early 1850’s.
This antique Lydia doll sold long ago on Ruby Lane. She may have been made by Conta & Boehme.
This gorgeous child-like antique Lydia doll with brown eyes was sold by Skinner Auctions in 2002 for $7638!

The Lydia china dolls are some of the most rare, being some of the earliest chinas when production was still low compared to that after the 1860’s. By the early 1850’s, the Sophia Smith style was being produced. This style was similar to Lydia, but with shorter ringlets that ended in a ledge above the shoulder. By the mid-1850’s, the covered wagon hairstyle, which had plain ringlets curving into the shape of the head, came into production and were more plentiful than the earlier styles. Finally, by the 1860’s, another hairstyle (not to be confused with the covered wagon), the flat top became the “plain and plentiful” china doll hairstyle.

This back view of a Sophia Smith hairstyle shows the definitive ledge of the bottom of the ringlets which is shorter than the Lydia style.
This covered wagon hairstyle doll from my collection shows how the ringlets curve with the shape of the head without the under-cut ledge.
This china shoulder-head from my collection is a flat top, and has short curls higher up on the face, which a covered wagon doll does not have.

Given that the antique Lydia dolls are so rare to find, and VERY expensive when one does run across them, the reproductions that are somewhat more readily on the market can be rather attractive. I have two reproduction Lydias in my collection now that I am rather happy with.

The doll on the left is incised NMC 1975. She is 16 1/2 inches tall, has dark brown leather arms and cloth feet, brown eyes, and a delicate face. Her complexion is white. The doll on the right is incised 1 Rossi ’81. She is 15 1/2 inches tall, has cupped china hands, flat soled china boots, and grey eyes with a stronger countenance to her face. She is pink tinted. She came dressed in a frilly purple satin dress, and I re-dressed her to my preferred antique cotton.
The two larger reproduction shoulder-heads both have a defined bust. The brown satin late 1840’s style dress on the doll on the left is so pretty and well made especially for this doll that I will not change it–exquisite! My antique Lydia is one of the oldest of this style on a wooden body. She is 9 1/2″ tall with flat red shoes, and the fingers of her right hand form a closed circle. She has been without clothing for a long time, and is glorious in her doll collector pin-up worthy nudity. (I do have a wardrobe planned for her of antique fabric.)
The A. W. Fr. Kister Lydia doll in my collection has her china shoulder-head pegged to her wooden body. Her face has a different shape from the two reproduction dolls above, and her shoulder-plate does not have as defined a bust.
This little Frozen Charlotte china doll in my collection has a Lydia hairstyle.

Lydia hairstyle china dolls are some of the oldest, most beautiful, most sought after, and most expensive of all antique china dolls. They are in the price range of thousands of US dollars. Luckily, there are some nicely made and painted professionally made reproduction Lydia dolls available. When found, they can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of an antique Lydia. When well made and nicely dressed, they blend right in with an antique collection.

A young girl from circa 1850 has a Lydia hairstyle and holds her doll.

Stella Julianna and the Herbal Apothecary

Essential oils come in different size bottles. When they are rare and expensive, a smaller bottle is often available.

Miss Jennie had been using essential oils and natural products for oh, so many years. And when she started working at a natural product farm with a gazillion different essential oils, she brought some home and made interesting and wonderful items. Of course Stella Julianna wanted to make something too!

Do I have everything?–a jar of bath salt, a dish of shea butter, a wooden box of calendula petals, a bowl of beeswax pastilles, and a bottle for almond oil.

“What does apoth-the-cary mean?,” she asked Miss Jennie. She learned that a modern apothecary is a supply of essential oils, herbs, waxes, butters, and other natural ingredients, and their organization and storage place. She thought that the colored glass jars, bottles, and crockery were very pretty.

Stella Julianna enjoyed being in the kitchen, and she was glad that there was one just her size.

Stella Julianna thought of all the wonderful things she could make with healing and sweet scented essential oils. She could make bath salts with herbs, shower melts, lip and cheek stain, lotion, hand and lip balm, whipped body butter, soap . . . She decided to make hand and lip balm with shea butter.

The Marklin stove is just what Stella Julianna needs to melt her butters and beeswax.

She needed to gently melt the ingredients to blend the butters and wax. Water in the pot under a glass cup holding the ingredients simmered gently to slowly melt them. Don’t forget to check the water level so it doesn’t simmer dry!

So many scents to choose–one essential oil, or a blend? Almond oil or apricot oil?

Now to choose the scent for the balm. Stella Julianna liked so many of the fragrances. She could use lavender and rosemary, or peppermint, or lemon, or frankincense and sandalwood, or . . . In the end, she chose cinnamon orange, and added a few drops of each to the melted wax. Now to work quickly and carefully, and get the balm into the mold before it firms up.

I made personal size balms in seashell shapes. Mmm! They smell so good, and are soft on my skin.

Stella Julianna was so proud of what she had made. The seashell balms were pretty, useful, healing, and smelled soooo good! She imagined what it would be like to be a green witch and live in a cottage by the edge of the woods. Of course, her cottage with the herbal apothecary in it would have a view of a mountain and lavender fields. Then she could wear a pointed hat like her best friend, Hazel. The kitchen clean-up was so quick that she barely had time to think about the next recipe to make.

Mt. Hood floats above lavender fields, as seen from the Oregon Lavender Farm near Oregon City in June.

Little girls love to feel useful and help in the kitchen, as in this 1930’s farmhouse kitchen.

Project in Blue Velvet: Restoring an Antique Doll’s Dress

When I buy a doll, it usually entails a project, whether or not I intended to take on more. This is because I am inclined to go for the much played-with and loved dolls, and the inexpensive variety, rather than the more expensive and elusive all-original and never-played-with genre. Such was the case with Indigo, who was a bit of an inadvertent purchase and turned out all for the good.

Indigo’s pre-purchase photo shows the extreme sun fading of her originally deep cornflower blue velvet dress.

Alt, Beck, and Gottschalk (ABG) made two types of teen or young lady dolls with fancy curl hairstyles in the 1870’s and 1880’s. The names that collectors have attributed to these hairstyles are Curly Top and Spill Curl. They were both available in Cafe au Lait or Black color. (Cafe au Lait is a darker blonde than is usually found on antique china dolls, so it is a desirable variation.) I already had Willow Rhaine in Cafe au Lait Curly Top, and Alicia Amber in Cafe au Lait Spill Curl hairstyles.

Willow Rhaine has a lovely plump-cheeked face with ABG’s signature “V” dip in her lip painting, and a fabulous cafe au lait Curly Top hairstyle.
Alicia Amber has the Spill Curl hairstyle in cafe au lait with a black painted headband molded in her hair.

The reason that I bid on this black hair Spill Curl doll is that she was priced low because of her broken and repaired shoulder-plate, and because I didn’t have a black haired variation. Honestly, I didn’t expect to win this auction, and I promptly forgot about my eBay bid, as I found some exciting offerings to consider on Ruby Lane. Therefore, I was surprised when the “You Won This Auction” email showed up in my box. And home she came, faded dress and all.

Alicia Amber and Indigo are both ABG dolls with Spill Curl hairstyles. They have slightly different expessions in their face painting.
Indigo’s lovely velvet dress is just too faded to remain attractive. Notice her adorable sky blue boots with black tassels!

Indigo’s two piece dress is actually quite lovely with a fitted bodice, cuffs on the sleeves, cream lace, jeweled buttons, and hand cross-stitched medallions around the hem of the skirt. I wanted to preserve this dress that was obviously well-made for this doll. I first tried turning the skirt back-to-front, which helped some, since the back was not faded as much, but it didn’t help enough. I talked with a fellow doll collector and seamstress friend about my dilemma, and I asked her opinion about attempting to dye the costume. She recommended using a sponge to dab dye onto the dry dress to avoid the dye bleeding onto the embroidered medallions and lace.

Starting the dye process. I placed a small amount of powdered dye in my glass cup, and added about a third of a cup of hot water, as per the dye instructions. I used a cotton square to dab dye onto the garment.

It took awhile to get this project started since I could not find blue dye in any stores in my area in the Fall or early Winter of 2020. I finally found a dye with the color name of “denim.” I estimate that the project would have taken about a week to complete, allowing time for the fabric to dry as I worked around the skirt and sleeves. However, having started a new job, I only worked on it on weekends, and so it took a month to complete.

I used a cotton swab for the delicate process of dying around the cross-stitch medallions.
Look at the difference in the color! The “denim” dye is not an exact match to the original deep cornflower, yet it is a vast improvement to the gray faded velvet.
Beginning to dye the bodice. Again, there is a vast improvement in the color of the garment.

When I was satisfied with the color all around, I let the garment dry completely. The fabric was stiff in places from the wetting. I used a small fabric brush on the skirt and bodice, which took away any crustiness, softened the velvet, and raised the pile.

Indigo is quite pleased with her restored velvet dress. The cross-stitch medallions show much better now, too.

Although the color is not an exact match, this lovely and unusual china doll now has her tailor-made indigo dress restored to elegance, deserving of her name and prominently setting off the beauty of her unusual hairstyle. I did not over-dye the areas of fabric that retained the cornflower blue color, so the coloring is a bit “patchy,” almost like blue-on-blue tie dye. The presentation of the doll is now admirable.

A happy and well-dressed doll is a joy to behold.
This fashion image from an 1870’s Godey’s Ladies Book features an elegant lady with a hairstyle in the “curly Top” style, just like the china doll of that name.

Do Sit Down: A Sheraton Sofa for the Dolls’ Rooms

If you watch or read Jane Austen novels, then you know that when a guest enters a home for a “call,” the hostess politely requests, “Do sit down.” If you are calling upon a well-to-do family, you may be shown into a parlour or drawing room with stylish furnishings. Perhaps the room will have a neoclassical sofa in the Sheraton style.

An illustration of a full size Thomas Sheraton neoclassical sofa.
An antique full size Sheraton sofa.

Thomas Sheraton lived in England through his lifetime from 1751 to 1806. He designed furniture in the neoclassical style, which was based on the revival of Greek and Roman Aesthetics, and relied on mathematical harmony and unadorned geometry. Sheraton’s furniture was a refreshing change from the ornate and elaborate styles that were popular before. His style was lighter and more elegant even than other neoclassical styles such as Hepplewhite and Chippendale. Sheraton furniture is known for its rectilinear form, exposed wooden framework, and thin legs, giving the piece a visually lighter feel. His furniture may have had a French influence.

An antique Chippendale sofa, though of a neoclassical style, is heavier in appearance, and more ornate than a Sheraton sofa.

Although Sheraton never became wealthy from his innovative furniture design, it is today considered to be a great achievement for England’s golden age of furniture. In 1791, he began publication of a four volume set of books entitled The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book. These books were well received and expanded the designs he presented across England, and then to the United States, where they were adopted by furniture makers Duncan Phyfe, Samuel McIntire, and John and Thomas Seymour as part of the American Federal style.

An antique Federal Style Duncan Phyfe sofa shows the Sheraton influence.

While my antique china dolls enjoy their doll’s house rooms which are furnished with some graceful and practical doll sized furniture and accessories (and some improvisations), there are some definite lacks in their furnishings. They have been shopping for a number of years for a corner cabinet, a desk with bookshelves, and a sofa. This year, lo and behold, they found the perfect sofa!

The dolls’ Sheraton sofa is 20 inches long.

This sofa is a vintage replica of the elegant Sheraton style neoclassical sofa that was widely popular in England from 1790 to 1820. What a fortunate find! It fits perfectly in size and antique styling for the doll’s house, and being of such elegant style, it brings a bit of sophistication to the otherwise provincial charm of their abode.

In this shallow-depth townhouse, the kitchen is on the lowest level with the parlour above. The ladies’ bedroom is in a separate wing. The third level holds a nursery with Quimper or Breton furnishings, and Trudy patiently instructs the little “golden girl” trio in their sampler stitching. The attic is where many more of the china dolls gather.

Several years ago, the dolls came into possession of a nice tall “townhouse” for their home, moving on from their previous tabletop dwelling. Their bed is just too wide to fit, so their bedroom is in a different “wing.” I am quite fond of the kitchen, which graduated from being a keeping room with the addition of the Marklin cooking stove a few years ago. The ladies are delighted with their collections of antique Staffordshire doll size dishes.

The china ladies are fond of spending time in the kitchen with the Marklin stove on the left. Ellen is watching the pots, while Moira has turned away to see what has caught Paloma’s attention. The drop-leaf table is set with the Lavender Leaf dishes, while the step-back cupboard holds more Staffordshire in green Dimity and a variety of blue transfer-ware.
Measure twice, cut once.

The first stage of redecorating the parlour was to empty it of all of its furnishings, then to add the new carpet that coordinates with the Sheraton sofa. In this case, the carpet is a piece of emerald green cotton velvet upholstery fabric that I had on hand (originally destined for Renn fair costuming).

The parlour redecorating is complete! Karen stands behind the Schoenhut piano to welcome guests with, “Do sit down.” Willow Rhaine is already seated, browsing the gem size photo album, while little Lizzy reaches over the sofa for her tiny frozen Charlotte Lydia doll. The emerald carpet is in place with a lamp mat rug before the sofa, and a window has been added to the west wall. The bookcase near the window is a WWII wooden ammo box with wooden push-pins and heavy cardboard added for shelves. The little books and the 1810 Staffordshire teapot fit nicely, while more Staffordshire is displayed on top.

The portraits are reproductions of antiques. The glass is curved, so camera glare is unavoidable. Aren’t they sweet?

Best of all, the portraits of the three boys have finally made it up on the back wall! I didn’t want to put pin holes in the wall, and I was able to hang the portraits on silk ribbons which fasten with pins in the crease where the shelf joins. The oldest boy, Jonathan, is a midshipman in the Royal Navy. His mother is so grateful that he came through the Trafalgar action unscathed. The two younger boys, Alexander and Jeremiah, are still in curls with ruffles on their collars, and are too young to go for sailors.

Opal has joined Willow Rhaine on the new Sheraton sofa, cuddled up to look at photographs, and perhaps to ask for a book to be read. They may listen to the intricate old-fashioned sounding melodies on the piano music box.

All is cozy in the doll’s house with the new parlour. Would you like to leave your calling card? (No mask is required in this home, as it is pre-pandemic until 1918.) Do sit down.

This late 19th century girl is sitting on a sofa with her flat top china doll. Is it a Sheraton sofa? –A distinct possibility.

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!

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

Reference:

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)

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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.

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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.”

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

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“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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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: www.UFDC.org

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

Blessings,

Jennie

Antique photo bearded man and girl holding china doll

Father and daughter holding a china doll.