Three Highland Mary China Dolls and One Successful “Marriage”

Hello again, dear readers. Today I would like to introduce to you three beautiful Highland Mary china dolls from my collection, and show you how one was created through a successful “marriage” of parts. You will meet Mary Morgan, who is my dream antique Highland Mary, Mary Vaughn, a smaller doll, and Nairne, by the same manufacturer, but with differences.

When I began viewing china dolls in museums, many years ago, I was intrigued by the name “Highland Mary” because of the song, “Sweet Highland Mary,” featured in my beloved “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Also, the Highland Mary china dolls usually had blonde hair like Laura’s sister, Mary. I’m also enthralled by just about anything having to do with Scotland and my Celtic heritage. (Well, I have German heritage, too, like my china dolls.)

Laura Ingals Wilder full photo at seventeen

Laura Ingalls, age 17

Having said that, I don’t know how this particular type of china shoulder head came to have the name bestowed upon her, or him, as the case may be. Their defining features are that they are German-made child dolls with bangs and curls in back, first created in about 1880. They are just lovely, and beg to be cuddled, with their innocent childish countenance.

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After buying my first antique china doll (who I will introduce to you soon) in an antique store in Connecticut, I began searching eBay for Highland Mary dolls, because as I said, this was my dream doll. The acquisition of this doll has a bit of a story. The first time I went on e-bay and searched antique china dolls, I found a beautiful Highland Mary as a buy-it-now with a price tag over $200, which was a big expenditure for my budget. This was late at night, and I decided to sleep on it before I committed to spend so much. Well, next morning when I decided I did want her, she was already sold. I bid on several other Highland Mary types that were smaller, heads only, or not in good condition, and lost those auctions. Then I received an e-mail that another Highland Mary was listed, and when I checked this auction, it was the same type of doll I wanted, and she had already sold as a buy-it-now within a few hours of being listed. I searched for another six weeks before I found another comparable doll, but she was more expensive, and I didn’t think I could justify the price.  I let that buy-it-now auction end without bidding.  Then, the same doll was re-listed with a discounted price.  I decided to get my Highland Mary, even though she was more expensive than the first one. That one had a cracked shoulder plate, and mine is perfect, so I think the price is justified, and I am so happy she is here with me!

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Mary Morgan is a 21” German antique china shoulder head doll from the Alt, Beck & Gottschalck factory. ABG made dolls from 1854 into the 1930’s at their porcelain factory in Nauendorf, near Ohrdruf, Thuringia, Germany. Mary Morgan has the characteristic face painting of ABG dolls with blue eyes that have a three quarter circle darker outline and white highlight dot to the side of the pupil. She has mold number and size, “1000 #9” incised under the glaze on the back of her shoulder plate, a number that first came into use with ABG in 1890, according to Mary Krombholz in her book, Identifying German Chinas. This doll has a short child’s neck and a shoulder plate with four sew holes and indents to indicate shoulders at the underarms. Her seller, Turn of the Century Antiques who is very knowledgeable about antique dolls, called her body “one of those well made ones from the 1950s.” It is very firm, stuffed with sawdust.   It has the wonderful wood smell of antique house, and reminds me of the museum just down the street from where I once lived, in Lafayette, Indiana.  Mary Morgan’s china arms could have been replaced when her body was made, according to her description, although they are C shaped, and like her high heeled boots with the V-shaped top, are correct for ABG dolls of this time period.

Mary Morgan came dressed in a white cotton blouse with elbow length sleeves with lace at neckline and cuffs, and drawers with elastic waist and legs with lace at the bottom. I am making her a Victorian style young girl’s dress out of dusty blue raw silk, which will be the subject of a future post.  To tide her over until her new dress is finished, she has a pink 1880-90’s style dress that is new with modern material. This is the one you see in the photos above.

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Next, pictured above, please meet Mary Vaughn, who is an ABG blonde Highland Mary, just like Mary Morgan, only she is an all original 12” doll. “Vaughn” means “small one,” and she is lovely and dainty. Her face painting is the same as Mary Morgan, but without the eye highlight details. Her incised number is “1000 #0.” To make smaller sized dolls of a mold, the fired head, which is smaller than the original mold, has a new cast taken, and so on, to decrease the size. Mary Vaughn has a sawdust stuffed body with a wire that wants to poke through her right “limb.”

Mary Vaughn’s clothing may be original.  It is antique.  She is wearing pantalets that had elastic at the legs, but it is stretched out.  Her petticoat, probably made from a real petticoat remnant, has a cotton openwork lace hemline, and some age spots and tiny holes.  Her high-waist dress is a young girl’s style with below-the-knee hem, just right for her.  It is light blue in a coarse weave cotton fabric with lace at neckline, sleeves, and hem, and it has a vintage machine embroidered cream colored ribbon sash.  It has a brown age spot on the right side that was hand mended at the crease of the gather.  She came from Pennsylvania and her left leg fell off before she arrived. I put a little wool fleece inside to keep the sawdust from falling out, and re attached it with cotton thread.

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Now I would like you to meet Nairne, who is a black haired Highland Mary who is different from the two blondes in more than hair color. The name “Nairne” can belong to a girl or a boy, and is fitting because this doll type can represent a girl or a boy. I think of Nairne as a boy, even though he is currently modeling a girl’s dress. The dress is a recent find. It is a circa 1890’s style child’s dress made of 19th century printed cotton fabric with a printed-on border. The dress has vertical pin tucks in front and back, a long waist with a slightly gathered flounce at the bottom, and buttons up the back with glass buttons. Nairne also currently wears lace trimmed split pantalets and a wool petticoat, wide at the waist (made to fit a larger baby doll), that has a machine embroidered scalloped hem.

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I purchased Nairne as a 5” shoulder head with no body. He was quite inexpensive because he has a V-shaped scar, or repaired crack, in his forehead, kind of like Harry Potter! He is an unmarked ABG doll like the one on page 121 in Identifying German Chinas. His ears show and he has brush strokes at his bangs and temples—quite becoming, even with his forehead repair! The other unusual feature, which is not mentioned by Mary Krombholz in her description, is that his curls do not cover the whole back of his head like the other two dolls; rather his hair falls straight from the crown and ends in three rows of curls at the bottom. His seller claimed that he is a “true” Highland Mary, but every reference book I have seen lists Mary Morgan’s type as a Highland Mary as well. Nairne seems to be the more rare type. I have not seen another like him since he came to me. **Update!** Of course, the day after I posted this information, I found a doll for sale on eBay like Nairne with black hair, Highland Mary bangs, and rows of curls in the back. The doll on auction now seems to be similar in size with a very played-with body with the newer 1900’s small brown boot style, and one is broken off. JS

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Now for the “marriage!” When different doll parts are put together to form a complete doll, this is called a “marriage” of the parts. I found a body for Nairne at the Crossroads Doll and Teddy Bear show in Portland a few months after he came home. The body is mommy-made of Nanking cotton, I think. His legs seem to be filled with cork, while the rest of the body seems to be rag stuffed. There is heavy glue residue at the shoulders where a head had been glued on. The lower arms and hands were made of brown glove fingers, with a thumb sewn separate, and stitched fingers for hands. There are red cotton boots sewn as the bottom part of the legs. The left boot has an attached sole, as if the fabric didn’t fit around the foot and needed a patch to finish it. Nairne is now 19” tall with his body. I plan to eventually make him an 1880’s style boy’s sailor suit, but he looks good modeling his antique dress for now. He may have to wait awhile to be “breeched” while so many others in the “family” are waiting for their costumes!

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If you liked meeting Mary Morgan here, please stop in to see her New Blue Frock. Next time, I want you to meet Dorothy and her companion lowbrow chinas. Good night!

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