Antiques at Aurora and a 19th Century Wax Doll

Last weekend, on August 10th, I again had the pleasure of attending Old Colony Day at Aurora Oregon. The Aurora Colony was founded as a Christian communal colony in 1856 by nearly 600 people of mostly German and Swiss emigrants. Many of the families who founded Aurora came from the founding colony in Bethel, Missouri. Emma Wagner Giesy (1833 – 1916) was the only woman among nine scouts who came west from Bethel to find a new home for the colony.

ImageRead a fictionalized account of her life in stories that are not far from the truth in Jane Kirkpatrick’s trilogy, beginning with A Clearing in the Wild. The colony of Aurora lasted through 1883.

Aurora is now a quiet small town near the banks of the Pudding River, and is a lovely destination for antique shopping with many of the shops located in historic houses and colony buildings. An outdoor antique fair is part of the Old Colony celebration, which is one reason that I enjoy this event so much!

I often find marvelous old Swiss and English blue and white china dishes at Aurora, like these pieces.


ImageTextile finds were not as good this year as in the past. I have come away with embroidered lawn handkerchiefs, cards of antique lace, combinations (corset cover and bloomers all in one piece), and even a white lawn Edwardian Armistice blouse, circa 1918. Last year, I found this little girl’s silk dress, from late 19th to early 20th century.

ImageYou met my wax doll, briefly, in an earlier post. I found her in an Aurora shop a few years ago, and that is why I named her Aurora.

ImageShe is a wax over paper mache (I think) pink tinted shoulder head with a replacement pink polished cotton cloth soft body. Her cloth hands have stitched fingers, and her cloth feet are fat with long stitched toes. She has brown-black pupil-less stationery glass eyes, red painted lips with a darker center line, and red nostril dots.  She has nice detailed breastbone molding on her shoulder plate. Her shoulder head is 4 ½” tall, and her total height is 15”. She has no markings and I cannot tell if she is German or English. She was bald when I purchased her, and I added this blonde mohair wig. Her all black stationery eyes, and the way they are cut, lead me to believe that she is from the first half of the 19th century. If you are more knowledgeable about this type of doll than I am, please comment, and let me know more.

ImageImageAurora came dressed in several layers of clothing with sewn closures which I have left on her.  She has a cotton lace trimmed diaper-wrapped style pantalets held with an old style safety pin.  She has a simple short sleeved cotton short chemise with a drawstring neckline.  She has a woven wool petticoat with a cotton waistband and nice silk featherstitch embroidery at the hem.  She has a second cotton petticoat that is christening gown length with a plain hem and a wide infant type waistband.  Finally, she is wearing a high waist long christening gown with a plain hem, and with cotton lace at the waist, neckline, and cuffs.


Another unusual doll that came from the Main Street Merchantile in Aurora is Uriah. She is a little 2” modified flat top china shoulder head with no sew holes.

ImageShe is German with no markings. The unusual feature about her is that her clay was pressed into the mold, not poured. This often indicates an older doll, perhaps from the 1860’s. Clay was originally rolled out like play-doh and then pressed into molds. This leaves a rough surface inside the doll head, as you can see in this photo:

ImageLater in the production of china dolls, the clay was made thinner, into slip, and poured into the mold. After a set amount of time, excess slip was poured out, leaving a hollow head, smooth on the inside. Uriah came with a 7” soft poly-fill stuffed body made all in one piece with rounded hands and squared-off feet. Her head was held on with a fabric yoke, and she was not dressed. Her expression is a little sad or wistful.

Next week, I get to rummage around the Oregon City Outdoor Antique Fair, which will be held at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center for the first time this year. I hope to have more unique finds to share with you!


Broken is Still Beautiful (Featuring Two Broken Flat Top China Dolls)

Last weekend, I attended a small Women’s Retreat led by Sweet Medicine Nation at Dear Haven, near Sisters, Oregon. I brought out my little tent after 13 years (!?) of not camping and spent two lovely nights by myself under the stars and the moon, under a Juniper tree, and with a lovely little round eared brown rabbit as my morning companion on both mornings.Image

Sweet Medicine’s teachings are gentle, yet profound. The ceremonies, which included 18 unique and magnificent women, were imbued with insightful Native American spirituality. I am anticipating with much joy the scheduling of a Grandmother’s Retreat. Though I do not yet have my own grandchildren, I am of the right stage in life for this one.Image

An aspect of one of the ceremonies was an altar where each woman placed an object that had special meaning for her. It would not be hard for you to guess that the object I placed on this altar was an antique china doll.  My little dollhouse sized flat top, Rowena, came with me, wrapped in a quilt scrap. I will tell you why I chose her as my altar offering.  But first, I will tell you a bit about her.

Rowena is a German antique china shoulder head, almost 8″ tall, with flat top hairstyle, and no markings. She was probably made by the AW Fr. Kister factory around 1870. Rowena has two petticoats that button with white glass buttons.  One is plain muslin, and one is large patterned cotton eyelet lace.  She wears a new dress that I made, all hand sewn, in an 1860’s style from a blouse I used to wear. She has an hourglass firm stuffed cotton body with china arms and legs with flat low black shoes. The right side of her shoulder plate is broken off in a crescent moon, and this was sewn onto her body after the break occurred. Image

Dolls have been part of the human experience as far back as history can recount. Made of clay, stone, wood, bone, ivory, wax, and cloth, dolls have been found in Egyptian tombs dating to 2000 BCE, in Japan dating to 800 BCE, Greece, and Rome, with Roman rag dolls dating to 300 BCE. “Traditional dolls are sometimes used as children’s playthings, but they may also have spiritual, magical and ritual value. There is no defined line between spiritual dolls and toys. In some cultures dolls that had been used in rituals were given to children. They were also used in children’s education and as carriers of cultural heritage. In other cultures dolls were considered too laden with magical powers to allow children to play with them.”  (Fraser, Antonia (1973). Dolls. Octopus books.)


(Venus of Willendorf, estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE)

I brought Rowena as my altar offering because dolls represent humans, they have spiritual, magical, and ritual value, cultural value (though I relate more to my Celtic and Native American heritage, I am racially mostly German, like my china dolls), she is dressed in something that I stitched by hand, in something that I once wore, and, like me, she is broken.

Many doll collectors want only pristine, perfect, and if possible, un-played with dolls to collect. This is the type of antique doll that brings the highest price, and retains value the best. But it is not usually the type of doll that finds its way into my collection. There are several reasons for this. First, and not least, is the fact that my income is near poverty level as counted by USA standards. If I am to collect antique dolls, I must search for bargains, and not perfect dolls. But there is another reason that I like dolls that come with scuffs and broken parts. It is because their brokenness is evidence that they have been played with and loved. They have experienced life. Like The Velveteen Rabbit, they are REAL.

Do you ever wonder, when you view dolls and toys in a museum, if the curators take them out to play after closing time? Some dolls seem that they have a life, and others seem too perfect and pretty to handle. While there is a place for preserving the heritage of our past with these special rare and perfect dolls, I tend toward the shadows of collecting, and I like dolls I can handle and dress.Image

Winnifred is another such doll. She is a 12 ½” antique china shoulder head modified flat top with white center part, and original factory brown cloth body stuffed firmly with cork or sawdust and cotton.  She bears the traits of a Kestner factory doll. She has lovely detailed china hands, (which is why I wanted her for my collection) and china legs with flat shoe. Her right leg is broken off at the ankle. She was probably left on a stove or radiator at some point. Her chemise has a missing portion on the right sleeve where a burn happened, and her right arm has a brittle patch from the burn.  ImageImage

We women are broken, like these dolls. If we have lived, and not been kept on a shelf, behind glass, only to be looked at and not touched, then we have most likely been broken in some way by what life has offered us. But like these dolls, living has made us REAL. Our experiences may have left the scuff marks and mended places on our bodies and our spirits, but we can live more fully now because of our experiences of having been loved, played with, and maybe even abandoned, and chosen again. In the words of my daughter’s favorite song, that’s what makes us beautiful.Image