Although an antique doll who comes to us often feels private and personal, we know that our antique dolls and their clothing have a history of their own. To have provenance for a doll is a wonderful validation of her place of origin and her people who came before us. Many dolls that come to us from “The Market” do not come with provenance. Below is my creative imagining for how this wax head doll, who I have named Hannah Lavender, came to her family of origin, and how she had her wardrobe bestowed upon her:
April, 1811: It is in this month that I, Eleanor Rose, reach my 16th year. I have received an invitation to the ball to be held at Dawlish next month. I am admonished to keep my deportment demur, tho I must confess here that I am quite overcome with excitement! MaMa has orderd muslin from London. My new gown is to be the latest cut with high waist, tiny puff sleeves, and narrow skirts.
Late April, 1811: My new gown is ready! The muslin is of pale lavender patterned in circlets. The sleeves and bodice seams are set with tiny piping, and there are self fabric bands accenting the hem. How the muslin does flow when I walk and dance! MaMa has saved some nice lavender sprigs to accent my hair, and I am to wear her amethyst necklace and earrings. The ball is Saturday next!
May 1811: The Dawlish ball was just the most gay affair! Ever so many ladies turned out in the palest muslin gowns, though mine was not to be bested. I was introduced to Mr. Adam Fletcher, a most amiable dance partner. He attended on me often during the evening and arranged to be seated at my side for the banquet. He is to call on us tomorrow. My heart is aflutter!
June, 1817: Our dearest baby girl, Juliet Henrietta, arrived this month–the very month that my Mr. Fletcher and I were wed these five years gone. Charles and Hudson are lovely energetic boys yet I am delighted to have a girl child to dote upon.
January, 1823: Christmas was a fine celebration this year. Charles received a bow with arrows and Hudson has a fine set of soldiers. Juliet was delighted with her wooden doll with black curls on each side of her face. Adam also brought her a wee set of tea dishes made in the Staffordshire district. We all delighted in the artistry of the blue painting on the pot and tiny cups. They will be kept back for Sunday play until Juliet is old enough to care for them properly. We will keep occupied these cold rainy days in making petticoats and frocks from pickings out of the rag bag for the new poppet.
October, 1847: Our Juliet has given us a granddaughter. Praise God, the child is born alive and is thriving. She is christened Louisa Elizabeth. Master Graham, being nine years her senior will not be of an age for her playmate. He will soon be learning the estate.
October, 1856: Louisa is quite the young lady. Adam, the ever doting Grand PaPa presented her with the most lovely wax head doll for her birthday. The doll has curls of real auburn hair and blue glass eyes. She is of a likeness to Louisa. I took my old muslin dress that I wore when I first was introduced to Adam from the rag pile. There is enough good material to make a play frock with a yoke for Louisa and a dress with tiny white braid trim for the doll. Louisa has named her doll Hannah.
June, 1870: Some days my tired old bones do not allow me to walk down the stairs. Today Louisa came up to sit with me. She is quite the fashionable lady now, and is skilled at copying the latest Paris designs. She learned sewing making simple frocks for her wax doll. She brought that old doll up to show me with a new frock she had created with remnants. It is fashioned of bright red strips with gold tinsel woven in the fabric. The little frock has a low waist and a nicely fashioned coat. I must say, it lacks the elegance and flow of my old lavender muslin dance dress. I wonder what ever became of Juliet’s wooden doll with the black curls . . .
Again, the above journal is a fictional account. Yet it is an apt provenance for a lovely little doll and her varied wardrobe.
Hannah Lavender is 14.5″ tall. She has a shoulder-head attached to a cloth body with possibly papier mache arms and legs with bare feet. Her limbs are smoothy painted or gessoed. She has blue glass stationary eyes and soft mohair auburn hair with bangs. I believe that she is English.
Dating wax dolls is not easy because they are rarely marked. This little girl seems to be from the mid 1800’s. A post by Dolls By Diane, Complete History of Wax Dolls, gives good information on this type of antique doll.
The lavender muslin dress, which is the highlight of Hannah Lavender’s wardrobe, is a lovely creation in its modesty, even though the red dress is more showy. Muslin is a plain weave fabric which originated in cotton in the Middle East and was imported to England from India. It was a favored dress fabric in the early to mid 19th century in gauzy weave of pale pastel colors. Jane Austen’s Mr. Tilney knew all about fine muslin–his sister wore only white muslin dresses. Today, we know muslin more readily in a denser weave of bleached or unbleached serviceable material that was used for backing quilts and making sheets, curtains, aprons, nightgowns, and undergarments.
Finding an antique doll with her original wardrobe is exciting! Some dolls had several dresses and accompanying clothing made within a few years as their young mistresses learned sewing skills. Other dolls, as seems to be the case with Hannah Lavender, had clothing evidencing styles from a wider span of years and sewing skill level. The styles and construction are indeed a delight to behold, learn from, and speculate about.