Beyond Oceans and Decades: In Search of Ningyo


Author’s collection of ichimatsu ningyo

The pursuit of a doll can lead to quite a journey sometimes, in search of the doll itself, and of knowledge about the doll. A journey of this sort can take decades, and can encompass talismans that aid in finding that which is sought. This is the story of one seeker’s journey.

In 1984 I had the unique opportunity to move from Indiana to Okinawa as my husband graduated and accepted a teaching position with University of Maryland Asian Division. Another life-changing event occured in the Spring of 1985 when, after three years of impaired fertility, I birthed my first son. Just five weeks later, in late June, the three of us embarked on a cultural tour of Japan with a U of M study tour. At this point, I didn’t think that life could get much better!


1985 7 July 19 Himeji Shinkansen Station Jonathan Jennie

Himeji Shinkansen Station, July 1985

The tour did include a visit to a doll factory, the Hakata ningyo factory in Fukuoka. While I found this visit interesting, I was not too excited about these dolls which, though beautiful, are stationary and all in one piece, more like figurines.

1985 3 July 14 Fukuoka Japan Hakata doll factory 1

Hakata ningyo ready to be placed into the salesroom

While it was relatively seamless for me to tote my young baby around and enjoy the tour (breastfeeding, of course!), it was necessary for me to spend a little extra time with him in our room each evening. On one of these evenings (as I found out the next morning), some of the other tour group members visited a nearby antique shop. One young woman had found an antique boy doll at the shop and was toting it around in her arms, as I toted my baby. I must say, I had more than a little envy that I did not have the opportunity to have found that doll! Yet, I consoled myself with my real little boy for whom I had waited so long.

1985 9 July 21 Ryoanji Kyoto Jennie Jonathan

Ryoanji, Kyoto, July 1985

After this tour, back on Okinawa, I was able to take a kimekome doll making class. These dolls, similar to the Hakata dolls, are stationary dolls to be admired rather than to be play dolls. I worked on several dolls in the evenings, in the seemingly few minutes that my son slept. This way, along with in-class time, I was able to complete several dolls for myself and for gifts. I also bought several more of the kits, which I still have, still in kit form.


A kimekome ningyo that I made as a gift for my mother-in-law. After her death, it came back to me, and now belongs to my daughter.


I am proud to have made this detailed kimekome geisha with the help of my sensei.

I never forgot the little antique boy ningyo that I saw in the arms of another, and continued to watch for one of my own. In 1987 we moved to the Tokyo area, and I had another son. Even though there was a doll district in Tokyo, I never made it there. Overall, dolls were not a big priority in my life at that time, and my presumption was that the dolls I would find there would be new rather than antique, and more of the stationary type I had already seen, like those above, or like the wooden kokeshi which are also commonly given as gifts.


Kokeshi ningyo are regional dolls from Tohoku in northern Japan. Those shown here are of the made-for-tourists variety. These dolls have the kappa hairstyle (defined below). Author’s collection


Here is a selection of small kokeshi that were made for the Japanese market. I found them at the weekly Salvation Army sale. They all have wobble heads. The tallest pointed hair kokeshi is 4″ while the tiny pair is a mere 3/4″. Notice the fabric-wrapped bun hairstyle on the mid-sized girls, and the shaved hair with hair tufts by the ears on the boys. This is Meiji era, or late 19th, early 20th c. and is earlier than the ichimatsu dolls shown below.

I did find some interesting second-hand shopping while I lived in Tokyo, including a weekly Salvation Army sale. One time I watched a worker unpack a whimsical small scale kimekome set of Dolls Day Hina Matsuri dolls in muted colors. As soon as she unpacked it, I bought it and she had to immediately pack it up again! (This set is still in Connecticut, so I cannot show you photos at this time.)

Japan Hina Matsuri display

Hina Matsuri, or Dolls Day festival on March 3rd, displays a replica of the court, and is perhaps the most well- known of Japanese dolls.

My life in Tokyo continued to include travel, in which I delighted. In 1989 I visited Nagoya and went to the famous Nagoya Temple Market. At one of the stalls there, I found a girl doll with moveable limbs and real hair. I didn’t know what kind of doll she was (a Bunraku puppet doll, I speculated, but there were no strings). I bought her.

1989 8 March Nagoya Temple flea market 2 Jennie Jonathan

Shopping at the Nagoya Temple Market in 1989. I am on the left with my first son.

The doll was not in the best condition, and I set out to restore her, even though I had no idea how. She smelled of moth balls and the crinkled satin-like fabric that connected her hard parts was deteriorating. Her right arm was hanging by a thread, showing the cotton batting stuffing inside. She was also missing her obi (the belt around the waist of the kimomo). I decided to hand wash her kimono in cold water, and realized that was a mistake! The fabrics began to bleed! I removed them from the water and spread them to dry, but the beautiful floral design on the dark blue kimono was permanenty damaged by my ignorance about how to restore the doll. I did patch the fabric on her arms, then admitted temporary defeat and packed her away in a wicker basket. Luckily, I had the foresight to buy a pink girl’s soft obi to replace the deteriorated one my doll had, and a vintage narrow obi as a substitute for the missing one.


This is the doll as she came out of her basket when I brought her home to Oregon from Connecticut in 2014.

This ningyo hibernated in her basket on her trip moving to the United States, in Washington for ten years, then in Connecticut where she was initially left behind, and finally came home to Oregon in 2014.

Now a lot has happened, any way you look at it, since I brought this ningyo out of Japan in 1991. At that time, I could not identify the type of doll she is, I did not know about her materials or construction, and I did not even know how to dress her or tie an obi. Over twenty-five years of internet innovation and doll research have made it possible for this sweet Ichimatsu ningyo to come out of hibernation and “breathe” again!


The doll parts in partially restored condition as I had left her since 1989. The wooden box on the lower right is her squeaker that is now in her tummy. It still works by compressing the front and back together.

The first “talisman” that I found with exciting clues about the nature of my doll was Antique Doll Collector magazine, October 2015, which offered an article on “Japanese Ningyo.” Finally, I was able to identify my doll as an ichimatsu ningyo with gofun (crushed oyster shell) covered parts. Thank goodness I didn’t try to clean her face, or it would have disolved! Other magazine articles, most notably by Japanese doll and antiques expert Alan Scott Pate, followed. Books on Japanese dolls, written for English speakers, which didn’t exist 25 years ago, and internet sources on kimono and tying an obi, are my next talismans, and have given me the confidence to finish restoring my ningyo.


The water damaged kimono and other parts of the doll’s original clothing, including the little pink soft obi that is faded and shredded.


The vintage orange adult narrow obi is at the top. Below is the padded cord that goes on top of the obi, then the doll’s faded soft obi. At the bottom is the new girl’s size soft obi that I bought while still in Japan.


The red fabric is an underskirt that goes on the doll before the kimono. The bottom shows the signature (of the doll’s artist) papers that are wrapped around the doll’s torso before she is dressed. I cannot read the kanji, so I don’t know her artist.


Here is my restored ningyo with new muslin fabric parts. The original pale green crinkled satin-type fabric is still on her arms.


My ningyo, restored and dressed. She is 20″ tall.

My ichimatsu ningyo is of the Showa era, or circa probably 1930’s. Her hairstyle is called kappa, meaning “cap” and is similar to western bobbed or pageboy hairstyles of the 1920’s and 30’s. Although she does not measure up to Alan Scott Pate’s “good” condition, I love her dearly because I found her, and I brought her back to life after all these years.


The boy ningyo. He is 14″ tall. Though Showa era, he may be later than the two girl dolls.

Although eBay has been around for many years, to my knowledge, it is much more recent that dealers in Japan have been offering items for sale internationally on eBay. There is a wide selection of ichimatsu and other ningyo now available to choose from. And choose, I did! I found a small boy doll who is at least similar to the one I saw in 1985–it has been so long, I can’t remember that doll’s details very clearly. And I brought one more girl, perhaps in the “better” category, and two babies into my family of ichimatsu ningyo.


My newest girl is also Showa era from the 1920’s or 30’s. She may be considered a “better” ningyo because of the quality of her kimono and facial detailing, and because her nails have indented detailing. She is 19″ tall.


These are gofun dollhouse size play dolls that come in a little basket with a lid. The okasan and otosan are 4″ tall. Author’s collection

The Japanese dolls or ningyo that I have shown you here are the ones that have touched my life the most, while I lived in Japan and afterward. There are many more types of ningyo, and ningyo feature prominently in many aspects of Japanese life, not just for children. I have shared my story with Japanese dolls here, yet I have not told you much about the history or characteristics of the dolls. Perhaps that will be another story . . .

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

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

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


Japanese girl in kimono with Ichimatsu ningyo 1920

Japanese girl in kimono with kappa hairstyle and ichimatsu ningyo on her back, 1920





Knarls and Twists


My restored ningyo, found in Nagoya, 1989

Sometimes the knarls and twists of life just keep me from writing and sewing for the dolls. The past year has been full of twists, mostly good, that have kept me occupied away from my blog. It included a won trip to Hawaii, a move to a new apartment in a new city, a short trip to visit my son and his wife in St. Louis, and most recently, a 3 week bout of that awful flu.


My daughter and me on Hawaii, 2017

My apologies to my faithful followers for my inconsistent posting over the past year, and thank you to my new followers for your vote of confidence in my blog as a whole.

I have worked on a few doll projects over the year, and have taken some photos along the way. So now I am preparing a new blog post about a personal story and a long journey (literally and figuratively) to learning about Japanese dolls, or ningyo. I am hoping to have this post ready for you within the week–we’ll see if I can get some good photos in our near sunless Pacific Northwest climate at this time of year. Additionally, the Portland Crossroads Doll and Teddy Bear Show is tomorrow, so perhaps I will find a story there. Then, I have another doll restored and waiting to be dressed that I would like to share with you soon.


Doll restoration with a Kling shoulder head

I am offering my gratitude for all of your interest in my blog, and blessings for your health and prosperity in the coming year. Take joy in the beauty of antique dolls!  ~Jennie

Antique photo may 24 1927 Japanese dolls for American children

Ningyo being prepared to send to American children, 1927


Aesthetics and Whimsy: Thoughts on Dolls and Depression Glass as Art


Miss Oita is one of the 58 Ambassador Dolls sent to the US from Japan in 1927 after US children sent 12,739 “Blue Eyed” dolls to children in  Japan. Miss Oita represents Okayama Prefecture and resides in the Springfield Museum of MA.

A whole weekend off work is a rare pleasure for me. Last night I was reading my newly acquired book about the Japanese Friendship Dolls, especially the chapter on “The Japanese Doll” (so much new and useful background information for me!), and the subsection entitled “Why Ambassador [Friendship] Dolls are Art.” In a nutshell, this essay points out that one of the Friendship doll makers, Hirata Goyo II, signed his dolls on the back of their heads indicating that he viewed himself as an artist. All of the 30″ high Friendship Dolls were made by hand to the highest standards of craftsmanship and consistency of style. Because they were hand made, the dolls of each of the six makers had slight variations in their style. Goyo most likely signed his dolls because his way of thinking was leaning toward the new way of innovation and individuation, while the other artists were thinking in the more traditional Japanese style of working collectively.   After much reasoning, examples and details, this essay concluded that all 58 of the friendship dolls, not just those of Goyo, are indeed works of art.

Miss Kyoto-fu by Hirata Goyo II

Miss Kyoto-fu was made by Hirata Goyo II and resides in the Children’s Museum of Boston. Note the variation of her smiling mouth with teeth showing.

This essay on dolls as art has helped me to crystalize my thoughts on German china dolls as art. To point, can factory made objects intended for play be considered as art? I believe that they can, especially when we are considering the earlier dolls where careful attention was given to individually hand painted features. While the dolls of each factory had to conform to consistency standards of production, there were still small individuations in the dolls, such as wisps in the hair along the hairline, and slight mouth and eye variations that lend differences to expressions or moods for the dolls. Even though the German chinas were not signed by individual artists, they were painted by doll makers, and many (though not all) do reach the standard of art.

Early German Meissen China Head Doll

This early Meissen German china doll has the most beautiful and serene expression that I have seen on a doll of this mold.


A variety of green Depression Glass in my collection. Some think that green is more desirable than pink glass. I’m glad that I have some of each.

Today, the second day of my full weekend off, I unpacked my last box of Depression Glass to fill out my collection displays. And doing so, I pondered this question of art further: Can mass produced objects like this glass be considered art? Perhaps this is pushing the definition of art too far, yet there are definitely artistic qualities to this glassware that I hold so dear.


Here is a bowl in the “Oyster and Pearl” pattern in my collection viewed from above to show the lovely symmetry of its design.


The same “Oyster and Pearl” bowl from the side.

This glassware, produced in a variety of jewel-like colors, was made from the late 1920’s until about 1940 (hence its name). It was often given, or sold at low prices, as premiums for purchasing products such as oats or laundry soap. Therefore, it was quickly produced without much quality control, so rough edges and seam lines, and other imperfections are often found. Oh, but the array of patterns, shapes, proportions, pressed designs, and colors are delightful! There had to have been designers to come up with the patterns that were put into production–were they not artists in their own right?


“Aunt Polly” is a most extraordinary shade of blue!


A “Mayfair” cup and saucer in a different shade of blue. Note the beautifully pressed floral motif.

In his book, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore makes the point that useful and utilitarian objects and tools can be so much more delightful and whimsical, as well as useful, when we give them creative and artistic form. This is exactly what Depression Glass does with otherwise utilitarian objects such as dinner plates and refrigerator boxes.


“American Sweetheart” is made from thin milk-white glass that takes on the color underneath it around the pattern edges.


A Royal Ruby berry bowl in “Coronation” pattern stacks fine ribs on top of wide ribs for an elegant design.


Even the handle is elegant.

Of course, one’s sense of the aesthetic is colored (pun intended) by one’s time and place of being. By the 1940’s, people considered that colored glass to be old fashioned (which they thought was a bad thing; imagine that!) and the new clear, or crystal, glass with modern straight lines and geometric shapes was in fashion. Oh dear, I just don’t understand. I will stay with the whimsical jewel tones!

Manhatten Candle Holder

“Manhattan” candle holder. This pattern was made from 1938 to 1943.


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

Florence, Gene. Collector’s Encyclopedia of Depression Glass (14th Ed.). Paducah, KY: Collectors Books, 2000.

Moore, Thomas. The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life. New York: Harper Collins, 1997

Woman at sink 1930s farmhouse kitchen

I think she finds joy in washing her colored glass in front of her sunny window. (circa 1930’s)


The August Dolls


Along with Augusta, these four dolls came home with me from the Portland Doll Show on August 20th.

Some seasons, at the semi-annual Portland Crossroads Doll & Teddy Bear Show & Sale, I find  my bag filling up with every manner of doll accessory. Doll clothing–ranging from late-1800’s to modern–abound, and one can spend hours rummaging through the dollar bins, sometimes to fair advantage. I come away from this show with crocheted items, chairs, mini books, little old tea cups, old leather shoes, fabrics and laces, teeny cards of buttons, and teddy bears. Sometimes after hours of wandering and choosing, I realize that I have not bought a doll. But not this time!


An enigma–a Hertwig (ABG?) Currier & Ives doll, and a Kister doll with very curly hair.

These two 20″ tall chinas found their way into my bag early in the morning. The first girl, on the left, is a Currier and Ives hair style. She has tendrils of hair falling onto her neck all the way around, and her ears are exposed. This girl, who I have named Clara, has all the characteristics of a doll made by the Hertwig factory. She has long single stroke eyebrows that almost wrap around her eyes, which are not outlined or highlighted, and the pupils gaze upward. She has a pursed heart-shaped mouth, and a large incised size number “6” on the back of her shoulder plate. And finally, she has the quintessential Hertwig lower legs with horizontal ribs and short brown boots. Her cloth body appears to be original.

I have not previously researched Currier & Ives dolls, and now, after looking her up in Mary Gorham Krombholz’s book, A Pictorial Reference Guide for German Chinas, I have conflicting information. The Currier & Ives doll in the book is in the Alt, Beck, & Gotschalk chapter; however, she defies Mary’s criteria for ABG dolls. She is a large doll and does NOT have eye accent dots or outlines, and she does not have the darker lip accent line or the V dip in her lips. Furthermore, ABG made the Spill Curls doll at about the same time (1870’s to 1880’s) which is a very similar style to the Currier & Ives doll, and is undeniably from ABG. The Currier & Ives doll has face painting that fits all the criteria for Hertwig dolls, she has the large size number incize mark on the back of her shoulder plate, and my doll, Clara, has a body with unglazed porcelain arms and Hertwig type ribbed legs with brown boots rather than ABG type C-cup hands and black heeled boots with the V-shaped top. She looks different from my other ABG dolls. Therefore, in my opinion, the Currier & Ives doll is a Hertwig factory doll, and not an ABG doll. I welcome further comentary on this issue!

An Alt, Beck, & Gottschalk china doll with the Spill Curl hair style is shown on the right. This doll is clearly from the ABG factory and is similar to the Currier & Ives hair style doll on the left. Note the similarities and difference in the face painting.


Clara came dressed in split drawers and a lace petticoat. The red cotton dress with feather stitched embroidery was one of those endearing finds in a pile of newer baby doll clothing. It is a perfect young girl’s dress for this doll, and layers nicely with her petticoat. (A child of this late 1800’s period would wear a shorter knee length dress, and not a full length petticoat. However, I think Clara should get to keep the clothing that she brought with her.)


The Currier and Ives doll, Clara, shows off her Hertwig ribbed limbs with brown boots.


Even the lady dolls enjoy a bottle of Maryhill wine!

This lady china doll has an unusual curly hairstyle that is similar to, but is not, a flat top style. Her hair, with comb marks in the back, falls smooth to her ear level, then ends in tight round curls all around. It is this unusual hairstyle that recommends her. She has the facial features of a doll made by the A. W. Fr. Kister factory with straight single stroke brows, eyes that are not highlighted or outlined, and an upper lip with low, far-spaced peaks. This doll has a professionally rebuilt shoulder plate and a new made body with cloth feet and newer unglazed porcelain lady’s lower arms. She came unclothed. She currently has no small cloths, and is wearing an antique silk gold and honey striped wrapper dress. I bought this dress to try and clothe Miss Bettina or Edith of the white chemises and petticoats in the doll’s house bedroom, but this dress’s sleeves are too narrow for those dolls. This new curly headed doll has narrower arms, and the dress fits her fairly well.


Bessie greets the Hertwig twins in the child-sized Seth Tudor chair. She is thinking about pushing the twins out of the chair so she can try it–just her size!

The smaller blonde china is without a doubt a Hertwig lowbrow doll. At 12 1/2″ tall, Bessie is just right to be a child in the doll’s house. She has nice quality china arms and smooth (not ribbed) china legs with black boots and blue painted bows. Bessie came dressed in a nice lace trimmed pinnafore style petticoat and tucked drawers.


Bessie is delighted with the ABC blocks, the story books, and the wee china doll that are now her toys! The lady doll is an ABG curly top hairstyle in the Cafe Au Laite color. She has brown leather arms, blue leather boots, and is wearing an 1880’s polonaise style antique dress with a new underskirt.


The smallest all-bisque doll is also a Hertwig. At 6″ tall, Chelsea has nicely molded features with crisp curls, comb marks in her yellow hair, and detailed hands with molded knuckle dimples and fingernails. She wears a molded camisole and drawers with blue trim and blue bows at her knees above her bare feet. Her legs were un-strung when I got her, and the edges of them are chipped at the hip. I kept the narrow elastic cording that had been used to string her, but added china buttons to keep the knots from pulling through the holes again. Her arms have the original wire armature. She fits nicely as an infant in the Breton cradle in the doll’s bedroom.


Augusta is all freshened up with a new place to sit on a small Windsor sewing rocker with an age appropriate quilt remnant.

I was content with my china and bisque doll finds this time, and was wandering around, peeking at my favorite booths and looking into all the corners. Then, Gussie just sort of leaped into my arms later in the day. Although I had been looking at Greiner dolls for a number of years, I was not intending to buy another doll this day. She was the right doll at a very good price, though she was a shoe-less waif with a dusty dress when I found her.


Here is Gussie all ready for bed in a night dress made of 19th century pink calico. (It is quite long and was most likely made for a baby.) She didn’t want to give up her new shoes (found at the doll show just for her) while she waited for her dress to dry from its’ laundering.



Undies all freshened up and a good look at her mid 19th century cloth body.

German born Ludwig Greiner came to the United States in the 1830’s, settling in Philadelphia. He made papier mache dolls and patented his process of reinforcing the papier mache with cloth. The patent label reads, GREINER’S IMPROVED PATENT HEADS Pat. March 30th ‘58. Some pre-patent Greiner dolls have glass eyes, and there are variations in the hair styles, though all the Greiner dolls have a distinctive look. Gussie is 26″ tall with a cloth body and legs, and dark brown leather lower arms and hands. She has black hair and dark blue painted eyes.


Augusta’s patent label, glued on the back of her shoulder plate.


A linen petticoat.


China and glass buttons all down the back, including the blue ringer on the petticoat just visible at the bottom of the photo. The cotton dress is gorgeous, but is in frail condition.


Freshly dressed in her deep burgundy dress with gold floral print, “new” old kid leather shoes, and a golden real sanddollar pendant.

Antique photo girl with Greiner doll

Antique photograph of a little girl holding a Greiner doll with dark leather arms.

We’re wishing all of you all the joys of poking around, viewing, and purchasing at your favorite antique show or rummage sale. Take joy!

Golden August Days



My newest charmer, Augusta, is a Greiner paper mache doll.

In the turning of the days for my family, it is August that routinely brings us fun outings. There is the Aurora Colony Days festival, followed by the Portland Doll Show, with the Oregon City Antique Fair bringing up the rear. And this year our August events were led by a wedding! My youngest son, Jeremiah, married his long time friend and sweetheart, Jazmyne.


Jeremiah’s first dance with his new bride in a sun-gold haze.


A formal occaision! Me with Jeremiah and Jonathan. Unfortunately, middle son Alex was not able to be there.

Our path to the wedding, which was held in the Yakima Valley, Washington, led us through Goldendale where I stopped for wine at the Maryhill Winery, my favorite!


Showing off one of my bottles, along with the Columbia River Gorge-eous view.

The very next weekend we went south of the mighty Columbia to the Pudding River and antiques at Aurora.


I resisted the urge and didn’t buy any chairs this time, though these caught my eye.


Artful displays of glass always catch my attention too. A few of these “sun purple” sherbets did come home with me.


A Victorian curved glass side by side secretary has been on my wish list for many, many years. This one is small enough to fit in my available space, and as a “shabby chic” renovation, it fit my budget–yes, the $1400 ones are still lovely to look at and dream about. I forgot to photograph this one before it left the shop. It was hard to photograph in its new little location. I already love it as my new best protected doll display place!

The next event, the Portland Doll Show did not fail to delight!


These three mid-19th century papier mache ladies were some of the first dolls to greet me.


A Martha Chase boy dressed in lace with a wee bisque companion was also a charmer.


Brighde goes for more modern dolls. She thought this huge brunette girl could be her daughter, and she would have liked to bring her home. (We didn’t.)


Several china dolls and an all-bisque little girl came home with me.


Then, Gussie sort of leaped into my arms later in the day.

I will tell you all about these dolls in my next post very soon.


After attending two other antique and doll events in close succession in August, I don’t often find much at the Oregon City Antique Fair, but I do usually find something unique. This time I found these vintage Japanese kimono remnants for doll sewing, and an oval framed old photograph of two girls dressed in Edwardian white; one holding a bisque doll.



The Little Sisters painted 1896 (2)

May all of your August days be golden.

Introducing Hannah Lavender through The Daybook of Eleanor Rose


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:

Antique French Regency dress in muslin

Antique Regency Era Fine Muslin Dress. Notice the diamond shaped back panel.

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!


Antique Sheer Regengy dresses Hamburg Museum

Oh what airey muslin!

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!

Antique Regency cream muslin dress with Spencer

A spencer jacket and lovey embroidery.

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.

Regency boy and girl

Early 19th century attire for well-to-do children

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.

Blonde girl white dress wooden doll portrait

Mid 19th century child dress with wide neckline and puff sleeves.

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 . . .


This is how the wax head doll appeared on the sales table in Portland, August 2015. Everyone, including me, noticed the lovely and demure muslin dress before noticing the doll to whom it belonged!

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 DianeComplete History of Wax Dolls, gives good information on this type of antique doll.


The lavender muslin dress seems to be the earliest style in the wardrobe , possibly dating circa 1850, while the red dress with the drop waist, pleated back, and longer jacket is an 1870’s to 1880’s style.


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.


This photo shows the reverse side of the dress with the cartridge pleats at the waist. You can also see the ties that fasten the dress at the back neckline. All is hand sewn.


The hem is reinforced with a denser cotton which gives the dress more body to hold its flared skirt. This is different from the airy flowing Regency styles shown above.


Here is the condition of the dress when I received it, after a light laundering. The hem is adorned with two self fabric bias cut bands edged with tiny white braid at the top of each band. Some of the thread holding the bands in place has rotted away, leaving the bands loose and with frayed edges.


A close-up shows the delicate print of white circles on the pale lavender muslin. It is faded with a few sections showing more color. The top band is newly sewn while the bottom band is tacked in place with pins to position it for hand sewing.


Hannah Lavender’s wardrobe consists of the featured red dress and lavender muslin dress. She wears a knee-length chemise and ankle-length split drawers under her muslin dress. There is also a cream wool narrow petticoat with a cotton waistband, two coarser made short dresses (one in off-white with black velvet bands at the hem, one in pink with white stripes) and a soft muslin nightgown with a pink satin ribbon. She also has a straw bonnet with blue silk lining, which is cracked at the brim. The added brown velvet cap with red flowers compliments the red dress.



Hannah Lavender is sweet and demure with her freshly mended dress. Though stable, the crack in the wax on her forehead is evidence of her age and endurance.


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.


Little Davie: A New Brother


Davie likes his wooden bowling set that is just his size!

In July, when I was three years old, my father picked me up from the neighbors’ house where I had spent the night, and took me on an outing to the nearby hospital. He left me for a little bit at the big red curly slide outside, then took me inside to get a look at my new baby brother through the wide glass viewing window of the nursery. The baby’s face, which was all I could see that wasn’t bound up in a white blanket, was red and wrinkledy. When asked what I thought of him I said, “He’s funny,” and asked if I could play on the slide some more.


Big sister Jennie can help nine-month-old Davie learn to walk. San Diego, 1964

As David grew, he became more interesting as a playmate, and definitely more ornery as the years went by. Now, he is one of my best friends and advocates. I value him immensely as my only sibling.

Jennie & David Sled 1665 cropped

Winter 1966, Oklahoma City


The Martha Chase dolls for sale at the Portland Doll Show, February 2015

So, when I spotted this Martha Chase boy in the green velvet suit, I couldn’t resist bringing him home as a new brother for Miss Ruby, my reproduction Izannah Walker girl. His white-blonde hair and bright blue eyes reminded me so much of my little brother, he is perfect as Ruby’s brother!


Davie’s smile seems bigger now that he is home to play with his sister.

I don’t know much about Martha Chase dolls yet. Here is what I found out: Similar to Izannah Walker, Martha Chase, who was a doctor’s wife, didn’t care for the idea of children being given mechanical creations and fragile bisque dolls as playthings. She thought that the use of “technology” in mechanical playthings overwhelmed the child’s own inventiveness in play. She also thought that the fashion dolls popular around the turn of the twentieth century were likely to teach children to be materialistic. This idea of creating a less materialistic, “pop culture” toy, in favor of one that is made of soft natural fibers was continued in the early childhood philosophies of Maria Montessori in her schools, and by Rudolf Steiner in Waldorf Education.

Mrs. Chase used her sewing skills, beginning in 1899 in Pawtucket Rhode Island, to create lightweight, more life-like and child-like dolls of stockinet stuffed with cotton (which is lighter than sawdust, a popular doll filler in the 19th century). By 1913, she and the workers in her cottage industry were making dolls in six sizes from 12″ to 30″, and the dolls were selling in department stores such as Macy’s and Wanamaker’s.  Mrs. Chase died in 1925, though her company continued to produce dolls into the 1970’s.


Davie in the buff, just like the time he (my brother, I mean) escaped from mommy after his bath, and ran outside to play!!

I don’t know enough about the Martha Chase dolls to know in what era my Davie doll was made. It seems that his type of blonde boy with blue eyes was common. He measures just short of 18″ with an old cloth torso topped by a sized or gessoed and painted shoulder-head, and he has adorable applied little ears. His left foot has a little stitched-on sole, and his right foot seems to have been re-finished. He has patches on various locations of his body. I could not locate a signature anywhere on him. The outfit he came in is not original. If any of you, dear readers, can tell me more about him, I would be grateful! (I know that you can, Paula! 😉 )


Notice the difference in construction of Ruby’s slender little girl hand and Davie’s chubby baby hand.

Though Ruby is a reproduction Izannah Walker doll, she is made true to the original ones by Paula Walton. I find the contrast in styling for hands and feet between these two dolls to be intriguing–little girl versus baby, like the difference in china doll heads styled to be ladies or to be children–the face, neck, and hands are so proportionally different for the different ages represented.


What mischief will these two get into together?–or perhaps Ruby is grown-up enough to be a good girl influence on her little brother.

How the evening has flown! I hear Ruby offering to read a story to Davie to help him relax into sleep to be ready for Independence Day festivities on the morrow.

Jonathan, David, Alex with Pony Fort Summer 1993 (2)

Happy Birthday David, Bro!

Post Script:  When is a computer like a puppy? When it is new, and you have to teach it everything! Okay, maybe I will grow to like my new Windows 8 technology, but at the moment, true to Martha Chase’s prediction, it is interfering with my own inventiveness! Among other technical difficulties, I have not yet succeeded in getting my old and still quite useful and working printer to interface with Windows 8. I want to scan my old photos! I want to play my DVD’s! Can you teach a new dog old tricks? This remains to be seen.

Happy Independence Day!