The Making of Moira

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Some antique dolls are just special, and you know it when you find them, even when they are not whole. Moira is such a doll. I found her as a shoulder-head with no body sitting on a shelf with another more common shoulder-head. I brought them both home with me.

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Moira’s hair is puffed around the back of her head and covered by a snood. Some of the black color has worn off the high points on the back of her hair–a sign that a long-ago little girl played with her and loved her.

China dolls are unique among many other dolls because their molded hair does not change with time, and it holds a record of a specific fashion in its time. Of course, the most commonly found china dolls are the lowbrows, which were made into the 1920’s or 30’s. The flat tops, while older and dating as far back as the American Civil War era, are still common and readily available. Dolls with more unusual hairstyles add variety and interest to a collection, and incentive to study their history. I was immediately attracted to this doll’s hairstyle which has a puffed roll around the back of her head covered by a snood, with the front of her hair exposed with a center part. She also has beautiful face painting with a serene expression.

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German Chinas page 155 has a photo of a doll similar to Moira in the Conta & Boehme section.

When I turned to my invaluable reference book, A Pictoral Reference Guide for German Chinas by Mary Gorham Krombholz, I found a photo of a doll very similar to Moira in the section on Conta & Boehme dolls. This was exciting for me because I rarely see dolls made by this factory. Conta & Boehme made porcelain products in Poessneck, Thuringia from 1800 until the factory closed in 1931. The earliest china doll shard found on the factory site dates to 1845. This doll with a snood dates to the mid 1860’s. Some Conta & Boehme dolls are marked with the company’s trademark of a shield with a bent arm inside. If Moira had such a mark, it is now lost because her shoulder-plate was broken and is professionally repaired. The repair is so well done that I cannot find the edges. The only difference in the repaired part is that the porcelain is more opaque and creamy. It does not have the ice-blue luminous quality of old porcelain, as does the face of this doll.

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It is difficult to tell that Moira’s shoulder-plate has been repaired, though the light from the photo flash shows the color difference from her face and neck to her shoulders. She has the added interest of three sew-holes front and back.

After identifying Moira, I wanted to find a body that would suit her. Within the year, I found one that is the right size, quality and age. Moira’s shoulder-head is 5 1/4″ tall and 4 1/4″ across the shoulders. Completed, she is 19″ tall. While her shoulder-head could take a slightly larger body, she is buxom and becomming on this one. The body is old cotton with cloth feet and leather arms. It is stuffed with cotton batting and horsehair. The leather is old and cracked. Her right arm has a break that is held together with masking tape. Because of the condition of the leather, I will not attempt to repair it by sewing. It will just be how it is.

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Moira has quite a mid- 19th century silhouette with her silky sloping shoulders and the horizontal neckline of her new chemise.

Moira’s body came with a set of drawers and a short petticoat. I left them on and added another set of long drawers and petticoat with matching knitted lace. While 19th century undergarments consist of three basic pieces–chemise, drawers, and petticoat–a number of the dolls I find, or undergarment sets, are missing the chemise. The chemise, of course, is a simple knee-length shift that is the first garment worn next to the skin. It is often undecorated, or may have lace at the neckline and sleeves, but never at the hem since that part never shows under the petticoat. I made this chemise for Moira. It was cut simply from one piece of muslin folded in quarters and cut to Moira’s size. It is machine sewn on the long seams with the lace hand sewn, and the neck is just gathered with the red ribbon beaded through the lace.

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Moira serves tea in her antique morning dress with waived braid trim.

One never knows when a special doll will make herself known. Moira is one of those unassuming beauties who may have been passed up by many because she was just a repaired shoulder-head. Now she is made, and a complete doll again.

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Antique photo of a girl holding a china shoulder-head

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The August Dolls

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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!

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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.)

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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

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A linen petticoat.

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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.

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

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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!

Clothes Maketh the Doll

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As we know from revered doll collectors and historians such as Mildred Seely, the best and most valuable antique dolls to collect are those that are all original.  That is, they retain the head, limbs, body, and clothing which they had as new dolls.  We also know that these all-original dolls are now scarce, and expensive when they are available. As Mildred said in her book, Beloved China Dolls, there are more collectors now than there were in the mid-twentieth century, and the same number of antique dolls.  I would add that there are likely fewer dolls, as some of them break and deteriorate, though we can always hope that more are being recovered from years spent sleeping in attics and closets.  Furthermore, the price of desirable dolls goes up so that only wealthy collectors can afford and hoard them, while the economy in the USA has decreased the ability of most of us to be able to buy luxury items such as dolls for our beloved collections.  If you follow auctions in Antique Doll Collector magazine and similar venues, then you know that the price realized for many of the antique dolls on auction, or for sale, today is enough to cover the wages of a woman such as myself for a number of years!

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Fear not, kindred low-income doll collectors!  There are still many opportunities to find inexpensive not-so-perfect antique dolls that can become lovely additions to our collections with just a little bit of creativity, and perhaps a small stash of sewing remnants.  Such was the case for Florence, a little unassuming doll-house sized china head doll who I acquired a few years ago, for about the equivalent of one hour of my wages.  Florence has an unusual hair style with her black hair covered with a net in back.  I have never before seen a small doll with this style.

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Because of her small size, it is difficult to photograph Florence with my inexpensive camera. Sorry for the poor focus.

Florence is 7 1/2″ tall and has her shoulder head glued to her body since she has no sew holes.  Her face painting is well done for such a small doll, yet I cannot tell which factory made her, or which 19th century decade she originated from.  I do not know if her body is original to her, or if it was placed with her head later.  Her limbs are bisque in the style made in the early 20th century for inexpensive play dolls.  Her coarse woven fabric body and legs are made all in one piece in a rather blockish shape.  She seems to be stuffed with cotton batting.  I sewed across her legs at the hip so that she could sit in a chair.  Her body has mildew stains as well, and is not very pretty.

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Choosing fabric and trim for Florence’s new clothing,

Even though Florence has a well-painted face and an unusual hairstyle, she came clothed in a poor child-made dress of cheap wide-width lace, and she is modest about her less-than-perfect body.  A new outfit is just what she needs to improve her self-esteem!

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Blocking out the small clothes.

As usual, I did not use a pattern for the simple lines of this outfit.  I measured and estimated size, adding seam allowances.  In the photo above, the white undergarments are cut from an antique petticoat remnant.  The large rectangle at the top is Florence’s petticoat, the small piece under it is the waistband, and the two rectangles to the left are the drawers.  The final shaped piece on the right is the chemise.  You can see that the antique indigo remnant is narrow, and this size dictated the overall width of the dress.

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Florence already appears more shapely in her new small clothes made of antique fabric and vintage lace.

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The drawers, made from two tubes of fabric, are “split” and only connect with the drawstring waist. The vintage lace on all three undergarments matches.

Creating the dress took many fittings.  I wanted it to be high at the neck, long of sleeve, and to have a mid-19th century look.  The shoulders are slightly dropped and the sleeves are slightly flaired at the shoulders.  I added darts at the waist of the bodice for a more fitted look.DSC01921

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Florence’s pinafore is made of the same fabric as her under things, but I gave it a trim of new lace that is crisp and white to accent the white striped pattern in her indigo dress.  My plan for the shape of her apron was to rely on a photo of an antique doll in a similar costume. The apron part is perfect, and the bodice part is a bit unique, as I didn’t want to make it just like the one in the photo.  That’s the way mommy and auntie made doll clothes were sewn in the past, so it’s still authentic, even if I just made it up!  The tiny mob cap renders Florence fully dressed and ready to go out and tend to her sheep.

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Creating this outfit for Florence took oh so many tiny hand stitches!  I worked on it during spare moments and quiet times intermittently throughout the winter and spring. It consists of six pieces and transforms Florence from a rather modest and unremarkable doll into a winsome beauty!  I think the cotton country work clothes fit her countenance perfectly!  Admittedly, she is not all-original, and perhaps not that most desirable doll sought after by wealthy and discerning collectors.  Yet she is now rather irresistible in her unassuming way.  And all for under $30 (including the antique fabric) and some diligent sewing!

Happy creating!  ~ Jennie

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Heirloom Hertwigs

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Dorothy, with black hair, is a Pet Name china. Fiona’s blonde hair has a slightly different mold. Both are typical Hertwig dolls.

My blog post that continues to receive the most views is Beautiful Pet Name and Lowbrow Chinas. Though I personally find the older china dolls to be more alluring, I realize that many people searching for information on china dolls are looking specifically for information about a lowbrow doll that they inherited. My grandmother’s doll, who was from 1900, the year she was born, was a lowbrow with black hair, like Dorothy, though hers was not a Pet Name.

Fancy hair china dolls, manufactured primarily in the 1870’s would have to be passed down through at least five generations to still be heirlooms within a family.  Even the child china dolls of the 1880’s would be about four or five generations away now. That means that one of these dolls may have belonged to your great-great-grandmother.  Hertwig lowbrow china dolls were produced primarily from 1890 to 1937, which means that your mother, aunt, or grandmother could be the original owner of one (or more) of these dolls, and now you may find yourself as the doll’s new mistress. Another reason why we are more likely to find ourselves as the caretaker of a Hertwig heirloom doll is the fact that these dolls were mass produced in the millions, while porcelain was more rare and expensive when most of the older dolls were manufactured.

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A Hertwig mark or logo

Mary Krombholz tells us in A Pictorial Reference Guide for German Chinas that the Hertwig Porcelain Factory, located in the Thuringian town of Katzhuette, made porcelain products from 1864 until the factory closed around 1950. Doll parts were made from 1865 on.The earliest shoulder heads may have been made of unglazed porcelain. As far as dolls, Hertwig is most noted for their Nanking-Puppen, or lowbrow dolls with nanking (brown cotton) bodies, stuffed with cotton, with bisque or china limbs, and for Snowbabies, which are little figurines with a blown-on suit of white crushed porcelain. As with the other German porcelain factories, Hertwig also produced an array of porcelain products such as bade-puppen (bathing dolls or Frozen Charlottes), animal figurines, figurines of saints, and the china half dolls which were popular in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Krombholz visited the Hertwig factory site in 1999. One of the rooms she viewed had been a sewing room for making the nanking bodies, though the sewing machines were no longer there.  This is evidence that at this factory, the doll bodies were made on site at the factory, and not at a separate location or in workers’ homes, as was the case for some of the other factories that manufactured porcelain doll parts.

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Snowbaby

Krombholz references another book, Florence Theriault’s Hertwig & Co. Archives, 1890-1937. This book should prove to be an excellent source for anyone wanting to know more about the Hertwig factory and dolls–if you can obtain it. I researched it at the two major online booksellers, and it is available for around $100.

Here is a description of the factory’s demise, written by Denise Van Patten in 2001:

Hertwig & Co. was a porcelain factory located in Katzhutte in the Thuringian region of Germany.  The factory produced children’s dolls, decorative objects, and porcelain novelties.  The factory began production in 1865, and continued in some form until the 1950s.  When the factory was taken over by the East German government, few people knew that inside the factory was an archive of historic showroom samples boxes, with original inventory tags.  In the 1980s, a government-owned company looted the archives and sold many of the sample boxes to unknown private buyers in Berlin and London to raise some hard, Western Currency for the government–presumably, these boxes reside unrecognized in private collections.

However, before the looting occurred, the Sonneberg Toy Museum was allowed to choose select objects for the museum collection.  Additionally, the Hertwig family had removed some of the choicest objects to a well-hidden location.   The saved items were brought together by the Hertwig family, photographed in the Hertwig & Co Archives catalog (which is available from Theriaults as a hard-bound book, through their Gold Horse Publishing division).  Thanks to these archives being made public in this book and auction, there are many, many unidentified china dolls, kewpies and all-bisque dolls residing in private collections that can now be identified as made by Hertwig & Co.  I highly recommend the hard-bound book for all collectors of all-bisque and china dolls, as well as collectors of Kewpies, half dolls, or bisque figures and novelties. 

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An unpainted lowbrow shard

By the 1900’s, Hertwig was making their standard 100 series of lowbrow china shoulder head in 13 sizes, with the finished nanking doll available in 25 sizes ranging from 3 1/2″ to 13″. The Pet Name dolls, a popular and desirable variation of the lowbrow, were made exclusively for the American market.

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A lowbrow doll with printed nanking body

Another variation was the printed cotton body, often with ABC’s or flags,which was advertised as “educational.” Many of these dolls have unglazed porcelain, or bisque, limbs. Some lowbrow dolls have bulbous, ribbed legs. The smaller dolls usually have arms that appear too short. My grandmother’s doll, which was re-dressed in a peach victorian style dress by a professional doll costumer in the 1970’s when I first saw her, had ribbed legs. she wore black leather boots that were glued on because one foot was broken off.

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China doll lower legs that are ribbed and bulbous

As with the variety in size for Hertwig dolls, quality varied widely as well. It was inevitable that quality would drop with mass production rising into the millions. Many of the smaller dolls made in the 1920’s and 30’s are of poor quality porcelain, and have poor face painting. Apparently, these dolls sold well despite their lesser quality, especially in the 200 Woolworth stores that were in business in 1910.

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A small lowbrow with poor painting

However, many of the larger dolls are well made and beautifully painted. Some lowbrows have a white center part in their hair and some have solid hair color. Before the 1880’s blonde haired china dolls were rare, but by the time the lowbrows were established in 1900, about a third of the china dolls had blonde hair rather than black hair.

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A blonde Pet Name doll. Notice that she has single stroke wrap around eyebrows, her irises are not highlighted or outlined, and she has the heart shaped lips.

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Hertwig child with curl on top

Although lowbrow and Pet Name chinas are the signature shoulder head dolls of the Hertwig company, the factory made a wide variety of china shoulder heads, including flat tops, Highland Marys, the curl-on-the-top child, and a wide variety of molded bonnet dolls.

Is your doll a Hertwig? Here are the distinguishing features of the face painting: The eyebrows are single stroke and wrap around the eyes. The irises are not highlighted (no white dot beside the pupil) or outlined (no darker blue circle). The upper lip is painted in a heart shape with a thin line extending on either side to define the mouth, and the lower lip is an oval that completes the heart shape, and touches the upper lip with no white space between them. Additionally, a large size number, such as “4” or “8,” is usually incised into the back of the shoulder plate.

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Details of Hertwig face painting

Even though Hertwig lowbrows are still quite plentiful, your heirloom doll is a treasure to be cherished. If she has her original clothing, keep her intact! If she needs an outfit, keep it period appropriate with cotton, linen, wool, or silk fabrics.

I do not presume to offer doll values. Some variables are condition, provenance, all original state, and quality of the china, face painting, body and limbs, and costume. For an estimated value, I recommend searching online sites that sell antique dolls, such as eBay and Ruby Lane, to search for a doll similar to yours, and see what prices they are bringing.

Ultimately, I do hope that you plan to hold onto your heirloom doll. She brings much insight into the history of your ancestors who cherished her these many years, or perhaps she slumbered, long forgotten in an attic or closet. My grandmother’s doll lived in her cedar chest if she wasn’t adorning the guest bed, until she went to live with my cousin’s wife. Your china doll has the potential to carry along her history to your descendants.  Perhaps one day she will be waiting for a great-great granddaughter.

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Toddler girl with lowbrow china doll, circa 1920’s

Reference:

Krombholz, Mary Gorham. A Pictorial Reference Guide for German Chinas, 2009.

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Highland Mary Morgan and Her New Blue Frock

What contentment we feel when just the right antique doll comes home to live with us! More often than not, in our time, in order to acquire the doll we want, we have to be willing to accept a less-than-perfect doll, or one who is not dressed to our satisfaction. Mildred Seeley (1918 – 2001), a well respected doll collector, artist, and author, said in her book, Beloved China Dolls, “In my early books, I said one shouldn’t even buy a doll with a hairline crack for investment. Now, in order to get that 160-year-old doll, we have to forgive a shoulder-plate crack or a hairline; there are more and more collectors and the same number of antique dolls. . . . While listening to these young collectors say they cannot find china dolls complete with head, body, limbs, and original clothing, I realized the rules were too harsh.” (Seeley p. 50)

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Mary Morgan in her new frock

(Click on each photo to enlarge it, then click the “back” button on your browser to return to the blog page.)

Once I find that intriguing china doll that I have been searching for, using Mildred Seeley’s rule of four “D’s” (desire, discipline, determination, dedication), I usually have to find a way to dress her appropriately. Sometimes that means tracking down just the right antique dress, but usually for me, with my limited budget, interest in history, and love of sewing, it means researching and creating a costume that is just right for the doll. That is what happened with this Highland Mary china doll.

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. Many Highland Mary china dolls have blonde hair like Laura’s sister, Mary. I don’t know how this particular type of china shoulder-head doll 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 short hair with curls, first created in the 1880’s. They are just lovely, and beg to be cuddled, with their innocent childish countenance.

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That sweet, sweet face! Notice the eye details, and the new sew-hole tabs

The Doll

After buying my first antique china doll in an antique shop in Connecticut, I began searching eBay for Highland Mary dolls because this was my dream china 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, which is probably just as well, keeping in mind Mildred Seeley’s rules. 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 has perfect china, so I think the price is justified, and I am so happy she is here with me!

My doll, 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. Her shoulder-head measures 5” high. Mary Morgan has the characteristic face painting of ABG dolls with blue eyes that have a three quarter circle darker outline around the iris, and a white highlight dot to the side of each 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, a shoulder plate with four sew holes, and indents at the underarms to indicate shoulders. She has blonde hair with bangs, and all-over short curls in back.

Her seller, Turn of the Century Antiques, Denver, CO, who seems to be quite knowledgeable about antique dolls, called her body “one of those well made ones from the 1950s.” Though not original to the china parts, it is older than I am. 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 Indiana.  Mary Morgan’s china hands are C shaped, and like her high heeled boots with the V-shaped top, they are correct for ABG dolls of this time period. When she came to me, her shoulder-head was sewn to her body with thread through the sew holes, and her head wobbled. I replaced the thread with vintage cotton seam binding tabs sewn onto her body, and now her head sits more firmly.

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The blue raw silk 1860’s frock

The Frock

Mary Morgan came dressed in a white cotton blouse with elbow length sleeves with lace at neckline and cuffs, and bloomers with elastic waist and legs with lace at the bottom. Putting together an outfit to suit her countenance to the best advantage, using original, antique, and home sewn parts, has been a satisfying venture. To tide her over until her new dress was finished, I bought her a pink 1880-90’s style dress that is new with modern material. Though the style works well for her, the color causes her complexion to fade out, and the modern materials do not work well for her.

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Mary Morgan in her modern material 1890’s dress

I researched books on antique dolls and costumes to find the right dress for my doll. I decided on a circa 1860’s frock with narrow black ribbon trim. I found an example of this frock in an auction catalog, What Dolls Wore Before, by Florence Theriault. The original gown was made of light brown linen, and sold at auction in 1997 for $1,100.

Although the original gown that my dress is based on was made two decades before my doll’s time, I decided the style was classic and timeless enough to work for my 1880’s doll. The 1880’s style girls’ dresses with their drop-waist are typically seen on bisque dolls of this time. I wanted a dress style that would work well, both for my china doll’s more shapely figure, and for her stage of development as a young girl. Because this dress has straight lines to its construction, I thought I could copy it without the aid of a pattern.

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The Theriault Auction antique linen gown

Blue is the color that I thought would best compliment Mary Morgan’s blonde hair, blue eyes, and pink cheeks. I re-purposed a 1980’s raw silk wrap skirt for the fabric, and chose bleached muslin for the lining rather than the polyester lining material that was in the skirt. The first challenge that I encountered was figuring out what a double box pleat was from the catalog description. On closer examination of the photograph, I could just see one of the double pleats on the side of the original gown, under the sleeve.

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The double box pleats toward the back of the skirt

My construction started from the bottom. I lined the skirt, made the wide tuck at the bottom, hemmed it, and hand stitched the black velvet ribbon trim. Next, I attached the pleated skirt to the waistband. The bodice was gathered to the front and back yoke bands, the shoulder straps added, and then the sleeves attached. The ribbon was hand sewn on the different parts at each stage of construction, before the facings were applied. My first attempt at cutting the sleeves did not work. They were too narrow at the top. I re-cut them to resemble those in the photograph better, and made them narrower at the underarm for less bulk there. The sleeves accomplished, I basted the gathered bodice to the waistband and it was time for a fitting!

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Hand stitches behind the black velvet ribbon trim

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The wrong and right sleeve shapes and the flat sleeve with underarm cutout shape

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Basting the sleeve in place

With the fitting, I encountered two problems. The bodice was too long and puckered too much around the doll’s midriff, and the skirt was too long for a young girl’s fashion of the time. It was a simple process to shorten the bodice and re-stitch it. I contemplated accepting the skirt length, but decided it would be worth the extra effort to shorten it for the effect I wanted for this child doll. I could not shorten the skirt at the hem because of the spacing with the wide tuck, so I took it off the waistband, having to partially re-set the pleats, and reattached it. I liked the results much better at the next fitting.

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Interior, showing lining and facings

The frock is hand and machine sewn, as would have been the case for a dress constructed in the second half of the 19th century. It is fully lined with facings at the waistband, yoke bands, and sleeves.  Exposed seams at the skirt center back and armholes are whip stitched, as would have appeared on dresses made in the 19th century. It closes in the back with four hooks and thread bars. An antique black glass button tops each sleeve, and four similar buttons adorn the back.

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The finished sleeve with antique black glass button

The drape of my dress is much softer than the crisp lines and pressed pleats of the original linen dress. The proportions are also not quite the same, yet they are fitted well to my doll. I wanted the skirt to fall below the knee but above the boot top, as is the girl’s style in many Godey’s Lady’s Book illustrations of the 1860’s to 1880’s. Because of the proportions of the doll’s china legs to her fabric legs, the skirt appears long, but falls above her boot top.

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My dress has a softer drape and wider proportions than the antique linen dress.

The blouse in which Mary Morgan arrived works well under her frock. I found an antique pair of split drawers with dimity fabric and lace at the bottom for her costume. I also found a child doll’s corset. This corset is made for a leather or composition doll body with a straight waistline, but it fits Mary Morgan’s curved waist by wrapping the bottom ties around and tying them in front so that the back edges overlap slightly at the waist. I made her a petticoat from a lovely batiste remnant that appears to have been an apron or pinafore. It has narrow and wide tucks, and cutwork machine embroidery at the hem in a diamond pattern that compliments the straight lines of the frock.

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Mary Morgan in her child’s corset and petticoat made from an antique apron remnant

Our dolls are travelers through time. It may be hard to think about now, but in future years the dolls who live with us now will be passed down to our children and grandchildren, or they will move on to new families, or maybe even museums. Either way, it is our responsibility to the future to document a new costume we create for an antique doll with an attached tag in the dress. Some seamstresses are so skilled at recreating antique techniques that dealers and collectors may not be able to tell the difference between an antique costume and a recreation. I do hope that I will have grandchildren to cherish at least some of my special dolls, and I want to leave a record for them of what I have accomplished. These acid-free paper tags, with a record of the costume I made and the date, are pinned inside of the dress on the antique doll.

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Acid-free tags with provenance to pin inside the new dress

Antique dolls that are all original with original antique costumes are a prize to be marveled at. Still, there are many dolls of more humble estate that are worthy of an appropriate wardrobe. When a doll has lost her costume in her travels through time, she can still become fashionably dressed once more with a little research and a needle well plied. I cherish the antique dresses that are a part of my doll collection. Yet, I am proud that some of my antique dolls will carry forth dresses that were created by me just for them.

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Mary Morgan loves playing with her wooden toys, but she’s always happy to stop for a moment to show off her new frock!

Bibliography:

Krombholz, Mary Gorham. Identifying German Chinas 1840s – 1930s. Grantsville, MD: Hobby House Press, Inc., 2004.

Seeley, Mildred. Beloved China Dolls. Livonia, MI: Scott Publications, 1996.

Theriault, Florence. What Dolls Wore Before: Doll Costumes and Accessories, 1850 – 1910. Annapolis, MD: Theriault’s Gold Horse Publishing, 1997.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. By the Shores of Silver Lake. New York: Harper & Row, 1939.

About the author:

Jennifer fell in love with antique dolls at the age of four, after a brief encounter of viewing and holding antique bisque dolls at a home she was visiting. She has collected dolls and sewn for them ever since. Once she discovered her grandmother’s childhood lowbrow china, antique china dolls have been her first love in doll collecting. Jennifer currently lives in a small apartment in Portland, Oregon with her teenage daughter. Their dolls vie for space and keep them company as they display their wardrobes or wait patiently for an appropriate new dress.

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Teaser for A New Blue Frock

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At last, Highland Mary Morgan’s new blue frock is complete, and works so well for the presentation of this antique 1880’s child doll. I have just submitted an article on this very topic to a magazine. That is why I’m offering only the teaser here for now. Soon, you will receive either information about my article publication, or sans publication, the complete article right here!  (Click for the  **Complete Article**)

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Many exciting things are happening with antique dolls here! I will have much more to share with you soon.

O yasumi nasaii. (That is Japanese for Sweet dreams and good night!)

Naming Our Dolls: REAL Toys Have Names (And a Kloster Veilsdorf China Doll With Provenance)

Have you noticed that antique dolls with provenance usually bear names that were bestowed when they were newly acquired to become beloved play companions? Naming dolls is an act of creating a plaything and companion, rather than objectifying the doll as an acquisition in a collection. It is another piece of how a plaything becomes REAL. Little girls in the past, and now, usually give their dolls names. We are indeed fortunate when an antique doll that comes to us brings her name with her.

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Through my posts, you have met some of my antique doll companions, and you have become acquainted with them through their names. Some of my dolls have provenance, and many do not. I would like to share with you something of how my extraordinary dolls come by their names.

We have already established that an antique doll needs costuming or dress that is appropriate to her age—when she was created—and type, or the material she is created from. (See Ellen: From Frumpy Dowager to Southern Belle.) Another consideration is the stage of development she represents. Is the doll an infant, toddler, young girl or boy, adolescent, or grown woman? There are many antique china dolls on the market now which were made to represent children (from the 1880’s), but are dressed as women. Unless it is an original outfit, this is a disservice to the presence of the doll. Retaining the doll’s original clothing is desirable when possible, and dressing the doll in period appropriate costume with fabric contemporary to her, allows her spirit to shine with dignity, as we saw previously with Ellen in her vintage Southern Belle dress. The same principal holds true with names. If a doll brings her name with her, then by all means, preserve it! Otherwise, choose one wisely that evokes her spirit and the stage of development that she represents.

Baby name books are a good place to start for finding more information on naming trends. Beyond Jennifer and Jason was the title of the book I used in the 1980’s and 90’s when searching for names for my children, though the most common names have shifted now, more than 20 years later. The book in its’ recent edition is called Beyond Ava and Aidan. (By the way, I received my name of “Jennifer” about 15-20 years before it rose to the top of the charts in popularity. When learning of my name for the first time, Mammaw said, “Jennie! That’s a name for a mule!”And so we learn about differences in name trends in the early 1900’s versus the 1960’s.) For finding doll names, I like a baby name book a friend gave me that is from the 1950’s. Historical literature is another place to find older names, as is conversations with our parents and grandparents to discover the names of their colleagues and relations.

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I also like to have a method for choosing names for dolls as they come to me. My first china doll is not really an antique, but is a vintage reproduction that I found at the tourist rest stop of Booger Holler, Arkansas on the return trip from visiting Mammaw after I discovered she gave her china doll to my cousin’s wife, and I would indeed not receive her after all. I named this Arkansas doll Cordelia because she has an “alabaster brow” like Anne Shirley’s fantasy lady in Anne of Green Gables. Cordelia has a fancy hair style with looped braids, and was probably molded from an antique Parian style, or unglazed bisque cloth-bodied doll. Emma Clear, the famous reproduction doll artist from the mid-20th century, seems to have made a doll from this same mold, and hers was called Toinette. Cordelia is not an Emma Clear doll though, as her face painting is different, and she is not signed.

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Dorothy was my first antique china doll, as you read in a previous post, and as a Pet Name china, she brought her name with her. Aurora took her name from the place where I found her, and this seemed to indicate a trend in following the letters of the alphabet for the dolls’ names as they began coming to me. A composition baby was named Brenda for a friend I had in the past; then came Ellen, Fiona, Geordie, Hazel (for Lucile’s mother), Irene, Jemima and Josie, and so on.

By the time “X” was up for the next doll name, a most lovely brown eyed Greiner-type variation china doll came to me. Her name was to be “Alexia” (okay, so I decided “X” in the name worked without being at the beginning), but it just did not seem right for this doll. I decided to unfasten the tapes holding this doll’s head on her body to see if she had any markings inside on her china, and what did I find, but a card with her provenance rolled up in her neck! How exciting when I knew nothing about her from the seller! She brought the name Abbagale Brounell with her.  The next doll, a young girl,  was named Beatrix for “X,” and this name worked well for her.

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Abbagale Brounell was made by the Kloster Veilsdorf factory around 1860. (Reference Identifying German Chinas Page 48 top illustration for a similar doll.) She has a cloth body, possibly straw stuffed, with cloth ballerina feet and white leather arms with individually sewn fingers. Her shoulder head is 6” tall with four sew holes, and she has a deeply sloped shoulder plate. She has brown eyes with white highlights on the upper right side, well defined upper and lower lids, and lower painted brown lashes. Eyebrows are wide with black and brown strokes.  Her black hair has a wide unpainted center part with curls on her forehead, tight curls around the back of her neck, and smooth comb marks on the top of her head. She has rosy cheeks, deeply painted lips, and nostril circles. Her body is machine stitched with hand mended feet.  The main body is made in two sections with hips gathered to waist in back. Total height: 22 ½” tall. Abbagale came dressed in closed seam cotton pantalets with two tucks and eyelet lace, and a petticoat with deep hem and net lace, both closing with large hook and thread bar. Her dress is two piece brown silk (possibly originally deep red) with velvet, button, black lace and cream lace trim. She came with grey stockings and tan boots. I have made a new white cotton chemise for her with vintage lace at the neckline.

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This is what her provenance card says:

Aug. 20, 1951  This day, I Mrs. Mary Emilia Dutra 179 Hart St. Taunton, Mass. Bought this 24 inch brown eye (cloth body) mark on body 1864, we think she is much earlier then [sic] this) (Abbagale Brounell) china head doll from Mrs. Freddrick Harrington 129 Bay St. City.  $  .00

First owner Miss Abbagale Brounell from her father when she was a little girl.  He owned a Tin Shop on Main St. Taunton, Mass.  This china doll was given to Mrs. Harrington’s little daughter many years after.  Miss Brounell’s sister was Mrs. Hatty Leonard part owner of Leonard and Baker Stove Co. City Cushman St.  I am naming her after (Abbagale Brounell) (worth a lot today)

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I replaced the card into her neck so it stays safe there with her provenance.  Mrs. Mary Emilia Dutra did neglect to disclose what she paid for Abbagale in 1951.  I wonder if the unusual name spellings were actual, or Mrs. Dutra’s invented spellings?  My thought is that the shoulder head is older than 1864, and that the body was made in this year, as it is machine stitched.

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It would be fascinating to know what name Abbagale gave her china doll when she was a child. It is a common practice to name an heirloom doll after the doll’s original childhood owner, as Mrs. Dutra named Abbagale Brounell, and as I named my heirloom Bye-Lo baby, Lucile. Even when we cannot find a doll’s original name through provenance, bestowing an appropriate name on a doll allows her personality to take form, and her spirit to shine forth.