A New Home for the Old Dolls (and for me as well)


Four antique china dolls and one well-made reproduction doll.

The old china dolls are able to stretch their legs, er limbs, in front of lace curtains in our new home–still an apartment–in Oregon City, a place with enough history for them to feel right at home! This grouping of cabinet sized ladies (14″ to 16″) presents a nice array of some of the oldest hairstyles for china dolls. The doll on the left in the wine colored dress is my newest aquisition and my oldest doll. She is from the A. W. Fr Kister factory and dates to the mid 1840’s with a braided bun hairstyle. (Oh what a luscious find!) Next, in the black dress,  is a doll from the Kestner factory with a covered wagon hairstyle dating to the 1850’s. She is all original, and also precious. The middle doll with the cream floral blouse is very rare with curls falling down to her shoulders, and a mound of curls in the back. She is probably made by Kister and dates to the 1860’s. The doll in the red dress has the Lydia hairstyle, with long sausage curls falling onto her shoulders. She is the reproduction, though the original dates to the 1840’s. Finally, on the right, in the indigo blue dress is a Greiner-type china made by the Kloster Vielsdorf factory. She dates to the early 1850’s with a hairstyle similar to the covered wagon, but her ears are exposed. She is a child, or kinderkopf, with her short neck and wide eyes, while the others are damenkopf with long ladies necks and mature faces. The covered wagon hairstyle was common for girls and women in the 1850’s, and the covered wagon doll shown here could be a child, though her original dress is that of a grown woman.

DSC02970This photo shows the hairstyles from the side.

DSC02971The little blonde girls like their perch under the lamp. They are in the range of about 12″ and date from the 1880’s to about 1900. First, in the light blue dress, is an Alt Beck and Gottschalk factory little Highland Mary with bangs and curls in back. In the middle with the pink dress and apron is a Hertwig factory doll with the high curl on the top of her head. And on the right in the white dress with lace is a shy Kling factory girl with a center part and wavy hair with brush strokes.

Thank you for joining us for this little house-warming gathering. We hope that you join us again for more history and inspiration with the dolls.

Antique CDV Little girl with corkskrew curls and her china doll

This girl wears an 1850’s style dress and has her hair in the long corkscrew curls fashion of that time. Her doll may be china or papier mache–hard to tell.



Red Shoes: The Romance and Power of Color

Roses are Red, Like Valentine Hearts,

Little Doll Slippers, And Cupid’s Love Darts


Eight sweet little red shoes . . .

Red is a powerful color that is at the center of Valentine’s Day. It is the hue of roses, hearts, chubby vintage girls in frilly dresses adorning dainty cards, and yes, shoes!


Ruby’s dainty scalloped leather shoe with a red silk ribbon bow.

In symbolism, red is the color of LOVE and of WAR. It stirs up PASSION. Red is associated with energy and the emotions that stir the blood ~ anger, passion, and love.

Babies in Renaissance Europe were sometimes swaddled with red bands and wrapped in a red cloth as a form of protection. Because of the passion of red, in Victorian times, pink was considered to be too strong a color for baby girls, so the cooler light-blue was the color for girls, while pink and red were reserved for baby boys.

Red shoes have a mythology and symbolism of their own. They usually symbolize power and distinction. Senators and high officials of ancient Rome wore red shoes called calceus mulleus. In the Christian world, the Pope’s red velvet slippers symbolize the blood of martyrs and the Pope’s submission to the ultimate authority of Jesus Christ. In the French court of Louis XIV, red shoes were worn by Courtiers to distinguish them from other aristocrats. Of course, the style was copied and became fashionable outside of Court as well. Understandably, red shoes went out of fashion in France, though, after the French Revolution.


Dorothy’s famous ruby red slippers were crystal, not red, in the Frank Baum book.

And then there is Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Red Shoes, in which a greedy girl manipulates her benefactor to obtain the costly red shoes she desires, and then she cannot stop dancing. While this tale has an element of the macabre, red shoes are redeemed again in the Ruby Slippers that Dorothy wears in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. Here again, the red shoes are powerful!

Today, modern designers may battle over who has the patent rights to red shoes; however, red shoes were a common and lovely fashion accessory for 19th century young girls, and therefore, for dolls as well.


. . . and the dolls who wear them.

Three of my china dolls have red shoes or boots (including the exquisite narrow handmade lace-up red leather boots on a lady doll who you will meet in more detail in a future post). One china doll has pink china shoes, and one wee bisque doll has mauve glazed china boots. I also chose red leather shoes for my reproduction Izannah Walker doll.


Big people like red shoes too, And some little people lose their shoes!

And, as you can see, red shoes are still in vogue, for big and little people today. They are still powerful, romantic, and whimsical!


Perhaps a commentary on blue shoes is warranted next . . .

May Aphrodite and Cupid bring you the splendors of the season this Valentine’s Day!


Yes, she wears RED SHOES! A Glitter Greetings Vintage Valentine by Cavallini & Co.

Three Pretty Maids Part III: Gretchen


Gretchen is a small fancy hair china doll with two braids in a V on her forehead.

Although the very early china dolls of the 1840’s from the high quality KPM Meissen and KPM Berlin factories were always marked, the early dolls from the Thuringian porcelain factories were not marked. In most cases, the factory origins of these dolls remained a mystery to collectors of antique china dolls until the 1990’s when Mary Krombholz began making her yearly trips to Germany to tour the vacant factory buildings (most of which are now torn down) and German doll museums. She collected doll shards from the factory grounds and compared them with dolls from known factories in German museum collections. Thanks to Mary Krombholz and her study of the dolls’ face painting, we now have a guide to place dolls into categories for their factory makers, and for their chronology.


A magazine article by Mary Krombholz with a photo of a Kister factory building.


Gretchen’s cotton dress is pretty, but she would turn out better in a silk evening dress.

Gretchen is the third china doll from my collection that I would like to show you in this study of the fancy hair dolls. She has two small braids at the top of her forehead that form a V and then become part of the soft rolls of hair on either side of her face. The hairstyle ends in a fall of three long curls low on the back of her neck. She also has brush strokes on each side of her face indicating individual hairs. This is a desirable feature, and a good trait for a small doll like this one.


Gretchen has soft hair pulled back at the sides, and fine brush strokes on the sides of her face.

I have never seen another doll with a hairstyle like Gretchen’s, not even in a book. She is a small doll with a 2 ½” shoulder head and overall height of 11”. Because she is small, her face painting is not very detailed, but even so, I think she is an A. W. Fr. Kister doll because she has the characteristic thin, almost straight eyebrows, and the long darker line between her lips with an elongated oval for her bottom lip. She is probably one of the 1870’s fancy hair dolls.


Gretchen’s left arm is a low quality Hertwig replacement. She has nice china laced shoes.

Gretchen’s clothing is replaced, with poly/cotton drawers and petticoat with newer eyelet lace. Her small print cotton dress is pretty, but as a fancy hair doll, an evening dress of silk would be better suited to her. Her china right arm has nice detail and seems to be original to her. Her left arm is a replacement, being one of the lower quality Hertwig arms with five fingers all in a row so right and left are interchangeable. Her china legs are the good quality dollhouse doll type with flat soled black laced slippers and burgundy garters with bows painted at her knees.


Sadie is a reproduction of an ABG Curly Top style.


This style has vertical curls down the back of her head. You can see the “P S” initials on her shoulder plate.

The last fancy hair china shoulder head that I would like to show you in this study is Sadie. She is a reproduction of an Alt, Beck, and Gottschalk doll from the 1880’s named “Curly Top” by American collectors. The Curly Top style came in black, like this one, and a pretty light brown that is called “Café Au Lait.”  Sadie does not have a body. She is a well made reproduction doll with the black initials “P S” under the glaze on the back of her shoulder plate. Though her face painting is well done, her mouth does not have the characteristic V in the middle, like true ABG dolls.


This is an antique ABG Curly Top shoulder head with Cafe Au Lait hair that was sold on Ruby Lane. Notice the distinctive V shaped lip line.

First created in the 1860’s and 1870’s, fancy hair china dolls are some of the most beautiful of the china dolls made. There is an astounding variety of styles made, and the styles can usually be documented as exact replicas of contemporary styles in women’s fashion magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and Harper’s Bazar. Some fancy hair styles were made in the 1880’s along with the newly popular child dolls. Beautiful, and much sought after, the antique fancy hair dolls are also favorites for reproduction doll artists now.


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

Post Script:

A word about the photos:

I take pride in a well written article with good photos. Many of the photos I have been posting of my dolls don’t live up to my expectations because they are not focused well enough. I blame this on the quality of my camera. My inexpensive Sony was purchased about five years ago with the expectation of using it for family snapshots. It works well enough for that purpose. However, now that I am photographing close-ups of dolls, the quality of my digital camera falls short. It is all I have to use for now, since I’m not willing to buy film for my really good Nikon 35 mm camera and scan the images. My apologies. JS

Post Post Script:

Fabulous Teen Hairstyles

Fabulous Teen Hairstyles by Erin Mayost

How is this for synchronicity? My daughter just brought me this book, that she checked out of the library, to look at. It is all about fancy hair styles for today’s young ladies! Take a look–you can even read part of it on BN.com.  JS

Three Pretty Maids Part II: Quintonia


Quintonia, a Jenny Lind fancy hair china doll.

The history of the fancy hair chinas is an interesting one. Mary Krombholz reminds us that women never again have worn such intricate hair styles as those in the 1860’s and 1870’s. In Identifying German Chinas, she tells us how the dolls with fancy hair came to be made by the factories in Thuringia:

“On November 2, 1867 Harper’s Bazar announced it had completed arrangements with many leading European fashion journals. For the first time, current fashions were published simultaneously in Paris, Berlin and the United States. This arrangement was of special interest to the German porcelain factories. Although the latest fashions were first known in Paris, the steel engravings used to create the color fashion plates for the magazines were made in Germany. This allowed German designers to have access to fashion information before it was published.

“There is definitely a close connection between the hairstyles on molded hair dolls and the hairstyles found on models pictured in the fashion magazines such as Godey’s and Harper’s Bazar. A close inspection of the china shoulder head dolls introduced in the 1860’s decade proves that the doll hairstyles are identical down to each wave and curl.” (Krombholz 49, 50)


The Jenny Lind hairstyle has soft, loose, waves pulled back into a low, twisted, bun.

One of the most popular fancy hair china dolls is the Jenny Lind style. This style, with soft hair waved back at the sides, and a low bun in back, was made by several factories, including Alt. Beck, & Gottschalk, Conta & Boehme, A. W. Fr. Kister, and Kestner. While the Jenny Lind style includes a bun like the older china dolls of the 1840’s, it differs because the hair is a softer style, the bun is lower on the head, and it is twisted, not braided.


A portrait of Johanna Lind, the Swedish Nightingale.

Jenny Lind, or Johanna Maria Lind (1820-1887) was a world renowned opera singer from Sweden, who became known as “The Swedish Nightingale.” One of the most highly regarded singers of the 19th century, she is known for her performances in soprano roles in opera in Sweden and across Europe. She was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music from 1840. In 1850, Johanna Lind went to America at the invitation of the showman P. T. Barnum. She gave 93 large-scale concerts for him, and then continued to tour under her own management. She earned more than $350,000 from these concerts, donating the proceeds to charities, principally the endowment of free schools in Sweden. With her new husband, Otto Goldschmidt, she returned to Europe in 1852 where she had three children and gave occasional concerts over the next two decades, settling in England in 1855. From 1882, for some years, she was a professor of singing at the Royal College of Music in London. (Information gleaned from Wikipedia.)


Quintonia wears her antique cotton dress with added beige lace, and a sheer lace shawl.

My Jenny Lind doll, Quintonia, is another of my “married” dolls, which is appropriate, don’t you think, since her countenance is definitely one of a mature woman. 🙂 What I mean is that I purchased her as a shoulder head with no body, and found a body for her later. She has a 3” shoulder head with sloped shoulders, two sew holes front and back, and a dimple at her throat. She is not marked, so I am not sure of her maker, but based on her face painting, she seems to be A. W. Fr. Kister.


The mature Jenny Lind shoulder head has a dimple at the base of her throat.


The Jenny Lind style has loose hair pulled back into a low bun over beautifully sloped shoulders.

Quintonia was definitely a good find at the Portland Crossroads Doll Show! I spotted her on a little tiered shelf, picked her up, and said to the dealer, “Oh!  I’ve been by here three times and I didn’t see her!”  The dealer said that’s because she just put her out, two hours into the show.  She had been debating about keeping her, but wasn’t sure she could find a body for her.  Well, this little lady is rare enough to pick up just as she is!  I think the seller still wasn’t sure about giving her up.


Quintonia’s body is old and patched. The leather arms appear too large. Her pink boots with tassels are uncommon.

It took me a year to find a body, but now Quintonia is a whole woman, measuring 14” tall. I rejected several bodies I found in the right size because they were too new for this doll, having the small, not very well detailed, black or brown boots of an 1890’s to 1900 doll. This body is machine stitched old muslin stuffed with sawdust or cork and patched with hand stitches. Her arms are hand stitched papery old kid leather with individually sewn fingers, and seem to be too large for the body—maybe added later. They remind me of the picture on the cover of Tina Fey’s book, Bossy Pants, with a stylish woman resting her cheek on a meaty, hairy hand that belongs to a large man! The china legs on this body have very nice black-toed pink boots with green tassels and garters, which are also an unusual find. The boots have low heels in the appropriate style for an 1860’s to 1870’s doll.


Quintonia wears an antique chemise with new made drawers.

Quintonia has an antique chemise with narrow tatted lace trim, and new made split drawers with vintage lace trimming the bottom. She has a vintage four-flounced lace petticoat and an antique white cotton dress with a brown leaf print that has faded to pale gold over most of the fabric. I added the new old stock beige lace at neck, waist, and hem, to make the dress fancier for her. I think she eventually needs an evening gown of rose silk (to match her cheeks) with black lace—what do you think?

It is not clear to me whether this fancy hair china doll was named “Jenny Lind” from the beginning, but this may be the case. Mildred Seeley had a fancy hair china doll with a different hair style that had an old label on the china that read “Jenny Lind,” so it seems that the name was at least used with china dolls from the 19th century. The label on her doll is a bit of a mystery. (Beloved China Dolls, 44)


Elaine Annen’s large Jenny Lind doll who rode the train to Oregon in the arms of her original mistress in the 19th century.


Meet Gretchen next time!

Gretchen, a smaller doll, is awaiting her introduction next. And finally, a view of an 1880’s fancy hair reproduction.

May you also be soothed and inspired by the nightingale. Good night!


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.

Three Pretty Maids Part I: Angeline


Three fancy haired china dolls of the 1860’s and 1870’s.

Fancy haired china dolls are some of the most exquisite dolls made, and they continue to be sought out by collectors, bringing some of the highest prices for antique china dolls made in the 1870’s and later. These next posts highlight three pretty fancy haired dolls in my collection, and one lovely reproduction china head that I would like to show you.

By the 1870’s, china dolls had been produced for about 40 years. The newer, more realistic, Parian and bisque dolls were becoming popular. By this time, the mass production of porcelain was well established, and covered wagon and flat top china dolls were “plain and plentiful,” as some have described them. Though the child china dolls of the 1880’s were made in abundance, and well received by a buying populace, the 1870’s are considered to be the last decade of the “Golden Age” of china dolls.


The elaborate hairstyles are frozen in time on these molded porcelain china shoulder-heads.

The marvel of the molded hairstyles of the china dolls is that they stay fixed as a permanent record of trends and fashions of the time they were first made, unlike clothing on the dolls which could be changed and updated for new styles, as could the wigs on bisque dolls. The plain styles of the covered wagon and flat top dolls reflect everyday hairstyles for women in the 1860’s and 70’s. These dolls were usually clothed plainly, as well. During this time, though, women wore elaborate styles that often took hours to coiffe, and a maid, or perhaps a sister, to achieve, for evenings at the opera or other nighttime events. The hairstyles on these dolls can usually be found in fashion plates in Godey’s Ladies’ Book or Peterson’s Magazine.

Fancy haired china dolls needed silk and tulle gowns to complete their evening attire. They are the dolls who have wonderful elaborate and full silk or velvet gowns with lace and millinary flowers  when found (or photographed) all-original.

Many fancy hair variations were made on china dolls, though these are harder to find now than the plainer sisters. Some of these fancy styles have names attached to them now, by which collectors can identify them. An important note, though, is that the dolls were not made as portrait dolls to represent a particular person. Rather, in most cases, the name was attached to the doll later, and not all fancy haired chinas have a “handle” name.


Angeline wears a unique costume for her debut photo.

Angeline is the newest fancy haired china doll to be added to my collection, and she is probably the oldest of these three fancy dolls. Her hairstyle, with the ringlets trailing alongside her long neck, is quite rare. As far as I know, this style does not have a “handle” name. The reverse roll across her head, and the mass of ringlets in back, reminds me of a Greek Revival style, one that was popular in the Regency era, as in Jane Austen’s time. Angeline has painted brush strokes around her head to look like individual hairs. She has mostly exposed ears and an aristocratic nose.


A close-up of Angeline’s rare hairstyle with ringlets spilling down each side of her long neck. Her shoulder-head is currently tied onto her body under her arms.

Angeline’s seller tells me that her shoulder-head was dug up from the factory grounds, though I could not find out which factory it was. Her brown/black hair has a rough, unglazed texture, while the white part of her porcelain is glazed. I don’t know if this is from being buried for years, but I think not—the rough part seems too regular to be from wear.

The shoulder plate on this doll is an earlier style than the other fancy hair dolls, or the flat top dolls. It has the barest hint of a bosom and the shoulders are not so sloped on the sides. This leads me to believe that Angeline is one of the earliest fancy haired dolls, probably from the early 1860’s. I cannot identify her maker (since I don’t know which factory site she was found on), but her face painting seems similar to those identified as A.W. Fr. Kister. She has a repair on the back right corner of her shoulder plate, and multiple stable cracks/crazing in the porcelain of her shoulder plate.


Though her 1870’s body with sewn-on red leather boots is appropriate to her, It is not original–it was not buried with her.

Angeline’s body is obviously not original to her, since she was resurrected from the ground, but it is an old one, probably from the 1870’s. It is jointed at hips and knees, so she can sit well. She has had it for at least ten years, which is how long she lived with her previous mistress. Her red leather boots are sewn on. Her kid leather arms are quite worn, and her left hand is missing. Her shoulder-head is just shy of 4″ tall, and on her body, she is 13″ tall.

The simple lace edged drawers were the only garment Angeline wore when she came to me. She is modeling a rather unique ensemble for her debut. Her slightly trained skirt is an antique one. Her lace bodice is actually a sleeve remnant from an Edwardian dress or blouse, and her shawl is a fabric remnant. Of course, she needs a proper lady’s undergarments, and a fancy gown. I do like the burgundy fabric of her shawl with her complexion, though, and the stripes are a correct print for her era. She may get a nice cotton gown from this fabric, instead of silk. Wait and see!


A lady needs fresh and frilly under clothing, or “small clothes.”

Next time, Quintonia, a Jenny Lind doll, will be in the spotlight, followed by Gretchen and Sadie. And the History of China Dolls article is in the making.

And now, it’s to the symphony!–or just to my I-pod tonight. Oh well, I have my dreams to sustain me! Good night.

The Most Unlikely of Places: A Doll Museum, and a Continuing Provenance for a Certain Brown-Eyed China Doll

In September, I drove “us girls” to Mt. Angel, Oregon for their annual Oktoberfest celebration. (Yes, it is held in September.) Mom, being a mid-westerner, and missing her Czech and polka festivals there, appreciates the live polka and waltz music at Oktoberfest, though we did forego the biergarten experience. Too bad she didn’t find a dance partner, as she is quite good at the polka and the waltz, not to mention the jitterbug! Brighde did some street dancing by herself, and drew favorable attention with her Irish step dance improvisation to waltz and polka tunes.


We had been to the Mt. Angel celebration one other time, a number of years ago. At that time, there was a doll exhibition listed, but I never did find it.  The crowds at this popular event are quite heavy, and it takes some effort to wind and dodge your way through the town’s streets lined with artisan and craft booths and food vendors, not to mention the long walk from a parking spot. That year, we spent quite a bit of time standing in line for Brighde to try out the games, playground attractions, and pony rides at the kindergarten.

This year, there was not just a doll exhibition listed, but an actual doll museum. I intended to find it, but walking the vendor-lined streets, dodging people, finding Brighde the right PVC bow and arrows (in the rendering of Merida and Katniss), standing in line for German apple cake with butter sauce (SOOO GOOD!), then scouting out a comfortable place to eat it, snagging a great pair of deep red antique-style sofa pillows at the antique shop, a trip back to the car, several long treks to the least expensive bottled water vendor, and then to the cathedral to pick up Mom after a choir concert, and losing each other at the long row of outhouses, wore me out!


The deep red sofa pillow, and a little fancy hair china doll.

I was ready to head back to the car for good, but Mom pressed me to try again to find the doll museum. She asked the hostess at the Glockenspiel restaurant where the Festhalle that held the museum was, and we headed toward the highway, near the water towers. All I found was a residential area, and I was getting frustrated, along with being people-cranky. We asked directions a second time, and headed through an uber congested three blocks of food vendors and biergartens—pure torture to my burned-out psyche and feet! Then the path cleared as we approached a large, low, hanger-sized building that exuded the pervasive oom-paa-paas. We rounded the building toward the front, and I saw the sign over the big double doors, “Festhalle.” So I headed that way, and I came face up to a small inconspicuous door with a sign in the window that said, “Doll Museum.” At last! And we still had half an hour before closing time!

It was cooler inside, and nice to be out of the sun glare, though there were still quite a few people in the small space. Glass cabinets lined three sides of the long, narrow room, and I began perusing the dolls. The first case was full of small bisque dolls, and I happily identified some of them. Then came a case with china dolls. Several of these were common lowbrows which I skimmed past, but there were some older chinas, too, and very well dressed. My eyes fell on a most extraordinary very tall doll with a Jenny Lind hairstyle, wearing a Victorian style skirt and a white lace-worked blouse. She was indeed enthralling! More cases held more recent collectors dolls, a little Japanese baby, just like one in my collection, and more bisques, this time large babies and toddlers.


A Flat Top china and a Jenny Lind in the Elaine Annen Doll Museum. They are both rather large dolls. Interestingly, I caught Janice and Carol in this photo, in the glass reflection on the dark skirt.

I headed back to the large Jenny Lind to inspect her as close as I could through the glass, and to photograph her. I didn’t notice that the crowds were dissipating. Mom and Brighde found seats on a row of benches as Jenny held my attention. I took a seat at the other end of the benches, alone at last, and a sense of calm came over me.

As the calm washed over me, I realized that my two companions were having a conversation with the only other two people left in the room, the museum curators. It was closing time, but Janice and Carol did not hurry us out. I spoke with them, too, about the dolls, and my doll passions. We were in the Elaine Annen Doll Museum. Elaine is the “Matriarch of Mt. Angel,” and this museum is her dream become a reality. Meet Elaine, and take a peek at her museum,  at Elaine Annen Doll Museum.


Jenny Lind wears a lovely lace-worked blouse.

Janice told me that the Jenny Lind doll came to Oregon as an Oregon Trail railroad migrant, on the lap of her young owner for the whole train ride. The Jenny Lind had provenance! (After 1869, the trans-continental railroad was completed, and migrating west was much easier by train than by covered wagon. The covered wagon migrants had to abandon many of their prized possessions along the way, including many dolls that were buried along the trail.)


This brown-eyed covered wagon china in Elaine Annen’s collection has light pink tinted skin. Notice that the whites of her eyes remain white. The covered wagon hairstyle falls smooth from a center part, then has short sausage curls all the way around her neck. It is a simple hairstyle favored by women on the Oregon trail, and these dolls tend to be dressed in simple, informal styles.

Now, it would have been gratifying enough to have finally found this charming little doll museum amidst the jostle of the pleasure-seeking crowds, and the aroma of fried delights. But here is the coup de fourde. (Sorry, I don’t know that one in German!)  Janice then mentioned something about a brown-eyed china in the museum. Most china dolls have blue eyes, but a few of the older dolls were painted with brown eyes. This feature is quite desirable for doll collectors. I told Janice that I had purchased, about a year ago, a lovely old brown-eyed china at the Crossroads Doll Show in Portland. Her eyes became wide, and she said, “You bought that doll! I was coming back to buy her, and she was already sold!”

Being rather alone in my little world of dolls, I was first astounded that I had met someone who knew one of my dolls, and then mortified that I had beat her to a doll she had intended to buy! The doll in question, of course, is none other than Abbagale Brounell! (See September 14, 2013 Post, Naming Our Dolls.) All turned out well, though, Janice said, because after she didn’t get this doll, she found another doll she knew who had belonged to a friend. If she had bought Abbagale, she could not have bought her friend’s doll, who she decided was meant to come to her.

Of course, I told Janice about finding Abbagale’s provenance card in her neck. Now she was astounded! Janice confirmed that Abbagale was meant to come to me, because she would not have thought to unfasten her sew-hole tabs as I did. And so, Abbagale’s provenance grows.


Abbagale Brounell looks pleased to be aquainted with the lovely chinas in the Elaine Annen Museum.

This story confirms to me, yet again, that dolls have a life, intertwined with, yet separate from, our own. The antique dolls have been on this earth much longer than we have, and most of them will continue to out-live us. They have known human mistresses before us, and are likely to know others when we are gone. Abbagale, and this Oregon Trail Jenny Lind, testify to this truth. Elaine Annen knows this truth as well. Thank you, Elaine, for letting us know your dolls through this beautiful and calming doll museum in a little town which is also calm most of the year, and sometimes not! And thank you, Janice, for sharing a little bit of provenance with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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