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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