On Mortality and the Eternity of Personal Objects

1927-2 Little Rock Quinton with toys holding doll (2)

This is my father with his toys, and holding his composition doll, 1927.

A strong point of mine is seeing connections between events and objects. So when global events such as the pandemic, police brutality, and Holocaust Remembrance Day converge with my Facebook doll postings and updating my doll records, I find connections.


Two little antique china heads from the mid 19th century who used to be play dolls.


Paint rub and wear is visible on the backs of these small china shoulder-heads that used to be play dolls with bodies.

I find it rather poignant that while we value human life over objects, people die, and many of the objects that were part of their life persevere. I was thinking about that as I considered several little china shoulder-heads without bodies in my collection. The heads have rubs to the paint on the back of their hair, which indicates that they were once part of a doll with a body and were played with. Then I envisioned young girls, and perhaps boys, playing with these dolls, and what that would look like. The nursery, bedroom, or parlor of their home most likely had a wooden floor. If the family was wealthy enough in the mid-Victorian era, they may have had rugs on the floor, which very likely were small, and not room sized. So the dolls would have been dropped and bumped on the floor repeatedly, leading to wear to the back of their hair and noses.

Antique photo 1940s siblings with doll

This boy looks quite mischievous with his hands on his sister’s cloth body composition doll. Rough play is definitely in store for this doll who already has a dinged nose! Circa 1930’s

Girls frequently carried a doll by her arm– in her right hand, holding the doll’s left arm. This is why play dolls often have wear and tearing to the left arm more than to the right. Also, boys tend to be rougher with dolls, both their own, and especially with their sisters’ dolls. This accounts for many a broken bisque or china doll, and indeed, is the reason for the advent of the wooden Schoenhut dolls in 1911, because a granddaughter of the company’s founder had a brother who continually broke her bisque dolls.

Antique Victorian post-mortem daguerrotype of a child with her doll who was said to be haunted after the child's death

19th century post-mortem photograph of a young girl and her doll.

Obviously, not all material objects survive the original owner, giving another tangent to my contemplation; however, there are plenty of 19th century objects left to be pondered upon. It is likely that the early 20th century dolls, in the photo above and the one with my passed on father, are still extant, though the people in most antique photos with dolls are not. Certainly, many antique dolls in collections now had original child owners who died as children. Death, even for children, was an even more common occurrence in the 19th century, leaving in its wake orphaned dolls, post-mortem photographs and dolls dressed in mourning costume.


This china lady with a covered wagon hairstyle , circa 1865, is dressed in her original black silk mourning dress. While the dress is badly shattered from age, her china parts are pristine with no rubs, indicating that she has always been a cabinet doll, and was not played with.

I am aware that today is deemed Holocaust Remembrance Day. One image I saw, to illustrate that one million children died in this atrocity, was that of an old baby shoe held in the palm of a hand. My last post was about little antique shoes. While I don’t have any from the holocaust era, that image still gives pause for reflection about the children, now surely long gone, who wore the shoes that I have. Like the china doll heads, the shoes have wear, indicating their usefulness in the life of that person long ago. It makes me wonder; who was that person, and what became of them? Who is remembering them now?


Antique shoes worn by a child well over a hundred years ago.


As we continue to track the the progress of our current pandemic, and we mourn the vast loss of lives to covid-19, we have again the distressing situation of people leaving the physical plane of the material world, yet their possessions remain. I continue to ponder. Why do these material items of lives long gone remain? At least some of those possessions, no longer needed by the person who is gone, are likely to circulate into the inventory of possessions of someone who is still here. It is incredible to my mind, for example, how an exquisite  Roman tile floor from millennia past can survive all this time under a vineyard, and the individual people who made it and walked on it are not to be known to us in our time.

Genes from ancient Roman civilization resembles those from the ...

People of Ancient Rome–who are they as individuals?

Such are the ponderings of my mind through the recent turn of events in our culture, coupled with my work at home with my antique treasures. I value my antique items for the art and history that they embody, and more so because they were part of a person’s life in the past who found them useful and were prized by them.

To all of the families and friends who have lost precious people to recent events, may you continue to hold onto the stories, to the memories that keep a part of them alive, and to some special material object that retains the remnant energy of your loved one. Record that provenance if you can to carry the story forward.



Antique photo bearded man and girl holding china doll

Father and daughter holding a china doll.