Mystery Dolls From The 1800s
The Special Appeal of Mysterious Antique Dolls from the 19th Century
Many antique doll collectors like to know everything about an antique doll before they make a purchase for their collection. This is understandable--antique dolls generally cost hundreds or thousands of dollars each. So, the most popular dolls with collectors are dolls made by Bru, Jumeau, Kestners and similar makers--dolls that are marked, and which have had volumes of books written about their rich histories.
Of course, there are many antique dolls about which little is known. These dolls have histories just as rich as their Jumeau and Kestner cousins, but their history hasn't been as well documented. I like to call these dolls "mystery" antique dolls. I have several very old (prior to 1850) mystery dolls in my collection which I know very little about. Nevertheless, these mystery dolls are some of my favorites, partly for their antiquity, and partly because they simply survived more than 150 years--very few dolls have.
English Wax Over Papier Mache Doll 1840-1850
This doll has a wax over papier mache head, with a cloth body. The doll bears a tag buried in her skirts that looks like it was made by a museum--the tag says "English Papier Mache Character Doll, c. 1840-1850." The doll was obtained at an uncatalogued doll auction, and the auction house knew little about her, but they agreed with the estimate of the age of the doll.
The costume of this doll is very old--the material in the hat and shawl is melting (I have repaired the hat, and I also cleaned the shawl and hat which were quite dirty. The rest of the costume is also delicate and I have left it alone. Experts have disagreed as to how much of this doll is original and how much is added--all of it could be original and seems appropriate to the period, but some of the items may have been added later, such as the little medicine bag, the necklace or the glasses. Unfortunately, there are so few examples of this type of doll that it makes it very hard to determine how much of the costume actually is original.
The medicine bag seems to indicate that the doll was meant to represent a child's nanny. The maker of this doll is unknown. The doll is approximately 14" inches tall. I do not know what the book value of this doll would be--I paid slightly over $200 for it. The doll won a 4th place ribbon at a National UFDC convention, and, in any event, is lovely and interesting. It would be fascinating to know more about the maker of the doll, or if the doll was made for child's play or another purpose.
Early 19th Century Set of Wax Dolls
These dolls are very intriguing for a variety of reasons. First, these dolls are very delicate--small in stature (from 5" to 8") they are made with a very fragile armature that is muslin wrapped, with the lower limbs made of carved wood. The heads are poured wax with sculpted hair and painted facial features. It is amazing that these dolls survived at all, much less in their original (if fragile!) elaborate clothing and as a set.
I obtained these dolls at an auction, and the auction house estimated that they were made in the early part of the 19th century. The maker of these dolls is certainly unknown. Although I have no way to prove it, I think that these dolls were part of a crèche of some sort, or religious dolls of some sort. They seem too fragile to have been play dolls, and the costuming seems appropriate for crèche figures--the three larger dolls are costumed in elaborate metallic trims and tapestry fabrics, which would be appropriate for the Three Wise Men. The smallest doll is dressed much more simply, in a manner that would indicate a Shepard. If anyone has similar dolls, I would be very interested in hearing from them and hearing any information that they have about the dolls.
Early English Wooden Dolls c. 1800
In some ways, the two early English wooden dolls in the picture at right are not as much of a mystery as the Wax over Papier Mache and the Wax doll set discussed above. The style of these dolls is very familiar to most antique doll collectors as early English woodens, made about 1800.
The dolls have black enamel eyes, and have their original, but worn finish. No restoration attempts have been made on the wood finish. The male doll has replaced leg limbs, and the female doll has replaced arms. The outfits have been replaced, but they were replaced quite some time ago--the back of the silk dress is completely melting.
The mystery of these dolls is found in their 200 year history. We, of course, do not know their maker. We don't know who the original owner was,or how many owners have had these dolls in the last two centuries. When were the limbs replaced? When were the dolls redressed, and by whom? The outfits are very appropriate for the dolls--were they based on the dolls original clothing?
I actually like the worn finish on the dolls--they are showing their age, and it would be out of place to see a 200 year old doll with a re-done finish, looking like new.
The lady doll of this set also won a 4th place ribbon at a National UFDC Convention. The doll was shown there without her "mate."
I have many dolls by well-known antiqiue doll makers in my doll studio, but out of all the antique dolls that I have, these two garner the most comments. People are fascinated by them--they have a very commanding presence!
What do you think of mysterious
antique dolls, and do you have any favorite mystery dolls in your
collection? Discuss in the Dolls Forum!
©Denise Van Patten 2000
All Rights Reserved.