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The Fascinating World of Doll Collecting

Aug 17, 2007
It is only recently that we have used the word "doll". For a long time dolls were called "poppets" or "babes" or "babies". Sometimes in reading old books one comes across other names, such as "mannikin", "idol", "image". Ask Grandmother what she called a doll. She will probably tell you she called it a "doll-baby", but that, naturally, it had its own personal name. During her childhood all dolls had names. Sometimes the dolls came with names given to them by the manufacturer. Usually a particular and special name was selected for each doll by its young owner.

Many of the dolls now in museums are still known by the names given to them long ago. The names of others have been lost and now they just have labels which say "Wooden Doll" or "China Doll" or "Composition Doll".

That is the way museum people and doll collectors identify old dolls. The label tells what they are made of, which sometimes also tells about how old they are. Wooden dolls can be very, very old or just medium old. Composition and china dolls can be anywhere from 125 years old to very young dolls made just this year.

Bisque dolls are another kind of china doll that collectors love to get. Bisque is a fine pink-toned china that has been used for doll heads for the past ninety years. It is quite different from the regular kind of china doll head, which is pure white and has painted hair and features.

Celeste and Louise, shown below, are two French bisque dolls made near Paris, France, about seventy-five years ago. They were made in a large factory where dozens and dozens of people did nothing but make doll bodies and doll heads. After the head, body, arms, and legs were put together, the supervisor examined each doll to see that every curl was perfect, that the heads turned easily, and that the arms and legs moved correctly. Celeste and Louise passed these tests very satisfactorily.

Soon after they were on display in a Paris doll shop, an American gentleman from Boston came in to find presents for his granddaughters. He bought the two dolls and had them specially packed for the long sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

Celeste and Louise, a pair of French bisque dolls dressed in the height of fashion. Made about 1870, each doll had her own trunk and a wardrobe of a hundred and twenty-five pieces.

When Celeste and Louise were unpacked in the front parlor of the tall brownstone house in Boston, they were greeted with cries of admiration and joy and excitement. They were examined from head to toe. Each dress, each piece of jewelry and pair of shoes was tried on, taken off, and tried on again. Since the dolls were exactly the same size, they could exchange things, so each had twice as many clothes as was originally intended.

The grownups were having just as much fun as the children. Because the lovely clothes came from Paris, the fashion center of the world, they were of great interest to Mother and Grandmother and all the aunts. Pretty soon it began to seem as if Grandfather had brought the dolls for the women instead of for little Mary and Susan. For them, the fun of receiving these beautiful gifts was disappearing because the dolls had to be handled so carefully. In fact, the dolls were put away, to be taken out and played with only on very special occasions.

Mary and Susan really didn't mind not having Celeste and Louise for everyday play. The girls had more fun with the wooden peg dolls their grandmother had given them last year. They could wash their wooden faces, spank them, or carry them around by one leg, without harm. They could dress and undress them as often as they wanted to without worrying about fine lace and exquisite embroidery becoming soiled or damaged. All in all, they agreed, Grandfather was a darling to get them such terribly expensive gifts, but it was much more fun to have common wooden poppets to really play with.
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