What is a Doll?

How long have we had this love affair with Dolls?

Pearls of Wisdom:

New World Dictionary describes a doll as - "a child's toy, puppet, marionette, etc. made to resemble a human being."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Medieval Children

A common misconception about medieval children is that they were treated like adults and expected to behave like adults as soon as they could walk and talk.
This does not mean that children were never expected to do any household work or help their parents. But for the younger members of the family, this took the form of chores such as carrying water, herding geese and gathering fruit. The time spent on these activities was only a small part of the day; for the most part, the great majority of a child's early years were spent in play.

Don Diego son of Phillip II of Spain

Sons of nobles were expected to become knights. Boy’s playthings like
wooden swords and shields were not so much toys as training tools.
When the lessons were over, young lords spent most of their time
with toy soldiers.
For the lower classes, figures were made from clay or carved out of wood.
Those who could afford them, had toys made out of silver or even gold.
Hobby horses, too were popular with the budding knights.
With a stick and a little imagination, a boy could ride off to conquer the world.
It is more likely that the hobby-horse was a universal toy, appearing at different times in history among children at a period when their fathers and elder brothers were permanently on horse-back.

The Dolls of the Middle Ages

During this period the Great Fairs became popular, with their puppet shows and marionettes. Edible gingerbread dolls were also offered, sometimes made in two molds, so that a small gift might be concealed inside. These confections became the models of the embryonic wooden doll, simply cut from a block of wood and decorated to resemble those of gingerbread.

A Peddler Doll

Just as boys had military toys to prepare them for their roles later in life; so too the little girls of the time were encouraged to learn womanly skills by tending to their dolls.
The Dolls of European Children in the Middle Ages were largely made out of linen, wood or wool. Consequently, with the unfavorable climate , these primitive toys hardly could survive.
In the wealthier homes, however, a child might have owned a doll carved out of alabaster, while a peasant child would play with a doll made out of rags.
Dolls made of clay generally had the best odds of surviving the centuries, some dolls depicted fancy court ladies in all their finery
Others were knights on horseback, mythical beasts and ladies with falcons perched on their wrists.

Once Upon a Time.....

In the late 12th century, around 1180 a.d., there lived a great queen with a courageous spirit and a brilliant energy. She was Eleanor of Aquitaine. Married to the King Henry II of England and mother to ten children, independently titled, wealthy, cunning, and wise.

Women were second-rate citizens in medieval society. But at Aquitaine, however, they were teachers and facilitators. The purpose of the court was to instruct men in the burgeoning art of chivalry and the ladies, sometimes 60-strong, decided how the men were to dress, speak, and act while in the presence of women. Eleanor and her gracious ladies encouraged the men to write poetry, play music, and be romantic.

The Kruseler Headdress..upper Rhine

Bridal gowns 12th century

Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry the II

When she was around 30, which would have been considered middle aged or even old by medieval standards, a noted troubadour, called her “gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm,” extolling her “lovely eyes and noble countenance” and declaring that she was “one meet to crown the state of any king.” The charms of her person were emphasized even in her old age, and writings in the 13th century, recalled her “admirable beauty.”

The 12th Century a Time for Knights and Damsels in Distress

The 12th century in Europe was in many respects an age of fresh and vigorous life. It was the epoch of the Crusades, the culmination of Romanesque Art, and the beginnings of Gothic. The twelfth century left its signature on higher education, on architecture and sculpture.
Germans started colonizing Eastern Europe beyond the Empire, into Prussia, and in the late 13th century, a Venetian explorer named Marco Polo became one of the first Europeans to travel the Silk Road to China.



Medieval Lovers


Queen Eleanor Of Aquitaine
That formidable woman of 12th century England and France, set up a court of love to instruct men on the nature of love, chivalry, and romance.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Glimpse of Richard Wright’s Incredible Collection

Circa-1720 Queen Anne lady doll, England, 25 inches tall, gessoed and painted carved-wood head, wood torso with mortise and tenon jointed wood arms and legs. Presented in mahogany and walnut veneered display case. Estimate $50,000-$70,000. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Portrait Jumeau bebe, so called 'Elizabeth' doll, circa-1880, France, 23 inches, pressed-bisque socket head, fully jointed composition body marked Jumeau, Au Nain Blue store label, original signed E. Jumeau brown leather shoes. Estimate $10,000-12,000. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Izannah Walker oil-painted on stockinette cloth doll, Rhode Island, circa 1860, 18 inches. Estimate $15,000-18,000. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Circa-1840 German papier-mache lady doll, 33 inches, provenance: Estate of Maurine S. Popp. Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Important portrait-type carved-wood doll, Germany, circa 1820, 39 inches. Richard Wright is believed to have acquired the doll via private treaty sale through Sotheby's London in the 1980s. Undocumented anecdotal history purports that the doll was commissioned by a member of the Dutch Royal Family. Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Image courtesy Skinner inc

I'm all that's left of a bizarre childhood...

I always watched with anticipation when Richard was featured on The Antique Road Show, and I never failed to gain something of great value from his vast knowledge.
It was exciting when Richard was asked to identify the history of some rare doll, and how very down to earth, and unassuming… He made his findings interesting and informative.

I admired him as a teacher whom indirecty nourished my love for antique dolls, and inspired me to express my passion on this very modest way.
An extremely likable man I would’ve love to meet.…A man of many attributes, an artist, teacher and collector since he was ten years old.

I was lucky to find this article written by some of his friends, telling endearing stories about the man they loved and of how much he is missed not only in the antique doll world, but to all the people that had the privilege of knowing him. I wish I had.

Richard Wright passed away on March of 2009,
William "Richard" Wright Jr., a premier authority on antique dolls, toys and 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century antiques, died peacefully at his home in Chester Springs, Pa., on Sunday, March 1, 2009.
Internationally known and respected in the antique doll field, Wright sold high-end dolls of every type and origin, including antique French and German bisque dolls, chinas, early wooden, parians, papier-mâchés and wax dolls.

For 11 years Wright was also a popular Antiques Roadshow appraiser, known for his engaging, quietly authoritative onscreen presence, his spectacles tipped low on the bridge of his nose.
Richard Wright had a joie de vivre that was endearing to all who knew him. "Almost everyone has a Richard Wright story," but my favorite was the time a small tornado popped up out of nowhere and he called to describe the conditions.

He said the wind was howling, the lights were flickering, and the sky was green. There were tree limbs and even a cow flying past his window. He said it was like a scene from The Wizard of Oz.'
"I begged him to go down into his basement, but he didn't want to leave his prized Tiffany lamp unprotected. He was crouching over the glass shade, with the phone in one hand. Finally, he took the phone down to the basement and told me to wait.
A long time passed, and I could hear bumping and sounds of things being knocked over. Then he picked up the phone again. I asked him why there had been such a long delay - had the tornado hit?
He replied, ‘No, I had to go back upstairs for my glass of Merlot and cigarettes. I didn't know how long I'd be down here.' That was classic Richard."

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Nutcracker

It is Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum house
-- A large and grand house with the most beautiful tree imaginable. The party grows festive with music as godfather Drosselmeyer arrives. He presents two life-size dolls to the children, Clara and Fritz, They are the delight of the party, each taking a turn to dance.

But he has a special gift for Clara, a beautiful Nutcracker that becomes the hit of the party. Fritz becomes jealous and, having a bit more spunk than a boy should have, grabs the nutcracker from Clara and breaks it. Clara looks on as Drosselmeyer quickly repairs the Nutcracker with a handkerchief he magically draws from the air.

As the evening grows late, the Stahlbaum family retires for the evening. Clara, sneaks back to the tree to check on on her beloved Nutcracker, falling asleep with him in her arms.

As the clock strikes midnight strange things begin to happen. The toys around the tree come to life while the room fills with an army of mice, lead by the fierce Mouse King. As the Nutcracker awakens, he charges into battle, but he is no match
to the Mouse King and is captured by the mice and their King.
Clara makes a final daring charge throwing her slipper at the Mouse King, hitting him square on the head. The Mouse King drops to the floor and the mice run away, carrying off their leader's lifeless body.

The Golden Age of Automata

If all the world’s a stage
automatas are a play within a play.Some of the most wonderful were inspired by the character of Commedia Dell’Arte and their famous French creators were Roullet & Decamp, Vichy, and Lambert among others.

The period 1860 to 1910 is known as "The Golden Age of Automata". During this period
many small family based companies of automata makers thrived in Paris. From their workshops, they exported thousands of clockwork and mechanical singing birds, and moving dolls. It is these French automata that are collected today, although now rare and expensive they attract collectors worldwide..

Commedia Dell' Arte

Wind up figures are theatrical to begin with, but when they are based on actual characters, they take on a magical appeal.
Commedia Dell’Arte, was a form of comedy played by actors skilled in the art of improvisation, but not all was improvised. The characters were based on traditional figures. Actors would take on the characters, and identified with their roles. Their character’s name often superseded their real names.

Pierrot: The most beloved and tenderhearted, pale as the moon and mysterious as silence.

Columbine: Vain, beautiful and flirtatious. Beloved of Pierrot

Harlequins: An acrobat at heart, colorful, fast and flexible. Always having fun and leaving the work to someone else. Has a sardonic sense of humor.

The decline of the Commedia Dell' Arte was due to a variety of factors. Physical comedy came to dominate the performances, because the rich verbal humour of the regional dialects, was lost on foreign audiences. As this mode became the routine, actors stopped altering the characters, so that the roles became frozen and no longer reflected the conditions of real life, thus losing an important comic element.
Commedia Dell Arte last traces entered into pantomime as it was introduced in England (1702). From there it traveled to Copenhagen (1801), where at the Tivoli Gardens, it still survives. However carefully copied their masks may be from contemporary illustrations; However witty their improvisation, -revivals of the form can only approximate what Commedia Dell’Arte must have been.