Wax at first glance doesn't seem to be a natural material for making dolls. For centuries it was only used for the making of candles and religious figures for Nativity Sets, but this art of modeling in wax eventually connected with doll making, especially before the advent of compositions and plastics.
The vast majority of poured wax dolls were made between the late 1700s and 1900 . Wax modelers were commissioned to produce miniature children in imitation of Queen Victoria’s little princes and princesses.
Wax is resilient and malleable, wax doll heads didn't smash to bits when dropped, like china or bisque dolls. Wax could also be tinted with beautiful and realistic skin tones. Finally, wax could be poured in molds. However, wax proved very fragile when subjected to temperature changes so it never became a main doll making material.
Poured Wax was very desirable for its translucence and how it resembled skin, by the end of the 18th century the quality of the beautiful turned, and carved dolls had deteriorated. They were considered old fashion, and a more realistic baby was in demand. It is the waxworks of historic icons by wax modelers such as Montanari and Pierotti that the specialist art of the wax doll as a child’s plaything eventually evolved.
Left: Wax over Composition Lady in Mourning for Queen Victoria ca. 1901
Center: German character of a Lady in Court Costume, silk parasol with a simulated feather boa over a silk dress ca. 1901
The beautiful poured wax dolls developed alongside others in the 19th century…
Where we find the egg shaped slit heads with the hair inserted through a slit down the middle. The hair is then parted and drawn to each side, they have fixed, pupiless glass eyes. These dolls apparently came in about 1820, and as a rule, their leather hands had only three fingers.
About 1825 came the wire-eyed wax type, the first of the dolls with sleeping-eyes. The eyes were dark, had no pupils, and were manipulated by a wire that came out at the side of the waist.
Although they might look ugly and decrepit to some, they hold a charm of their own to the collector, they are my personal favorites. To restore them would be to destroy.
Although wax doll heads didn't completely shatter when dropped like china and bisque head dolls, they were still delicate. They were subjected to been crushed, scratched and nicked when dropped or in play, and the colors of their eyes, lip and other features could easily rub off.
Original card stated that the doll belonged to Emma Gertrude (Way) Thayer (b. 1843) of Pulaski (Oswego Co.), NY, donor Gertrude (Thayer) Melendy's mother. Emma was born during August 1843, the daughter of Zara M. Way (1818-1860) and Esther Allison (b. 1822).
During the 1860s Emma moved to Milwaukee where she married Orson Allertus Thayer (b.1845), a railroad conductor. He died in the 1870's.
Emma married Adolphus W. Ingalsbe (b. 1822), a farmer, on November 24, 1880 and moved to Columbus, WI. During the 1920s she moved to Lakewood, OH to live with her daughter.
Bonnet Head dolls descended from the Pumpkin Head, most were made in small sizes and intended to be sold cheaply. Although tawdry in construction, they were interesting for the variety of the headgear. Some wear flat hats with a stiff feather, while others wear bonnets with quite an ornate design. All, of course, moulded in the wax. The bonnet heads are more desirable than the standard pumpkin head to collectors because they were made in a greater variety.
Because it is very difficult to permanently mark a wax doll, most dolls were only marked with paper labels, and so many of the early makers of these dolls have been lost to history.
Motschmann Baby from my collection. Wax over papier-mache with fixed blue glass eyes. Original outfit ca. mid 1800's German.
Motschmann dolls represent a young child, something not seen before. Previously, ladylike figures were the only type worth producing. This fact was an important advance in doll history. Whereas before, children were considered miniature adults, now childhood was beginning to be appreciated as interesting in itself.
By the end of the 19th century other methods of doll making were established, fine quality bisque creations superseded the old fashioned wax doll. The last of the wax doll maker had to use their skills in a variety of ways by making tailor’s dummies, or coiffure heads for hair dressers in order to earn a living. Only now in modern times has there been some sort of renaissance of the wax doll. It is no longer for children however, but is a partnership established between collectors and skilled modelers who can restore antiques, and emulate the work of the past by making new models the old way.