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."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pale yet lovely, glazed and beautiful.

The most beautiful china head dolls unquestionable belong to those with modelled hair,
historically produced during the late period of 1830’s until the early part of the 20th century. Among these, the lady- like china stand out as art objects rather than toy dolls.
The highest number of production made in Germany from 1850’s through 1890’s, centered around the cities of Sonnenberg and Nuremberg.

Ribbon winners chinas

The Hair Dress is a good indication of the period the dolls were manufactured, as they imitated the styles that were fashionable at the time they were made…For example a doll with a chignon, or waterfall hair dress, could be dated as 1860-1870. Bangs would indicate a much later period, early 1890, when this style was worn.

With this in mind, I will attempt on forthcoming posts to show samples and describe types of China Heads according to the decades they were made, in the hopes to achieve an easier, interesting introduction to these dolls while doing justice to this vast industry… and, more importantly, to their fragile beauty.

Alt, Beck and Gottachalck (ABG) Cafe Au Lait "Spilled Curl" hairstyle ca.1860

China head dolls wearing the typical hairstyles of the 1860-1890 periods: Curly Top, Civil War and Flat Top

Civil War type china head ca. 1860

Conta-Boehm "Waterfall" hairstyle ca. 1865

"Countess Dagmar" Parian shoulder head

Quite often Chinas were cast on the same molds as Parians, so its not uncommon to find both glazed Chinas and Parians with the same type heads, as an example the so-called
“Countess Dagmar”.

"Countess Dagmar" china shoulder head using same mold as above

"Two Sisters" Lego Museum

Blonde "Low-Brow" style ca. 1880-1890 possibly Hertwig

The number and variety of face type and hair dress indicate the possibility that a great majority were manufactured in small back yard kilns, a family industry, as toy making had largely been in Germany. Their beauty and detail largely depending on the skill of the individual workman.

China head doll ca. 1840; Parian Bisque shoulder head doll ca.1860; French Tea Set ca. 1850

Two china dolls of very different character, each with inset glass eyes (McDonald Archive, Museum of the City of New York)

"Frozen Charlottes" of various size, including a tiny Frozen Charlie.
These adorable tiny dolls will be discussed at a later time.

Beautiful "Civil War" type bride doll ca. 1860

Queen Victoria by Sir Edwin Landseer ca. 1839

Many china heads, especially those with unusual hair styles, are called "portrait dolls" and are named for those they are supposed to resemble-Queen Victoria, Mary Todd Lincoln, Dolly Madison, Countess Dagmar, Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, and Alice in Wonderland. It is unlikely that these ever were actual portraits. Doubtless some fancied resemblance has caused collectors to so name them….The dolls from this category will be discussed separately.

"Queen Victoria" Kister, ca. 1840

Unfortunately, most china dolls are unmarked that makes it difficult to distinguish which company designed which doll. Sporadically, dolls are marked within its shoulder plates, putting the company name that manufactured the item. Some companies also put a number on the reverse part of the shoulder plate of the china doll.

Shoulder Head shards probably excavated at sites of destroyed doll factories in Thuringia
Germany ca. late 1800's

Similar "Civil War" hairstyle and outfits on china head and on little girl ca. 1860-70

Grouping of German china dolls, ca. 1840-1860

China heads made after 1898, will of, course be marked GERMANY, Occasionally they will be marked with letters or numbers, but there seems to be no way of finding out what these markings mean.

Harper's Bazaar referred to china dolls as "old fashioned" in 1873, though they continued being made well into the early 20th century. China doll heads were produced in large quantities, in different parts of Europe, counting in the millions.

"Flat Top" hairstyle on China head wearing beautiful French fashion dress.

China Shoulder Head dolls ca. 1880

Quite often one can find these charming dolls sitting or standing alone in antique shops and even in flea markets, waiting to be loved and valued again. We need to appreciate these old dolls with particular affection, even if for the thought alone that they have survived well over a hundred years.


  1. Que tiernas!!!
    With that kindly expression and rosy cheeks!
    I do not know why they made those hands and feet so tiny ...
    Sería por la moda de la época???

  2. Fascinating. I can use this to help me date pictures, though dress and hair styles can be consrvative especially in older portraits.

  3. siempre es un placer pasar por tu blog, una informacion muy clara sobre este tipo de muñecas, y yo siempre me puedo llevar alguna idea nueva, besos.

  4. Thank you for all your comments. Fortunately I have many books on these dolls, their history is facinating. I love the "portrait chinas" in particular, they give me the opportunity to research the historical figures/celebrities they are portraying...And I just love history. Glad you enjoyed this post.

  5. Martha, the last night I read your entire blog, the first day!
    I never tired of seeing images that you publish: look into eyes dolls and girls and I wonder what stories could be told ...

  6. Thank you Flora...So sweet to hear from you!
    You read the whole blog!!! I am so flattered.

  7. Good Evening Marta,

    Thank you for your kind words and visits to all 3 of my blogs! I adore your blog- Thanks so much for finding me so I could find you! I will be a regular reader!


  8. Hi Dear-

    wonderful dolls, dear Marta :-)
    I´ve got a few old dolls, too.
    You´re look really precious!
    So cute those old black and white photos of the little girls with their sweet dresses- I love old photos!
    The view into the old dolls manufacture is great!

    Enjoy your day, Sweet-
    Hugs, Ines

  9. Thank you Ines, Wendy...How wonderful you visited!..Thank you so much for the lovely comments.
    I will look forward to your next postings as well

  10. Hi Marta, I like the images of the little girls with their best friends. They are cute tin type photos. Ive been on the look out for them. Right now I only have one. Thanks for stopping by have a good weekend....Julian

  11. I never really liked dolls, not even as a child. I often find them spooky and scary. But...I am starting to become more interested in them, especially these pretty china dolls. I am fascinated by the clothes they wear, so beautiful!

  12. Dear Josje...It would be an honor if my humble posts have helped to pique your interests in dolls. Once you realize the history that surrounds them, you can help but loving them. History is what drew me to dolls and now they are my passion.
    Big Hugs

  13. Just wonderful as always! Thank you Marta

  14. Thank you Carol...How nice to hear from you! How is that Boston baby doing?
    Big Hugs

  15. I just found your Blog and I love it. I love dolls and especially anything to do with antiques. I'm from Toronto but visit Boulevard Mall quite often in Amherst......any good antique stores there, we pass one on Niagara Falls BLvd. on our way to the Boulevard mall from Fashion Outlet mall...... have you been to that one?

  16. Hi neighbor! Welcome to my blog and thank you for visiting. There are many Antique Stores in Buffalo, but you need time to really see them all. There is a great one on Shawnee Road, off of Niag .Falls Blvd. coming from the Falls. Turn left on Shawnee Rd. for about 3 miles. Its a huge Red Barn on your left. You can't miss it. There are a few more in that general area. But the best ones are in Clarence...Do you know the area? on Rte 5 "Antique World". You need a whole day, so if you have a weekend, its a great treasure hunt get away.

  17. Great blog- it is helping satisfy me after searching for an antique doll for two days in antique shops with no success yet.
    So much to look at and learn here, thanks.