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."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Beautiful and Intriguing Portrait Dolls"

Many china and parian doll 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 to a hairstyle, or special jewelry or head gear that were well known attributes to the personality, has caused collectors to so name them as a way to differentiate them.
Portrait of famous dancer "Fanny Elssler", as "Cachucha"

"Fanny Elssler" possibly Alt, Beck Gottschalck ca. 1850


Queen Victoria and the Princess Royal Victoria ca. 1844

Young Queen Victoria shoulder-head

The artist doll-maker made a model shoulder head out of wax or even alabaster,
and as he was usually modeling the head of a woman, he was naturally influenced by the current ideal of female beauty, as seen in drawings and later at the end of the period, from photographs of beautiful women of the times.
This same idea of classical beauty can be seen in numerous statues and busts.

"Countess Dagmar" The House of Romanovs family album.

"Countess Dagmar" shoulder-head ca. 1865

"Sophia Smith" type shoulder-head showing the style of vertical curls. Possibly Kister ca. 1840

Sophia Smith, founder of Smith College for women.
The dolls I will be featuring in the next few posts fall in the category of “Portrait Dolls” and have been associated with various famous characters. So as long as the collector remembers this was only a convenient way of distinguishing different types of moulds, and not label them as true character dolls... there is no harm done.
These are merely an interpretation of an ideal of feminine beauty.

"Mary Todd Lincoln" Alt, Beck and Gottschalck manufacturers ca. 1865

Mary Todd, wife of Abraham Lincoln.

These rare dolls can still be found, and although very costly, are well worth having. The market indicates that Portrait Dolls will always hold their value, and most likely always fetch a high price.


  1. La capa de esmalte transparente encima del bizcochado les suaviza tanto las facciones que se parecen a las muñecas japonesas de polvo de nacar. ¿Verdad?
    ¿Puede que en la época hubiera cierta influencia del gusto por las artes orientales?

  2. The Japanese influence was not perceived until the 1850's; for example the Ichimatsu dolls. Definitely these dolls were manufactured in that era, and it's an interesting concept, but I haven't found anything in the history of chinas from the Sonnenberg area of Germany to hint they were influenced in any way by the Oriental dolls. They do have that delicate transparency that make them so beautiful.
    Thanks Maria...great to hear from you!

  3. Fascinating post and good to have you back Celebrity has been around for a long time and associations with Royalty.

  4. Thank you Hermes...I missed all the fun. This should be an interesting informative post when I get done with it. There is a lot of history involved with the ladies that were models of these dolls.Hhugs

  5. Thank you for this post....I found it extremely interesting because I recently got a book about Mary Todd.
    Those are gorgeous 'Portrait Dolls'. Thank you once again for sharing, I really enjoy your Blog, as I love History.

  6. Thank you Erica! I know you will enjoy the book, she was an interesting woman, often misunderstood, with a fascinating if sad story to tell.

  7. Welcome dear Marta!

    Beautiful post, como siempre.

    Resulta muy interesante y fascinante todo lo que se esconde detras de todas estas muñecas antiguas.

    Todas son preciosa y muy interesantes, pero me ha gustado especialmente la "Countess Dagmar".

    Y una vez más, perdona mi falta de puntualidad!

    Un beso.

  8. Thank you Alberto...These dolls are really fascinating.
    Countess Dagmar is very beautiful and rare, I will be posting about her and her family "The Romanovs" later on. She was Czar Nicholas II mother. It must've been horrible for her to have her son and grand children murdered in such a cold blooded way.
    Thanks for your comments.

  9. Just thought that a similar thing happened with Toby jugs.


    I do so love learning about all this. So many thanks.

  10. My friend Anna just published this doll.


  11. Thank Hermes...Its funny you mentioning Toby mugs, I have a small collection from Royal Doulton.

    What a lovely poem on Lover For Books...! Thank you so much!