Small Talk / Toys

Little Doll on the Prairie

Presbyterian Rag Doll

While dolls come in many different shapes and sizes, some of the oldest dolls are made of fabric or rags. Cuddly and comforting rag dolls were easily and cheaply made with scraps out of the family sewing basket. Even Laura Ingalls Wilder carried her rag doll Charlotte on her family’s adventures across the American West.

When the women of the First Presbyterian Church of Bucyrus, Ohio decided to start a church fundraising campaign in the 1880s, they turned to rag dolls. The women began making and selling what are now known as Presbyterian rag dolls. These dolls had muslin bodies and beautiful hand-painted faces and each wore an ankle-length dress and bonnet. Generations of church women made these dolls through World War I and again from the 1950s to the 1980s. Luckily, some of the original rag dolls have survived the years by being passed down through the generations. Try your hand at making your own rag doll to create a lovable family heirloom!

Imagination Takes Flight

Tin Flying Toy

From the ancient Greek myth of Icarus, to Leonardo Da Vinci’s fantastical flying machines, mankind has held the desire to fly for centuries. Up until the Wright Brothers finally got it right in 1903, “gentlemen scientists,” inventors and early aviators scrambled to unlock the secrets of powered and controlled air travel. During the era of the steam-powered engine, the idea of a flying machine really, well, took flight.

Toys of course mirror the times in which they were produced. Naturally, as the world became fascinated with flying, tin flying machine toys featuring propellers, wings, parachutes and hot air balloons became a common sight in the 19th and early 20th century. This particular clockwork wind-up mechanical flying machine toy was likely attached to a cantilevered weight on a central base. When the mechanism was wound, the pilot’s legs pedaled the propeller, causing the toy to “fly” in a circle. While this imaginative depiction of early flight makes for a charming toy, we’d still prefer a comfortable window seat and complimentary peanuts.

A Doll Abode with a Simple Commode

New Rochelle Mystery House Bathroom

We often like to ask our guests on a tour if they notice anything unusual about the New Rochelle Mystery Dollhouse. At first glance, the house appears similar to our many other stately Victorian dollhouses: there’s a parlor, a grand staircase and every room is furnished with tiny doll décor. What the untrained eye may not have noticed is that this dollhouse contains something many real-life houses from the time period didn’t often have: a bathroom!

If you look closely at the room in the upper right of the house, you’ll find a bead boarded alcove with a built-in bench with a hole in it … ok, this toilet looks more like an indoor outhouse than the porcelain thrones we’re used to today. The toilet’s tank is the box located high above with a long pull chain to flush. The bathtub and sink located to the right is also paneled around the sides, making them permanent fixtures in the room. While we don’t know exactly who manufactured the New Rochelle Mystery House, we can tell that it dates to the 1880s, which was the same time period Prince Edward VII of England commissioned a plumber, and sanitary pioneer, named Thomas Crapper to install lavatories in several royal palaces. Yes, that’s right, the first Mr. Crapper and perhaps the origin of the use of the word… that’s quite a claim to fame! All toilet jokes aside, this doll bathroom is certainly a special feature!

Making A Doll That Looks Just Like You

Miss Mary

It is believed that from 1845 to 1886 Izannah Walker—and her team of three sisters—produced close to 3,000 dolls. Although Walker’s career happened concurrently with the Industrial Revolution, each of the dolls was hand-painted to have a distinct look and face rather than the ceramic or bisque dolls that were currently being mass-produced. In a male-dominated doll making industry, Walker became the first American woman to receive a doll making patent with her process for making a soft cloth doll that did not break when dropped. Here’s how she pulled it all off:

First, the doll’s head and shoulders were formed by applying glue to layers of inexpensive cloth and batting. The fabric was then pressed into a mold to harden. A rod would be inserted into the center of the form to provide strength from the head to torso. Ears were formed out of fabric tubes attached to the head. After applying another layer of paste and waiting for the doll to dry, Walker would paint the doll’s head. Next, the doll’s torso and limbs were sewn and stuffed. Walker preferred to sew joints at the doll’s elbows and knees—she even attached thumbs and sewed fingers! She would then paint the limbs with the same color used on the head. All that was left was to attach a second covering to the doll’s body in order to conceal the elbow and knee joints and provide a neatly finished doll, each as unique as the child that owned her.

Let’s Take a Stroll

McLoughlin Brothers Folding Dollhouse

Everyone loves a fabulous garden, even dolls! In the early 1900s, McLoughlin Brothers, Inc. produced the New Folding Dollhouse. Two stories tall and able to be constructed in a minute, the dollhouse’s special feature was its façade, which folded down to reveal an ornamental garden for the dollhouse occupants.

Like other manufacturers such as Bliss, the McLoughlin Brothers used chromolithography to produce their brightly colored cardboard dollhouses. With its color printed windows, bricks, and columns, this dollhouse serves as a time capsule of the decorative and architectural style of the late Victorian period. Bright colors, ornate decorations, and curtain-lined windows surround opulent rugs, cushioned window seats, and beautiful fireplaces. The house is sumptuous and pleasantly cluttered, two hallmarks of turn-of-the-century decorating. Try your hand at making your own tiny folding dollhouse with this template!

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