Small Talk Tag: Doll

A Closer Look at Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

French Fashion Doll

Eleanor Crocker’s beautiful doll Nellie represents a snapshot in the latest Victorian fashions. In the nineteenth century, women kept up to date on the season’s hottest looks by perusing periodicals filled with fashion plates or printed illustrations of dress designs. Some of these designs were made in doll sizes to demonstrate the fits, frills, and lacy details of the full-size gowns. Nellie’s “princess cut” windowpane plaid dress Nellie just wouldn’t be as fabulous in a picture.

French doll makers like E. Barrois and Jumeau capitalized on this trend by manufacturing bisque heads, arms and feet for these fashionable companions. Often, toy shops and department stores purchased the porcelain limbs from these doll makers, sewed them to leather or cloth bodies in-house, and outfitted them according to the mode du jour. Fully assembled dolls were then marketed under the name of a specific retail establishment. It’s likely that this is where Eleanor’s uncle found Nellie back in the 1860s.

Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

French Fashion Doll.

In addition to teaching children necessary grown-up skills, dolls and toys have imagination-fueled stories all their own. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to hear toys’ playtime stories and special adventures toys had from the grown-ups who loved them. Other times, we have to do a little digging. This bisque fashion doll, for example, came to T/m with a few clues from her Victorian past.

With the help of previous her owners’ records, we know that this circa-1860 doll was owned by a girl in Buffalo, New York, named Eleanor Crocker. Nicknamed “Nellie,” the doll was passed down through several generations of Eleanor’s descendants before she became part of the museum’s collection. According to family lore, Nellie was brought back from France by Eleanor’s uncle Dexter as a gift. Through the magic of modern technology, we’ve been able to track down the family’s historical records including Dexter’s passport applications dating to the 1860s! While we may never know the exact playtime parties Nellie attended, we do know that Eleanor took excellent care of her.

Crazy for Kewpies

Kewpie Doll

With their large pointy heads, cherubic bodies, and mischievous facial expressions, Kewpies have become a doll icon over the last century. These potbellied babies were dreamed up by illustrator Rose O’Neil in 1909 and first appeared as a comic for Ladies’ Home Journal. Creative and entrepreneurial, O’Neil developed Kewpies into a line of bisque dolls with the help of German toy company Waltershausen. The dolls were such a success that Kewpies began appearing in advertising campaigns and on products, and they even promoted the women’s suffrage movement.

O’Neil’s Walnut Shade, Missouri, estate now houses the Bonniebrook Gallery, Museum, and Homestead. Visitors can view some of her earliest commercial illustrations, artwork, and hundreds of antique Kewpies. Although Kewpie dolls may not be actively campaigning for social justice or selling JELL-O anymore, they do continue to make the occasional appearance. Japanese “Kewpie fusion” toys are a new spin on the old doll, and rival schools should definitely watch out for this rough-and-tumble football mascot!
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Most Fashionable Doll

georgian dolls

Meet Georgiana, the oldest doll in T/m’s collection. Affectionately named for the king on the throne when she was born circa 1750 (England’s King George II), Georgiana has a carved and turned wooden body with glass eyes, and a brown human hair wig.

She doesn’t look like a cuddly doll, now does she? That’s mainly because we believe she wasn’t meant to be played with! Georgiana was likely used to model the latest fashions in a dressmaker’s shop. Instead of making a large dress that lacked a buyer, the dressmaker would make a doll-sized version for Georgiana. Interested patrons would order a similar dress perfectly sized to their human proportions.

Thus, Georgiana is dressed to the nines with all her original clothing: shift, corset, quilted petticoat, elliptical hoop, embroidered skirt, overdress, knit wool stockings, shoes, and a beaded necklace. Now that’s a lot of layers!

Raggedy Ann Turns 100

raggedy ann

With her button eyes, triangle nose, candy-striped pantaloons and orange yarn hair, Raggedy Ann is one of the most recognizable dolls around. You might be surprised to learn that the raggedy redhead has gone through a only few updates in her 100 years as play icon. Ann’s 1915 patent shows her with very long thumbs, a teardrop-shaped nose, a puffy dress, and a floral bonnet with her namesake on a ribbon.

While much folklore surrounds her creation, we know that Raggedy Ann’s creator Johnny Gruelle created Raggedy Ann (and later Raggedy Andy) for the pages of children’s books. Set in his daughter Marcella’s nursery, Gruelle’s first book, The Raggedy Ann Stories, introduced the doll who embarked on a series of adventures: raiding the pantry, rescuing the family dog, and teaching tolerance to the other dolls in the nursery. You might say the secret to Raggedy Ann’s longevity lies in her softness—both literally and figuratively.

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