Small Talk / Toys

The Doll Gallery

This month, we made some big changes to The Doll Gallery. Some old favorites have gone to storage for a time so that they can be protected from light, which will help preserve them for future generations of museum visitors. More than 30 dolls have come out of storage to take their place, including a rare, late 19th century baby doll by Leo Moss.

When Myla Perkins decided to sell several Leo Moss dolls from her collection in the spring of 2018, T/m curators sprang into action to try to add one to our collection. We were very fortunate to be able to buy a 10″ baby doll that Perkins had included in both volumes of her seminal publication, Black Dolls 1820-1991: An Identification and Value Guide. Unlike some of Moss’ dolls which are named for the child they represent, this baby doll is unmarked. We do know, however, that collector and doll-maker Betty Formaz purchased about 30 Moss dolls, including this one, directly from the Moss family in the 1970s. Because its gender is undiscernible, we call the doll “Baby Moss.”

Leo Moss, a handyman in Macon, Georgia, made his portrait dolls in the likeness of family, friends, and members of the community. His dolls are classified as character dolls because they have realistic facial features and expressions that convey specific emotions. Many Leo Moss dolls portray crying children, but Baby Moss is depicted as a happy baby. There are a couple of theories about why some of Moss’s dolls appear to be crying; the more popular theory is that Moss would include tears if his young model became distressed and started crying while Moss was working on the doll.

X-ray images and CAT scans done by diagnostic radiologist Dr. Steve Eilenberg of three Leo Moss dolls in 2014 revealed intriguing information about Moss’s techniques. (https://aperturephotoarts.com/leo-moss/) The three dolls studied all showed commercially-made composition doll heads, covered with sculpted papier-mâché to achieve the models’ likenesses. The original composition heads are not discernable in the finished dolls. Using this method, Leo Moss produced dolls of exquisite artistry.

In addition to Baby Moss, the gallery includes five other dolls with papier-mâché heads, ranging in date from about 1830 to 1895. These dolls feature molded heads rather than Moss’s sculpted technique. Two 26″ dolls with papier-mâché heads and cloth bodies look like they could have been made by the same company. Yet one was produced in Germany by Müller & Strassburger, while the other was made by Ludwig Greiner, a German-born American. Greiner immigrated to the United States in the 1830s, and in the 1840s, started his company in Philadelphia. In 1858, Greiner received a patent for his method of reinforcing the papier-mâché doll heads. The patent was extended in 1872, so this doll’s markings indicate it was made before that date. It was common for dolls with papier-mâché heads to have hand-made cloth bodies, but this Greiner doll has a body designed by his friend and fellow-Philadelphian, Jacob Lachmann.

We hope you’ll get a chance to visit T/m and our updated Doll Gallery. Check back later this year for blog posts on some of the other featured dolls and the people who made them.

Amy McKune
Curator of Collections
The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures

Tracing the Genealogy of a Doll

Imagine going up into the attic of an old house and finding a treasure that had not been seen for years. You might become a “history detective” to investigate more about the mysterious object and want to learn about the person who owned this treasure. You might even display this wonderful thing to share with the world.Harriet's Doll

That’s the story of Harriet Penney’s doll, a new exhibit at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.  This treasure is a 1900s adult-looking doll designed in the style of Charles Gibson’s beautiful magazine illustrations of that era.  This “Gibson Girl” doll, manufactured by German doll maker Kestner, was the Barbie® of the early 20th century with a full wardrobe and lots of accessories. She has a jointed body made of soft kid leather and a bisque head. Harriet’s doll is not only beautiful, but she has an attitude. And Harriet’s doll was – and is – fabulous!

The last year, I’ve been working with Museum staff to explore the history of Harriet’s doll and learn all we can about Harriet Penney and her family. Many questions were answered, and there are great stories to share!

In the exhibit you will learn that Harriet Penney was born in 1898, a time when major changes were happening in America with technology, lifestyles, and attitudes.  Harriet was given the doll in about 1910 and enjoyed playing with her in the attic playroom of her grandfather’s house in Washington, Kansas, along with her sister.  In 1926, Harriet married Charles Roop, and they had three daughters.  After Harriet died, daughter Patricia inherited the doll, and later donated it to T/M.

Harriet's DollWhen the Museum received Harriet’s doll, our curators heard lots of family stories from Patricia. They heard about Harriet’s mother, Ora Yoder Penney, a free-thinking modern woman for her time.  She was a postmaster in a nearby small town, worked in her father’s store, wore bloomers, played softball, and was a role model for her two daughters. In 1904, Ora was widowed and moved from Oklahoma to Kansas with her daughters to live with Grandfather Yoder, who built a large house to accommodate his growing family. In our research, we learned that he was a generous man who purchased not only one, but a pair of Gibson Girl dolls: a brunette for Harriet and blond-haired one for her sister, Gertrude. (The location of Gertrude’s doll is unknown at this time.) But there was still much to learn about Harriet and her doll, and many unanswered questions. Who was Grandfather Yoder that he could afford such expensive toys? What were those unusual accessories that came with the dolls? Who sewed the simple, handmade garments for the doll?  How did Harriet’s interest in fashion affect her life, and that of her doll?

This January, Harriet’s doll will come out of storage where she has been in safekeeping, and the beautiful doll and her accessories will be on display in The Doll Gallery for the first time.

It was a privilege for me to get to play detective and solve some of the riddles of Harriet’s doll and the family.  I hope you will come to T/M in the next few weeks to see Harriet’s amazing doll and learn her story.   On February 10, I will give a program on the process I went through to research Harriet and her doll.  Throughout the rest of the year, you may attend some of the hands-on programs related to the doll, read a booklet that tells more of the family stories, play with special paper dolls (yeah!!) and learn for yourself how owning such a fabulous doll enriched Harriet’s life.

Ann Vernon, Docent/Researcher

The Motor Car Man with a Big Heart

“If you want happiness, there is only one way in the world to get it. You’ve got to give it.” –Jerry Smith

T/m’s newest special exhibit, Going Places: The Toy Collection of Jerry Smith, features toys collected by Jerry Smith (1917-1984), a Kansas City automotive dealer and philanthropist whose generous heart and fabulous toy collection left a lasting impact on the community.

It was the Christmas of 1924 that would later inspire Smith to start collecting toys. The holiday was a big event for six-year-old Smith, who circled the toys he longed for in the Sears and Roebuck catalog. As the youngest of six, the Kansas farm boy was depending on Santa to fulfill his dreams. However, there was only one present waiting for him under the tree: a cast iron Arcade Fordson toy tractor.

tractor

An Arcade Fordson tractor similar to the one Smith received

Disappointed, Smith called Santa a “tightwad” and said it was “the skinniest Christmas I’d ever had.” He would never forget those feelings of longing, frustration, and dashed hope, and that memory compelled him to help others in need. Smith grew up and moved to Kansas City, where he opened a Buick dealership at 5835 Troost in 1952. Smith ran his dealership with the philosophy, “You don’t get ahead, you give ahead.” He became a supporter of many local charities, especially those that served children. He also founded Operation Friendship, an initiative dedicated to providing for the community. In 1965, the Kansas City Times referred to Smith as “…a motor car man with a ready smile and . . . a heart that figuratively is as big as all outdoors. This particular man never seeks praise for his work. If you meet him on the street, he will just say . . . ‘We’ve taken care of that last case you referred to us…tell us about some more folks who need a lift.’”

One Christmas, Smith’s sister-in-law gifted him an identical version of his now long-lost Arcade Fordson tractor. He was overjoyed and realized there were more toys in the Arcade series. He set out to collect the entire set, and soon moved on to other toys that reminded him of his childhood: planes, trains, automobiles, farm toys, mechanical banks, fire engines, and transportation toys of all kinds. Eventually, Smith collected over 11,000 toys.

A selection of Smith’s toys from a 1968 Hallmark calendar

Following his philosophy of helping others, Smith used his collection to benefit the community. Whenever his collection was put on display, he would request that a fee be donated to a Kansas City charitable organization, usually Children’s Mercy Hospital. During the holiday season in 1965, Smith’s collection was exhibited at the Hallmark Gallery on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Over 130,000 visitors attended, and all the proceeds went to a youth organization. Smith even appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to promote the exhibit; the entire video is available to view in the exhibit.

Jerry Smith with a 1968 toy exhibit at the Hallmark Gallery. Image courtesy of the Hallmark Archives.

Back home in Kansas City, Smith’s collection was exhibited at the Wornall-Majors House and the Kansas City Museum. Smith also created the Christmas Village, which featured festive holiday dioramas in the Long-Bell Lumberyard at Gregory and Wornall. Smith requested that admission proceeds go to Children’s Mercy Hospital. By 1967, Children’s Mercy had received over $25,000 from displays of Smith’s toys.

Jerry Smith in one room of his Christmas Village

Smith’s philanthropy continues to influence the Kansas City community. His charitable contributions reached organizations including the Kansas City Museum, the Boy Scouts Area Council, Avila College, the Rehabilitation Institute, Children’s Therapeutic Learning Center, and more. In 1976, Smith donated his 360-acre farm to the Kansas City parks system, which is still used as a park today. Last but certainly not least, Smith helped T/m founders Mary Harris Francis and Barbara Marshall assemble some of their earliest exhibits. Many of the cast iron and transportation toys T/m has on display in the permanent exhibits today came from Jerry Smith’s collection.

Mary Harris Francis, Barbara Marshall, and Jerry Smith celebrating Christmas at T/m in 1982

For Jerry Smith, a disappointing Christmas turned into a lifetime of giving. As the Kansas City Star remarked in 1966, “Perhaps none of this would have happened if Santa Claus had come through with the entire list submitted by Jerry back in 1924. Maybe Santa knew what he was doing after all.” During your next visit to T/m, be sure to stop by Going Places to learn more about the incredible toy collection and lasting impact of Jerry Smith.

— Written by Katherine Mercier

 

A Game of Put and Take

One of the most treasured Hanukkah traditions is of course spinning the dreidel in order to win that big pile of chocolate gelt! The game, which was popularized in sixteenth-century Germany, involves spinning a four-sided top. While this game commemorates the origins of Hanukkah, later versions of the game were created for secular play and simple gambling.

A cousin of the dreidel, the teetotum is a multi-sided top that includes either numerals or in the case of this brass model, English instructions. Popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the game of Put and Take involved two or more players spinning the teetotum and following the directions on the face-up side in order to win (or lose) money from a pot. The game, which was easily set up and could be played almost anywhere, became a huge craze in the 1920s and 1930s. The game was met with controversy in many places due to being associated with gambling and eventually faded in popularity. We’ll stick to chocolate coins, thank you!

Inside a Dollhouse Like No Other

Coleman Dollhouse

When the massive Coleman Dollhouse was discovered in the Coleman family estate, it did not have its original contents. As a result, we can only guess how the six Coleman children must have played with this playhouse-like structure. When the dollhouse came to T/m, it was set up according to the style of the 1880s, using appropriately-sized furnishings and dolls.

Coleman House’s outer façade is covered in a textured finish comprised of paint and sand, a technique called rustication. The front of the house has two large hinged doors that close and lock with a skeleton key. The basement level sides also have hinged doors that reveal a billiards room and a kitchen. One of the most astonishing facts about Coleman House (other than, well, its size) is the evidence of metal pipes indicating it once had gas lighting!

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