ES sends me a porcelain-headed doll with jointed limbs. Her grandmother brought it with her when she immigrated to the US in 1916. The doll wears modern (polyester) clothing, and her hair is a re-make of an older, albeit blonde, wig.
My regular readers know writing about a doll tortures me. However, because of my phobia, readers insist on sending me dolls. Occasionally one is interesting enough to write about.
ES’s doll’s body is composition- a wood-gesso compound, easily molded into a form. Older dolls before composite wood were made of stuffed leather bodies.
A feature that adds value to the turn of the century dolls is the treatment and artistry of the doll’s eyes. Blue eyes are more rare and desirable. Blue eyes are more difficult to manufacture than darker eyes because of the inclusion of the thin painted black lines upon the glass inside the eyes, meant to imitate the human iris. Eyes are set around a black insert to initiate a human pupil. To complete the hideous eye, the colored part of the eye is set into a round ball of white glass.
The value of a doll is often dependent on the complex mechanism of the ‘sleep eye’. A sleep-eyed doll indicates a mimic of sleep when the body is prone. A small weigh is attached to an “L” shaped bar connected to the eyeball, changing with direction of the head. The outside of the glass eye ball is painted with a flesh tone. It is my hope that this practice camouflaged the pure white eyeball that a little girl would likely see if the eyelid was not painted.
ES’s doll has less desirable painted-on lashes. The best dolls had real hair lashes. Eyebrows, however, were always painted.
Longevity of the eye mechanism is an issue with hair lashes. If the eyeballs are drilled to insert fine hair into the eyeball, the protein in the hair can be highly prized by insects. Thus, these dolls tend to have a de-nuded, skinned look because their lashes have been eaten away. (Picture that if you dare.)
Another arbiter of value is the expression of the mouth. The best of all German porcelain dolls, such as ES’s, made by Simon and Halbig, has a pouty, yet sweet small mouth.
See the marking on the back of the neck, indicating the model, and the structure of the face. This doll has the marking ‘4000’ with a star shape enclosing a “PB,” one of the best models. From these markings, we can determine the year of manufacture, 1909.
Notice the rosebud delicacy of the smile. This is a most desirable mouth because this doll does not have a full cheeky smile. (Boy dolls occasionally were allowed to have such a smile, but not girl dolls.)
Now there are open mouth smiles and there are closed mouth smiles. Open mouth smiles enable the viewer to behold teeth if you are lucky enough. Because realism was much prized in turn of the century dolls, open mouth with teeth was a premium. A doll can have too many teeth, considered ‘genre’, portraying country bumpkins or guttersnipes.
A Respectable amount of teeth is four. Two up and two down, and in reality because the mouth was so small that’s all it could hold. On the best dolls these teeth were not painted onto the lips but the lips were molded around a dentrice holding a small set of little porcelain teeth. (Another reason I'm haunted by dolls.)
ES, take the higher value characteristics of your grandmother’s doll: a porcelain head with human hair in good blonde condition, a jointed composition body, blue sleep eyes, painted lashes as opposed to human hair lashes, (if they were extant and un-eaten those would be considered classier), a pouty half-smile, and four teeth. All these add up to a fine doll from the first years of the 20th century.
Notice that the doll looks like a 3-4 year old. Baby dolls were not considered all that respectable yet.
The final value characteristic is the size of the doll; this one is 26 inches, a large size when you consider the size of a little girl. Families sometimes showed their wealth with a purchase of a doll bigger than their daughter.
What would make the doll more valuable would be the existence of the original clothing from 1909. These dolls are not all that rare because, surprisingly, many still survive. The value of your doll is $400.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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