Monday, June 3, 2013

It's like Barbie's Great-great-great-Grandmother

Our story begins several weeks ago. I don't remember the day exactly, but it was a couple days before Mother's Day. I mention that fact because that's the reason why I found myself at the third antique store on Sunset in downtown Asheboro. I was there in the hopes of purchasing a figurine. It was going to be a present for my mother for Mother's Day. I had seen it several months ago, but didn't get it then. I wasn't sure if it was going to still be there, but I figured I could at least check for it.

I won't keep you in suspense, I did not purchase the figurine. I could not find it. I couldn't even find the booth where I found it in the first place. It looks like the seller no longer sells at that store. So I was unable to buy it. It's not a huge deal since while I'm sure my mother would have liked it, it wasn't something she couldn't live without. And I'm sure she'd be fine with one less knickknack around the house.

And even though I was there with the intention of buying something for someone else, I just had to browse for myself. I know, it's bad behavior. But I have so few vices I really cling to the ones I do have. Out of the three main antique stores on Sunset, this store has the least finds (although it's where I got the Happy Family Neighbor Doll that I sold for a TON of money that helped finance my brunette American Girl doll), but it's had a few decent finds. So I was walking around looking to see what was there when something high on a shelf in one of the booths caught my eye. It was a doll, (like usual) but one that's very different from the ones I normally purchase.
What I had found was a China Head doll. I'm not sure why it caught my eye, but it did. It was almost like she was calling me... (Twilight Zone Music begins to play). She looked interesting, so I carefully reached up to check out her price tag. I figured that she was going to be super expensive so it was quite a shock to read: "China Doll, As is, 4.50".
                                                               4.50 for this doll?

I was shocked. I knew that the seller stating "as is" on the tag meant she had some issues to go along with that low price. I did a quick scan of her to see what they were. I could see that one of her hand had a nasty chip to the fingers, and there was also a chip to her hair. Those weren't too bad, but she was wearing a full dress, so I wasn't able to check out what she was hiding under her clothes. I did do a quick peak up her skirt and it didn't look like she was in too bad of shape. Overall her visible damage wasn't bad enough to have me walk away from her, but there could be another explanation as to why she was priced so low. She could be a reproduction.
I know for a fact that these dolls have been reproduced, both recently and not that recently. My Grandmother had actually made a pair of them back in the 70's that she made bodies for and dressed. For my childhood they lived in the china cabinet in the dining room at my Grandfather's house. After he passed away they went to live with my two Aunts. So I certainly knew the reproductions were out there. Maybe if I had more experience with them I might have been able to deduce if she was a reproduction quickly, but alas, I do not. Barbie, yes, other dolls, not so much.
So I had to do some on the spot investigating and deducing to decide if she was a reproduction or not. I started off with her head. I looked carefully at the quality of the face paint. I know that while reproduction dolls try to capture the original dolls a lot of them are just unable to capture the look that the original one had. This doll seemed to have the look of an older doll. Both the style and quality seemed to reflect that she was an older doll.
I also used her clothes to help determine her age. She was wearing a combined shirt/skirt dress with a matching vest. The outfit was clearly handmade, and I assume by a child. It features long hand sewn stitches. The reason that her clothes made me think she was an older doll was the damage they had to them. The colors were faded out in several places, like the doll had been in one sunny spot for a long time. If she was a 70's reproduction (even though there was reproductions in the 50's too), I don't think she'd have damage like that. Also the clothes looking like they were made by a child also proves she was an older doll. The vintage dolls were toys to be played with by children, the reproductions not so much.
Her body also helped me decide if she was a reproduction or not. I could tell that it was factory made. But I was mainly interested in the fabric the body was made of. It was a pink linen type material, it was also extremely thin. It just looked like it was very old. I could not see them using this type of material on a new doll. (I also found a doll on the store that was clearly a reproduction and peeked under her dress, the difference was obvious.)
So I ended up getting her. She ended up being slightly under five with tax. In the car I removed
her clothes. I found out why she was marked "As is". Her head was being held onto her body with dried up icky tape. Her shoulder plate was severely broken and missing. Only one of the holes on the shoulder plate that were used to attach the body to the head remained, the rest are all broken off. I sort of assumed she had a lot of damage to the shoulder plate, so I wasn't upset to find that. It's not like I paid a lot for her.
At home I did some research on her. What I have is called a China Head doll. Specifically a Low Brow version, named for her hairstyle. She was produced from the 1890's until the 1940's. From what I know about mine I'd guess she's from the 1930's-1940's. Basically she's one of the more recent ones. I was told these dolls were sold in catalogs (like the Sears catalog), so I wouldn't be shocked if that's where mine came from.
As you can see from the pictures, my doll does not have her head on. After I removed the tape there was nothing holding her head on to her body. And in all honesty, I'm not really sure how to put her head back on her body. As you can see the majority of her shoulder plate is gone. In spite of her missing pieces, what's left is in surprisingly good shape. She does have a chip to the front of her hair, and some general wear to her hair paint, but nothing really bad. I mean she is made of porcelain and was a child's toy, some damage is to be expected. Her face paint is really nice, free from much wear. I will point out that her blush is really uneven, which is a bit annoying, but not too terrible. Even though she has all those broken pieces missing from her shoulder plate, the rest of her head is surprisingly free from cracks. So she's got that going for her. On her back, I believe she's marked with a "Germany" and the number "0". For the most part very few of these dolls were marked, so it's going to be near impossible finding out who made her. All that yellow stuff on her shoulder plate is tape residue. I haven't been able to get it off yet.
From there, let's move onto her body. As you can see from the picture, her body is mainly made from a thin linen pink colored material. It looks extremely thin, but does not seem to be in that bad of shape for it's age. I'm not sure if the material was originally this thin, or thinned out from years of play and general vintage material wear. It looks like there was a repair to both knees. On the left side there's some obviously hand sewn stitching attaching the lower leg to the upper leg. The right side has similar stitching, but also has a bit of added fabric, I assume to reinforce the joint. I know that these dolls could also have china lower limbs,
perhaps this doll did and eventually they needed to be replaced? The stitching at the knees looks very amateurish, and you can see some of the body stuffing poking out at that spot leading me to believe that this wasn't just a repair but a total replacing of the lower leg. I will have to be careful with them. (Well, I'll have to be careful with all of her). As you can see her arms are not made from fabric. They are made from a ceramic type material. I really don't have much information about that. One side has a pretty nasty chip to the fingers. Other than her hands which are white, her arms have also been stained pink. I assume that is from the pink material her body is made out of.
Just like the head she has a great deal of tape residue stuck to her upper torso. I'm not sure how to get this off, or if it will even come off. I'm really not that concerned about it since it will be covered by her clothes and it's not like her resell value is that great anyway. She does have some markings on her body. They are extremely faint and hard to read. Going down the front of her torso there's a random zigzag, no clue what that means. Also over her heart there's a five pointed star in a circle, with the following words around it, "Made in Germany" and "Hair Stuffed". And yes, she is stuffed with hair, you can see it poking out of her exposed neck area. I was told it was most likely horsehair but that's still creepy to me.
I already said she came with some clothes, three pieces to be exact. Up first we have an under dress. It's made from a thick white cotton material. It's a nice heavy weight of fabric. It's made with both machine and hand sewing. The majority of it is hand sewn with large stitches, but the bottom hem and back seam are machine sewn. It doesn't have any closure in the back. I'm not sure if it ever had one, I can't find any remaining signs there was ever one there. Moving on from there we have a shirt and skirt dress. The shirt is a tan colored woven material. I'm not sure if it was tan originally or just discolored over time. It has green bias tape at the end of the sleeves, and bias tape made of the same fabric as the body of the blouse at the neckline. The top is mainly unfitted. It does feature gathering at the waist to give it some definition. It also has no closure in the back like the under dress. The skirt is a simple rectangle that's also gathered at the waist. It's a medium green color and seems to be the same type of fabric as the top, just in a different color. It has faded over time, so there's only a few spots that retain it's originally green color. The
skirt has an extremely noticeable hemming job, with both a dark thread being used to hem and large extremely noticeable stitches. Only 3/4 of the skirt is hemmed, the unhemmed section looks like it was hemmed at some point, but over time it either broke, disintegrated, or just fell out. As of this time, I have no plans to repair or restore it.
And finally we have a vest. It's made from the green fabric that makes up the skirt, and just like the skirt it too suffers from the severe color fading. The vest is entirely hand sewn, and unlike the skirt hem, all the stitches are fine and uses a closer color
matching thread. There are several spots where the fabric has frayed at hem and has come undone. She also came with the stand she is using in the pictures. It's a generic cheap stand, but it's nice that I won't have to buy one for her.
Although, I'm not totally sure if she's going to end up being displayed using the stand. I haven't decided how I'm going to display her. As of right now her head is boxed up and stored away while her body has been just sitting on my desk. I'm really concerned about the best way to keep her safe. There's a reason why I don't collect dolls that aren't made of plastic. I'm clumsy and I'm terrified of damaging her. Right now I'm trying to find the most secure way to display her where she's not likely to get damaged. It's just I don't have a curio cabinet or anything like that. I'm sure I'll think of something, or maybe she'll end up living in a very secure box for the rest of her life.
I do plan on making her some new clothes eventually. That's just a long time in the future since there's a ton of other dolls ahead of her that have been waiting longer. I actually have an idea for her, and most of the supplies. I'm just going to have to buckle down and make it. It's not going to be easy, she needs all her patterns drafted just for her.

Also check out that dress form. It came from a cheap children's sewing kit. I wasn't sure if I'd ever find a use for it, but it's a pretty close match to her measurements. Not exact, but it will be helpful with trying stuff on. Neat, huh?

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