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Friday, May 17, 2013

Composition Dolls

Much of this post is indebted to Helen Young's excellent book Here is your Hobby Doll Collecting, GP Putnam's, 1964. Many collectors are also familiar with Ms. Young's The Complete Book of Doll Collecting and with dolls she made for Kimport Dolls. I have found her to be extremely knowledgeable and well-documented about dolls. She also shares ideas for display, repair, and doll making. I share her philosophy that a good doll collection should contain as many different types of dolls as possible, or at least one type of each available doll as possible. She gives directions for making wax dolls, cloth dolls, and wooden dolls to round out good general collections. Young discuss composition dolls in her chapter "Heads of Paste nad paper," Chapter 5. She first gives the history and recipe for paper mache, and the English translation for the French, literally, "chwed paper." Young also gives us the exact language of the first doll patent, that of Ludwig Greiner, March 30, 1858 (57). She credits Lazrus Reichmann of new York City with inventing a composition of sawdust and glue, but without using paper (59). Therein lies the difference between the two materials. As late as 1964 when Young wrote, composition was being improved with resins and toher strenghtening ingredients (59). It is interseting that she writes as late as 1964, there were still compo dolls in the store, something I don't remember at all. According to her Patsy and Shirley Temple are compo dolls "well worth looking for", and she states good compo dolls are nearly as "time proof" as plasic or vinyl dolls. For years, Pat Schoonmaker has been the expert on compo dolls for Doll Reader magazine, and she has authored many articles on the subject. Books by her, Johanna Gast Anderton, Patsy Moyer, Pat Smith, R. Lane Herron, Jan Foulke, and many other authors have excellent sections on composition dolls. These were among the first vintage or old dolls I collected. My first was Arranbee's Little Angel baby doll, bought in 1967 for $2 from The San Jose Flea Market. I was very little myself. My next was bought the next year ni Old Spanish Town, Albuquerque. She is jointed with red boots, painted, a brown mohair wig of braids winding her head, painted features, about 9 in. She wore a severely dirty and faded China Poblana outfit, the woman's national costume of Mexico, based on a story of a Chinese princess brought to marry a native prince. She was so homesick, she created a dress with the colors and embroidery of her native land, which became known as The China Poblana, still worn today. My doll now wears a dress my grandmother sewed for her. It is a pink blend Calico trimmed in gold sequins. Her name is Mrs. Birdie Plantaganet, of Godden's The Dolls House fame, and she lives in my own Plantaganet house with the rest of the family. I had a floor to ceiling wooden cabinet at my parents' home for all the large composition dolls, some of which date to the Greiner period, but which are not PM. I have some very large examples, and some small Frozen Charlottes made of compo. Several Shirley,s Patsies, and Jane Withers make up part of the museum collection. Coleman's walking doll has a composition head, as do three dolls that came as old store stock from a dept. store that closed in Herrin, IL in 1932. Over the years, my dolls have stopped crazing, though some were in pitable shape. My mother used to love to dress them, and one Shirley look a like was her favorite because it was like the doll she had to leave behind in Europe during the war. She had her drying on the bushes after a bath, and my little girl friends and I never noticed. There are many fine miniature doll house dolls made of composition, and even some Steiff hedgehog dolls. They are still plentiful, and will prices went sky high in the late 70s, they seem to be coming down now. I have at least a couple examples over 80 years old that are in mint shape with their original tags. Since many of these dolls are over 75 years old, they are often considered antique, not vintage. Dolls from the 20s and earlier seem to withstand the weather and crazing very well. I am told it is a myth that cold cream, will preserve them, but I used it on my dolls once a year, just a thin film, and few of them ever continued to flake or craze.

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