One of the most appealing aspects of toys and dolls, both historically and in modern context, is the idea that they portray the ideal; the ideal conveyance, the ideal home, or the ideal fashion. In terms of fashion, our 19th century doll-making predecessors bequeathed a rich legacy of fanciful creations. These fancies are infinite, but in this installment I will focus on two categories, with three dolls as illustrations.
To begin with, there are two "bonnet head" dolls. Bonnet head is a general term used to describe a doll in any medium that features a molded hat or bonnet. The two pictured are from the latter part of the 19th century and were probably fairly inexpensive when new. The medium used in these examples is a course, untinted porcelain slip well suited for making modestly priced play-dolls. This type of porcelain is commonly referred to as "stone bisque." Though cheaply manufactured, these ladies have not skimped on their apparel. The larger doll has a magical butterfly bonnet perched atop her head. What could be more whimsical than donning a garden's most glamorous inhabitant? In the second photo, this little stone bisque doll is perhaps a bit more sensible, but no less attractive. She sports a very jaunty millinery creation featuring delightful ruffle and ribbon details.
The second style of doll I wish to focus on is the "milliner model." Of course, we identify millinery with hat-making, but millinery can also include all the trappings of fashion. In the broad context of millinery, you will find ribbons, laces, fabrics, feathers, and so forth. The milliner model doll was made in Germany with a papier mache shoulderplate head mounted on a rigid leather body. Carved wooden lower arms and legs complete this style of doll. Early doll collectors created a myth that these little beauties illustrated fashions of the 1820's-1860's. Modern research tells a different story. These little remnants of the past were merely play-dolls. The fact that they were playthings does not diminish their charms at all. My particular favorites date to the 1830's. Fashion records tell us that the 1830's were a time of ladies' hairstyles that were nearly as outrageous as those hairstyles of the 18th century royal french court. My pictured example has a quirky combination of curls covering her skull. Not only do curls cluster about her ears, they project from the top of her head in a feat that seems to defy gravity!
1830's papier mache doll