Monday, August 2, 2010

Tenth Anniversary: Just About Dolls Club Birthday Party Gifts

I've been in the land of dolly overload this past week and it's been wonderful.  Our doll club passed the tenth year anniversary in June, and this demanded a momentous celebration.  So on Wednesday, our members and a few guests gathered in my home for a special celebration, including a luncheon and a huge doll and doll accessory give-a-way.  It was a great big happy-birthday-to-us, including a birthday cake with ten candles. 

One of the give-a-way choices: Amanda, a bisque doll  (c. 1988 - 1990) designed by Yolanda Bello and made by the Edwin Knowles company and sold by Ashton Drake.  Amanda is missing her small red blanket and alphabet blocks, and came to us in need of basic cleanup.  (Click on the photo for a larger image.)  Her garments were washed and pressed, elastic replaced in her underpants, and the bisque was cleaned.  Amanda is one of the dolls in the "Picture Perfect Babies" series designed by Yolanda Bello, and many of the babies in this series are quite popular with collectors of modern porcelain dolls.  If you like them, you can find them for sale on eBay, including dolls that have never been displayed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Doll Stands: They Deserve More Respect

As anyone who collects more then a few dolls knows, doll stands are a major pain.  If you try to store them in a container, they tangle together into a nasty mess, and no matter how many are in that container, we can never find the perfect stand for a specific doll.  This one will be tall enough, but the support arms aren't wide enough.  That one will be too tall, leaving the poor doll hanging from the support arms in perpetual suspension.  And so it goes,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Uncovering a Treasure: Jumeau Fashion Body

Have you ever had the experience of uncovering a treasure from what looks like a pile of junk?  Well I have, and the thrill of such a discovery is very satisfying. 

During our work a couple of years ago at the Gold Nugget Museum, we were opening storage boxes and trying to identify and assess the contents, recording our observations so we can get a better idea of the condition of the entire collection of over 1500 dolls.  Like many other museums all over our country, display space is limited and although we'd love to have more then seven display cases for dolls, it isn't possible, so a large number of dolls remain in storage containers, awaiting their turn in the display cases. 

In one large sized storage container, we uncovered what looked like a German celluloid doll, dressed in an obvious homemade gown, made in the style of the late 1800s.  The head was broken, and completely separated from the body.  The dress and shoes completely covered the body, so at first glace, it might have been tempting to just wrap the doll back up and put it in the category of needing major restoration.  But since we were trying to get a very complete evaluation, we instead did a very detailed inspection, and were shocked to discover a wonderful french wooden body under the dress.

The celluloid head appeared to be that of a child, while the body appeared to be that of a french fashion doll. Apparently, someone tried to make a complete doll by putting the celluloid shoulderhead on an available wooden body, and later, the celluloid head broke too.   I took photos of the body to a UFDC national convention, and two well known antique doll experts identified it as a valuable Jumeau body, needing restoration.  We now have the body displayed at the museum, since it is not very often that one can see the intricate details of such a finely made body.  I hope that you enjoy looking at it too.  The body is approx 21 inches tall. Missing hand, broken index finger on other hand, and broken toes on one foot.  BJD enthusiasts - take a look.... antique dolls could be posed very well too!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Our Little Secret

Hello, folks.  Would you like to know a secret?  We actually have FUN working as a volunteer at the Gold Nugget Museum.  Let me count the ways:
  1. It's climate controlled - always comfortable for humans as well as collectibles. 
  2. There's usually a stash of goodies in the kitchen; should we become too famished to continue, we can sneak a cookie.
  3. The people there are great.
  4. We get to see things older then ourselves. 
  5. And last, but most important, we get to take care of the dolls.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Doll Study: K&K Bisque Head "Mama" Doll - Part 2

Although I am unsure which German firm made the bisque head for the K&K doll that was reviewed in Part 1 of this study, I do have information about the firm that made the other parts of the doll.

 K&K Toy Company was owned by the George Borgfeldt Company.  It was established in 1915 in New York City and produced dolls for Borgfeldt until they ceased operations after being sold to the Cameo Company in 1925.  K&K produced many dolls for Borgfeldt, including Kewpies, Flossie Fisher's Own Doll, Hollikids, Happifats, Bye-lo Baby, Betsy Ross, Red Riding Hood, and Rose Marie.  In 1924 they advertised that the "K and K stands for Kept Klean", but it is speculated that it really stood for George Kolb and Fred Kolb, or Kahle and Kolb, all of them men who held responsible and high level positions in the Borgfeldt company.

For you scholarly types, thirsting after more information about the complicated and long history of the George Borgfeldt Company, I recommend articles written in the UFDC Doll News Magazine by Jennylou Hamilton Schoelwer - Summer 2000 and Summer 2001 issues.  This is absolutely required reading for anyone hoping to understand the complicated marketing and production system that the Borgfeldt Company established in the United States, bringing artist and producers together,  and producers and wholesale buyers together, both internationally and in America.
To obtain copies of these articles, contact the UFDC office for a copy of the article or a back issue of the magazine if it is available. They can tell you the price.  This is what you want: 
Borgfeldt, George - Dolls of the Early Years:  SU00,40
Borgfeldt, George - 1901-1960, Kolb Years: SU01,38

For those who like to look at beautiful photos of dolls, I recommend "Collector's Encyclopedia of American Composition Dolls, 1900 - 1950, Volume II" by Ursula R. Mertz. This is a beautiful book with wonderful color photos, and she includes a section about the Borgfeldt Company and the K&K dolls. On the box of at least some of the K&K dolls it says "Made Under Sanitary Conditions" and Ms. Mertz said that this phrase was frequently used by Borgfeldt in their advertising. There is one photo of a K&K doll made with a German bisque head and two photos of composition head K&K mama dolls. I found the following quote from this book very informative relative to my search: "It is a little known fact that in the 1920s Borgfeldt and the Horsman Company (there may have been others) produced some mama dolls with German-made bisque heads. They always used American-made composition limbs for these and construction was identical to the composition mama dolls." Ms. Mertz also pointed me to the above mentioned Doll News articles, by mentioning it in her Borgfeldt section. I do not yet have Volume I of the this book, and it may also include information about the K&K dolls and Borgfeldt.

Based on the emphasis that the Borgfeldt company placed on letting their customers know that their dolls were made under sanitary conditions and that K and K stands for Kept Klean, I am now wondering if many toys in the late 1800s and early 1900s were made in filthy conditions, with unsanitary and unhealthy materials?  Or did they mean that they protected their workers from unsanitary and unhealthy conditions during production of the dolls?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Doll Study: K & K Bisque Head "Mama" Doll - Part 1

When I first saw this doll in the museum, I was not particularly impressed and paid very little attention to her.  She looks a little goofy because her eyes need some minor adjusting, her shoes are way too big, and her outfit, although cute and well made, doesn't particularly suit her.  It is hard to explain, but I thought there was something a little "off" with this doll, and was suspicious that she might be a "put together", since she had clearly been previously redressed and worked on. And it seemed odd to have a German bisque head with composition limbs that looked somewhat primitive next to the elegant bisque.  But much later, as we began to dust and arrange the shelf of dolls that she occupied, I took another look and became very curious to know more about this doll and her origins. 

Dolly101: Put together - a doll that does not have original parts.  This is a common practice by some folks who work on dolls.  If arms or legs are missing, they create a complete doll by using parts from another doll. Sometimes this works out well, and sometimes it is an unmitigated disaster.  Children don't care.  They just want their doll to have both arms and legs.  But doll collectors do care, and it is a VERY BIG DEAL.

In retrospect, I am embarrassed at my inept first attempt to get an identification for this doll.  I was in a hurry, and did not remove her clothing, and looking at the back of her head I could see the number 50 at the pate rim, and assumed she was a flanged neck doll and unmarked.  But shortly after I posted her photo on a couple of doll collecting forums, helpful and knowledgeable collectors pointed me in the direction of the K&K dolls, and returning to the museum I was delighted to find that she was indeed what they thought she was. 

Underneath her cute velveteen two-piece suit, the doll is wearing a shredded white silk blouse with a small red bow, and pink cotton panties.  The blouse seems to serve no purpose, since it cannot be seen at all when the suit is snapped shut. Could it be the remains of a former outfit? Or did Miss K&K often remove her coat when the weather turned warm?  And the panties look like they were borrowed from another doll.  Her shoes and socks appear to be sized for a real human baby.  The cotton socks are adoringly vintage - but much too big for the doll's foot.  However, they may give us a clue as to the date that this doll was redressed, lovingly I should add, even if the clothing is not completely appropriate from a purist viewpoint.  I can visualize a mother staying up late to dress an old doll as a gift to her child, or perhaps even making a matching outfit for the child and the doll.  However, this doll shows very little evidence that she was a play doll except for her missing original garments. 

This doll is almost 24 inches (60 centimeters) tall.  She is marked with a "50" at the pate rim, and has additional markings on the back of her shoulder plate: Made in / Germany / K&K / 60 / Thuringia.  Her bisque head was made in Germany and imported to the United States (some time between 1915 - 1925) where it was combined with the rest of the doll parts by the K&K Doll Toy Company, which was owned by the George Borgfeldt Company. 

The doll has a bisque head, composition arms and legs, and cloth body with a non-working round cry box.  She appears to be stuffed with a darkish material, so I think it is wool felt.  Notice that her knees still retain the rosy blush. (See a primer on doll making materials at

 Her composition is in remarkably good condition, as is her bisque head and cloth body.  There is glue residue on her head, where someone was a little too enthusiastic in their application of wig glue.  She is missing her original pate, and in it's place there is a neatly glued round of cardboard that was cut from a box that once held envelopes.  She has two small holes in the back of her head, and holes at the bottom of the front and back shoulder plate. The shoulder plate has been glued to the cloth body.  In the photo below, you can see the museum's accession number that has been written on her back.  You can also see where the doll stand has indented her body.  (She's now been removed from that torture.)  She has stitching at the hip level, which allows her to sit nicely, although of course, without any knee joints, it is an awkward straight-legged look.  Because she has straight legs and not bent legs which are typical of baby dolls, it is generally agreed that she is depicting a young toddler. 

The long wig is human hair and styled with a center part and long sausage curls. The wig base has been cut so that it will fit on her head. For this reason, I do not think it is original. It is not glued down, but the beanie hat holds it in place.

As you can see, she has an open mouth with 4 teeth, blown glass blue sleep eyes, and multi-stroke feathered eyebrow paint.  Her lower eyelashes are painted, and it looks like she had upper hair eyelashes when new.  Her eyelid wax is in good shape.  She still has good color in her cheek blush, and I think if her eyes were properly adjusted she'd be a very pretty toddler. She is also deserving of more appropriate antique clothing and footwear (while keeping her mommy-made garments as part of her history).  I'm growing very fond of this 80+ year old doll and would love to see her restored to her original beauty.  And I've discovered that if I hold her up to my shoulder as if she is a real human baby, her weight and bulk contribute to the feeling that she is real.  And isn't that what "mama" dolls are all about?
Dolly101: Mama doll - a toddler doll with a cry box that when activated makes a sound that is much like a toddler saying "mama".  Sleep eyes - eyes that close when the doll is reclined.  
Comments welcome.  I would especially like to know which German firm produced the bisque head, and would love to see photos of this doll dressed in her original clothing.  I am hoping that the style of painting, the "50"  mold number on the pate rim, and the fact that she is marked "Thuringia" will be a clue that a knowledgeable doll collector will recognize.