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Antique Spotlight – 19th Century Dollmakers

This is the fifth in a series of antique spotlights focusing on dolls. Each article will feature a museum to visit that currently has dolls on display!

In the late 19th century, two approaches to dollmaking began to emerge, divided strictly by gender.

Male dollmakers were chiefly concerned with advances in technology when making dolls, focusing on mechanization and sturdy materials like metal and wood. Most patents submitted by males did not mention children or play, but focused instead on technical details.

Female dollmakers, on the other hand, were more interested in the experience of playing with a doll. They were more sensitive to the needs of the child, creating dolls that were soft to the touch, made from cloth and fiber stuffing. Women dollmakers focused their efforts on providing new ways for girls to play with their dolls.

The dolls produced by women looked like real babies, which was more appealing to many children. One girl complained in her diary about a doll her father gave her, which had "wax hair and painted shoes." She lamented, "I do want a baby with real hair and real shoes!"

Creating Little Mothers

The goal for female dollmakers was to help girls learn and practice mothering, which represented a shift away from "dolls as pretty playthings." According to author Miriam Formanek-Brunell, girls were encouraged to "develop strong emotional bonds with their numerous dolls."

Even when imported fashion dolls were all the rage, girls seemed to prefer homemade ragdolls instead. Breakable porcelain head dolls sat on shelves and were admired for their beauty. But rag dolls could be played with, much like the baby dolls being created as the 19th century drew to a close.

DOLLS ON EXHIBIT

A wide variety of dolls are always on exhibit at the Doll & Miniature Museum of High Point in High Point, North Carolina. (The museum was formerly the Angela Peterson Doll & Miniature Museum)

“All I Want for Christmas: Special Exhibit of Childhood Presents, Ornaments & Memories” will be on view through January 15, 2009. The exhibit will feature the Museum's 50-piece Renaissance Nativity Scene and Christmas Steinbach Nutcracker Figures.

In celebration of the city’s sesquicentennial, the museum’s upcoming exhibit “High Point's Favorite Dolls & Toys” will feature dolls and toys loaned by local residents. That exhibit will be on view from February 1, 2009 through May 31, 2009.

For more information about the history of dolls and play, check out these books! I used both recently to create a doll exhibit at my museum.




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