Antique Spotlight – Glossary of Doll Terms

Antique Spotlight – Glossary of Doll Terms
This is the final in a series of antique spotlights focusing on dolls. Each article featured a museum to visit that currently has dolls on display!

In order to understand the world of antique dolls, there are some key words to know! Here are some of the most common words you will see when researching, collecting, or viewing antique dolls:

Apple Dolls: Early colonial settlers often used dried apples to create doll heads. This practice was popular in the 19th century through the 1920s, but they are occasionally seen today.

Bisque: A ceramic material that is not glossy, because it is unglazed. High quality bisque is translucent. Usually only a doll's head is made of bisque, although arms and legs can be made of bisque too.

Character Dolls: Life-like representations of real people. The Shirley Temple doll in is an example of a character doll. Madame Alexander has made many character dolls over the years.

China: Glazed porcelain that appears "shiny" on the surface. Usually only the doll's head and arms are made of china. Bodies can be stuffed fabric, leather, or some other material.

Companion Dolls: Dolls who are the same "age" as the owner, rather than baby dolls where mother role-playing takes place. Companion dolls are viewed as "friends."

Composition: Dolls made of mixed ingredients, usually from a glue process or wood pulp mixture. Composition dolls can be damaged quite easily and sometimes crackle on the surface with age.

Fashion Dolls: Dolls distributed abroad showing the latest fashions in the European capitals, but most commonly Paris. Fashion dolls have been used for centuries, particularly before the invention of fashion magazines. The dolls themselves could be made of any material. The doll's wardrobe is what made it a fashion doll.

Frozen Charlotte: Dolls made of a single piece of porcelain, with no moving parts. They were made from the 1850s through World War I.

Papier Mache: Also called paper mache, it is a form of composition made of paper pulp mixed with size, paste, oil, resin or other substances. The paper contains wood and rag fibers for strength.

Parian: A fine white bisque that has not been tinted. Ideally, it is supposed to resemble marble.

Sleep Eyes: Eyes that shut when the doll lies down. Some dolls have eyes that move to appear closed; others just have eyelids that close. Sleep eyes were first used in the early 18th century.


The doll collection at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York is the largest, most comprehensive collection of its kind in the United States.

Over 13,000 dolls represent three centuries of doll making. According to Susan Trien, the museum’s director of public relations and advertising, the collection includes “rare examples of 18th century wooden dolls and creche figures as well as handmade dolls of anonymous seamstresses and woodcarvers. The collection boasts examples of the premier doll makers of France such as Jumeau, Bru, Thuillier, Huret, and Jules Steiner; and of Germany's finest producers such as Armand Marseille, J. D. Kestner, Simon & Halbig, and Kammer & Reinhardt. American manufacturers are represented by Ludwig Greiner, A. Schoenhut, Martha Jenks Chase, and more contemporary companies such as Effanbee, Alexander Doll Co., E. I. Horsman, and Mattel. Among the Mattel dolls, the museum has more than 1,500 Barbie dolls. In addition, the museum has several specialized collections of mechanical dolls or automata, half-figure or pin cushion dolls, peddler dolls, fortune-telling dolls, and multi-faced dolls.”

Approximately 2700 dolls are on display on the second floor of the museum.

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.

You Should Also Read:
Antique Spotlight -- Dolls Today
Antique Spotlight -- Dolls in the Victorian Age
MORE Antique Spotlights!

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