Dolly Mixtures

Through the centuries children have loved to play with dolls. For the most part, it’s the dressing up aspect of doll care that has been a favourite pastime: whether it was a Victorian china doll wearing crinoline or a Barbie doll getting changed into her many trendy outfits.

The Museum has a small collection of dolls that have been donated by a number of Rutland residents over the years.

Their condition varies depending on their age and what materials they have been made from. 

Our oldest doll, dated around 1755, is a mannequin doll. These were kept by ladies who enjoyed displaying them in the latest fashions. Real hair was used to make her long-plaited hairstyle. She is made of gessoed wood. (White plaster and glue cover the wood on which to make a smooth surface for painting features.) This beautiful doll was originally owned by a wealthy lady, Mary Smith of Salt Hill, Sussex, who used her needlework skills to make a brocade sack- back dress.

Margery, a wax headed doll from Hambleton, was made in the 1840’s.  A doll truly loved: a hole in her linen dress has even been mended with a neat patch of darning! This is a type of compositional doll; the body and limbs are made from linen and kid-leather filled with sawdust and glue. When newly painted, wax dolls were very life-like. However, age causes the wax to discolour and crack. Hence, after nearly two hundred years, Margery is in need of some care and attention.

European factories were also busy making porcelain dolls from the middle of the nineteenth century. This doll, produced in Belgium in 1915, has a bisque head and white pottery limbs. Facial features and boots are painted on. The composite body is dressed in an organza frock with lace sleeves, over three petticoats and a pair of pantaloons.

In the 1870’s a wood-based plastic called celluloid was invented. Being an easily mouldable material, it was taken up by toy makers all over the world, particularly in the manufacture of dolls. While these celluloid dolls were inexpensive, their big disadvantage was that they were highly flammable: not a safe toy when most homes had open fires!

In spite of this, one of the most popular, the American Kewpie doll, based on baby cupid cartoon characters, was still being produced in the 1950’s.

This is the museum’s kewpie style doll, with painted hair and face, wearing a lacy skirt. 

Image for 1995.14.1

During the Second World War military needs led to the rapid invention of various types of plastic.

Post war toy manufacturers quickly took advantage of this development and hard plastic dolls flew off the production lines. Durable, safe and cheaper to produce, these types of dolls became the favourite toy for all young children, not just the wealthy few.

A popular British brand name was the Rosebud doll, made by Nene Plastics, based in Raunds, Northamptonshire.

In our collection we have a small, black baby doll with moveable limbs, eyes that open and close and synthetic black curly hair. She was produced in the 1950s and ‘Rosebud Made in England’ is moulded on her back. She is dressed in an original ethnic style string skirt.  This very stereotype representation of a black baby, highlights how those from minority backgrounds have been poorly represented over the years by doll manufacturers, particularly here in the UK. 

Marion Drake – volunteer