|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Mastering The Art Of Wax DollsAuthor: Rena,
Rena's Antique Treasures & Dolls
Contrary to the popular belief that wax dolls are a recent innovation in doll making, the virtues of wax as a modeling material have been used for at least 3,000 years. By 1000 B.C. the Egyptians used wax to fashion effigies of their guardian deities.
In the Greek and Roman times, wax was used for portraits, dolls and masks. In medieval Euope, it was used for sinister images connected with witchcraft, but was equally favored by makers of Christmas crib figures. From medieval times, wax was established as an artistic medium; funeral effigies and floral displays were often made in wax. Perhaps the earliest figures of dolls (if figures can be classified uner that term) were made in Italy.
The wax dolls intended for children's play were in existence by the end of the 17th century in Germany. Beady - eyed dolls dressed in the height of adult fashion of the mid 1700's are to be seen in many museum collections. Baby dolls, some with ingenious sleeping eyes, appear to date from the early 1800's. It was in England, however, that wax dolls, as we think of them, were developed. At the Great Exhibition of 1851 London makers were recognized as leading the world in the production of luxury wax dolls, with blown glass eyes and exquisite clothes.
Wax dolls have a quality all their own. At their best they are true works of art. Wax dolls are certainly among the most beautiful dolls available to the collector. Wax as a medium gives rich, authentically natural skin tones with a translucent quality which cannot be achieved by bisque, and contrary to popular belief, wax dolls will not simply melt in a warm room.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the better-class dolls had solid wax heads, wax limbs and stuffed fabric bodies.
Because wax was an expensive material, poured wax dolls were very expensive and more fragile than their dipped wax counterparts. Many times dipped wax doll makers tried to imitate the expensive poured wax dolls by putting on very thick layers of wax in an attempt to fool the buyer into thinking it was a solid wax doll. When mass production started in the mid-19th century, ways had to be found to cheapen manufacture, such as using a papier mache core and wax dipping it, thus reducing the amount of wax needed.
A paper mache core dolls' head would sometimes be glued to the body. The wax on the poured wax dolls vary in colour from a very hot pink, through various flesh tones to a pale-pink. Only the early, almost pure beeswax dolls have a tell-tale yellowish complexion. These early dolls often have just a slit in the top of their head through which the hair is distributed and then glued down and formed into ringlets. Their charm and their inevitable ringlets link their past to the present.
The eyes made before 1850 were made from glass and usually without pupils, and were very dark--almost black in colour. Eyebrow details were usually painted on the papier mache before dipping.
The bodies, legs and feet were crudely stuffed. The feet were usually turned in and gave an appearance of being pigeon-toed. The arms were usually leather. Curiously, the dolls with brown leather would have three fingers and that of white leather arms the usual five fingers.
A variety of mixtures of wax were used in creating dolls. It seems many of them had beeswax in common. The more attractive the doll, the higher proportion of beeswax in the mixture. It gave the doll a softer apperance, allowing under colors to show through for a muted look.
By the 19th century, wax dolls were being made in France, and the double-faced doll in wax was famous with one side laughing and the other side crying. This doll was done in poured wax as well as wax over papier mache. The bodies were stuffed, with wooden limbs, and with either feet or painted red or green boots.
By 1904, very few wax dolls were being made except in England. England is the only country where they continue to be popular. The German companies of Kesner and Krammer and Reinhardt also made wax dolls. In fact, the famous Krmein Liebling (my Darling) doll was made in wax.
By 1920, wax dolls were being used popularly for display and costume purpose. Wax dolls were also made by leading manufacturers as display mannequins for shop windows.
The exquisite wax dolls being made today are for collectors, while those of the past were intended for children. Apart from this all-important difference, modern dolls are remarkably similar to their Victorian predecesors; The basic materials and production methods are virtually unchanged. Wax dolls still have that inimitable lifelike bloom and no two, even from the same mold, are exactly alike.
Today, there are several tems floating around: "Poured Wax" "Wax dipping" and wax Over". Poured wax is pouring the pure wax into a mold, resulting in an all wax doll. Wax dipping is a term used in the early days of doll making, when papier mache cores were dipped into wax, to save money. Today wax dipping or wax over is an art; dipping the bisque or porcelain head into the wax, thus imparting a life-like bloom and radiance into the face.
The term "wax Over" dolls is interpreted in the United Federation of Doll Clubs Glossary as pertaining to dolls with head, limbs, arms, dipped in wax, using a cloth body, or with a compo' body, or can be a wax dipped body. I repeat the wax may be over composition, wood, bisque or other material.
Though wax dolls are not as widely available today as they once were, they have made a tremendous comeback in recent years even though they are very expensive. They do have that very special life-like bloom and no two are exactly alike.
About The Author
Several years ago, Rena's competitive waxed doll entry brought her a "Best of Show" award at the International Wax Artist Guild Show, in Melbourne, Australia. Rena is certified in the art of wax doll making. She has a sizable collection of older dolls, some antique dolls, and has started three granddaughters on the road to doll collecting.