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Wax And Composition Dolls
Next to china-head dolls, the most popular type during the last half of the nineteenth century was the doll with a head of thick or of thin wax over a papier-mache reinforcement.
Wax dolls were made in England, Germany, and France, and much earlier than the nineteenth century. How early, we do not know, but certainly the age of Queen Anne had its wax workers and wax dolls. In the nineteenth century, there were eggshaped heads with the hair inserted in a slit down the middle, parted and drawn to each side. These dolls apparently came in about 1820. Their glass eyes were dark and without pupils and, as a rule, their leather hands had only three fingers.
About 1825 came the wire-eyed wax type, the first of the dolls with sleeping-eyes. The eyes were dark, had no pupils, and were manipulated by a wire. This came out at the side of the waist.
From 1840 to 1845 came the "Pumpkin-Head" or "Squash-Head" dolls with hair arranged in a pompadour and molded on the head. Usually there was a black band like a circular comb around the top of the head and the dark glass eyes also had no pupils. Arms and legs were of wood. The bodies were usually stuffed with straw or hay.
Mme.Augusta Montanari's thick wax models first attracted attention at the Crystal Palace Exposition in London in 1851, when she exhibited dolls of both sexes and all ages. They were a sensation at the show and probably the first character dolls ever shown. All were appropriately dressed for the age and person represented, and there were also child dolls. It is said these were the first ever made. Before this time, dolls were always made as adults with slender waists.
Little is known of Mme. Montariari except what has been gleaned from advertisements in the business sections of the London Post Office Directory. Unfortunately, some of those are missing from the Library of Congress in Washington, so we do not know even the year of her death. Her husband, Napoleon, was apparently a sculptor in wax. Her son worked with her in the making of wax dolls. He seems also to have made rag dolls, although none have ever been identified. The son continued in the business at least until 1887 and perhaps till the 1890s. Here again the absence of some volumes in the Directory leaves in doubt the exact year he ceased operations in London.
The Montanari dolls as might be expected from the studio of a wax sculptor are among the most artistic ever modeled. They are the thick-wax type and without the reinforcement of papier-mache or other material. The eyes are of glass, deep violet-blue in the earlier dolls, a lighter blue threaded grey in the later ones, which were very likely imported from Germany. In the earlier violet-blue eyes, Mrs. Clear thinks she has discovered traces of the same blue used in decorating Staffordshire pottery, and so it is supposed that these eyes were made in England. By 1849 nearly all dolls everywhere were being made with blue eyes, in compliment to the young blue-eyed Queen Victoria who had come to the throne in 1837 and was a leading figure in world politics.
There are no wigs on the Montanari dolls; each hair is set directly into the wax with a hot needle and looks the way human hair does an the scalp. Sometimes eyebrows and eyelashes are similarly set in. Hands are feet are usually of wax.
In 1855 the Montanaris exhibited in the Paris Exposition where their work was favorably received. Whether in imitation of the Montanari, or as original work, the French afterwards made thick-wax dolls with set in hair and wax hands and feet. As an example of the French use of the Montanari method, Mr, and Mrs. Grant Holt of Keene, New Hampshire, brought from Paris a beautiful thick-wax Christ Child, which is most lovely.
From 1855 until the 1890s, wax dolls equaled china-head dolls in popularity in England and America, but in the late 1890s they were superseded by German-bisque dolls. Perhaps wax dolls lost favor because they were so perishable. Bisque dolls stood a good deal more wear and tear without showing it.
From Germany about 1870 to 1880 came a flood of cheaper wax dolls: wax over papier-mache with mohair wigs. Often the pompadours and rolls were molded in the head itself and sornetimes there were pierced ears with earrings. Bodies were stuffed. with straw and usually there was an oblong voice or noise box, which emitted a squeak when pressed. As a rule, feet and hands were composition, but some were of carved wood possibly it would be more correct to say of "turned wood" as they were obviously machinemade. Occasionally one finds wooden arms from the elbow down and wooden hands on wax dolls that have composition feet. Generally these old wax dolls, especially cheaper ones, are in rather poor condition when found, but they are easily rewaxed and restored and are worth doing.
In the early days of collecting, the wax doll was neglected in favor of other types, with the result that now wax dolls are relatively more plentiful and less expensive than most of the others. They therefore offer an excellent field to present-day collectors. Indeed it seems that earlier collectors have missed a real opportunity in more or less neglecting this type, except for the Montanari dolls, which have always been prized. A clever person, starting today with the eggshaped heads of the 1820 period-those having the hair set in slits in the heads-and continuing through the wire-eyed waxes down to the wax dolls of the 1890s, can assemble a collection of beauty and rarity at a fairly reasonable cost.
There is one wax doll that has not been mentioned, the type wearing a molded "walking" hat with three plumes-sometimes called the Empress Eugenie of France, although it is doubtful if it was ever intended to represent that "glass of fashion." Mrs. Cyrus M. Beachy, a well-known collector of Wichita, Kansas, who is well past eighty years old, says she recalls wearing an identical hat when she was a child. So the walking hat probably commemorates youthful, rather than imperial, apparel.
Wax dolls seem to have been among the first to display teeth. Up to 1880 most dolls had closed lips, but Marion Smith of Burlington, Vermont, has a wax doll with two teeth and Mrs. Erwin Ghapin of Silver Creek, New York, has one with two teeth that are wooden pegs. About 1870, and probably in Germany, a number of smooth composition dolls were made of wood flour, starch, and rosin mixed with water. They had mohair wigs, closed lips, often deep violet-blue glass eyes, and in most cases composition hands and feet. They were very pretty and apparently not expensive.
In France a composition doll was made with painted hair. Usually it was finer than the German ones and beautifully dressed. Today these composition types are more appreciated in France; American collectors do not know them well.