|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
History of China-Head Dolls
Germany has always been a land of toy-making. Deposits of clay from which to make china dolls are plentiful in Germany and, in view of the number and variety and type of workmanship of the china heads, it seems likely that they were produced in backyard kilns by individual makers. China heads are molded of clay, fired, then dipped in a glaze, and refired.
The author's collection includes two, two-and one-half-inch china heads. One of these has long curls like an 1840 Milliners' Model. The other wears bands of hair looped under the exposed ears supposedly representing Queen Victoria in 1837.
Collectors used to think that china heads were made in England. They were called Staffordshire and Chelsea, but there is no more evidence to support the theory that English potteries made doll heads, than there is that heads were made in Bennington, Vermont. All information is to the contrary.
About the earliest type of china head is the "Biedermeier" which was intended to have a wig of soft child-hair or mohair. It is smooth without a molded headdress, and has a black tonsurelike spot about the size of a half dollar at the top, to which the wig was fastened. This doll, which dates to the Biedermeier period. 1820 to 1830, is first pictured in Max von Boehn's Dolls and Puppets. Most German china dolls have black hair and blue eyes, though some have blonde hair, and a few of the black-haired dolls have brown eyes. The brown-eyed china doll is rather rare and much sought after by collectors.
One distinguishing mark of the old china-head doll is a red line directly above the eye, to simulate an eyelid. Modern dolls do not seem to have this. Very old china dolls of the Empire period generally have the heelless shoe of that time, if their china legs have not been replaced.
Another mark of the old china doll is the very deep shoulders, much deeper than those of modern dolls. China-head dolls, as well as those of wax or papier-mache-in fact, any shoulder dolls -are measured by the height of the head from the bottom of the bust to the tap of the head. In the faces of some old china heads you will often find small black spots that resemble the beauty spots worn at court in ages past. They are not beauty spots, however, but impurities in the clay from which the heads were made.
Many china heads, especially those with unusual hair styles, are called "portrait dolls" and are named for those they are supposed to resemble-Queen Victoria, Mary Todd Lincoln, Dolly Madison, Countess Dagmar, Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, and Alice in Wonderland. It is unlikely that these ever were actual portraits. Doubtless some fancied resemblance has caused collectors to so name them.