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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Springfield Dolls



Two types of wooden dolls represent the contribution of this country to the history of old dolls. These are the Springfield dolls from Vermont, and the Schoenhut dolls made in Philadelphia.

A Vermont man, Joel Ellis, who was an inventive genius, patented thirteen different articles, among them a steam shovel, a baby carriage or cab for which he was nicknamed Cab Ellis, and the now-famous Ellis wooden doll. As a young man, Ellis bought a timber tract on the Black River near Springfield, and with his partners, established a woodworking shop for the manufacture of baby carriages, sleds, carts, and wagons. Scraps from this work were used to make the Ellis doll carriage, modeled on the baby cabs.

In 1873 Ellis took out a patent for a wooden doll of rock maple with mortise and tenon joints, and pewter or iron hands and feet. Heads were of blocks of wood taken from the end of the grain and rounded, except for one pointed side which allowed for the nose. Each block was put into a steel mold and shaped under hydraulic pressure. When it came out of the press, holes were drilled to fit a large tenon that had been made on the end of the body. The head, which was stationary, was glued to the body by means of this large tenon. The doll came in twelve, fifteen, and eighteen-inch heights. The most plentiful is the twelve inch, the least, the eighteen inch.

The bodies and the eight leg and arm sections of each doll were turned on a lathe and then put together with the Ellis-patented mortise and tenon joints and steel pins. The head, lower limbs, and forearms were dipped in flesh-colored paint; the features, eyes, and hair were painted by women, notably by two cousins of Joel Ellis, the Misses Woodbury, who became painters of miniatures.

The assembling of the dolls and much of the other work on them was done by women. The feet of the Ellis models are always jointed, enabling the dolls to assume various positions; being all wood, they are not easily broken. With the passing of time it is evident that the paint on these dolls is the weakest point and few dolls today have much left on heads and faces. The metal hands and feet are often missing too and sometimes the mortise and tenon joints are broken.

Ellis made both blondes and brunettes, and occasionally, on order, a few Negro dolls by the simple expedient of painting the faces black. Features were never changed, all being made in the same mold.

In the 1873 depression, Ellis dolls were not ardere(I in sufficient quantity to warrant manulacture after the fall season. In fact no more vrcnc ever made, although Ellis manufactured other toyssuch as piano and stool, dining table and chairs, a small bed, rail fences, log cabins, and such.

Six or seven years later, Mason and Taylor undertook the manufacture of wooden dolls. Luke Taylor of Springfield, Vermont, was also an inventor and an excellent mechanic as well. He made the machines on which the dolls were made. The earliest type had a hemispherical joint patented by a man named Martin, a cabinetmaker of sorts. It does not appear that he was the inventor of the Martin joint but merely had it patented for someone who bought it from the inventor.

Basing the opinion on patent records, collectors for some years thought that the Martin model represented another dollmaking venture, but even cursory examination reveals that it was made on the same machines which Luke Taylor built for the Mason and Taylor doll. The Martin is the rarest of the Springfield dolls, there being, as far as we know, only five of them in existence: the author owns two; one was discovered in Lyme, New Hampshire; one in Ludlow, Vermont, and the fifth, minus lead and arms in Fairlee, Vermont. Like the later Mason and Taylor models, the Martin doll is about eleven inches high, the body of soft wood, the limbs of rock maple, and the head stationary. It is the only one of the Springfield dolls, except the Joel Ellis, which has feet painted black.

The Mason and Taylor doll came out in 1880. It has a soft-wood body and hardwood limbs like the so-called Martin doll, but the joints are of dilfferent design. The feet are painted bright blue.



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