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( Article orginally published December 1963 )
The original appeal of the ultrafeminine china half-figures, known today as "pincushions", though many were intended for uses other than pincushion tops, must have been overwhelming. It is obvious from the variety found in present-day collections that they were made by the millions, in hundreds of types, over a rather long period of time. None classify as dolls, yet they appear in doll collections as well as collections of figurines and fine china.
The lovely Dresden and Dresdentype examples are difficult to find, but there are many attractive styles in the common types easily available at low cost. Because they require no special stands or cases, and wash like china cups, these little ladies of the past make a rewarding hobby for the collector with limited space for display, or with limited funds to invest.
The "pincushions" pictured were carefully selected to point out some of the features which make the unusual ones such prizes, and the common ones, inexpensive.
On the opposite page, the top row of illustrations shows unusually fine examples. The first, 4 3/4 inches, was a pincushion top, with a label on its satin cover reading "Ovington Bros., New York & Paris." Although her bosom hand is attached, she must have come from a multi-part mold, as both hands are complete and faithfully modeled. Hair is well defined; the hat has good straw marks; all ruffles, tucks, and buttons are sharp and clear. The flowers look handmade; the tinting is excellent; the bodice is free to allow the skirt to be fitted beneath it. There is no incised mark, but inside the base is a bluebordered paper label with the numbers 7031 in French style figures. (The 7 has a crossbar and looks like our written F.)The second little lady, 2 inches tall, incised 5674, is a pincushion intact, 4 1/2 inches overall. The hands are attached, but the modeling and molding are good, and her rose velvet skirt matches her painted trim. She commands double interest. First, she wears a label showing she was a 1926-27 New Year's Eve favor at a hotel party. Second, she has no incised "Germany" mark. Appearing when she did, in the midst of all the "flapper" types with their cloche hats and vivid coloring (the last manufacturing of these little boudoir items), this lack of country of origin mark suggests she may have been almost thirty-five years old when she was released, dressed for a ball.
The third, a grand lady, 81/z inches tall, holding a decorated teacup, may have been a teapot cover top. Her most obvious mark of quality is her free, occupied hands. Several molds were required to create her, but the workmanship is so fine that no mold marks show. Neck and cuff ruffles are beaded and sharp to the touch; the bodice is free for a fitted skirt; eyeballs and eyelids are beautifully molded; lips are slightly open. The deeply molded curly hair is brown; the bodice, dark green with pink bows and white ruffles. This has a closed base without the Dresden-type drainage hole. The only mark is a blue hieroglyphic.
The second row shows examples more easily come by. The first is a brush top, 5 inches overall, with the 2-inch head somewhat smaller than expected since the body is elongated to make a solid handle. Modeling and molding are mediocre; the metal rim is not well plated; the pink brush seems to be a vegetable fibre. It is incised "Germany."
The two Dutch children, 2 1/8 and 2 1/4 inches, are only samples of a variety of similar tops. Both are marked "Germany," but it is difficult to place their date. The one at the left has one arm molded to her body, but the free arm touches the body so lightly that the glaze seals the opening. Modeling is good, but the whole thing is pure white except for hair and face tinting. The one at the right has both arms free, but bent to the body; the fruit she holds binds one arm to the body with the help of the glaze. She is completely tinted, and coloring is very good.
The next two figures, 1 3/4 and 3 1/2 inches, are both good specimens, with free hands, though the multi-mold marks are not well concealed. The flower wreath and bouquet of the small one are hand applied; the flowers and bow on the larger are molded. Both have red eyelid lines, flesh tinted bodies, and are marked "Germany." Neither base is boxed. The small one, stamped in blue, carries the size number 2; the larger is incised with style number 15278.
The bottom row shows some well done common types. The first two are 3 1/8 and 3 1/2 inches. The type requiring a wig is harder to find, indicating that fewer were made. Both are flesh tinted, and the modeling and molding is very good considering the market for which they were intended. The bald lady is marked "D R 105 Germany"; the other, "Germany 6347."
The second two, 3 and 3 3/4 inches, are also marked "Germany," but only the one at the right bears a number - 6345. Quite obviously she was made by the same manufacturer as the doll numbered 6347. Her modeling, molding, and tinting is better than that of her companion. For a common type, the last in this row is a nice one. With the exception of very flat hands, the molded feathers and decorations are well defined. Only the free arm holding the card was separately molded and added in the greenware state-the side ridges of a 2-part mold are faintly visible. She is marked "Germany 2871."
Not so easily found are the dresser sets in which these torso figures are completed in partly glazed bisque. There were powder, ring, and pill boxes, as well as very attractive perfume bottles.