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Kate Greenaway's Dolls

By Clara H. Fawcett

( Orginally published November 1961 )



Much has been written about Kate Greenaway, her lovely creations, and the bonnet dolls of the late 19th century, evidently inspired by her delightful bonnet "children." But little has been written about the many dolls she loved and cherished as a child, and which were an inspiration in Kate's early years.

We are indebted to M. H. Spielmann and G. S. Layard who give us a glimpse into a childhood doll world of this fine artist. Their book Kate Greenaway, was printed in London in 1905 by Adam and Charles Black. It said, "Her dolls ranged from the little giant "Gauraca" (given to Kate for learning a piece of pianoforte music so entitled, then in vogue), so huge-more than a yard and a quarter long-that could only be carried with legs trailing on the ground, to the little group of Dutch mannikins of which half-a-dozen could be grasped in one hand.

"By right of bulk Gauraca claimed precedence. She wore the discarded clothes of brother John, the tucks in which had to be let down to make them big enough, and took full sized babies' shoes. She was a wonder, not indeed altogether lovable; rather was she of value as a stimulator of covetous feelings in others.

"'Below Gauraca came dolls of all sorts and sizes, too many for enumeration, but all of importance, seeing that on their persons were performed those tentative experiments which were to colour the work of 20 years later.

"On these dolls Kate dilates at some length, and the gist of her record is this. Least in size though first in rank came the Royal group, with Queen Victoria (who had cost a halfpenny) as its center, supported by Prince Albert (also a half-penny) appropriately habited in a white gauze skirt trimmed with three rows of cerise satin, and for further distinction, a red ribbon tied across his shoulder and under his left arm. These garments could only be removed by an actual disintegration.

"The Royal circle was completed by the princes and princesses at a farthing apiece. Their dresses were made from the gauze bonnet linings just then going out of fashion, and such scraps of net and ribbon as had proved unsaleable.

"The little Greenaways were profoundly interested in the doings of the august personages who were their prototypes. They knew their names, ages, and birthdays as well as they knew each others, and eagerly studied their likenesses in the Illustrated London News.

"On great occasions the children would be taken by Mr. Greenaway to peep in at the gates of Buckingham Palace itself, and Kate wished and wished with all her might that she might be driven through them, as an invited guest, in a Royal coach. "Little did she dream that 30 years later would indeed find her an honoured visitor within the sacred precincts, entertained by the Princess Royal (then Crown Princess of Germany), and chatting on easy terms with the future ruler of the German Empire.

"It was only when she was actually driving between those gates, not exactly in a `Royal Coach,' that the memory of her ardent wish suddenly recurred to her, for she had never thought of it since; and it filled her mind as she entered the Royal presence.

"Then it was she learned that, whilst she as a child had envied the lot of those within, the princess as a child had envied the freedom of those without, and that a prison is none the less a prison because the bars are of gold.

"Here also she had the privilege of meeting the Princess Helena (by that time Princess Christian), who doubtless would have been highly amused had she known how often the artless-looking little lady before her had boldly represented her in ,bygone days when `pretending' in the wilds of Islington.

"How heartily, too, would she have laughed (nay, perhaps she may laugh still) at the picture of the farthing wooden effigy which an enthusiastic little loyalist had invested with her exalted personality in those fast-receding days.

"After the wooden dolls, with their crude and irremovable garments, came the far more human-looking effigies in china, which populated the cupboard in the little girls' bedroom,

"Their clothes were all exquisitely made by Kate, and were all removable. They took their walks abroad on the mantel-piece. Their hats were made of tiny straw-plaits trimmed with china ribbons and the fluffy down culled from feathers which had escaped from the pillows.

"They revelled in luxurious gardens made of fig boxes filled with sand collected on Sunday walks to Hampstead Heath, and planted with the tiniest of flowering plants, which often had to be replaced, as they would not thrive in the uncongenial soil.

"Furniture was hard to come by at a farthing a week, which was Kate's income at this time, but 24 weeks' saving got a sixpenny piano, for the sake of which the sacrifice of other expensive pleasures during that period was considered not unreasonable. Once indeed Aunt Aldridge came to town and presented the dolls with a work-table, but so great a piece of good fortune never again befell.

"Later there were Lowther Arcadian dolls at fourpence halfpenny apiece, but these like the royal group were short-lived and ephemeral.

"They passed away so rapidly that memory lost their identity, whereas `Doll Lizzie,' made of brown oak, legless, armless, and devoid of paint; and 'One-Eye,' equally devoid of paint, half blind, and retaining but one rag arm, were seemingly immortal, and were 'more tenderly loved than all, notwithstanding the fact that their only clothing consisted of old rags tied round them with string.

Kate Greenaway's attraction for the little wooden Dutch or Deutah dolls paralleled that of Victoria when she was a child, and for the same reason. They were small enough to use in imaginative child play where a number of characters easily handled could appear in one scene with accessories, furniture, etc.

In the childhood of the writer bisque "penny dolls" served the same purpose. She remembers how she longed for a pony for "Elsie," a favorite penny doll.

A tiny toy pony was prohibitive in price-25 cents-but a beautiful little tiger could be purchased for 15 cents, within Clara's price range, so she purchased it with glee and made believe it was a pony. Hitched to a pint-sized strawberry basket, this made an elegant pony and cart for Elsie.

While she must have enjoyed the big rag dolls which could be taken to bed, it is probable that nothing could have taken the place of the wee woodens. In fact she ranked them first.

In regard to the china-headed dolls which disported on the Greenaway mantel-piece, there must have been at least one with the quaint hairdo, curls or ringlets of self material curved to the head, common in the china heads of the 1850's, Kate's doll-playing years. She was born in 1846.