|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
( Originally Published 1963 )
Toys undeniably were made originally for children, but old toys have become almost a mania with adult collectors. Pull toys and mechanical toys, squeak toys and rattles, circus toys and vehicles, and all other kinds of vehiclesthese and many more have had their day. Toy soldiers for boys, dolls for girls, were the usual gifts.
Toy soldiers have enjoyed world-wide popularity for about 200 years. The first ones were modeled on the armies of Prussia's victorious, eighteenth-century Frederick the Great. Napoleon's army, the British Redcoats, Federal and Confederate soldiers, and World War I troops and equipment are some of the noted groups that were reproduced in miniature as toys. Toy soldiers in reasonably good condition with some of their paint still evident should be salable, for they are considered a popular collectors' item.
Dolls are rated as the perennially popular toy. There are, in fact, doll societies, and doll shows are held regularly. Many museums have fine doll collections. If you are interested in collecting dolls-or even if you have a group of them to sell-it's a good idea to study a little about them and to visit any exhibits within a reasonable distance. Dolls from foreign countries dressed in native costumes are interesting, but so are the dolls with which American children have played for so many years. Of the latter there are more than two dozen classifications.
The nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century dolls are the ones for which most collectors search. Part of their appeal lies in the fact that they are dressed in the styles adults and children wore at the time. Incidentally, boy dolls were made, but the proportion of boy to girl dolls probably is about one to ten.
Wooden dolls go back to the early 1700's and up to the early 1900's. Wax dolls were made from the 1700's to the late 1800's (one English firm made them continuously from 1791 to 1935). Papier-mache dolls were popular from the late 1700's to about 1825. China dolls were common throughout the 1800's. The early ones had wooden or cloth bodies with a china bust attached to the shoulders. Many of these china busts had glass eyes and molded, painted hair. Later china dolls had wigs, and some could close their eyes to sleep or have their necks moved. Among the most beautiful dolls are those of Parian and bisque. Many handsome bisque dolls were imported from France and Germany during the 1800's.
Dolls also were made with tin heads and entirely of celluloid. Then there are rag dolls, both homemade and commercially manufactured. Dolls have been made from apples, rawhide, leather, and rubber and gutta percha too.
Baby dolls have been popular for at least 150 years. Those made during the 1800's are especially coveted by collectors. Not just the materials, but also the appearance, of baby dolls has changed a good deal from time to time, and those made even in the early twentieth century are quite different from the older ones.
Portrait dolls representing such famous persons as Jenny Lind and Queen Victoria, fashion dolls with papier-mache heads (they were sent to America from Europe between 1820 and the 1870's to display the latest fashions in clothes), religious dolls, and mechanical dolls that moved or made music or both are some of the most important classifications.
Pedlar dolls, which appeared in the late 1700's and remained popular until about 1850, are greatly coveted. These were made in England, Mexico, France, Russia, and many other countries. There were many versions and the dolls were made of various materials. Some were rag. dolls with embroidered faces; others had wax, china, bisque, or papier-mache heads or were made of wood. In any case, they were more likely to be displayed as ornaments than played with as toys.
A pedlar doll was dressed for the street and carried a basket with combs, shells, watches, pocketbooks, playing cards, fruit, flowers, or other merchandise. An English pedlar known as the Portsmouth doll wears a black dress, white apron, red coat, and a frilled cap topped by a black poke bonnet, and carries a basket of tiny wares. Other names for pedlar dolls are Notion Nannies and Haberdash dolls. More rare was the pair of door-to-door pedlars, male and female. Some doll collectors dress nineteenth-century dolls in pedlar costume, and some reproductions are being made at the present time.
Paper dolls had been popular for 200 years or more when they went out of fashion about 1930. If you find any magazines dating from 1900 into the 1920's with pages of Dotty Dimples and Little Colonel dolls, there should be a ready market for them. Strangely enough, paper dolls were first made as an adult diversion. During the 1700's, French ladies and gentlemen amused themselves with jointed paper dolls, manipulated by pulling strings attached to the arms and legs.
Children took over the paper dolls in the 1800's. There were both homemade and commercial ones. The dolls were named and had many changes of costume. Raphael Tuck made some wellknown English ones and Godey's Lady's Book included cutouts of paper dolls.
Both real dolls and paper dolls were likely to have many clothes as well as accessories such as earrings, fans, gloves, and parasols. There were dishes and furniture modeled on the materials and styles popular for grown-ups' houses, and also carriages, dollhouses, and stores. The tiny piano made for a dollhouse was much smaller than the miniature pianos made for children to play. Both upright and grand pianos were made.
Doll furniture came in sets just as the Victorians bought furniture for their houses. A bedroom set might consist of a bed, a bureau with mirror, a tin washstand, a table, and two chairs. Parlor sets often were upholstered with velvet. The furniture was made in perfect scale. Everything was made in miniature for dollhouses. There might be a kitchen stove with tiny skillet and pots or a parlor stove, all made of iron. Dishes, made in sets, reflected the preferences of the time for the family table. They ranged from spatterware and Old Blue to everyday crockery.
The manufacture of miniatures as toys became a big business. Some of the furnishings and accessories - in fact, some dolls-originally had been made as salesmen's samples.
Traditionally, dolls and other toys are what every youngster hopes to find under the family Christmas tree. So, along with the toys stored in an attic, you also may find relics from long-ago Christmas trees. The decorating of a tree at Christmastime is not an old American custom, for except among those who came here from Germany, it has not been common longer than a century. Especially appealing to collectors are the Christmas-tree lights, colored cups made of pressed glass to hold candles. Some few of these were made in recognizable patterns. The colored balls used to decorate early Christmas trees were made of blown glass. These are scarce.
Figures from the Putz or Christmas village set up by the Pennsylvania Germans in their homes, and creche figures of ceramic or carved wood from Nativity scenes set up anywhere in the country, are other things that find a market. A Santa Claus of whatever material does not have to beg for a new owner-the figure may be iron in an iron sleigh drawn by iron reindeer, or it may be a pottery bank or a bottle in the shape of the jolly saint. Some music boxes play only Christmas carols. The blue and white Danish Christmas plates have been made in an annual edition for more than fifty years, and some of the early designs are no longer easy to purchase. Limoges also produced a holly-decorated china during the 1800's that seems rather scarce.
Bells, too, are popular with collectors. Many different kinds of bells common during the 1800's contributed less nerveshattering sounds to the cities, towns, and countryside than their present-day substitutes. There were church bells, school bells, bells that tinkled when the door to a store was pushed open, doorbells for houses, bells for the horses that drew the carriages and wagons, and bells for cows and oxen, sheep, and cats. On the teacher's desk there probably was a bell with a push-down button to make it ring. On the dining table a dainty table bell made of silver, brass, glass, or china was set at the place of the mistress of the house.
Heard throughout the land were sleigh bells in winter, harness bells the rest of the year. The Conestoga wagons that took families across the Plains had their special set of bells made of brass on a wrought-iron frame to be attached to the collars of the horses or oxen. Other bells linked to transportation were those on railroad engines, on ships and fire engines.
There are two possible outlets for a bell from fire-fighting equipment: the collector of bells and the enthusiast who likes old fire equipment. The fire buffs also look for the old leather buckets that were used for carrying water, for horns and trumpets, lamps from old fire engines, shields from uniforms and hats, and buttons and helmets. Any of these may be found in an attic if your grandfather or some other male relative belonged to a Volunteer Fire Company.