Sunday, April 8, 2018
Metal Dolls: A Survey
For more, see my book With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Dolls, Metal Heads … This was the first book on Metal dolls, though copycat authors followed suit. I would really love to hear from other serious doll scholars interested in how metal is used to make dolls. Jewelers and sculptors welcome to comment, too! For the bibliography, see my book or ask me.
Max von Boehn in Dolls (1927) traces the genealogy of the doll to the ancient Venus figures of the Stone Age which are over 40,000 years old in some cases. Metal dolls, while still not prized in many important collections, may have the richest history of all dolls. From the golden idols of the Inca and Aztec to the toy soldiers of lead and silver and the Minerva, Juno, and Diana doll heads of the 19th and early 20th centuries, metal dolls form a fascinating collection. I hope that this brief survey of their history will inspire others to take up the “iron gauntlet” and add to the dialog.
Gold Statues of Deities, King Tut Exhibit,
Photo Mitchell Milani. Putnam Museum
Not too long ago, I was in an antique shop in
, a historic Amish
community. There, I spied a very large
and lovely doll with a metal head and blue glass eyes. Kalona,
18 Inch Doll with Unmarked Metal Head, Blue Glass Eyes, Open Mouth. Composition Hands and Cloth Feet. Original Clothes. Photo by Jerry Lowe. Tsagaris Collection.
I could see some sort of magazine article in her lap, and I thought this must be a page from a catalog showing a similar doll. As I got closer, I realized with a shock that the picture was the first page of an article I had written on metal dolls eleven years before. The photo of the doll was one of the examples from my own collection, and my father had taken the photo.
This article will focus on dolls made of metal, mechanical dolls, and dolls with metal parts. It will address why these objects are becoming popular in today’s popular culture and in the world of antique collecting. The dolls discussed are all different, but have one thing in common; some type of metal was used to create them. Though some may feel that metal is a cold and unsuitable material for making dolls, I think that Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged, who create the wonderfully warm and iridescent Reardon Metal, might agree that the effects of using metal to make dolls can be both dazzling and beautiful.
Most readers are familiar with idols made of gold, because of the Old Testament story of the golden calf. In fact, people have used precious metals to make dolls and toys for centuries in the Ancient World and in Medieval Europe. Wealthy children often had toys of silver and told and in Utopia, Sir Thomas More mentions that citizens of Utopia
gave precious metals and jewels to their children as toys. Celtic literature is full of legends and myths of the importance of iron. At first the Celts used untempered iron for spears, but because iron in this state is softer than bronze, the spears were not successful.
Very unusual metal head. 1870s. Author’s archives and Public Domain Image.
Metal Dolls in the Ancient World:
The historian Polybius describes a battle between the Gauls and the Romans in 223 B.C. where the Gauls had long swords that bent with each blow and had to be straightened out. The Romans won the battle by attacking the Gauls before they could straighten their weapons. In Welsh and Manx mythology, iron is deadly to the Faerie, and mortal who marries a Faerie woman and merely touches her with something made of iron will watch her and all wealth she has brought him disappear. Later, the blood metal, iron, became almost an object of reverence to Celtic tribes living around 700 B.C. in the Hallstatt period.
Ushabti, small idols placed in royal tombs to take the place of live servants,
made of gold. Bronze figures have been
made in various parts of Africa for several centuries, particularly in Egypt . Jointed dolls of silver and gold, as well as
smaller, unpainted figures, were created in Pre-Columbian America. Other
ancient peoples created small dolls and idols of gold, silver, bronze, copper,
and brass. Benin
Medieval and Renaissance Metal Dolls:
Mary I, aka, Bloody Mary supposedly had a golden cup filled with gold coins on her first Christmas. Silver rattles and marottes were standard gifts for wealthy children during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is, after all, a small step form silver rattles with attached bells that resemble marottes, to dolls. Silver doll furniture also graced the baby houses of the rich. I saw such furniture as late as 1978 at Shreve, Crump, and Low,
Noted author and doll collector Antonia Fraser writes that silver soldiers and
acrobats were famous in the Boston
during the time of Charles II. The
memoirs of Louis XIII’s physician, Dr. Herouard, show that the King had silver
toys and dolls. During this time, The
Pope allegedly sent silver toys to the children of the king of Netherlands . Poland
Not only toys, dolls, and figurines of metal were created during these era, automata of metal were created during The Middle Ages. Dolls and puppets were also made of clay, and woodcuts from Hortus Sanitatus (1491) show doll makers or puppet makers at work. Martin Luther used the term Tocke (Docken) as an insult for a silly, but pretty woman. Other dolls called puppets and mammettes were mentioned in William Turner’s Herbal (1562) and a woman in the court of Elizabeth I received a “baby of pewter.”
In her book Automata and Mechanical Toys, author Mary Hillier, who was also my friend, showed several medieval and Renaissance examples of metal toys. One is a beautiful mechanical doll that played a lute. Her clothes are detailed and sumptuous, her face expressive and dreamy. According to Mrs. Hillier, this doll may have been made by Gianello Della Torre. The doll is from the
An interesting pair of lead dolls were fished out of the
fairly recently. These are all lead, and
represent a man and woman in elaborate 17th century attire.
Lead Dolls from the
Thames (Public Domain)
Metal Dolls and Enlightenment:
The eighteenth century saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and with it, the mass production of metal toys and dolls. One Mr. Child operated a toy shop by old
from around 1756-62 called the “Blew Boar”, which advertised “all sorts of Fine
steel and both metal toys . . . [and] Pewter lead . . . toys.” London Bridge
Besides the fact that Mr. Child is appropriately named for running a toy shop, it is interesting that shops catering to children existed at this time, when children were socially treated and dressed as miniature adults and when doll houses and other bibelots were for adult entertainment.
Clown Displayed with Robots. Plastic and Metal Parts, Key Wound. He Walks when Wound UP. Japanese, c. 1950s-early 1960s. Photo Jerry Lowe, Tsagaris Collection.
Crawling Baby, American. Brides Cup of Pewter, made in the Same Style Since the 16th Century. German. Photo by Jerry Lowe. Tsagaris Collection.
The 19th Century:
Dolls with metal heads have existed for a long time, but did not enjoy any popularity until the middle nineteenth century. The three most famous trademarks were Juno, Minerva, and Diana. Probably, these heads were named for Greek and Roman goddesses because they were meant to be beautiful, yet indestructible.
Joel Ellis Doll with Metal Hands and Feet, Courtesy, paintmiata 54. Tsagaris Collection.
The mid nineteenth century saw the start of the American metal toy industry, helped by the efforts of Edward Paterson in
. Later, manufacturers in Europe and the Berlin, Connecticut
began to produce dolls and doll heads of tin and brass which copied the style
of the earlier bisques and chinas, but which were unbreakable. Unfortunately, these dolls were not immortal
because they were subject to flaking paint and fell victim to rust and dents in
the metal. United States
Rare Black Minerva Doll Head, Tsagaris Collection.
For example, metal heads were initially popular because any dents in the heads could be pushed back into place. Of course, doing so left chipped paint and other imperfections. Metal used for heads in the 1890's included brass, zinc and tin plate. The heads were mainly mass-produced in
. Those made in 1894 often had sawdust-filled
bodies, glass or painted eyes, and natural or molded hair. Some fancy hairstyle metal heads appeared
when elaborate bisque heads, the so-called "Parian" dolls, were
popular. Two of these dolls date from
the 1870's and are made of pewter. The late Gladys Hyls Hilsdorf boasted
two beautifully modeled dolls with pewter heads in her collection, c.
1870s. They had flowers and ornaments in
their hair, and looked as they though were copied from statues of Roman
matrons. Wax over metal heads were created, just as wax over papier mache heads
had been made. Germany
Very unusual metal head with metal hands and feet, glass eyes, open mouth, holes in bottom of feet and steel ball joints in a wooden body. Perhaps French. We call her Belinda. Courtesy, Kirsten Anderson. Tsagaris Collection.
American commerce was important to the manufacture of these doll heads; for example, Minerva heads by Buschow and Beck of Germany were sold in the
United States through A. Vischer and Co, . These and other German heads were exhibited
at the St. Louis Exhibition of 1904. In
their own way, they were a real innovation to the toy industry. Montgomery
Wards and other department stores were advertising them in their catalogs, too. New York, NY
20th Century Brass Doll Head Mold for a Vinyl Baby Head. Courtesy, myoldjoys. Tsagaris Collection.
Coleman Walking Doll with Metal Cage Body displayed in front of a Modern Automaton. Photo by Jerry Lowe. Tsagaris Collection.
In 1912, Minerva advertised a doll that shed real tears. I, however, have never seen one. I have seen a mechanical doll marked Minerva, with metal body and limbs, including a Minerva head. Genevieve Angione shows and discusses in her book All Dolls are Collectible a boy doll with the Minerva mark. The head is six and three-fourths inches in circumference. The eyes are painted blue and have white highlights and red dots at the corners and nostrils. The ears are molded and slightly detached. The hair is brown, the body stuffed with hair. The boy's hands are chubby and bisque.
Very rare French metal doll heads are also mentioned in doll sources. At least one of these, the elusive Huret metal head, was manufactured by a woman. Her rival firm, Rohmer, was also run by a woman who made dolls with metal bodies. The two became involved in a complicated law suit over a zinc-bodied doll during the mid nineteenth century.
Two Minerva Heads on cloth bodies with leather shoes, made up to be brother and sister. Courtesy, Ellen Marie Manion. Tsagaris Collection.
Metal heads to attach to doll bodies were made in
French and German makers, including Rene Poulin, Lucien Vervelle, Sommereisen,
Huret, Carl Heller, and Karl Standfuss (Juno c.1898 to 1930s).
German makers include Buschow and Beck, with the afore mentioned Minerva helmet as their mark, Max Diddtich and Joseph Schon c. 1886-90, Robert Hiller 1887-90, Alfred Heller (Diana) 1901-1910. Furthermore, a 1903 Montgomery Wards catalog advertised Minerva heads from $.25 for a head of 2 5/8 inches to $.75 for a four-inch head. A four inch head was for sale for $45.00 at a recent doll show, held November 10, 1996 in
The head had painted features and hair, and
was in fair to good condition. Dolls
with the added features of teeth and glass eyes sold for $.75 each to $1.75 for
a head of 5 3/8 inches. Curly-haired
doll heads cost $.50 to $.75 each. The
same catalog advertised Minerva "Knockabout" dolls. These dolls were eleven inches long and came
without wigs. Davenport, IA.
Mint Minerva Head Dressed in the Costume of the
Black Forest. Doll to the Right is a
Modern Corkscrew Doll with Molded Head. Formerly, . Photo by Jerry Lowe. Tsagaris Collection. Rosalie Whyel
Of course, other companies besides Minerva were making metal dolls at various times. One twenty-three inch doll with a metal shoulder head has a wig, open mouth and sleeping eyes. The doll is marked "
15." A similar doll with a closed mouth and no marks is thirteen-inches
high. A metal headed boy has no marks
and painted features. His body is cloth
with bisque arms and leather legs. An R.
H. Macy catalog of the early 1900's describes a "Diana" metal head as
unbreakable with moving eyes and a wig. The head came in eight sizes and cost
between $.44 and $1.39 (Simonelli 46).
The Diana head is rare. Germany
Silver Frozen Charlotte cast from a bisque doll, found on Etsy. Tsagaris Collection.
Metal Frozen Charlotte type dolls regularly appeared in Crackerjack boxes as prizes. One such doll in the author's collection is attached to a baby announcement card along with a metal stork. It dates from the 1880's.
Metal Bodied German Doll with untinted bisque head and hands. Courtesy, Theriault’s.
was not far behind in producing dolls of metal, as the search of unbreakable
dolls, immortal as the goddesses they were named for, took off. The Aluminum Doll Head works, United States 1991-20 created
heads and hands of aluminum on cloth or composition ball jointed bodies. Atlas doll and Toy Company made all metal
dolls with sleep eyes and wigs as well as metal heads with metal arms on
stuffed bodies. Their trade names were
A.D.T. Co, Hug Me Kid and dolly Jump Rope doll. Atlas had its location in USA and produced about sixty-five
types of dolls in 1921. The baby doll
was modeled after the bent-legged bisque headed babies of the era. According to Lauren Jaeger in
"Identifying Your Dolls," Doll World, Oct. 1993, Atlas and
other American companies entered the doll marked during World War I to fill a
need for dolls (12). Ms. Jaeger values
an Atlas baby doll at $50.00 (12). Baltimore,
Metal Head, American, with Slit for tying a Bow. Painted Eyes, Open Mouth Molded Teeth. Photo by Jerry Lowe. Tsagaris Collection.
Other unusual metal dolls represented young girls or baby. At the LaSalle-Peru doll show, held October 13, 1996, I saw three interesting heads at the following prices. A girl's head, six-inches high, with blue sleep eyes and painted, "flapper" type black hair in fair condition was $45.00. Baby or toddler's head, no wig, with sleep eyes, fair condition, was also $45.00. A complete baby doll, about 18 inches high, with sleep eyes and old clothing, in good to fair condition cost $110.00.
Steiner, Bebe Gigoteur, Mechanical with Metal Parts. Courtesy, Theriault’s. Nearly identical to a Doll in the Author’s Collection.
I have an unusual metal girl in my collection that is about seventeen-inches high. The doll's body is cloth, her limbs composition. The hair is molded in a bob style with a molded loop for a ribbon. The original dress is of a taffeta, the print faded to a lavender color. The paint and features are in good shape, though the doll was a good price at $75.00. Dolls of this type are usually valued at $200.00 or more.
Baby Head of Metal with Flange Neck to fit on a Cloth Body. Sleeping Metal Eyes. Tsagaris collection.
Giebeler Falk, under the name Gie-Fa, created a doll with an aluminum head. One version had a wooden body with a phonograph. The doll was called Primadonna and was created c. 1918-21. Other American Companies were Armor metal Toy Stamping Co., 1922 and Horsman. The Metal Doll Company, c. 1902, made dolls briefly of steel sheet metal. This is the All Steel Doll, and was distributed by George Borgfeldt.
1950s Automaton, papier mache and metal. 48 inches. He Once Graced a Christmas Window at Marshall Fields, The
Loop. Purchased at Vintage Rose
Photo by Jerry Lowe. Tsagaris Collection. Rock Island
Edison phonograph doll, featured in Gaby Wood’s Book Edison’s Eve, appears with a bisque
Jumeau or Simon and Halbig head, but had a steel body with a phonograph. This
doll was first advertised in Scientific
American Magazine, c. 1890, a periodical still in production today. An actress provided the doll’s voice. It is possible to hear a recording of the
doll talking on The Internet today.
All metal babies were sold in the 20s and 30s, wile other dolls had baby heads of tin with cloth bodies and composition hands and feet. Lead soldiers were still popular during this time. Ives walking dolls and mechanical toys had heads, bodies, and metal parts, too.
Metal Dolls Today:
Tiny metal doll turned into a ring. Tsagaris collection
Modern dolls of metal appear everywhere as puppets, charms, amulets, and props. Some of these are considered "grotesque dolls," in that they are the descendants of Cruchet's toy guillotine, made in 1810, a Sweeney Todd penny-in-the-slot pier show of the nineteenth century, trolls, Frankenstein, and the other monster dolls mentioned earlier. Hassenfield Brothers' The Intruder began to appear on toy store shelves. Metal doll utensils were also reappearing. A silver plated bottle opener in doll form is currently made by Godinger of Italy. The front bottom hem of his gown reads "BACCHUS," and the arms move up and down, operating a corkscrew mechanism attached to his head. He is molded and cast with grapes in his long tresses, with a chain and bracelets around his neck and arms. His tunic is decorated with grapes. His face bears a realistically joyous expression. He imitates figures made in
Europe many years
earlier, especially during the Renaissance by Cellini and other masters. From come tiny musicians with
elaborate hairdos and jewelry cast in a lost wax method. India
Circa 1970, Metal Egyptian Doll faces turned into Earrings.
Metal Dydee Baby, 10 inches. Tsagaris Collection. 20th century.
Group of metal heads and dolls with metal body parts including heads and hooks displayed with a Schoenhut ad and piano. Tsagaris Collection. Photo by Dino Milani.
Bottom L to R: An all metal doll from
male doll in regional costume, Bucherer, Burkina Faso
Japanese doll of iron, mid 20th century, behind a 1960’s Japanese doll in modern Kimono; doll has wire limbs. Back Row L to R: Large metal head doll with painted features seated on the bed holding the female Bucherer doll. Knight’s head of metal, Cloisonné doll from
with bone head, modern Karakuri in its original box. Top Row L to R: Photo of a 19th c
automaton, silk faced Japanese Doll of the Seven Umbrellas made over wire
armature. Tsagaris Collection, photo by Dino Milani. Displayed recently at China . German American
Dolls will continue to be made as long as there are human beings to conceive of new designs for them. They will continue to reign predominantly in the children's realm, though individual adults and museums will still collect them as tangible artifacts of human history, miniature representations of humanity for their respective ages.
Book from the Author’s Collection reflecting an early 1970s trend.
Modern Metal and Mechanical Dolls. Large Santa in the Center is All Metal and Key Wound. Photo by Jerry Lowe. Tsagaris Collection.
Metal dolls, while still not prized in most important collections, may have the richest history of all. From the golden idols of the Inca and Aztecs, to the toy soldiers of lead and silver and the Minerva and Juno heads of the last century, metal dolls could form a fascinating collection in themselves. I you would like to learn more, please see our Flickr Page for more Photos, “Metal and Mechanical Dolls”, https://www.flickr.com/groups/2801427@N20/. We also have a page “Antique Doll Collector, https://www.flickr.com/groups/2820905@N21/, as well as two boards on Pinterest, Antique Doll Collector Magazine and Antique Doll Collecotr Magazine Covers. Of course, there is our blog, Antique Doll Collector Magazine Blog, and my book With Love from Tin Lizzie . . . To all who are interested in doll history and doll collecting, Happy "Dolling," love, Tin Lizzie.
”Tin Lizzie”, by Teri Long. Photo Courtesy Teri Long. Tsagaris Collection.