Don’t play with this Lady: extremely rare 18th Century Doll

21 May, 2011 at 11:35 pm 5 comments

Full disclaimer: I’m not a doll person. Especially not when it comes to those porcelain collector dolls which look like adults. You know the type – their eyes follow you when you cross the room, and at night, you can’t sleep because you wonder if that beastly thing might walk around and look for the letter opener to stab you. My beloved childhood friends (which I still have!) were Beanie the donkey and Fritzi the monkey. Cuddly, friendly and not interested in letter openers.

But dolls are also miniatures and mirrors of their owners. They can tell us about family life, society and fashion of times long gone by. Their shoebutton eyes have witnessed laughter and tears; they have given comfort in times of grief and kept the lonely company. A much-loved, often-patched clothdoll with painted eyes made during the Great Depression tells of a child’s love for her probably only toy, and I’ll never forget the post-mortem photography of a little girl, holding her doll on her last journey.

Scary or touching – dolls are fascinating items, and I can understand why so many people collect them. Most dolls have been played with, and even if they had very careful owners, time took its toll. Waxen faces melt or crack, porcelain breaks. Antique dolls in good condition are rare, so they are very expensive and valuable. But thanks to, once again, the Antiques Roadshow, I can share with you an extremely rare visitor from the past today.

A lady brought that doll along to have it valued. Legend in her family was that the doll, carved from a single piece of wood, had been modelled on the Dutchess of Kent, the mother of Queen Victoria. However, the fashion of her dress – a saque – was very obviously 18th century.

Legs and arms have joints and can be moved.

The hands have been carefully carved and are very detailled. Please note the wonderful lace on the sleeve!

The dress, made of yellow silk, still shows intricate, colourful embroidery.

The face is very expressive, especially the eyes. The expert didn’t mention it, but I think the eyes were made of glass. Please note the cute little lace bonnet!

A close-up of the embroidery. Looks like two swans to me – does anybody have better eyes and can tell me what it could be?

On the back, the fabric hasn’t faded. Just look at this beautiful, beautiful yellow, and the flower pattern! That’s simply amazing!

The doll has real hair (aww, look at the ringlet!), sewn in single strands to the head.

Under normal circumstances, I’d object to see a lady’s skirt lifted, but that’s the only way for you to see the red (!!!) drawers and the green petticoat.

And she even wears a white pannier – still in great condition.

So, how old is that doll? And what is she worth?

You better sit down – that doll dates from 1740. 1740! The lady in yellow is 271 years old! And it would cost you about £ 20’000 if you’d want to win her in an auction!

No wonder she looks so smug…!

However, I don’t think she’ll be sold; she’ll eventually go to a museum, and for such an important piece, that’s the perfect place to be. All I know is that, 271 years old and valuable or not, I wouldn’t want her to sit on my sofa. Those hands are small, but so is my letter opener…

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Entry filed under: 18th century, art, resource, tv. Tags: , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. One More Stitch  |  22 May, 2011 at 4:24 am

    Oh, Molly – for shame! She’s a charming little lady and I wish I could take her home and love her! : )

    I am a doll person and particularly like wooden dolls and especially 18th and early 19th century ones. Dolls get such bad press, perhaps because they are so clever!

    This little lady just needs a new nose – she already has an exquisite ensemble. I wonder where she will finally live – she is a treasure!

    Thanks for posting this!

    Reply
    • 2. Molly Joyful  |  24 May, 2011 at 1:22 pm

      I bet she’d love to live with you. Once she’d set eyes on all your lovely knitted clothes, she’d never leave again (I know I wouldn’t!)

      The good thing about people like me is that we leave all the dolls to doll people. But despite my dislike, I have to say that I found this particular doll very interesting, and she definitely has personality. Somebody commented elsewhere that she looks very wise; I think that’s true. Not surprising, considering her age.

      She lost the nose only 30 years ago. I wish they’d kept it, I’d loved to know what her “complete” look was.

      Reply
  • […] probably remember the amazing 18th century doll featured on the Antiques Roadshow a couple of weeks ago. I thought you’d like to know what […]

    Reply
  • 4. Kimberley Arnold Mitchell  |  2 August, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    I think she is perfect just as she is, damaged nose and all. By changing her you would be removing some of what makes her special and unique. Her nose bears the marks of her passage through time, and I don’t feel it detracts from her inherent beauty. I hope she winds up in a good museum so that many people can enjoy seeing her. I wonder what her name is?

    Reply
  • 5. Maureen  |  10 August, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    This is a nice post – these dolls are so rare- and it was nice to see the details of how she was dressed. You seem to understand the appeal of old dolls and their historical importance particularly since they reveal much insight to the textiles and lifestyles of times gone by. However it puzzles me why you would perpetuate this nonsense of a doll being scary. But are you honestly afraid of dolls? Or is it more a fear of admission to it? Much in the same way a lot of people are afraid to admit they like cats or Barry Manilow songs.
    I mean, to me- it’s it more scary that grown seemingly rational people would be afraid of an inanimate object. As if it would come to life and cause harm to them.
    Have you considered how that actually sounds? lol Anyway- great photos.

    Reply

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