View Full Version : Provincial doll makers, 19th century

13-11-2016, 4:49 PM
I have inherited two Victorian dolls. Having examined them carefully, and tried to research them, I am wondering whether head/shoulder units and ready-made lower limbs could be bought by a local seamstress, who would have used them to make up dolls to sell locally. Has anyone come across any documentary evidence, e.g. advertisements, that this sort of thing happened?

Doll One has an untinted bisque head/shoulders, under which the stuffed fabric body has been inserted; with wooden lower limbs inserted at the 'elbow' and 'knee'. Doll Two has some type of 'wax' head/shoulders on a stuffed fabric body, again, with lower limbs inserted into the stuffed fabric upper limbs. The stitching on the bodies has been done by hand, not machine. The clothes are hand-made - some sewn, some crocheted - and have probably been replaced over the years.

Neither doll has any identifying marks/numbers, which is one reason why I think they might have been made in the locality in which they were bought. The earlier bisque-head doll belonged to a little girl who was born in Glastonbury in December 1858, and the later 'wax'-head doll to her four daughters, who were born in Gloucestershire in the mid-1880s. Both dolls have been played with a great deal, as evidenced by cracks, chipped nose, scuffed shoes, partly dislocated arms. These are dolls that have been loved to bits (almost literally!).


13-11-2016, 11:13 PM
Hello Owl,

During WW2 my father and his pal next door (when they weren't driving buses or on Home Guard duty) used to make toys in the attic of our house and sell them to Gamages and Hamleys.

When I researched this with Hamleys, who were as helpful as they could be, they suggested contacting the V & A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, which has a very comprehensive archive.

The V&A were interested and extremely helpful and, whilst they had nothing for me, provided a copy of the Hamleys catalogue of the day (no charge!).


Gamages produced a doll catalogue at Christmas, the British Library has some info:



14-11-2016, 12:45 AM
My understanding is that the best and most sought after doll's heads were French. And that heads and limbs were made by different manufacturers. That is why early dolls look deformed - the arms and legs are often too small for the head.

Many had a name on the inside of the nape of the neck, so not seen when affixed to the body.



14-11-2016, 8:59 AM
From an article in LLoyd's Weekly Newspaper, March 1850 headed "Labour and the Poor" -

"Whereas the wooden doll is generally begun and completed by one hand (with the exception, perhaps, of the wig) the sewed doll has as many distinct branches of manufacture as it is divisible into distinct parts. In the first place, there is the doll sewer and stuffer - the calico integuments being generally cut out by the manufacturer, and given with the sawdust, hair, and wool, with which the body is to be filled, to the same party. Then there is the doll's head maker (wax and composition) - the doll's eye maker - and the doll dresser. Each of these are separate branches of the trade. Occasionally some family may be met with where the whole of the branches (with the exception of making the eyes) are performed; but this is far from usual, especially with the better description of work."

It's a fascinating, lengthy article that goes into great detail re. the trade.

14-11-2016, 10:23 AM
Thank you to all for the help and suggestions. The article from Lloyds Weekly Newspaper in 1850 is the sort of thing I have been hoping to find, because it sheds light on how these dolls were made. And, in case you are curious, here's a cobbled-together picture of the two dolls (sorry that Doll 2 is so poor):


Might there have been any advertisements in local papers? Perhaps requiring out-workers for the different tasks, or maybe a local "finisher" offering dolls for sale. The families who owned these dolls were farmers in Somerset, then Gloucestershire, and reasonably prosperous.

Another idea I had is that perhaps dolls and doll parts were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Seeing them might have aroused interest and sparked ideas for small commercial enterprises. Just a guess.

Yes, I have contacted the V&A/MoC, but they have not been very helpful - inviting me to visit their archives, but even then I would need to know what I am looking for. The point is that, at this stage, I don't. Neither doll has any identifying marks anywhere, alas, which is why I cannot trace them to a specific manufacturer. That and the poor condition of the hand-sewn bodies make me think that neither doll is particularly 'good'. (But the wax doll has fine blue glass eyes. A Birmingham business was the leading manufacturer of glass eyes for dolls.)

The most help, before posting here, has come from the Coleman book, sourced very cheaply from AbeBooks: The Collector's Encyclopaedia of Dolls, Coleman, Dorothy S, Elizabeth A, and Evelyn J, originally published by Crown Publishers Inc, New York, 1968; tenth printing, Robert Hale, 1977.

Must get on with all the things I am supposed to be doing...