An article about teacosy dolls

 

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  Tea-cosy dolls   By Mary Hillier.  Category Novelty Dolls From issue  2   Mary Hillier looks at a group of dolls you can still pick up at a car boot sale - if you're quick m She had a tartan bonnet and the tattered remnants of a tartan skirt and scarf. She was dumped in a basket with assorted odd cups and saucers and I just missed her. You have to be quick at a car boot sale and someone else spotted her first. "You didn't really want her," my friend said, horrified. "She's really tatty." But I wanted to look at her and in an instant had recalled similar models from my childhood. They used to be sold very cheaply. There was a splendid craft shop in Putney: a shop where you could buy every sort of raffia bundle, piles of coloured felt, white wood boxes, stencils, transfers, cane for baskets. My brothers took me to stock up on plywood and fret-saw blades and Hobbies blue prints for designs. I recall a shelf of tea-cosy dolls - little half dolls beautifully coloured to the waist with sew holes or deep flange to connect them to a skirt. The twenties were the hey-day of the craft work and this was when such dolls were in their peak of production manu-factured in Germany or Bavaria and sold here by the cheap dozen. The German firms called them Teepuppenkopfen (tea doll heads) and must have had the English market in mind. No-one else in Europe kept warm teapots under a heat muff. The china figure could be attached to a wire frame and a fancy crinoline either knitted (often in varicoloured panels) or gay padded material. This was not their only use - in America they were called pincushion dolls and had a solid stuffed bell with a weighted base beneath the fancy skirt so the busy needlewoman had a ready cushion for her pins. Other ingenious uses were found for making up these decorative little torsos. Some assumed a long costume to cover over the tall old fashioned telephones of the period. Many were dressed in very pretty and frilly costumes to cover powder boxes on the dressing table, their skirts could hide scent bottle or even a bottle of something stronger and various accessories were sold to help the construction. One patented lamp stand was made with legs for the doll as the standard flex holder and diaphanous ma-terial as skirt over the bulb. Small models made handles for powder puffs or walking sticks. Often they graced the lid of a pretty sweet-box and in France some of them were made up with a cylindrical container beneath the dress of a saintly model doll-child for their first communion gift (the box filled with traditional sugared almonds). A similar one for a boy had a little boy with a hand ready to hold a little candle. It is not known when the half-doll (now generally accepted for their title) was first produced or whose idea it was. But it seems to have originated in the last quarter of the 19th century when some of the German porcelain factories were producing pretty figurines and ornamental doll heads with moulded jewellery, flowers, hats, etc. Fig 1 shows an example which has been loosely called Meissen and certainly it is Meissen style, like the little Dresden shepherdesses pro-duced by that famous firm with intricate flower detail and beautiful fashioning. It is a sort of miracle when such a piece is preserved intact. She stands 9½ ins overall and wears her original cream satin dress embroidered with metal thread and bands of filigree edged pale green pique. This doll was sold some ten years ago when the collection of an English collector was sold at a London Auction. My other illustrations all come from the same sale when it was a golden opportunity to see the beauty and variety of early half-dolls. There were two major producers of these half-dolls. Dressel & Kister at Passau in Bavaria founded in 1840 and Wilhelm Goebel, whose Porzellan Fabrik was at Oeslau, also Bavaria, existing from 1879. Fig 2 shows a fine example of the Dressel and Kister work. The fine naked body has been clothed, but especial notice should be taken of the lovely hands and the care in depicting features. She is followed by an example (Fig 3) of the work of the Goebel factory and, in this case, the upper part is clothed in the porcelain with a handsome blue dress with red collar. Dressel & Kister usually marked their dolls with the factory trademark and specialized in romantic, finely coiffured heads. Some were produced with medieval headgear suitable for historical figures. Goebel went further and actually reproduced miniature portraits from the past of famous historical characters like Queen Eugenie of France, Madame Pompadour, the dancer Fanny Elssler and the singer Jenny Lind. 'The Swedish Nightingale', as she was called, must have been one of their best sellers (1820-87). She lived in London, but sang all over the world. Fig 4 shows Jenny Lind in two sizes. Many of the half-dolls are unmarked or have merely a batch number or cipher indicating their production line. Fig 5 shows a charming bonnet doll with moulded dress and the conveniently moulded hands which do not risk broken fingers. Fig 6 escapes the same problem by giving the model a plate of fruit to carry. Her grey hair is bound with pink ribbon and she has been made a lacy voluminous skirt. A small doll, she would have made a pretty addition to the dinner table, possibly concealing a box of glace fruit. Fig 7 has an especially Bavarian look and was perhaps for the home market, or even a traveller's souvenir. She has a pretty draped shirt and a laced red dirndl, an extravagant black bow of porcelain on her head. Many of the German potters must have followed suit as the market demanded these little figures and one of the more prolific was Karl Schneider of Grafenthal in Thuringia. He made some of the most beguiling of the art deco type beauties. They were often produced with a rather vaguely nude body - the owner was meant to supply the clothing or drapery. He pro-duced delightful pierrot and saucy 'flapper' dolls, kiss curls, turbans, cloche hats, sleeveless tunic frocks - they are truly mannequins of the period. Others followed with, what must have been very popular, slim, winsome young nymphets who you imagined reaching for cigarette or powder compact. They were seated, in fact, sometimes on a cushion which hid a cigarette case or poised on a subtle lamp. The boudoir doll (pictured above), still remained a favourite and this one is especially doll-like with floss hair wig and a bundle of pink satin and bows and pearls. Her right hand holds the handle of a (missing) parasol. But fashions change and after World War II, the public seems to have lost its enthusiasm for half-dolls. Younger folk wanted a more modern and untrammelled look to their homes and old-fashioned ornamental items were consigned to the attic or the jumble sale. There was less time for craftwork - pushed aside or the new attractions of radio, television, pop music. The vogue for pretty telephone covers or even cosy afternoon tea parties lapsed. When doll collecting caught on as a hobby and doll clubs became popular - especially in the US - there was gradually a new-found interest in all china models from the past. A few began to collect half-dolls and classes were added for them to be exhibited in competitions. Finally and curiously, good reproductions began to appear, manufactured especially for collectors'. (Some of them coming from Japan). Nowadays good examples of half-dolls have become rarer and more expensive and there are more collectors. In 1979 a superb book was pub-lished on the subject, not only lavishly illustrated, but with an ingenious code for identifying makers and listed models. (The Collector's Ency-clopaedia of Half Dolls by Frieda Marion and Norma Werner. Crown Publishers Inc, New York, USA) and this especially helped half-dolls to achieve a high collectable value. Craftwork seems to be increasing, judging by the growing number of needlework magazines published now, so perhaps we are approaching a period again when costumed figures may dance on the television shelf as a lamp with a veiled skirt. But my advice to you, if you see an old example in the car boot, is to MOVE QUICKLY.   © Copyright Doll   Back IssuesDollsBooksMagazine Binder Little Ones Series Ah-Tin Baby Doll (approx 8.5"/22cm) £42.00 April / May 1999 DOLL MAGAZINE ISSUE 29 £3.50