Last Saturday, after attending SG’s Tae Kwan Do tournament, I went to the Gaithersburg, Eastern National Doll Show. Since it only occurs twice a year now, I couldn’t miss it. I needed a doll shopping fix.
Accepting that my fabric and trim stash is overflowing, I passed by all the beautiful antique fabrics with a mere glance. I was there to see dolls and my doll friends, and I did.
I ran into a dear friend and we decided to look around separately, then she’d call me so that we could meet up, sit and talk in the cafe area. I was able to get through about 3/4 of the show when she called me. And we had a lovely visit.
After that, I started looking again at the other end of the show and worked my way back to the booth I was in when she called me.
In that last booth, I found two tiny, amazing early German wooden dolls. I was drawn to the smaller doll’s dainty size and her early dress, but I liked the larger doll’s quirky look and the detail of her painting. She has miniscule painted individual eye lashes.
I told the dealer that I was having trouble deciding, but couldn’t afford both dolls. She made me an irresistible offer and they are now mine.
They are 5 1/2″ (14cm) and 4 1/2″ (12cm) tall.
This type of doll was made in the early 1800’s, around 1810-1830 in Germany. They are known as peg wooden, Grodnertal (for the region where they were made) or in the case of the smaller doll, tuck comb dolls (for the yellow/gold comb at the top of her head).
From the limited research I have done so far, I believe the larger doll is earlier, with her pointy nose and chin, her painting and her hairstyle.
Their joints are made from mortise and tenon parts, joined with tiny wooden pegs. Their lower arms, legs, bodice and head are painted. The rest of their bodies and limbs are unpainted.
Since the fashions of the period featured high-waisted dresses with low necklines, their bodies were shaped to accommodate the style.
And they both have red shoes.
I used to own a copy of Frances H Low’s 1894 book, Queen Victoria’s Dolls, but I sold it to buy more dolls. I loved the book, but I didn’t think I would ever have dolls like these of my own.
As a small girl, Victoria and her nanny dressed and catalogued many tiny wooden dolls which are illustrated in the book. The dolls are now in the collection of the Museum of London and several of their costumes were restored a few years ago for display. This link is for a YouTube video about the restoration.
But, there are many pictures of the dolls to be found on the internet that I can use for inspiration when dressing them. Some were even dressed as fairies. I’ve started a new Pinterest board on wooden dolls.
The small doll is dressed in an old, very dirty, pink cotton dress and a polished cotton slip. It is sewn on, but one day I will remove it and make her a new one. The naked doll needs a new dress first.
The dealer I purchased them from collects even earlier English wooden dolls, so she explained to me how to lightly varnish the painted parts of the dolls to preserve the paint.
Since they are so old, caring for them feels like a huge responsibility. I want them to last for at least another 200 years.
congratulation on a stunning purchase. I thought it was a wonderful show. Dealers really brought the cream…..and most were charging accordingly!!
I also made a purchase and maybe calling for advise….
So Caty, what did you get??
I’m enjoying your My Dolls Trousseau columns very much, esp. this one on wooden dolls. I noticed this was written in 2014. Did you ever recostume the smaller Grodnertal? I was hoping you didn’t because aren’t we supposed to keep the original clothing on the doll or if not keep the original with the doll? I think your little doll is charming. Her dress just needs a gentle wash. Do you still have her in your collection?
I still have the dolls. Although I rarely worry about the rules regarding what we’re “supposed to” do with our dolls, I haven’t redressed her. Thanks for the question.