It has been said that the invention of porcelain was China’s greatest gift to the world. The origins of the porcelain commonly referred to as China date back to the 16th century BC. The Chinese discovered that kaolin clay mixed with feldspar and then fired at a very high temperature fused to become porcelain. Soon this smooth, white, translucent material became prized the world over.
By the 18thcentury European and British potters had unraveled the mystery of making porcelains which closely imitated those of Chinese origins. China dolls were reportedly made as early as 1750 but it was not until the 1840s that china came into wide use for making dolls. These china dolls became extremely popular and had an advantage over the wooden and paper-mache dolls that preceded them as they were easily molded and their fired on painted finish made them quite durable. China dolls most commonly have molded, painted hairdos, reflecting the popular styles of the day. The language of identification developed by doll collectors of the 20th and 21st centuries generally refers to china dolls by the hairstyles they portray.
Millions of these china head dolls were exported from Europe to a world market. Due to taxes placed on imported items which were often based on cargo weight, many china dolls were shipped to the American market as heads only and sold to be placed on home-made bodies. The height of popularity for the china headed doll was the years between 1840 and 1880. Rarities in china heads include dolls with glass eyes, swivel necks, pierced ears, bald heads made to receive hair wigs or a slit in the bald head to insert hair into, and molded or applied china decorations such as combs and jewelry.
Among some of the earliest of china dolls were the pink chinas of the early 1840s, which were made by German factories such as Meissen, Konigliche Porzellan Fanufactur referred to as (KPM), and Schlaggenwald, as well as the royal Copenhagen Factory in Denmark and Jacob Petit of France.
Moving through the decades of the 19th century dolls evolved to follow the dictates of popular fashions and the names applied to these various models by modern collectors reflect styles or personalities associated with those eras.
By the 1870s, 80s and 90s the bisque child dolls of France and Germany came to dominate the doll market and china dolls began to lose favor. By the early years of the 20thcentury these dolls were for the most part relegated to the lower priced end of the market although some interesting and lovely dolls were still being made. China dolls cycled out of favor as toys by the 1920s and 30s but it was at that same time that the growing hobby of doll collecting began to embrace these dolls which were at that time highly nostalgic to the collectors of the day. This in turn led to the growing interest in reproduction china dolls which blossomed from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Today the elegant china ladies and gentlemen of the 19th century are again climbing in favor with collectors and provide a tangible link to that romanticized time.
Author – Linda Edward
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