In a terrific book called Mr. Wilsons’ Cabinet of Wonders, a collector of all sorts of rarities and oddities boasts tiny figures carved out of a strand of human hair. These are painted and detailed in every way. An old Nancy and Sluggo comic strip featured Nancy’s dad dragging into the house the foot of one of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons. The dialog box read something like “I found a new doll for Nancy’s collection at Macy’s after Thanksgiving Sale!”
Many dictionaries define a doll as a small model of a human being, especially a child’s toy. Other definitions define a doll as any representation of the human figure. If that’s the case, a statue is a kind of doll, even a building disguised as a statue like The Statue of Liberty. Currently, the Spring Temple Buddha in China is the largest statue in the world at 420 feet, but we wouldn’t call it a doll.
Then there are the old dressed fleas from Mexico, once sold by Kimport Dolls to collectors, and on the bucket list of your author. Or, the Kokeshi dolls painted on single grains of rice Japan. Few collectors have difficulties calling them dolls.
Among the smallest antique dolls are miniature peg woodens that live in wooden eggs that open. These are often labeled The Smallest Doll in the World. Miniatures created for dollhouses and tiny model railroad people are among the smallest figures available to collectors. Frozen Charlottes and penny dolls often begin at only an inch high. Jointed German bisque dolls by Carl Horn are also only an inch or two high; these often have crocheted outfits, and some are disguised as small animals. Worry dolls from Guatemala are barely an inch high, and fit in a tiny box, often ten or so at a time.
At the other end of the spectrum, very large dolls served as mannequins and were made by Kathe Kruse, F.G., and other firms. Patti Playpal and her family, 60s Companion dolls, My Size Barbie, and many French bisque, German bisques, and China heads were created in sizes of 31 inches, 36 inches, and 48 inches, big dollies indeed! Large Raggedy Ann dolls and other cloth dolls have been popular for years. Amish dolls are also made in sizes of around four feet, and McCall’s sold a pattern in the seventies for a cloth Betsy McCall that could wear the clothes of a three-year-old child. Lately, giant plush animals have been very popular as Valentine’s Day gifts.
Department store mannequins often pop up in doll collections, if only as cousins of the dolls already there. Like King Tut’s life-sized mannequin, these figures and dress makers dummies are related to the fashion dolls, from the 14th century Pandoras to French fashions, to Barbie and her friends that we all know and love. There are even life-sized Barbie and Ken mannequins used by department stores in the late 80s and early 90s. Small figurines and dolls often inspire artist Jeff Koons; he creates giant statues of them which often appear in parks and museums like the Cincinnati Museum of Art.
Suffice it to say, where collectors are concerned, the tiniest dolls may be microscopic, and the largest can be larger than life. As for the definition of “doll,” what’s in a name; a doll by any other name is still a Poupée. Or, as Gertrude Stein might say, a doll is a doll is a doll!
About the author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls. She has set up at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association. She is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons. An active blogger, she features two blogs about dolls, Dr. E’s Doll Museum, and Doll Museum. She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.
“Dolls are among the oldest cultural artifacts, and perhaps are the oldest toys. My passion for dolls began when I was a toddler, and it has never stopped. Explore the wonderful world of all things ‘doll’ with me.”
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