Posted in Dolls, Gift Ideas

by Ruby Lane

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Kids aren’t the only ones with lists for Santa; after all, there is a seasonal song titled “Grown-up Christmas List.” Here is a doll list for Christmas for “kids from one to ninety-two” and beyond.

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China heads, especially those with black hair. Allegedly over one billion china heads were made in Germany during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Is it any wonder that the white complexioned, almost Goth china head with rosy cheeks and glossy black hair is the iconic antique doll for many? I love the black and white contrast, and the porcelain gleam. The versatility and variety of these dolls is stunning; some heads are smaller than a dime, and others are life sized. Their hair runs from simple to elaborate, and their eyes blue, brown, or glass, glow with antique memories. China heads are easy to dress and to pose in doll tableaux or doll houses. There is a mystique to them for some of the romantic names attributed to them, Lydia, Jenny Lind, Marie Antoinette, Fanny Essler, Highland Mary, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Countess Dagmar, but no collection should be without one! I’m just saying…

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Raggedy Ann: You could fill a room just with Raggedy Ann and Andy Christmas memorabilia, if not a whole house. Raggedy Ann conjures images of kindness, friendship, and a happy childhood. Raggedy gives hope; despite her tragic death, little Marcella lives each time we read Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann Stories, or each time we see one of her movies. She and Andy even have a place in a PBS commercial. She brings back happy times and is the universal rag doll, whose very name is often the generic for timeless rag babies of cloth worn with love.

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Barbie: Vintage, 80s, current, it doesn’t matter to me! I am proud to have been born in the middle of The Barbie Revolution, and love all things related to the Blonde Tressed Maven! She’s brought being blonde, and every other hair color, to new heights of fashion honor. In the style of antique fashion dolls, Barbie inspires style sense, but also every valuable vocation in little kids and big kids who love her. The annual holiday dolls have started family traditions, with each new Christmas bringing a new doll. 2016 Holiday Barbie appears in varied hair colors and skin tones in either aqua or red skirted gowns. 2016 Star Trek Barbies include Uhura, Kirk, and Spock, while Barbie Collector also features Blue Chic Barbie and Hudson Bay Barbie. If ever a doll were eye candy, that doll is Barbie!

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R. John Wright: Art dolls soar to new heights with his creations, and his trompe l’oeil creations in felt that like his Celestial Messengers, are often inspired by other media. You learn literature and history just by browsing his website and looking at his dolls. My personal favorites are the Christmas Kittens, the Fairy Tale Mice, Sylvie Ann, The Wicked Witch of the West, and Edith the Lonely Doll.

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Wax Dolls: Before there were reborn babies, portrait dolls, My Twin dolls, My Child Dolls, character dolls or attempt at making realistic dolls, there were wax figures.  Wax dolls made their debut in the Ancient World, in Egypt, Greece and Rome.  Wax modeling took off in The Middle Ages and continued through the Renaissance, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Leonardo da Vinci is credited with dabbling in wax works, and a famous female anatomist modeled anatomical “Venuses” or women in wax.   Madame Tussaud brought the art of wax working to a fine art.  Her museums still exist around the world today.  Wax dolls became popular in the late seventeenth century as Baby House inhabitants and as dolls during the 18th century.  They had been popular as Santos and Crèche figures for some time.  By the 1850s, they were used to create wonderful wax dolls, and makers like Marsh, Montanari, Peck, and Pierotti became famous.  The Bronte sisters played with wax dolls, and a wax doll that “seemed to be alive” belonged to mean Nellie Oleson in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek.  Who wouldn’t love a Pierotti or wax portrait of Queen Victoria peeking out of her Christmas stocking?

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Metal Dolls:  Metal headed dolls and detached heads were made in Germany  under the trademarks Juno, Minerva, and Diana.  They were modeled to look like china head dolls and dolly faced bisque dolls, but unlike these, metal heads weren’t meant to be as immortal as the goddesses by Vincent Lake and others, as they do dent and chip.  Swiss jointed dolls by Bucherer and other companies are popular today, and baby dolls and toddlers that were all or part metal were popular during the 1920s.  Metal heads are relatively available and inexpensive, and make a great Christmas present for doll lovers that were their namesakes. 

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Paper Dolls:  Paper has been used in Asia for ritual figures for some time.  Today, 3D Japanese paper dolls are among the finest made, but there are also great examples from Sweden and elsewhere.  Traditional two-dimensional paper dolls are still a lot of fun, and new, art paper dolls and homemade examples continue to please.  According to Barbie’s creator, Ruth Handler, paper dolls inspired the Barbie doll.  Early, hand tinted 18th century examples, and early printed dolls are to die for.  Would anyone love to find an original set of Jenny Lind paper dolls or The History of Little Fanny?

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Miniature Dolls:  I have been looking for a set of dressed fleas, once sold by Kimport Dolls, for most of my adult collecting life.  To my knowledge, they are the smallest dolls around, but Kokeshi made of rice kernels from Japan are a close second.  As a child, I was thrilled to visit Mott’s Miniature Museum, once housed in Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California.   There was an entire miniature shop there devoted to the tiniest dolls every made.  All china “Frozen Charlottes” are extremely rare, and also on many a wish list, but tiny all bisque, china, and half dolls continue to delight.  They people doll houses, teacups, shadow boxes, and the dreams of all who love miniatures.  Little Kiddles, Secret Central, Polly Pocket, Peewees,  Hallmark Merry Miniatures, Strawberry Shortcake, Heidi, and other tiny dolls continue to attract collector fans today.

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Art dolls in general: I would love to find a Sasha, a Dorothy Heizer, a couple of Annette Himstedts and Greg Ortiz dolls holding hands under my tree. A few custom made bears, more original Suzanne Gibsons, an R. Lane Herron Historical Lady, and maybe one of every doll made by the N.I.A.D.A artists just doesn’t seem like a tough task for Santa! Doll artists are great artists in other media as well, and have been for some time. Picasso made dolls and was influenced by them. Albert Marque was a sculptor as well as doll maker. Many current doll artists create in other media as well and their dolls are an extension of the marvelous personal art galleries they have created. Dolls truly tell the story of all humanity, and the dolls created by doll artists are the magnificent coffee table book illustrations.

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Madame Alexander: Madame Alexander dolls were always a Christmas tradition for me.  For awhile, in the late 70s and early 80s, we had to special order them in store, then wait till those ahead of us got their choice.  Now, we can order directly from Madame Alexander online, and even buy them at Toys R Us, Walmart, and elsewhere.  Tuesday Morning offers Alexander doll lines at a discount.  My favorites are still the vintage 8 inch International dolls, and the Victoria baby doll.  Elise in her gorgeous gowns will always top my Christmas list, and my favorite version of Elise dressed as Mary, Queen of Scots. Vintage Alexander dolls are still doing well on the antique and collectibles Market, too.

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Lenci: I’ve loved these dolls since I first read about them in Helen Young’s The Complete Book of Doll Collecting, and in my friend’s book, the late Mary Hillier’s Dolls and Doll Makers. Edith the Lonely Doll is a Lenci, and Lenci dolls inspired the amazing work of R. John Wright.  When I was a little girl visiting Rome, I was able to buy a Lenci or two from a shop by the Trevi Fountain, talk about provenance!  Other Italian and French dolls of this period are equally beautiful, as are the dolls by Mary Vaz of Spain.  Lenci dolls were an important part of Shirley Temple’s collection, and Jane Withers was a fan of them, too.  One became a gift to the late Princess Diana.  The Lenci Rudolph Valentino is among the most desired portrait dolls ever created.  I’ll have a place on my Christmas list for them, old or new.

 

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This doll wish list is not exclusive; there are many wonderful dolls, old and new available, many to be found on Ruby Lane, others directly from their artists.  It does look as if the doll, which may be the world’s oldest toy, will endure for many Christmases yet to come.

 

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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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