In doll collecting “mask-face” is a term used to denote a doll whose face is made separately which is then affixed to the doll’s head, which is most often of fabric. Most often these mask faces are made by pressing fabric or paper into a mold (later dolls with mask faces of porcelain, plastic and vinyl were also made). These fabric or paper faces are usually stiffened with sizing or glue and may be layered with multiple pieces of fabric, buckram or paper. The use of a mask face enabled manufacturers to create nicely detailed dolls in a cost-effective manner.
Albert Bruckner patented such a process in the USA in 1901. Although lithographed cloth faces had been in use for dolls for some years, Bruckner’s process gave dimension to what were previously flat faces. A British patent for a molded faced cloth doll was granted to Dean’s Rag Book Company in 1913 for their Tru-to-Life dolls.
Soon there were a number of American doll making companies who offered a wide variety of styles and characters with mask-faces. Mollye Goldman’s International Doll Co. produced a series of mask-faced dolls wearing costumes of the world beginning in the 1920s. Goldman’s mask-faces were reported as coming from England and the features were hand painted in oils. Mollye’s dolls had rosebud shaped mouths and wispy type painted eyelashes. The hair on these dolls was of yarn or mohair. The seams on the back of the doll’s cloth body are machine stitched. They were available in sizes of 13.5, 15, 24, and 27 inches. The line would prove to be very popular and was made from the 20s right through the 1950s.
Also, in the late 1920s, Richard Krueger of NYC began offering cloth mask-faced dolls. They offered a line of dolls based on nursery rhymes and other characters. On December 23, 1930 Krueger was awarded a patent for making cloth Kewpie dolls with mask-faces. These were made under a licensing agreement with the Kewpies’ originator Rose O’Neill.
In the 1930s the majority of dolls made by Georgene Novelties were cloth with pressed mask-faces. These dolls were 12 to 26 inches in height and had painted features with painted or real eyelashes and yarn hair. Many of these were also costumed to represent world dress. The seams on the back of the doll’s torso overcast stitched by hand. This characteristic is a good clue when determining the maker of unmarked examples of Georgene or Molly’es dolls.
The first dolls offered by Madame Alexander in the 1920s were cloth dolls with hand painted, flat faces. By 1933 Madame was offering dolls with cloth mask-faces. Many of these were based on literary characters from Dickens, Lewis Carrol’s Alice In Wonderland, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The features were hand painted in oils. The simple bodies were made of pink cotton and were jointed with stitching at the shoulders and hips. Alexander would keep cloth mask-faced dolls in their line into the 1940s.
Another company producing this style of doll was The Blossom Doll Co. of NY. They employed the use of mask-faces on boudoir dolls. These dolls were made in a variety of models depicting women, wedding party members, and male and female Harlequins. Blossom dolls faces have a silky finish to the fabric and had inset real hair lashes. In addition to their bed dolls, Blossom also made cloth, mask-faced children. These dolls measured approximately 11 inches in height. They have been found wearing historic type costumes such as Pilgrims and fanciful fruit costumes such as oranges and pumpkins.
Mary Waterman Phillips of Atlanta, Georgia was the creative force behind the dolls marketed under the name Mawaphil (for the first letters of her names). She began in the early 20s making stockinette crib dolls but by the early1930s was also offering mask-faced dolls with a distinctive look. After her marriage to William Wight Rushton the company name became The Rushton Co. The company continued to offer a range of products until its closure in approximately 1984.
The cloth mask-face did a lot to enable the fledgling American doll companies of the early twentieth century and were the basis of many attractive, yet inexpensive dolls available through the depression and war years in America.
Author – Linda Edward
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