Abandoned & unloved, broken, damaged & sad were these old hard-bodied composition dolls when they arrived home with me recently.
Three shabby orphans that have now moved in & joined the few other vintage dolls I have.
I don’t know the history behind these dolls, where they came from or who owned them or how many owners they had.
In fact, I don’t know about the previous life of any of my old composition dolls or how they came to be forgotten & abandoned to decay, crack & weather.
A composition doll is a doll made partially or wholly out of composition, a composite material composed of sawdust, glue, and other materials such as cornstarch, resin and wood flour. The first composition dolls were made in the 19th century. They were marketed as unbreakable, compared to earlier more fragile dolls.
Dolls made of composite pre-dated plastic.
This is the one on the right in the image at top.
These old composition dolls have various flaws, beautiful flaws, some more obvious than others. Perfect imperfections that come with age & quite common in old composition dolls. The two dolls discussed today are a Pedigree (made in UK) & a Reliable (made in Canada).
You can see the eyes are sleepy eyes or eyes that close when the doll is laid flat. They still work on this one as you see.
Bottom eyelashes are painted on. Top eyelashes are good.
Now, I’m not a doll expert in any way shape or form. I simply like certain types of old dolls about which I do a bit of reading/research to find out the basics. I follow my nose basically.
This little dolly (front left in the three-some picture above) has the typical lifting issues quite common in these old pieces.
You can see the paint is lifting from the contour/indent areas on the composition. This dolly, in fact, shows all the typical areas such as the sides of the nose, eyes, corners of the mouth, ears & feet & contours of the arms & leg sockets, the joins.
If there’s a crack somewhere, it usually means an opening underneath & lifting from the composition.
Sometimes, even if there is no visible crack, a careful look & I might find the paint has lifted usually where the paint has risen, bubble-like. If I break the bubble I can see the composition underneath. I don’t make a habit of doing that as I want to keep the dolly as is.
Check out the sad little face, a broken antique face, cracked, crazed & peeling showing a true distressed, worn patina with all the damage & flaws that come with age & neglect.
Sometimes the composite material itself decays & wears if the doll has been subject to moisture, to hot & cold conditions, along with wear.
You can see where they have experienced damage & decay on the hands & fingers which are brown & darkened from age. Also general wear on the body. One has a crack on the left tummy. This kind of damage is not unusual.
This doll shows exactly what’s happening as the shape of its face gives rise to the paint lifting off the composition drying, cracking, splitting, peeling & chipping. Any old composition doll that’s basically been deserted & not cared for will likely come with similar imperfections in the paint as well as stains.
My reading indicates that some of the older composition dolls could be 60-80 years old now. Generally they have glass eyes unlike the vintage hard plastic & vinyl dolls which have plastic eyes.
Even though the eyes are stuck & wont move on this doll, the top eyelashes are OK. The bottom eyelashes are painted on. It is not easy to find dolls that have been discarded & neglected with one or both eyes not shattered or damaged in some way.
The glass eyes in these two dolls look to be “blown” or “crystallized” giving them that vacant look. Known as “shattered glass”, “crystallized’ or “blown eyes”, or “flat” or “foggy” eyes, they are an issue with older composition dolls.
Pristine eyes, the beautiful glass eyes often found in old composition dolls, especially the German ones, are not easy to come across & would likely command a much higher price than I would be willing to pay assuming I was into restoring these dolls – which I am not.
I don’t want the dolls in pristine condition. I don’t want them perfect. I am not a collector of dolls. Not in the slightest. The few I have stumbled across are much the same as you see here.
I wonder about these dolls? I wonder what trauma has this little person been through & survived? When was innocence lost?
Sometimes they become a kind of living art, man-made works of art, displaying aging & its imperfections like that we all experience over time.
Who of us has had a perfect life? Who of us has retained the perfect, youthful skin we had at birth?
These particular dolls seem not to be static objects.
These little guys have a life story that I will never know, a life story that may have been lonely & traumatic at times.
I have had clients like broken & abandoned dolls, women, children, who share a life story of trauma, sadness, abuse & heart-break yet who are survivors.
I fell in love with these lonely little orphans just as they are, as I found them, as you see them now.
They came to me broken, sad & lonely little people, survivors still surviving & looking for a home.
These dollies are moveable art that survives. Art that becomes living little humans.
I don’t want to meddle with their life-story, a secret unto them.
I wont be changing their looks other than dressing them.
I won’t be repairing the old glass eyes.
No doll hospital for these dollies. No repairs.
It would sadden me to see their character & personality, their innocence, their experiential story, completely erased.
Their looks, especially their faces & the sad, vacant eyes, tell their story.
I love these fragile, heartbroken little people just as they are. With me they embark on another chapter in their life story.
I know there are some folk who don’t like certain types of dolls, not just dolls that have ended up abandoned, neglected & broken like these. People who fear those dolls often call them “ugly” or “creepy” or “scary”. I’m not sure that amounts to a phobia. While I don’t understand that kind of ‘fear’ of dolls I accept that it is real for some.
This short article explains the condition called pediophobia: the unwarranted, irrational & persistent fear or worry of dolls. It is a specific phobia belonging to the category of ‘automatonphobia’. Pediophobia comes from the Greek word paidion meaning ‘little child’.
On the topic of dolls today, why not the poem ‘The Dolls’ by William Butler Yeats. A quick scout around the internet & you find various analyses & critiques of the poem.
… and we will meet the vacant eyed doll in the centre (above) & more in a later post …. stay tuned.