Find of the Month: Blonde 1890s China Doll in an 1860s Plaid Silk Dress

March/April 2015

This month’s FOTM is actually from March, but I only just got around to taking some pictures of her a few days ago. May I introduce, Miss L:


Miss L was snatched up at Historic Camp Bowie Mercantile in Fort Worth. Though it is listed as an antique store, well over half of the booths are selling modern decor, clothing, and crafts (which seems to be an increasing trend in antique co-ops). However, there are some antique booths to be found amid the maze of partitions covered in framed still life prints, crackle-finish mirrors, and inspirational quote signage. This lovely lady was hiding in a dolly pile-up atop a German dark wood hutch at the very back corner of the store. When I first found her, I nearly tripped over a dining set in my excitement. Her price tag, however, hurt more than my stubbed toe! Forlorn and bruised, I set her back down and continued wandering the store trying to get my mind off her pretty pink plaid dress and adorably askew blue eyes.


Silently judging you, resting bitch face victim, or holding a ridiculously long note on an invisible trumpet?

But love knows no monetary boundaries, so in a wallet-walloping moment, I flew back to her and paid her $85 ransom to a gruff grey-haired woman at the register.

Miss L is very handsomely attired. The main attraction is her brightly colored silk dress trimmed with lush silk velvet. It has a very full skirt and basque bodice- undeniably 1860s in silhouette.



She has tiny “alien” hands. Aren’t they so oddly modeled? They are framed by velvet-cuffed pagoda sleeves with lace frills.


It’s hard to tell from this photo, but the outside of the silk (top left) has, as is so often the case, faded while the underside has better maintained the vivid original hues. The skirt is cartridge pleated.


The bodice has four beads acting as “buttons” down the front. The dress has two later snaps added to the front (likely to replace missing hooks and eyes).


The back of the bodice. The seams all show signs of stress and fraying.


The inside of the bodice showing the tiny 1/8 inch seams. it is machine sewn except for the trims and hems.

Finding a lovely doll with a such a pretty outfit would be treat enough, but, just like a full-sized outfit of the period, Miss L’s dress is supported by a full suite of minutely detailed undergarments as well– including a hoop skirt!



Miss L’s outer petticoat is decorated with hand made broderie anglaise, a type of eyelet that was popular in the 1850s and early 60s.


The hoop skirt has a single hoop attached halfway down the length. The outer petticoat and hoop skirt share a single waistband. Both are cartridge pleated.


Underneath her petticoats, Miss L is wearing a chemise/corset cover tucked into a long pair of drawers (closed crotch, if you were curious). The drawers have four pintucks at the bottom of each leg and are trimmed in lace. A blue silk ribbon drawstring holds them on. They are sewn directly to her knees, so I cannot remove them to check the condition of her legs without cutting the threads.

I’ve been collecting dolls for most of my life, but I will confess that china dolls escape my expertise. Judging by the lack of detail, rather haphazard paint job, and general “bubbly-ness” of her hair, she appears to be a later Victorian model.


Her only marking is the number 0 on her back.

1860s china dolls generally have more delicate features and less voluminous hair with far more sculptural detail.

China Doll Head, circa 1865
In the 1860s, dolls mimicked the popular hairstyles, which were generally smooth at the top, parted, and had volume mainly at the sides and back.

Frozen Charlotte Doll, circa 1880
An early incarnation of the classic high-loft, low-brow hairstyle that would become fairly standard on china dolls produced into the early 20th century. The black-haired china dolls from this period remind me of Betty Boop.

1890s china head doll

Hertwig German China Doll Head with Molded Collar, circa 1890-1900
Mass-production for these dolls hit its peak around 1895. You’ll notice that the hair is rather globular and the features are swiftly painted on, giving this dolly the same derpy look Miss L has.

Miss L’s dense hairstyle, face mold, and other china bits are characteristic of mass produced German china dolls manufactured from about 1890 to 1910.

IMG_2491 IMG_2495 IMG_2499

Her body is stuffed with sawdust. I know this because a) it was a popular stuffing material for cloth-bodied dolls and b) it ended up all over my desk.

It isn’t unheard of to find an old china doll head on a newer body or a new head on an older body. Doll bodies and heads were widely available though mail order catalogs. If a child dropped mommy’s (or even grandmother’s) old dolly, they might have simply ordered a new, inexpensive replacement.

montgomery ward doll head ad 1895

Clipping from the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog advertising various sizes of plain china doll heads with painted hair and eyes.
Note: the doll in the illustration is actually a bulldog in a wig.

It’s also entirely possible an industrious doll maker could have composed Miss L out of a variety of salvaged antique parts. The possibilities seem endless!

The mostly likely scenario, however, is a collector discovered that Miss L, an 1890s German doll, fit nicely into the clothes of a now-absent 1860s doll. A German 1890s doll by herself is cool, just as an 1860s doll dress by itself is cool. But united, their coolness multiplies exponentially, forming a gravitational pull that no doll/costume/antique obsessed shopaholic can resist. And by golly, it worked!

9 thoughts on “Find of the Month: Blonde 1890s China Doll in an 1860s Plaid Silk Dress

  1. Lovely clothing. I started to collect antique dolls at age 14, my mother was very indulgent, beause of the costumes. I love your writing. Thanks for sharing your finds with us!

  2. How lovely!
    I know very little about dolls except this: Even my mother, who was born in the 1950’s, still has a story about wanting a porcelain doll’s head as a child. You would buy a head and make (or more likely, your mother would make) a body and clothes for it. There were cheaper versions made from other, less fragile materials too.
    I think that is how most of these dolls came to be: A combination of store-bought and home-made. I’m not sure about the hands and feet though. Maybe they came with the heads?

  3. Wonderful doll!! And that great mid19th century plaid!! So exciting to me as i just a week ago bought a mid19th century china with a very similar outfit!! Including the hoop, but it’s attached to a silk petticoat. She has the older china head, intriquely-handsewn leather arms&hands stuffed with horsehair (or similar), stockings, leather shoes, “pocketbook”, chantilly-like lace, handmade hat, etc. If you can tell me how, i will send you photos. The velvet on my doll’s skirt is attached same as yours!! Very interesting to find “sister outfits” tho the two dolls are from different periods!!

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