Small Talk Tag: Doll

Diplomatic Dolls

Decades before Hello Kitty captured the hearts of Americans, a fleet of Japanese dolls came to America to promote peace and ease cultural tensions. In the 1920s, anti-immigrant sentiments and cultural differences between Japan and America were coming to a head. An American missionary named Sidney Gulick proposed a doll exchange with Japan in order to open an avenue for peaceful communication. In 1927, American school children sent 12,000 “American Blue-Eyed Dolls” to Japan just in time to celebrate Hina Matsuri. Millions of Japanese children were so enthralled with the dolls that they donated money to create dolls to be sent to America, and thus the Japanese Friendship Dolls were born! Each doll represented a different Japanese prefecture, city, or colony and came with beautifully designed accessories such as teapots, parasols, and chests. (T/m is now home to one of these dolls, Miss Fukushima!)

Unfortunately, the diplomacy of the American Blue-Eyed Dolls and the Japanese Friendship Dolls did not last. When World War II broke out years later, dolls from the exchange were considered inappropriate to display, or even treasonous to possess. Many dolls were lost or destroyed. Those that remained safe through the years are now considered highly collectible. See some of them on exhibit in The Japanese Woodblock Print: An Extension of the Impermanent at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture on view now through April 19, 2014.

Photo: Miss Shimane Japanese Friendship Ambassador Doll, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Wikimedia Commons.

Durable Daisy

We’re going to take a break from Schoenhut’s playsets to take a look at another extension of the toymaker’s offerings: an unbreakable all-wood doll. The jointed Schoenhut All-Wood Perfection Art Doll was advertised in a 1911 catalogue with a “new patent steel spring hinge, having double spring tension and swivel connection.” This meant the doll could pose in many human-like positions. Holes in the bottom of the doll’s feet allowed them to pose flat-footed or on tip toe with a special doll stand.

While wood might not seem all that loveable, Schoenhut’s process of carving and burning away the rough wood left the surface as smooth as glass. The dolls were modeled after real children and painted with enamel oil colors so they could be washed easily after a messy tea party. The first dolls were 16 inches and came either dressed or undressed in modern children’s styles for $2 to $5. T/m’s Schoenhut doll Daisy was donated to the museum by her original owner Dorothy who received her as a Christmas gift. Daisy, who was named after Dorothy’s mother, went on many adventures before coming to us!

Tête-à-Tête with Tête Jumeau Bébé

In case your French is a little rusty (ok, we had to look it up too!), tête is the French word for head. This beautiful porcelain doll’s head was made by French dollmaker Pierre Francoise Jumeau in the 1880s. Dolls (or bébés) made by the Jumeau firm were known for their soft, expressive facial features and were most often made of bisque porcelain.

This particular bébé is not only pretty and well-dressed, but she’s also an automaton! The body of the doll contains clockwork mechanisms that are wound with a key to make her move. Automata tend to have somewhat slow and jerky movements that may seem a bit creepy or strange to us today, but dolls like this one were a popular form of entertainment in the 18th to early 20th centuries. It’s a good thing she’s so lovely to look at!

Look, I Can Swim!

This boxy bathing beauty doesn’t look much like your typical doll—she’s equipped with a key-wound, spring-loaded mechanism that allows her to actually do the breaststroke! Patented in 1878 by E. Martin, Undine, as she was named in the patent, probably wasn’t meant for children. Fanciful mechanical toys such as Undine were likely too expensive for child’s play and were instead used as a form of entertainment for adults during parties. While we don’t think she crossed the English Channel or won any medals for swimming in the 1896 Olympics, this Victorian mechanized swimming doll is certainly a noteworthy gal.

Want to see Undine race Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps? We do too, but unfortunately she hasn’t been wound up in quite some time. We did, however, find some modern takes on the swimming doll — no winding required — she takes AAA batteries and has a built-in sensor!

She Looks Just Like You

What little girl wouldn’t want a doll made to look just like her? American Girl Dolls can be customized to match their owner’s hair, eyes, skin tone, and even hobby (gymnastics anyone?!). While ordering dolls online may be a 21st century idea, custom-made dolls are a trend straight out of the Victorian Era.

19th century doll artist Izannah Walker began creating hand-painted cloth dolls in the 1840s. By 1873, she patented her process for doll construction, which covered molded fabric with paste. Walker’s dolls were an unbreakable counterpart to the popular china or bisque dolls of the time period. As you can imagine, these dolls were often well loved, so many of them haven’t survived. We’re lucky to not only have Miss Mary in our collection, but also a photograph of her and Mary Estelle Newell, the doll’s original owner—and in matching outfits no less!

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