By popular demand (i.e., the only comment on last week’s post) here is the baby doll currently occupying the Sandy Spring doll cradle. This little guy has a bisque (ceramic) head, glass eyes, and a composition (a mixture of wood pulp and glue) body, typical of dolls made in the early 20th century. It (he? It seems like a boy to me) belonged to the donor, Kathryn Brown, who was born in 1916. I chose this doll, out of the many in our collections, for display in the current exhibit because in 1938 the donor married Irvin Brooke, grandson of John and Amelia Dawson, who spent much of his childhood here in the Beall-Dawson House; it seemed like a nice, although tenuous, connection.

No maker’s marks are visible, other than what look like the numbers 3 and 2 on the base of the head. An expert on antique dolls might recognize the facial features, but I haven’t been able to match him up with any particular doll or maker. He’s been repaired, or at least repainted, a few times, particularly around the neck; his hands and feet show some wear; but otherwise, he’s in pretty good shape (especially in contrast to some of the dolls in our collection, who are a little worse off from years of play and affection). His clothing – a long infant gown with matching slip, and a handkerchief pinned on to serve as a diaper – is period, although I’m not sure if it was donated with the doll or if they were provided for him post-donation (they’re not separately identified as collection pieces).

One comment I’ve heard from volunteers and visitors – about this guy, and about some other dolls from our collections – is “that is creepy-looking.” (Hey, he’s not as bad as our Shirley Temple doll who long ago lost the paint marking her pupils, creating a rather malevolent kiddie-star stare.) True, the early baby dolls often lack the cuteness factor found in more modern Cabbage Patch Kids, Beans and the like; but, to use the argument historians so often fall back on, That Was the Style Then, and it didn’t look strange to our ancestors’ eyes. The invention of the true “baby doll” in the early 20th century was a step up for children who wanted to play with a doll that resembled an actual infant, not a miniature adult. Most of these early baby dolls were modeled with a ‘realism’ that was eventually replaced with a more cartoonish (and to modern eyes, appealing) look.

For more on the history of various styles of dolls, check out the Victoria & Albert’s Museum of Childhood site.