Wood Dolls

posted by Karen Hood
Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wood is one of the earliest known materials used to make dolls. However, very few dolls are made of wood today–wood is not a preferred material for children’s dolls (and wasn’t in the 20th century) because wood is hard and unyielding. Also, most wood dolls must be hand carved since wood does not lend itself to easily molding as does vinyl, bisque materials.

Wood was one of the earliest materials that dollmakers looked to, since wood was easily carved to resemble human form, and it was sturdy and unbreakable. However, most wood dollmaking was done by artists or by cottage industries. Today, most wood dolls are made by doll artists (such as Jean Lotz and her Hitty dolls) or in special limited editions for collectors (Madame Alexander). Wendy Lawton makes highly poseable wood bodies for her porcelain-head dolls.

The earliest dolls made out of wood were not playthings–they were symbolic and ceremonial figures, often of a religious nature. Italian creche figures made for hundreds of years are an example of this. Some of the earliest known examples of wood dolls made for play are from England, and later Germany as well. Today, most wood dolls made are created for collectors. They have a particularly folk-art feel to them, and are prized because they are handcrafted.

As mentioned, wood dolls are known from ancient times. Italian creche figure examples are known as early as the 1500s (very rare) and English wood dolls from the late 1600s and early 1700s are quite rare. English wood dolls are more plentiful from the late 1700s and early 1800s, and German Grodner Tal and Peg Wood dolls are from the 1800s. A cottage industry created peg woodens well into the 20th century, and there are artists today still making wood dolls.

The names of most early companies that produced wood dolls in Europe have been lost to time. Most wood dolls have been hand-carved by artists or artisans, or are from small cottage industries. In the United States, companies (artists) that produced wood dolls in the late 1800s include Joel Ellis and Mason, Taylor. Today, as mentioned, several artists make Hitty (a popular storybook character) including Jean Lotz. Madame Alexander makes Wendy Woodkin wood dolls hand-carved in China today.

The very earliest wood dolls, when found in excellent or better condition, generally sell for many thousands of dollars at auction. French Court dolls and very early English dolls from the late 1600s and early 1700s are dolls that are in this category and which can sell from $5,000 to $50,000 or more. An early Italian creche figure sold at auction at Theriault’s last year for $21,000.Later Queen Anne dolls (which are not actually from the Queen Anne period) from the late 1700s to early 1800s can be found for much lower prices, especially when worn.

American wood dolls such as Joel Ellis and Mason, Taylor dolls are generally found quite worn today, with prices from $500 to $1,000. German Grodner Tal and Tuck Comb dolls vary, from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand for very early or large examples, and those with unusual hairstyles and other features.

Modern wood dolls, such as the Wendy Woodkin series from Madame Alexander, generally sell between $150 to $300. Hitty doll reproductions vary widely in prices.

by Denise Van Patten
Source: About.com



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