UPDATED 19th c. Oil Painted Cloth Doll with Provenance


In the mid-1980s, Kate Allison (1896-1991) decided to part with a cherished doll she’d had since childhood– a doll that may have been handed down to her from her mother. Kate had no children of her own, so she gave the doll to a family member, Emma Helen Owen Nenney, for Emma’s granddaughter Susan. After more than a century in private hands, Kate’s doll now awaits a new home.

Made of sturdy muslin and stuffed with what looks and feel like raw cotton, this handsome doll is 17” tall and one of the most beautifully constructed early cloth dolls that I’ve seen.

The three-dimension oilcloth head features seams at the back and from ear to ear, but no center seam through the face. The doll’s hair and facial features are oil painted, the blue eyes and red lips faded, but still visible in good light. As the photos show, the hands are also oilcloth with delicately stitched fingers. The doll’s forward-facing feet (now slightly turned out) are constructed as part of the legs.

What’s really interesting is the design of the torso: an hour-glass figure that ends in a wide inverted “heart” on which the legs are strategically placed to allow the doll to sit upright on its own. The doll body is so well constructed that it could have been made from an early patented design or produced by one of the early manufacturers of cloth doll bodies in 19th century America.

As for condition, the doll body is all original with no replaced limbs. At some point, the left arm was re-attached and is slightly shorter than the right one as a result. There is expected playwear of course, the most notable being creases to the oilcloth head and a break in the seam along the left side of the face, but the overall condition of the body is very good.

Kate’s doll comes with her original machine-stitched dress made of light blue cotton batiste, now faded to gray, but still in good condition. Two later garments — a pair of lace-trimmed cotton bloomers and an eyelet-trimmed cotton slip — are in excellent condition. The doll is from the fourth quarter 1800s based on construction details, clothing style and family history.

I’ve attempted to accurately capture construction and condition details by taking photos with and without flash, indoors and out, and using various exposures. Email for more images and information.


Click any image to enlarge it.