A line of dolls designed for "big" girls

 
 
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Meet the Boudoir Dolls, Classy Vintage Ladies
 
By Barbara Sutton-Smith
Down the ages, dolls have normally been associated with children. They were made as playthings, particularly for little girls. This idea extended to "big" girls (grown-up ladies) just before World War I, when Paul Poiret, the Parisian couturier suggested all fashionable women should carry dolls.
 
At the very least, Poiret said, ladies of social standing should have fashionably dressed dolls gracing their boudoirs or as ornaments in their drawing rooms - surprisingly the idea caught on.
 
After being introduced at the Paris fashion show in 1910, where Poiret’s models paraded cradling in their arms these long legged dolls with adult looking features and dressed in matching fashion clothes, the Boudoir Doll became all the rage, and by the 1920s were popular in England, Germany and the United States. They were posed on sofas and chairs, draped on beds and carried as mascots at balls, dances and social events. The wealthy even took them when they went motoring or for a flip in that new mode of transport - the aeroplane.
 
They were seen in window displays of big department stores all dressed in outfits matching those on the life size models. They became known by a variety of names - art doll, sofa doll, bed or boudoir dolls, and in America, vamps and flappers.
 
Once these dolls became a commercial fashion whim, they fell into the category of a novelty to be discarded when fashions changed or women tired of them. As a result many of these dolls were cheaply made, usually with bodies of butter muslin or cheap cotton, straw stuffed or filled with kapok or sawdust. The lower parts of the arms and legs were more often than not made of plaster composition and painted flesh pink. The feet were modelled and high heeled shoes painted on in gold or black. Often the finger nails were gold-painted too.
 
Some of the dolls had pressed fabric heads with silk or muslin covered face masks, painted eyes and silky eyelashes, while others had heads of thin moulded cardboard covered with painted stockingette, suedette or cotton. The "hair" was either a wig of mohair or made of black silk thread. The blondes very often wore their hair in "earphones" made out of shiny platinum coloured thread. Each reflected the fashion trend prevalent at the time.
 
Boudoir dolls were made by a number of firms whose wares were unmarked. However, in the late 1920s Dean's (who specialized in Rag books for small children) included 'Smart Set' dolls in their range, among them a Duchess with a lorgnette and dressed in a leopard skin coat. The Chad Valley Company in the early 1930s introduced "Carnival Dolls" dressed in Pierot costume; these they described in adverts as "a Sofa Doll for the sophisticated Miss of 1935, coldly disdainful or bewitchingly inviting."
 
Although these dolls originated in France, doll-makers in Germany and elsewhere in Europe manufactured the Boudoir type as did those in North America. Occasionally, one finds a model wearing an original outfit with a maker's tab sewn to the sole of the foot.
 
It is generally accepted that the earlier Boudoirs with long eyelashes of real hair set into a slit over the eyes, and those with silk stockingette faces and plaster combination limbs, are French. The Italian Lenci made "Personality Doll" of the 1920s was described by "Play Things" magazine as "being real works of art created by Italian artists and having true-to-life expressions of the face." They were made of material that was impossible to break and they wore striking original costumes.
 
The Lenci company was famous for these dolls in the years between the two World Wars. They were dressed in a variety of styles and wore clothes of bright colours. Lenci also made Indians and cowboys for the American market.
 
One sure way of identifying a Lenci doll is by the zigzag seam at the back of the neck. The fashion for the long-legged flapper dolls, as they are commonly called, had completely died by the beginning of the World War 2. A few were reintroduced in the 1960s in plastic, but interest in such novelties was over. In the late 1930s, the same heads were used in full skirted dolls for telephone covers or pajama cases.

At a recent fair in England, a friend found a most unusual Boudoir doll. Her legs were three feet in length and she was dressed in riding habit, complete with hard hat and long black boots. She needed a face-lift and her black hunting coat was damaged by moth, but at $50 my friend thought it a good buy for her collection.
 
Photo 1 - Boudoir Lady, circa 1920s, 15 inches (39 cm) tall, with long pigtails, white dress and ruffled skirt, yellow hat etc.
 
Photo 2 - Faci-ette Cigarette Girl by Lenci, circa 1923, 25 inches (64 cm) tall, with cloth and felt body, felt head etc.
 
Barbara Sutton-Smith has been an antiques dealer for 35 years, a freelance writer on antiques, co-compiler of Unitt's Canadian Identification and Price Guides, and former co-owner/editor of Antiques Showcase
 

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