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
After being introduced at the Paris fashion show in 1910,
where Poirets 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.
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
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
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
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
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