By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
Dolls likely have co-existed with humans ever since we figured out how to mold them from clay or carve them from wood.
They've soothed little girls, been gifts from loving relatives, helped market haute couture fashions, sell soup and other products, and fueled childrens' imaginations as story book characters.
Del Norte County resident Bernice Allen shared part of her collection with residents of Addie Meedom House earlier this week.
"I began collecting because I loved dolls," Allen said. "I've had dolls since I was about four years old."
She remembers getting her first doll: An aunt took her into a store that sold nothing but dolls and told her to choose just one.
Allen remembers feeling "overwhelmed," but she finally selected a simple bb doll she saw at eye level.
"Most of the dolls were elaborate," she said. "I think my aunt was disappointed."
Allen has collected dolls for 40 years, assembling an impressive collection.
Not only has she collected dolls, at one point she wrote columns about them in three antique trade magazines. One was "Antique Trader Weekly."
Part of her collection was also featured in a magazine published by the Campbell Soup company.
Two other pieces, "Wasp-waisted Boy" and "Wasp-waisted Girl" represent a period around the 1830s when seamstresses used dolls as models for their latest creations.
The dolls are tiny, and yes, definitely wasp-waisted to sport the fashions women wore over the laced-tight corsets that fashion dictated they wear.
The girl and boy dolls are made from sewn kid skin bodies, tapered legs and papier-maich heads painted with minimal features.
After all, the point was the latest ensemble, not the doll's face.
The earliest dolls remaining in existence were fashioned from rags and corn shucks. Earlier dolls were probably formed of kneaded clay dried in the sun.
Rags and shucks gave way to wooden dolls, some of them with moveable joints formed by ball-joints at the hips, shoulders and heads.
China dolls were mostly forms of ladies, and date back about 150 years, circa the late 1800s.
"The Germans and French gave us bisque dolls, there were literally hundreds of manufacturers," Allen said. "They give us a peek at history."
Bisque dolls represented baby- and toddler-age children, according to Allen.
Allen owns such a doll, modeled after a German Kaiser who was born with a deformed left arm. The newborn-sized doll is a Kaiser doll. It's marked with a K-Star of David-R, and has a bent left arm.
"I talked to a woman who was about 100 years old, who remembered playing with dolls made from a rock with a face painted on it," Allen said. "My aunts told me they played with dolls made of corn ears and cornsilk hair."
Doll manufacturers mark their dolls on the head or left shoulder. The mark can contain information such as the mold used for the model and head, and number of such dolls made.
Not all are so easy to identify.
Composition dolls, those made from a mixture of sawdust or wood pulp and glue, then molded, led dolls into the 20th Century.
In and out of that type wove celluloid, hard plastic and soft plastic molded dolls.
Allen's collection includes dolls of all the different time periods.
Allen, who moved here about two and one-half years ago from Sacramento, is thinking about paring down her collection, which she keeps insured.
She hasn't unpacked all of it for display, yet. But those who stopped by the Addie Meedom display treated themselves to a peek at the fruits of four decades of collection.
Doll Identification Terms
Bb The term commonly used to describe French dolls representing small children.
Bisque Unglazed porcelain; usually molded into shape, then baked at high temperatures in a kiln to form doll heads and bodies. Most German and French dolls from the late 1800s and very early 1900s had heads made of bisque.
Celluloid The first plastic used to make dolls; it's highly flammable and usually quite thin. The material was used for doll making from approximately the 1920s to the 1940s (generally) until hard plastic dolls were introduced.
China Glazed porcelain used for making dolls' heads. Very popular in the mid-1800s.
Composition A mixture of wood pulp,
sawdust, glue and similar items that was used to make bodies for antique dolls and also for entire dolls (heads and body)
during the 20th Century until the advent of hard plastic dolls.
Hard Plastic A type of durable, very hard plastic used to make dolls in the 1940s and 1950.