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Wax Dolls…Poured, Reinforced or Wax Over?

by Letha Berry (09/28/08).

The production of wax dolls began in the late 1700′s and continued into the early 1900′s. The vast majority of poured wax dolls were produced in England by doll makers such as Pierotti, Montanari, Meech, Peck and Marsh. Henry Pierotti made the first baby dolls and used the children of Queen Victoria as models. These dolls are known as Royal Model Babies. Augustus Montanari also made Poured Wax dolls that represented the Royal Children and they were know as Royal Wax Baby Dolls.

In the world of antique dolls there are three different types of wax dolls. There are the poured wax dolls whose face and limbs were poured into molds and made from entirely of wax. Another type of wax dolls are the Wax Over Papier Mache or Composition. The last type of wax dolls are those made of reinforced wax.

Many doll collectors shy away from the addition of a wax or wax over doll to their collections. These dolls are thought to be very fragile and the fear that they will melt has turned many collectors away from the purchase of an item they fear will be easily damaged or destroyed. While it is true that extreme temperatures, either hot or cold, can cause damage due to expansion and contraction of the wax resulting in crazing or cracking of the wax. However, the existence of these dolls is a testament to their ability to survive and to do so with many remaining in remarkable condition.

The majority of Poured Wax dolls were made in England. Poured Wax dolls were made by pouring molten wax which contained a blend of things including bleached beeswax amd coloring into a heated plaster mold. The eyes were either blown or moulded glass. The openings of the eyes were cut and after the eyes were adjusted a small amount of wax was poured into the head and cooled when it came in contact with the eye, thus fixing the eye in place. The hair was either human or made of mohair, it was carefully inserted either individually or with two or three hairs at a time into the scalp by means of pin holes or very fine cuts and provided the look of natural hair, Once the hair was inserted an iron roller would be used to gently but firmly roll over the head, this step held and secured the hair. The hair on these dolls were so carefully done that it could be combed without causing any damage or loss of hair. Poured Wax dolls had either painted eyebrows others had hair inserted to mimic eyelashes and eyebrows. Once the head was complete the facial features were further enhanced with additional coloring to the mouth. The majority of Poured Wax dolls were shoulder plate dolls with sew holes located on the shoulder plate which allowed for the attachment of the head to the doll’s cloth body which were stuffed with hair or other fibers. The arms and legs also were made of poured wax and each had sew holes allowing for their attachment to the body. The majority of Poured Wax dolls have no markings to identify the maker however,some later dolls do have stamps on the torso to identify the maker. If you are lucky enough to have a doll with a maker’s mark it will greatly enhances the value of your doll. Poured Wax dolls were dressed as babies in elaborate Christening gowns or in exquisite costumes that were worn by fashionable ladies of the time. These dolls can also be found representing children. Sometimes they have a slightly turned head and the plump face of a child. The Poured doll at the right is from my personal collection. She is she is 17 inches tall and is unmarked but is English from Circa 1870. Her hair is inserted mohair.

While England was producing Poured Wax dolls, Germany and France were making Wax Over Papier Mache or Composition dolls. These dolls were much less expensive than their Poured Wax counterparts and came in many different styles. The early dolls have dark pupiless eyes. Wax Over dolls include those with molded bonnets, Alice hairstyle, Pumpkin Heads and a Bartenstein Two Faced doll. Wax Over Papier Mache or Composition dolls were made by dipping the head in wax to provide it with an overlay of wax. This was done to produce a more life like look. Wax could be tinted and when a thin layer was applied to Papier Mache it allowed for a more realistic look. These dolls ususally have wigs made of mohair but can be found with human hair wigs. The English did produce some Wax Over dolls one being the Slit Head dolls and are an example of these type of dolls with human hair. The hair is attached through a hole that has been cut on top of the head and the hair inserted there and then glued in place. These dolls had glass eyes that can be either fixed or sleep eyes. Many of the sleep eyed doll worked by means of a string or wire that when pulled either caused the dolls eyes to open or close. French dolls usually have paperweight eyes while the German dolls had spun glass eyes which are flatter in appearance. Some dolls also had the ability to cry by pulling a string. As many of the wax over dolls had only a paper label which was easily lost the identity of many of the makers of these wonderful dolls have been lost to time. We do know that wax over dolls were produced in great numbers in both France and Germany. Like all dolls Wax Over’s can be found made in either a fine or a cheap quality. Body types can vary with many different styles including a cloth stuffed body with an attached shoulder plate with upper arms and legs of composition or cloth upper arms with lower arms and hands of leather or cloth. Additionally, the legs can be made of cloth with the lower legs made of cloth or Wax Over composition. Other body types include the so called Motschman type body with floating limbs. Another body type is the gauze with straw filled bodies with either composition limbs including painted shoes and socks or limbs made of wood or wax over. The Wax Over Papier Mache doll at the right is from my personal collection. She is Circa 1870 and is 24 inches tall, she has pull strings that make her cry. She is wearing her original clothing and was one of two dolls that I bought that belonged to sisters.

Reinforced Wax dolls were primarily made in Germany are made with the wax head being poured first and then the inside was reinforced using either plaster or strips of cloth soaked in composition to provide a stronger layer to support the wax. Even though these dolls are reinforced one should remember that like all wax dolls the faces can crack over time and are best maintained in a consistent temperature and should not be exposed to the sun for a long period of time as this can damage them. These dolls usually have wigs made of mohair or human hair but I have seen examples of them that have inserted hair. They have glass eyes with multi-stroke brows with painted upper lashes. They can have either a closed or open mouth but most examples I have seen are the closed mouth dolls. They are found on a variety of body types. One of the most common body types are those with a cotton or muslin body, with either composition or wax arms and legs. Other body styles include gusseted kid body with individually stitched fingers and leather bodies with cloth upper arms, composition forearms and lower legs. One of the most interesting body types I have seen on a reinforced Wax Over doll is the leather fashion type body with leather limbs though she is a child doll. She is pictured at the right. She has hand blown paperweight spiral eyes and is 21 inches tall. She dates to circa 1870 and is of French origin I believe due to her paperweight eyes.

It maybe be a surprise to many to learn that dolls that could produce sound such as talking or crying as well as dolls that could open and close their eyes were invented in the 1800′s. The Victorian advancement of these dolls included mechanical means by which the child could pull a string or wire and make the doll either open or close teir eyes. Strings were also used that when pulled would make the doll say Mama or Papa or cry. They also produced dolls that could kiss. Jules Nicholas Steiner produced the first walker doll in the 1850′s. It moved by means of three wheels that were hiddened under the dolls dress and petticoats.

Should you make the decision to purchase one of these dolls it should be based on your personal taste and the quality of the doll irregardless of the maker. Another important factor should be the condition of the doll. Any damage to the wax will greatly lessen the value of the doll. These type of dolls are not easily repaired. Wax dolls that have no damage such as crazing and have their original skin tone will sell at much higher prices but as with all antique dolls they are an investment but also a purchase of love.

4 Responses to “Wax Dolls…Poured, Reinforced or Wax Over?”

  1. richard graham says:

    i have been learning more on wax dolls, nice article. i have a ? for you, i have a wax shoulder head doll (head only) child approx 4years old wearing a bonnett, molded hair brown & redish under bonnett it appears to have hair, painted eye lashes and eyebrows closed lips (red) chubby cheecks, beautiful doll. odd thing the back of the head is flat and has been attached to a board,or(mounted.)as it is enclosed in a glass and wood trimed case approx 6″x13″x71/4″.it has been in the family for approx 80yrs never been out of case. if anyone has information on such wax doll it would be most helpful to identify.
    thank you
    dick

  2. Lady Suzanne Levy says:

    Hello, I do not think that you have a doll there. The Victorians were a mosrbid lot and if a child died in a wealthy family then it was quite common for them to hire an artist to make a wax effigy of the child or baby.
    I have had a few of these, usually babies with closed eyes and using the babies actual hair.
    The body would be cloth and weighted with sand to give it a realistic feel. They would be placed in a crib and their clothes would be changed and treated almost like a real baby.
    I once had the head and shoulders of a boy about 10 years old, so realisitic that one expected him to move and speak.
    I believe that your item is an effigy, strengthened by the fact that it is flat so it could be placed in a picture frame.

  3. Helen Bolton says:

    Thanks for your very informative descriptions for wax dolls. It has beenvery helpful. Have recently acquired a wax doll similar to your last doll picture and description. Can you give me some idea of its value? Thanks, Helen

  4. gidday if i took a photo of a wax doll i have [passed down generations]would you be able to tell me a bit about it thanks

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