Early Papier Mache Dolls….Delicate Beauties

China invented Papier mache and was using it during the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) to make helmets which were covered with many layers of lacquer to strengthen them. If you check the dictionary for the etymology of Papier Macheit it is French and literally means chewed paper. It is basically a mixture of paper, sawdust, plaster and glue which when mixed together could then be pressed into a mold thus producing the desired form. Many of the early Papier Mache doll makers had their own recipes with additives that were very closely guarded.

Papier Mache dolls are among the oldest dolls
that can still be readily found. Mass production of Papier Mache dolls began in the early 19th century and continued into the early 20th century. Since molds could be used to produce these dolls it allowed for them to be mass produced and made them more affordable to the general population. Germany, France and the United States were among the leaders in the production of Papier Mache dolls. In order to produce a more life like look some Papier Mache doll heads had an overlay of wax. Wax could be tinted and a thin layer applied which allowed for a more realistic look. The production of Papier Mache dolls in Germany was the main reason that they dominated the doll industry until World War I. There was one exception to this and it was the highly popular French Bebe dolls. The doll at the right is a 16 inch Circa 1870 all original Wax Over Papier Mache doll. This is an excellent example of how the use of wax on Papier Mache provided a more vibrant look to the face of the doll. She is on a Motschman type body with floating limbs and is from my personal collection.

One does not generally think of Italy and
the production of dolls in the 18th or 19th century. However, they were making Papier Mache items including Creche figures. While they are not considered to have been among the leaders in the production of dolls during the 18th or 19th century they did produce some very unusual and beautiful dolls. These dolls also known as Carta Pesta dolls have a Papier Mache heads and are generally found on leather fashion type bodies and their faces closely resemble those found on Creche figures. They were produced between 1780 to 1840 in small numbers so not many have survived. The doll at the right is an early glass eyed Italian Papier Mache from my personal collection. She has a very unusual face with down cast eyes and a smile that seems to convey that she has a secret but won’t share it. She is 22 inch tall on a leather lady fashion type body. Her dress is not original but is old, probably dating from the late 1890’s to early 1900’s, and is done in an appropriate style for the doll. Her underclothing I believe to be original to her. Her original dress was probably of a similar style and was made of silk and deteriorated thus necessitating the replacement of it. Since these dolls are rarely found she commands a place of honor in my collection.

The so called Milliners Models was the most common type of German Papier Mache. Due to the small size of many of these dolls it is doubtful that they were used by Milliners to display their latest styles and were probably made as children’s toys. Generally these dolls are found in sizes ranging from 8 to 10 1/2 inches although occasionally they are found in larger sizes up to 20 inches. They are on leather bodies with wood arms and legs. The majority of Papier Mache dolls produced in the 19th Century have painted eyes and molded painted black hair with exposed ears. They can be found on either leather or cloth stuffed bodies and can have wood, leather or cloth arms and hands. Many times they are found on homemade bodies with large hands that have only a thumb and the rest of the hand is of a mitt type. They can also be found on factory made bodies with leather arms and individual stitched fingers. The different body types are due to the fact that you could either purchase a complete doll or only the head. The rarer Papier Mache dolls have glass eyes and command higher prices than their painted eye counterparts. Although, Papier Mache dolls are beautiful they are maintained best in consistent temperatures. They tend to not tolerate extreme changes in temperatures well and are frequently found with crazing or cracks due to this. The doll at the right is an example of a common Papier Mache doll produced in the 19th Century. She is 16 inches tall on a homemade cloth body and is a possibly a Greiner as there was a label on her shoulder plate that is no longer there or is a Greiner type. She has the typical hair style of dolls of this period and is from my personal collection.

Among the earliest makers of German Papier Mache dolls were Andreas Voit and Johann Muller. They were both skilled craftsmen and produced some of the most beautiful Papier Mache dolls that can be found. Their dolls are highly prized by collectors for their unique delicate beauty.

In 1805 Muller a founded the first papier mache factory in Sonneberg. I have read that the early molds were made of wood and as such they did not hold up to repeated use due to the pressure involved in pressing of the papier mache mixture or masse. In 1818 Muller began using a sulfur based mold which could be used several times thus permitting a much more efficient method to mass produce the dolls. Due to laws at the time Muller could only made the doll heads and had to purchase the bodies, wigs, arms and legs. Some of the bodies on his dolls were either purchased from home industries or were factory made.

Anrdeas Voit established his factory at Eisfeld in 1806. Wax models was used by Voit in the production of his dolls. Many of the doll heads produced by Voit were sold to Paris where they were placed on tightly fitted leather bodies, dressed in the newest fashions and many sported wigs made of real hair. This had lead to these dolls being incorrectly referred as French Papier Mache dolls. Beginning in 1840 many of the Voit doll heads had an open cut out mouth that contained upper and lower teeth made of cardboard. Voit had 3 types of dolls one was a child’s head, one is the so called French papier-mache head which is a closed mouth Pauline and the three type was the open mouthed Pauline head. The picture at the right is an example of a 20 inch Anrdeas Voit open mouth Pauline doll and is a part of my collection. She is on a kid leather body, has a human hair wig, with pierced nostrils and upper and lower teeth. She is a rare doll as she has sleep eyes. She is wearing her original clothing and also proudly wears her First Place Ribbon from The United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC) convention held in Cleveland in 1960. While her clothing is all original it is very fragile as is most evident in her Poke bonnet. She was at one time a part of the Dorothy Dixon Collection.

The first American made papier Mache dolls were made by Ludwig Greiner. Greiner immigrated from Germany in the 1830’s and settled in Philadelphia. He produced papier mache dolls from 1840 to 1874. His early dolls are labled with a paper lable that reads “GREINER’S IMPROVED PATENT HEADS Pat. March 30th ‘58”. He died in 1874 and his sons continued to produced dollsuntil 1884. Greiner dolls range in size from 13 to 36 inhes. As he painted his doll heads in oil and then applied a varnish finish they tend to take on a yellowish color with age. There were other American doll makers of Papier Mache such as Edward S. Judge, Carl Wiegand and William A. Harwood. The dolls of Ludwig Greiner remain the most prized Papier Mache dolls produced in America.

Prices of Papier Mache dolls can vary greatly depending on the condition, the maker, rarity and age.

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