I'll admit it: I love old dolls. Yes, they're glimpses into the everyday past as well as fashion, and often beautifully crafted, but what I like best is knowing that they were the confidantes of some long-ago little girl (or girls.)
Dolls were partners in games and theatrics, allies in wars with obstreperous brothers, and comforting friends to keep away monsters in the dark at night. Although they were outgrown and put aside, they're still survivors, and all those whispered secrets and pretend experiences imbue them with a special aura ordinary antiques just don't have. They're powerful with little-girl magic.
Yeah, a little woo-woo, I know. But when I saw (or met?) this elegant doll in the study drawers of Colonial Williamsburg's costume and textile department earlier this summer, I couldn't help but imagine the special place she must have held in at least one girl's imagination. She must have been an expensive plaything for a privileged girl, and she has miraculously kept her elaborate wardrobe over the centuries, down to her tiny brocade shoes, lower left. (Click on the photos to enlarge them for details.)
Here's the CW's catalogue description:
"This large doll is beautifully carved, gessoed, and painted, and represents the best of doll production in the eighteenth century. The doll retains her original clothing, complete with the underwear out, fastened in place with sixteen period straight pins with wrapped heads, just as a grown woman would fasten her clothing. The doll's first layer is a white linen shift with knee-length skirt, underarm gussets and a low neckline trimmed with a ruffled that showed above the gown.
"A pair of stays is worn over the shift, closely fitting the doll's fashionably shaped torso, with its small waist, bosom flattened and pushed upwards, shoulders placed well back, and flat shoulder blades - a shape resulting from girls wearing stays since childhood. A quilted petticoat, pleated to a tape waistband and backed with striped worsted, is tied over the shift and stays. The silk gown has a bodice opened at the front to show off the stomacher (in this instance made as one with the stays). Cuffs have removable white sleeve ruffles at the elbows. The skirt is opened at the front to reveal the petticoat. The doll wears knitted stockings that reach above the knees, held in place by ribbon garters tied around the upper leg. Accessories include a silk apron (possibly a later addition), square handkerchief, kid mitts, and a white linen ruffled cap."
It's an impressive wardrobe. I only wish she could talk....
Many thanks to Linda Baumgarten, Jan Gilliam, and Christina Westenberger for "opening the drawers" of the collection for me, and for their assistance with this post.
Above: Doll and original clothing, Great Britain or Europe, 1740-1760, Collection, Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott with permission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.