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Discover Mid-America —January 2005

Michael Canadas makes adjustments to the fashion doll exhibit he and
fellow dealer David Robinson sponsored at Kansas City’s Toy and Miniature Museum
(photos by Ken Weyand)

The study of dolls is the study of mankind, so states a phrase headlining the United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC) website, Perhaps the accuracy of that statement helps account for doll collecting being one of the three largest hobby groups in the world, “vying with stamps and miniatures for first place,”
according to the UFDC.

The worldwide organization, now in its 55th year, has more than 15,000 members in 17 countries. In addition to its doll museum, located near KCI Airport in Kansas City, MO, the UFDC maintains archives of historical documents relating to dolls. It also hosts national conventions and regional conferences, and provides a lending library for members. Its quarterly publication, Doll News, contains information on all areas of dolls and doll collecting. There is no doubt that dolls have universal appeal.

Historians have traced the orgins of the doll to religious rites in primitive societies. Fashioned as stand-ins for their human counterparts in community rituals, these early dolls were made from various materials, including clay, wood and fur. Native American cultures, notably the Hopi Indians, gave dolls to their children at the end of ceremonial rites.

Dolls have been found in children’s graves throughout the Roman Empire and in ancient Greece and Egypt. Interred with valuables, they appear to have been owned by wealthy families. Most of these dolls were made of pottery or wood.

European dolls have been traced back to the 14th century. Archeological digs have found multiple dolls, revealing the existence of doll manufacturing. Town guilds in Germany encouraged and regulated doll making, and protected guild members from outside competition.

Fashion dolls became popular throughout Europe. Dressmakers used dolls to illustrate the latest fashions. As a result, doll-making became more sophisticated with new materials being developed. Composition dolls, using pulped wood, paper and other materials, became common in the early 1800s. During the same period, wax dolls became popular, especially in Austria and England. Manufacturers began to make dolls from porcelain, resulting in more durable — and more expensive — dolls which survive today in museums and antique stores.

Doll-making in the United States began after the Civil War, primarily in New England. Materials included leather, rubber, papier-mâché and cloth.

Celluloid, a predecessor of plastic, was used in doll-making from the 1860s to the 1950s. Inexpensive and easy to fabricate, celluloid was also fragile and prone to

After World War II, plastics, foam rubber and vinyl were used to mass-produce dolls. The new materials and the burgeoning marketing of “baby boomers” created an explosion in the doll population, including the Barbie phenomenon, which continues today.

Paper dolls

A separate category of doll-collecting, the paper doll has its own history, originating in 1810 in London with the publication of “Little Fanny.” Other publishers quickly followed, offering various subjects, including ballerinas, members of the Royal Family and stage celebrities.

In the United States, the McLoughlin Brothers, which began business in 1828, was a leading manufacturer of paper dolls. The company became a part of Milton Bradley in 1920.

European manufacturers produced full-color paper dolls from the 1820s to the 1890s. Magazine publishers in Europe and the U.S. produced paper dolls in the 1900s. Fashion magazines, including the Delineator, along with family and children’s magazines, continued to offer paper dolls. Today, they are found primarily in doll and bear magazines for collectors.

French doll surge of the 1800s

For about three months, beginning Aug. 1, 2004, the Toy and Miniature Museum in Kansas City hosted a special doll exhibit, “La Fete de Parisiennes,” presented by Michael Canadas and David Robinson, doll dealers from Carmel, CA. The exhibit, which mirrored the fashions and lifestyles of Paris during the middle to late 19th century, contained more than 90 dolls, furnishings and accessories, largely provided by Canadas and Robinson, but also including several dolls from the museum’s permanent collection.

The dolls were acquired from many sources, according to Robinson, who said that most of the dolls were actually played with by members of European royal families and other aristocrats.

“Surprisingly,” he said, “most of the children in the wealthy families were limited to only one doll, and took really good care of it.”

Robinson added that in today’s consumer-oriented, throwaway society, such dolls would probably not survive.

Canadas said that he and Robinson, who have specialized in dolls for the past four years, contribute articles and information to the UFDC’s Doll News, and the Antique Doll Collector, published in New York. They also participate in major doll shows on both coasts.

One of the appeals of the “La Fete de Parisiennes” exhibit was the wide variety of clothing and accessories that were available to doll fanciers: magnificent gowns, suits, coats, nightgowns, shoes and boots, jewelry, parasols, purses and many other items. There was also an array of doll-sized furniture, all made with the same skill and craftsmanship as the life-sized originals.

As a recent article in the Antique Doll Collector stated, many of the Parisienne dolls, or poupeés, were constructed, dressed and equipped by a few major companies based in Paris. The companies figured prominently in doll collecting’s surge of popularity in 19th century Europe.

Leopold Huret, a furniture manufacturer, became a maker of dolls and iron cradles in the early 1800s. His daughter, Adelaide, had made salesmen’s samples of her father’s furniture, scaled to doll size. Beginning in 1850, she formed a partnership with her sister, Leopoldine, and began making high quality molded dolls with articulated bodies. The sisters’ artistry and attention to detail helped generate a demand for doll clothing, and the company contracted dressmakers to supply it. Their younger brother, Louis Emile, took over the company in 1864, which flourished until the 1880s.

Madame Leontine Rohmer, a doll-maker and doll-dresser, obtained two patents for doll bodies in 1857, and invented a pivoting head for dolls the following year. The Rohmer dolls could be dressed either as children or adults. Between 1866 and 1880, Maison Rohmer sold jointed kid-body poupeés, bebes and dressed dolls.

Claude Joseph Blampoix (Senior) began making dolls in 1840, and patented five porcelain doll heads in 1847. He built a large factory ten years later. The company was taken over by Louis Charles Dalloz in 1868. Blampoix’s son, Claude Joseph (Junior), ran a separate doll business in Paris.

The Gaudinot and Popineau Company (known as P.4 G), began making dolls in 1843. The company failed when Henry Mathieu Gaudinot’s mistress, a doll maker, left the company with Gaudinot’s partner, Popineau. Gaudinot’s wife bought the company years later and continued to produce dolls until 1870.

Louis Doleac manufactured dolls in Paris from 1881 to 1908. His company offered “dressed and undressed poupeés, along with bebes, trousseaux, layettes and a large selection of accessories.”
In 1857, Francois Gaultier married into a family that owned a porcelain factory in Charenton, outside of Paris. He took over the factory in 1860 and became the principal supplier to more than 50 French firms. The firm continued until at least 1885 when Gaultier retired.

Eugene Barrois founded a doll company in Paris in 1842 and members of the family continued the firm until its bankruptcy in 1890. The company was one of the earliest Paris doll makers to use porcelain heads.

Emile and Pierre Jumeau established a company that produced a large product line of fashion doll heads, bodies and dressed fashion dolls throughout much of the 19th century. The firm’s customers were worldwide and included a large American market.

Leverd et Cie. began producing dolls of gutta percha, a rubber-like material, in 1852. The company continued for most of the century, won many awards and held several patents.

Leon Casimer Bru formed a doll company in 1867. He developed a patented nut-and-bolt system of connecting the head to the torso. The company specialized in fashion dolls, which were made in twelve sizes.

The “La Fete de Parisiennes” exhibit complimented the many other dolls on exhibit at the Toy and Miniature Museum. Mary Wheeler, the museum’s collections manager, said the museum has dolls on exhibit throughout several rooms. In addition, several of the museum’s collection of more than 100 antique doll houses contains miniature dolls, along with tiny furnishings and accessories.

The Toy and Miniature Museum, located at 5235 Oak St. in Kansas City, MO, contains 33 rooms of amazing antique toys, dolls and scale miniatures. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday 1-4 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $4 for children ages 5-12. For more information call 816-333-2055 or visit

Dolls depict British history

An unusual doll exhibit depicting the history of Great Britain opened last November at the Eugene Field House and St. Louis Toy Museum, located at 634 South Broadway in St. Louis, MO. The exhibit, “Liberty of London Dolls: Great Britain’s History in Dolls,” ran through Dec. 31.

Although the museum is open by appointment only during January and February, the exhibit can still be seen during those months, according to museum director Julie Maio Kemper.

A total of 259 beautifully handcrafted cloth dolls are included in the exhibit, along with accessories. The dolls depict the history of Great Britain from the days of the earliest cavemen to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. A variety of historical figures are represented, including royal families, political reformers, military notables, artists and scientists. Hand-painted and soft sculptured, the dolls are costumed in authentic period clothing.

All the dolls were hand-sewn for the Liberty of London department store by two sisters, Ada and Kathleen Peat. Working out of their home, the sisters produced the dolls from the 1930s through the 1960s. Several one-of-a-kind dolls in the exhibit were made especially for the original collector, Miss Margaret Shapleigh.

The museum, a restored row house not far from the Gateway Arch, was the boyhood home of Eugene Field, a newspaper columnist who came to be known as the “children’s poet.” Like many boys of his era, Field enjoyed toys, including dolls, which are permanently displayed at the museum.

“There are more than 3,000 toys in the permanent collection, including many dolls,” Kemper said. “The dolls range from rare 1830s examples to contemporary dolls of the late 1900s.”

Dolls are an important part of the museum’s heritage. “Several of our volunteers are especially interested in dolls,” Kemper added.

Museum hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday noon to 4. The museum is open by appointment only during January and February. For more information call 314-421-4689, or visit
Doll Museum in St. Joseph.

This unique museum is housed in a building at 12th and Penn that was originally the Second Baptist Church built in 1871. It is located just around the corner from the Patee House and Jesse James Home, and the Penn Street Square Antique Mall.

The Doll Museum began in 1968 with a group of doll enthusiasts led by Mrs. Leone Clayton. Today, doll lovers can see on display many rare and unusual dolls, and related items.

More than 600 dolls, from simple covered wagon dolls carried by pioneer children, to modern-day Barbies, make up the museum’s collection. The museum’s Shirley Temple collection includes a Japanese “Shirley.”

“Tea Party” scenes include many doll-size accessories. A “Spike” dog with a realistic bark was made in England in 1880. Wicker carriages and chairs from turn-of-the century manufacturers show extraordinary detail. Displays also include miniatures, trains, dollhouses and other accessories, plus vintage fans and clothing.

May through August hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. From September through November, hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information call 816-233-1420 or 232-7180.

A doll entrepreneur

BG’s Doll House & Hospital is located behind a turn-of-the-century residence just west of downtown in Odessa, MO. The “hospital” part still occupies the original carriage house where Barbara Fowler began the business five years ago.

A year later, Barbara and her husband, George, completed the G&M Restoration Seminars in Pennsylvania. The training enabled them to repair and restore porcelain, china and bisque dolls in their tiny shop. Barbara continued to work as a teacher at nearby Longview Community College until about a year ago, when the business demanded her full attention. The Fowlers expanded the business, adding an 8,000 square-foot building behind the original carriage house.

“When we built it, I couldn’t see how we would fill it up,” Barbara said. “Now, we use every inch of space.”

Barbara also works at designing and crafting original dolls, molding heads, bodies and limbs from clay. She also modifies dolls into new creations, changing their styles and genders in the process. She is especially proud of a Mary Englebreit doll that she changed to a boy doll with the addition of a shock of red hair, freckles and other facial features, and a change of costume.
Did the original designer object to the change?

“Robert Tonner, the owner of the Mary Englebreit line, is pleased with the changes doll designers do with the dolls,” Barbara said.

Tonner also bought the Effanbee company out of bankruptcy, preserving and continuing an important part of America’s doll heritage.

Barbara’s company also sells a variety of contemporary dolls, including Ginny, Tonner, Effanbee, Clea Bella, Barbie®, gene, Dawn, Fashion Royalty and Kaiser. The shop is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday 1-5 p.m., and by appointment. For more information call 816-230-8565, toll free 1-877-656-4446, or visit

Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at

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