We all know the feeling – your house isn’t big enough, you can’t squash any more dolls on the shelves, but you don’t want to give up collecting. So, what do you do? You think small! Of course, people have been doing this for generations in the doll world, and it’s at Christmas that tiny dolls really come into their own, because they are perfect to fit into the smallest of Christmas stockings – though not of those belonging to young children who still put things into their mouths.
However, children over the ‘I wonder if it’s edible’ stage are usually entranced by tiny objects, and though a really small doll might not, at first, seem much of a present, to a child it can look miraculous, especially if it fits into a tiny box, bag or even a nut shell. Adults are fascinated by tiny dolls too; even non-doll collectors will be entranced by these novelties, while collectors know that however little space you have left, you can always squidge in some small dolls – they can be held by the larger ones, or can sit on their laps. They can also stand in front of a row of books on a bookcase, or even along narrow picture rails and banisters. A good source of new small dolls, as well as accessories, is a dolls house supplier, but doll fairs, antique shops and internet auctions can be treasure troves for older dolls. Here are a few of my tiny finds garnered over the years, and with a bit of diligent hunting I am sure you will soon unearth your own collection!
One of my favourite pieces is a minute, wooden peg-jointed doll, beautifully carved, which stands just ½” high. It fits inside a wooden acorn and the whole thing is a joy. Not only is it intriguing, it is attractive to look at and pleasant to hold. This acorn doll has delighted everyone I have shown it too, both men and women. It probably isn’t as old as it looks; I believe it dates from the early 1900s as an elderly lady showed me a similar acorn doll which had belonged to her grandmother. Amazingly, my tiny treasure was purchased just a year or so ago on an internet auction for £10, though I have seen them at doll fairs for much more.
Slightly more modern is ‘The Smallest Doll In The World’, a 1950s plastic baby, ¾” high, who fits into her own little plastic bath. I owned one of these as a child but the baby eventually disappeared – probably through a crack in the floorboards – though I still have the bath. So I was very pleased to find two similar dolls and baths recently. As a bonus, they were still in their little boxes, so now I know that they were made by Fairylite. I also have a 1” high celluloid baby in a bath, who is fitted into a matchbox. She comes with a scrap of towelling and a dummy (or the remains, the rubber teat has long-rotted) which is almost as big as her! The box is labelled, ‘Bathing Set. Complete With Baby. Made in Japan’ and shows an idealised sketch of a baby sitting in a bubble-filled bath. In actual fact, the teeny doll is modelled a ll in one piece, and could never sit up however hard she tried!
Often found are small, 3” high, hard plastic dolls marked Palitoy, dating from the 1950s, with elasticated joints and sleep eyes. They have distinctive pointing fingers on their left hands. Usually around £5, they were originally sold as inexpensive novelties, often in little wicker cribs, from stores such as Woolworths. Various small dolls were made by other companies such as Sarold, Kleeware, Pedigree and Roddy/Rodnoid, from both hard plastic or from a rubbery plastic. Often they were intended as dolls house inhabitants, and are still inexpensive today. A group make a delightful display; you need several as one will tend to become overlooked. In my collection is a box of three of the rubbery babies, bearing the description, ‘They will stand up, they will sit down, clap their hands, kiss their toes’ It is fortunate that the Trades Description Act wasn’t enforced at the time, as these little dolls are moulded all-in-one, with no joints at all, and so the contents are not quite as exciting as might appear from the box. Each baby, modelled in a seated position, measures 1½” high, and they were a Codeg production, Made in England.
At the Collect It! Fair held at the NEC a few years ago, I purchased a small box containing four 2½” high baby dolls made from composition, each wearing a different coloured dress. The box should have held five, but one was missing, no doubt broken long ago, and the charming picture on the box was labelled, ‘Paradise Dolls’, together with ‘Foreign’ and a number, 18104. I wondered if the babies in the box were based on the famous set of Dionne Quints, born in the 1930s. At the time these Quints were a sensation, and many doll manufacturers made sets of five babies. I later came across another set, complete with five babies, though with no picture on the box while not so long ago was thrilled to find a similar set made in celluloid – though there are only four in this set, (intentionally!), so they must be quads. Labelled ‘Cutie Sisters’, as with so many of these small dolls, the set hails from Japan.
Another of my special favourites is a celluloid kewpie-type doll who wears a shock of dark blue feathery fluff on her head. My Mother had often told me about these cute dolls, sold as boat race mementoes before the second world war. Apparently, they were particularly popular in the 1930s and people pinned them to their jackets as ‘favours’, to show which team they supported; light blue for Cambridge, dark blue for Oxford. There was a rhyme:
Oxford upstairs doing up his braces
Cambridge downstairs winning all the races!
This was chanted by children as the great day approached, with Oxford fans naturally transposing the names. At one time Boat Race Day was a major event in the sporting calendar. My celluloid doll stands 2½” tall, and a pinhole in her ribbon shows that at one time she must have been attached to someone’s jacket. I came across her at a doll fair. The vendor had no idea of the history of this doll and was fascinated when I explained. I have another tiny celluloid doll, too, even smaller, at 1¼”, but whether she was a Boat Race Favour, I have no idea, as she is naked.
My most favourite little doll is one which I purchased as a small girl at a village fete in the late 1950s. I think I paid about sixpence (2½ pence) for her at the time, but she must be worth at least £50 today. She is a 1920s German bisque doll, with the typical bobbed hair and strappy shoes of the era, and has jointed arms and legs. She wears her original flowery cotton skirt, and is very pretty and dainty. This doll is 3” tall, and I remember being enthralled, holding her for ages to marvel at the fine face-painting and delicate features, and she was my first ‘old bisque’ doll.
Japan produced many cheap and cheerful little dolls in the early twentieth century, often made from a distinctive, rather coarse, white bisque china. Easily found today at doll fairs and in antique shops, these dolls are often modelled all in one except for their arms, jointed at the shoulders. These arms had a tendency to fall off over the years, so often the dolls are found armless – but still cute! Sometimes they have painted headbands, and this type probably date from the 1930s. I have one still mounted on her original card, which was a very pleasing find. Labelled ‘My Little Pet’, she is dressed in her original pink coat with bead buttons.
Especially appropriate for this time of year are Snow Babies, used to decorate Christmas cakes in the first half of the last century, and Pudding dolls, dating from the 1900s – 1920s. The finest bisque Snow Babies were made in Germany and are delicately made and coloured, while cheaper versions were imported from Japan. Recently Snow Baby cake decorations have made a reappearance, though tend to be of a chalky substance or plastic, rather than fine china. Pudding dolls, as their name suggests, were placed into the Christmas pudding as lucky charms, an alternative to sixpences or silver buttons. These minute dolls were moulded all in one, with arms to their sides, rather like the larger ‘Frozen Charlotte’ dolls, and were made of bisque. I can’t help wondering just how many were accidentally swallowed! Look out, too, for tiny dolls dressed as Christmas fairies.
A collection of small dolls can be enhanced with accessories such as prams, cribs and highchairs. All of these can be bought new at dolls house stockists, or vintage versions can be found at fairs. Particularly delightful are small tinplate prams such as a red 1930s model decorated with flowers, with a metal hood which can be raised or lowered. When I was small, I had a tiny cream tinplate pram with picture of a lady pushing a baby in a pram on the side. And on that pram was a picture of a lady pushing a pram…the sense of infinity astounded me, I used to imagine that, if only I could see them, there would be thousands of pictures of ladies with prams on the side of my pram. Perhaps one day I will find one just like it.
Have a lovely Christmas, and may your Christmas stocking be filled with tiny dolls. Or jelly babies!