CLOTH / FABRIC DOLLS

Cloth dolls, aka rag dolls, have always been popular with both parents and children of all social backgrounds. They are safe, soft and can be among the least expensive of dolls to construct.

From the earliest of times, poor children would play with bundles of rags tied with string to form a crude head and body. Wealthy children would have played with more elaborate cloth dolls made of superior fabrics.

Many early cloth dolls have not survived due to their short life spans. Once dirty or damaged many would have been discarded. Most surviving rag dolls date from after the last quarter of the 19th century.

Commercially-made fabric dolls began to be produced in larger numbers during the 19th century. Madam Montanari, a notable wax doll maker, is recorded as winning a prize for a cloth doll at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.

In the first half of the 20th century, cloth dolls became very popular, sometimes with papier mâché heads, but more often with faces made from pressed felt or stiffened buckram. Companies including Chad Valley and Dean's and Norah Wellings produced thousands of fabric dolls. Although they were lovely dolls, the drawbacks were that they couldn't be washed and moths liked them so they slowly disintegrated.

In Italy, fabric was used to make expensive ornamental dolls primarily intended for adults. Lenci pioneered the art doll during the 1920's These elaborately dressed dolls epitomize 1920's elegance.

References:

BRITISH DOLLS OF THE 1950S (British Collectable Toys Series)

Antique Trader's Doll Makers and Marks: A Guide to Identification

Miller's Antiques Checklist: Dolls and Teddy Bears

Below are some cloth dolls displayed at the British Museum, The Museum of London and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

  • Doll made of cloth, stuffing found in Igloolik Island Doll made of cloth, stuffing found in Igloolik Island

    Doll made of cloth, stuffing found in Igloolik Island

    Courtesy of the British Museum

  • Cloth Doll c1939-1945 Cloth Doll c1939-1945

    Cloth Doll c1939-1945

    This doll was donated to the Museum of London and made by the donor's mother during World War II. It was based on Dorcas the Wooden Doll, a children's book character created by Mary Fielding Moore.

  • Snow White, Chad Valley Company Limited Snow White, Chad Valley Company Limited

    Snow White, Chad Valley Company Limited

    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a 1937 American film based on the fairy tale of the same name by the Brothers Grimm. It was the first full length animated feature to be produced by Walt Disney. The British Chad Valley toy company was one of several who were licenced to make Disney merchandise and the set of Snow White and the dwarfs proved to be extremely popular.

    The manufactured doll is Snow White from the Snow White and the Seven dwarfs. The doll has a pressed felt mask face with painted on brown eyes with black eyelashes, black eyebrows and red lips. The doll has a black mohair wig and a jointed cloth body made from a soft, light coloured fabric. The doll was made in six sections - head, legs, arms and torso with each section stitched separately. The doll is wearing a dress made from cotton. The top of the dress is blue with puffy short sleeves whilst the bottom of the dress is cream-coloured and falls to her ankles. The doll has a hard inset in her feet and a cloth tag in on the left foot.

    Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Doll made of cloth (cotton), pith (bamboo) Doll made of cloth (cotton), pith (bamboo)

    Doll made of cloth (cotton), pith (bamboo)

    Made by Vezo, the semi-nomadic coastal people of southern Madagascar. The term Vezo refers to people that have become accustomed to live from sea fishing

    Courtesy of the British Museum

  • Dressed doll Dressed doll

    Rag Doll

    Small rag doll made for Alba Nisbet by her parents during World War II. The doll is of stuffed cotton with stitched facial features and yellow wool representing short curly hair. She is dressed in a simple yellow flannelette nightgown with drawstring neck. During World War II the commercial production of toys largely ceased as toy factories switched to the production of goods and muntions that contributed to the war effort.

    Courtesy of the Museum of London

  • A dressed felt little girl doll made in Italy by Lenci about 1921 A dressed felt little girl doll made in Italy by Lenci about 1921

    A dressed felt little girl doll made in Italy by Lenci about 1921

    A little girl doll made of felt, she has curly auburn hair and pink flushed cheeks. She is wearing a pink organza dress with a tiered skirt and felt trimmings, a pearl bracelet and necklace and pink shoes. She is in her original box.

    Lenci dolls were created by Elena Scavini (born 1886 in Turin): 'Lenci' was the diminutive form of her name by which she was known. Her family was of German descent, and she studied art in Düsseldorf from 1906-1908, remaining in Germany until just before her marriage in 1915 to Enrico Scavini, who eventually became her business partner. Elena and her brother started a doll-making venture to supplement her income while her husband was away fighting during World War I. The felt which has always been their most characteristic material was evidently readily available, even during the war, probably thanks to Turin's cloth-producing industry. In 1919, the name Lenci was finally registered as a trademark by Enrico Scavini, and the letters were also said to have been used by the company to spell out the motto "Ludus Est Nobis Constanter Industria" (Play is Our Constant Work), though it should probably be 'ludus est noster constanter industria'.

    Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Cajamarca Rag Doll Cajamarca Rag Doll

    Cajamarca Rag Doll

    Rag doll (with hair-bow) made of cloth (cotton?) from the Cajamarca region of Peru

    Courtesy of the British Museum

  • Doc, Chad Valley Cloth Doll Doc, Chad Valley Cloth Doll

    Doc, Chad Valley Cloth Doll

    The manufactured soft toy is Doc from the Snow White and the Seven dwarfs. The toy has a pressed felt mask face with painted black eyes, eyelashes, eyebrows and red nose, lips and cheeks. A white beard frames his face and is attached at his temples. The Doc is a stuffed toy with a cloth torso and blue trousers. He is dressed in a short-sleeve blue shirt belted at the waist with a tan-coloured band and metal buckle. He wears a tan-coloured detachable felt hat and stitched on slippers. He has an original Walt Disney tag on the left arm that incorrectly labels him as Happy.

    Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum