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Author Topic: Cloth Doll Documentation  (Read 3621 times)
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mmescher
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« on: January 13, 2010, 06:11:08 PM »

As long as we are discussing the documentation for corn husk dolls, I'd like to address two cloth dolls which I would welcome any primary documentation.

The first is the handkerchief doll, made by rolling and knotting a handkerchief into a variety of forms.  I have learned to make a woman, a man, and twins in a cradle but haven't found any period source that tells how to make them or any accounts of them being made.  Secondary accounts have often described them as "church dolls" made by a parent to keep a daughter quiet during church services.

The second is the topsy-turvy doll with a white doll on one end and a black doll on the other.  There is lots of secondary documentation which is sometimes contradictory.  Some accounts state that it was for a white girl to have both races in one doll.  Other accounts state it was for a black girl who wasn't allowed to have a black doll so made the white doll to show whenever a white person was around but to flip over and play with the black one when she was alone.  The secondary accounts also make claims to the design being antebellum but we haven't found any primary documentation until near the end of the 19th century.

So I would love a primary reference to either of these two dolls.  But the silence from the period is deafening.

Michael Mescher
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Stephanie Brennan
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« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2010, 06:25:04 PM »

Mr Mescher,
     Have you tried the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller museum?   They center on folk toys and have toys made from various textiles.
                                                                     Stephanie
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mmescher
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« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2010, 07:47:13 PM »

I've been to the Abby Aldrich Museum several times and they have never had any of those dolls on display.  I haven't contacted them about viewing dolls in their collection.

For handkerchief dolls, the potential for finding a doll in a collection is probably pretty low.  If they are a period doll, I'd expect as soon as the immediate need for the doll had passed the handkerchief would have been returned to its original function.  The documentation would most likely be a written account rather than an artifact.

For the topsy-turvy dolls, we have contacted museums that have had them on display (attributing them to the antebellum period) and contacted authors who have made the antebellum claim and, if they responded at all, none of them could come up with primary documentation.  It leads us to think they have all been copying from each other.  One of the problems of secondary sources.

So we would welcome any primary documentation that anyone knows about.

Michael Mescher
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Ms. Jean
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« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2012, 05:12:26 AM »


A writer at Knitting Daily states that the Topsy-Turvy "style of doll dates back to before the American Civil War."

http://www.knittingdaily.com/blogs/traditions_today/archive/2012/11/06/topsy-turvies.aspx?a=kr121110

Apparently FaceBook is the preferred medium to comment or contact an Interweave author -- anyone willing to ask for documentation?


The modern pattern is sure cute!

Jean
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Ms. Jean
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mmescher
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« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2012, 07:35:46 PM »

I'm afraid that, as far as documentation is concerned, I'd consider this article of no use.  The author's main concern seems to be knitting projects.  The history she is providing is merely a repeat of other sources that claim antebellum existence of the topsy-turvy.  I'd feel relatively certain that, if you queried her about her documentation, she would say she heard if from a docent at ... fill in the blank here with the name of a historic site.  I don't have a facebook account so I can't ask her myself but someone who does is welcome to try.  And the dolls are certainly cute and their attractiveness is enhanced if you have a good story to tell about them, regardless of whether or not the story is fiction.

As noted in an earlier post, in queries to museums with examples of the doll, no one has provided any documentation or provenance that would date it to pre-war.  Adding to the suspicious heritage are claims that it was a white girl's doll and some that claim it was a black girl's doll.  If you have two different claims for the purpose of the same object, the warning flags pop up. 

As far as being for a white girl so she could have a black doll, there are period examples of, if a white girl wanted a black doll, she could have one without having to hide it under the skirt of a black doll.  A prime example is The American Girl's Book which has instructions for making a rolled fabric black doll. 

The notion that the doll was to provide a plaything for a black girl who wanted a black doll but was forbidden to have one so she cleverly hides it under the skirt of a white doll seems to feed on the notion of resistance to the slaveholders through outwitting the master/overseer (underground railroad quilts use the same thought line). 

So the search continues.

Michael Mescher
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