Dressed for Success: Frasher’s Doll Auctions’ Paper Dolls 1790 – 1940 Event
The oldest known paper dolls (as we would label them today) were produced in southern Germany around 1650. These fun, low cost, and accessible playthings started to gain popularity in Europe, especially in France, a century later and would go on to be manufactured on a commercial scale in London starting in 1810. Rare and antique examples are cross collectibles, attracting attention from doll, toy, fashion, and ephemera enthusiasts. Frasher’s Doll Auctions of Oak Grove, MO presented nearly 300 lots of paper dolls and related materials in its March 21, 2023 Paper Dolls – 1790 – 1940 sale. Many were from the collection of paper doll scholar and published author Patti Fertel. Here are some notable highlights from this intriguing sale.
The top lot in this sale was a Marie Taglioni paper doll set in its original box. Estimated at USD 3,000 to $6,000, it traded hands at $2,040. This fine example was made in France around 1835 and starred Marie Taglioni (Swedish/ Italian, 1804 – 1884), a prominent ballet dancer of the era. The set included a nine-inch double-sided cardboard Taglioni doll, six double-sided outfits and hats from her signature performances, and an original decorated box.
If Taglioni were alive today, she would almost certainly be a social media influencer, given her ability to direct dance and societal trends. She is credited as the first dancer to integrate pointe work (balancing and supporting all body weight on one’s tip-toes) into a ballet performance. It is thought that the tutu was designed to highlight this physical accomplishment. She taught the English Queen Mary of Teck (1867 – 1953) how to curtsy. She was so popular that ladies copied her hairstyle, and dolls– both full bodied and paper versions– were produced in her image for the admiring public.
Other paper dolls in the image of 19th-century personalities rose to the top of this sale. Lot #28A, a Jenny Lind (1820 – 1887) boxed paper doll set from the 1800s, was estimated at $600 to $900 and sold for $1,920. This set included a four-inch single-sided Lind doll, a doll stand, ten costumes matching those she wore while singing, and the original box decorated with a hand-painted picture of Lind. Each outfit was numbered and identified by performance.
Lind, dubbed the “Swedish Nightingale,” was one of the most famous and respected singers of her era. A powerful soprano, she began her career performing across Sweden and then Europe. She gained international stardom starting in 1850 when she gave a series of concerts across the United States. These were promoted, in part, by P. T. Barnum (1810 – 1891) of Barnum & Bailey Circus fame.
Also in the celebrity spotlight was lot #98, a collection of paper dolls and materials related to performer Charles S. Stratton, known as General Tom Thumb (1838 – 1883), his wife Lavinia Warren (1841 – 1919), and fellow couple of short stature Edmund Newell (1857 – 1915) and Minnie Warren (1849 – 1878). Estimated at $200 to $450, the grouping sold for $720. Dolls in the lot included matching front and back costumes. The lot also included ephemera related to the Stratton family, including a postcard, photograph, and a newspaper clipping.
Stratton was destined for stardom from a young age. He was born of average height and weight. However, his growth was stunted. By his fifth birthday, he had only grown one inch taller than his height at six months old. He would eventually reach the height of 3’4″ and was otherwise healthy and proportional. Like Lind, Stratton caught the eye of P. T. Barnum. He taught Stratton how to sing, dance, and perform other sideshow acts. Barnum put him on tour at the age of five under the moniker General Tom Thumb, in reference to the classic English fairy tale about a thumb-sized boy. Stratton-related materials remain quite popular today; in 2021, Potter & Potter Auctions sold a quarter-plate daguerreotype of Stratton for $18,000.
One of the most sophisticated and well-appointed offerings in this event was lot #157, a rare and early Psyche paper doll set. This French ensemble came in its original, finely constructed and decorated wooden box and included its original vanity mirror, mirror stand, and doll stand. This circa 1820 set was estimated at $1,400 to $1,800 and realized $1,200. The doll was double-sided and had nine full-length front and back costumes, including some with matching headwear. The name of this set, “Psyche,” could be in reference to the Greek goddess of the soul, known for her extraordinary beauty. This Psyche set was the only lot in Frasher’s event that came with a functional mirror and was one of only a small handful sold at public auction.
This auction rounded out with paper doll-related prints, books, Valentines, postcards, and other toy ephemera. Lot #234, a collection of paper furniture designed for the Dunham’s Cocoanut dollhouse, was estimated at $100 to $200 and made $840. These items from the late 1800s included seven uncut cardstock sheets with parlor furniture, seven pre-cut pieces of kitchen furniture, a partial original envelope, and an original trading card advertising Dunham’s Cocoanut.
These flat-printed furniture sheets were all part of a brilliant promotional strategy for Dunham’s Cocoanut, a popular baking ingredient of the time. The shredded confection was shipped in a four-sectioned wooden packing crate. Each section of the crate was finished with a different lithographed wallpaper reflective of rooms in a house, so the crate could be repurposed as a dollhouse when empty. Different cardstock furniture options were available from the company to outfit the four-story home. Dunham’s, which was headquartered in New York City in the late 19th century, also offered its customers advertising premiums such as a baseball, paint box, camera, and salt and pepper shakers in exchange for labels from its packaged products.
For more information on Frasher’s Doll Auctions and this sale, visit the auction house’s website.
Looking for more auction results? Check out our coverage of a tin lunch box event at Bodnar’s Auction Sales.
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