I grew up disliking dolls, which was peculiar for a little girl. I had my reasons. As an adult I still don’t care for them. So it’s unusual that the subject of tonight’s Vintage Story post is a doll and even more out of the ordinary that she is snuggled up with me as I write. This vintage girl is special however. She belonged to one of Greg’s grandparents and surprisingly, not to Grandma Ruby. This little beauty was Grandpa Bill’s doll.
Bill Moore was a two year old toddler in 1900 when he received the doll, making her at least 120 years old. When he first showed me the doll with the china head, hands and feet, he chuckled. I heard how she accompanied him through the years. Grandpa’s family moved often during his childhood and youth, and it is amazing that this treasure survived.
Why oh why, I wonder now, did I not question him more about his doll? Grandpa Bill seemed quite fond of her and indeed, he cherished her because in his twilight years, he still had her. She was carefully on display in his home when I met her. Her original outfit had long ago been replaced by something newer, however the style of the dress was appropriate for her age. What did he call this doll, as a child? Who gave him the toy? Did his two brothers and three sisters have china dolls as well? If they didn’t, why did he have a doll? There are so many questions that I will never have answers to.
What I do know is that Grandpa Bill loved his doll so much that he kept her near him throughout his life. Only when he moved into an assisted care facility, after the death of Grandma Ruby, did he placed the doll into the care of his daughter-in-law Leta Moore.
The doll came to me 20 years later, before Bob Moore passed away. I carefully packed her away in a closet, fearful that she would get broken. However, my philosophy about vintage items is to use them and display them so that they can be enjoyed. The doll made her debut in my home as the central piece in a fall vignette, in 2014.
Tonight I researched the origins of Grandpa Bill’s doll. I discovered that she is most likely a Hertwig lowbrow china doll from Germany.
The Hertwig Porcelain Factory, located in the Thuringian town of Katzhütte, Germany, made porcelain products from 1864 until the factory closed around 1950. Doll parts were made from 1865 on.The earliest shoulder heads may have been made of unglazed porcelain. Hertwig is most noted for their Nanking-Puppen, or lowbrow dolls, made with nanking (brown cotton) bodies, stuffed with cotton, with bisque or china limbs.
Two lowbrow china dolls. The blonde ones were created specifically for the American market, around 1900.
Grandpa’s doll looks like the blonde lowbrow model, with the heart shaped mouth, light colored eyes and brown brows. His doll has the brown cotton body with china hands and black painted china boots.
And here is the interesting correlation. I know, from Greg’s recent genealogy research, that Bill Moore’s maternal grandfather came from Germany…the Hesse region. Henry Siegfried arrived in the US by way of New York City, New York, in 1854. Henry’s daughter, Lillian Ida Siegfried, became Bill’s mother.
Is it possible that the doll belonged to her and she gave it to her young son? Or did Lillian or another Siegfried relative purchase the German made doll in the US, because of its connection to their native country?
Grandpa Bill four years before his death. He rode a stationary bike five miles every day.
If only this old girl could talk, I’d have the answers to my questions. And then I’d have to pack her away again, because a talking doll would not be acceptable to me!
She has won me over though. This cherished childhood keepsake has helped me to move past a long held fear of mine. I featured the doll in fall vignettes at first. Gradually she appeared in other groupings all over my house. And when she’s not gathering admiring glances in wooden sieves or old suitcases or Christmas vignettes, she stands on my bedroom dresser.
That’s a big deal for me, to display a doll in my room. I had a chat with her and asked her to behave, or back into the closet she would go. She’s been the perfect little lady and I have an appreciation and an affection for her now.
I hope Grandpa chuckles over his doll still and visits her while I sleep. I want him to know she is cared for and loved. Perhaps he will whisper her name into my ear and tell me more about her in my dreams. Until I hear otherwise, I will call her Lillian, after his mother. Grandpa Bill’s doll…she’s a treasure indeed.