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Further Speculations involving Wooden Bodied Parian Dolls by Caty Hancox

1. Two china-headed wooden-bodied dolls with a papier mâché head doll with all-wooden body. Photo © Caty Hancox


There is an unusual group of dolls' house or small dolls, mostly from the 1860s, who have ceramic heads and fully articulated all wooden bodies, including wooden hands and feet. Some of them have china heads, a few have heads of the newly fashionable parian or non-tinted bisque. They seem to be 10 inches or less.

For clarity it may help to state the definitions for the terms "china", "bisque" and "parian":

China means porcelain which has been given a fired glaze. The paint is normally applied and fired after the glost (glaze) firing. Most china dolls have glazed black hair.

Bisque is porcelain which has not been given a fired glaze, it is usually of fine texture with a matte surface. The painted details and skin tone are usually fired although the skin tone can also be achieved by tinting the slip before casting.

Parian here means fine untinted bisque which was thought to resemble marble, its painted details are also fired but the skin tone remains white or very pale and subtle. Most parian dolls have matte blond or light brown hair.


Several more parian heads on all wooden bodies have surfaced since the first article on wooden-bodied china heads was written, at least one in the collection of Angela Bulteel, shown in her article in Issue 7 of the Dolls' Houses Past and Present magazine, and two more from The Lucky Black Cats' Emporium. They confirm the date bracket and add consistency to the details, particularly where their bodies are observable.  

2. Parian head on wooden body © Michelle Watson. 3. Henry, parian head on wooden body © Caty Hancox. 4. China head on wooden body © Michael Canadas and David Robinson


One of my correspondents has mentioned the theory that these heads were placed on these bodies by a particular toy shop. That could well be the case. The parian and china heads are not pegged in either of the ways the identified Kister type of wooden-bodied china dolls are, they are glued directly to the wood and more or less fit - sometimes a lot less.  It may be this poor fit of head to body which makes some people suspect that the heads are later substitutions. This was my own first impression. The ceramic heads do not seem to have been manufactured with the wooden body specifically planned for the final product as with the Kister type dolls, but to have been the nearest suitable head available. These shoulder heads do not have any sew / peg holes at all. Ceramic heads without holes were most often glued onto cloth bodies, but a very few were given wooden bodies by someone. There are consistencies within the group of dolls under consideration which do make the probability that they were a factory product more likely. One is that most of the dolls who fall within this group are from between the very late 1850s and about 1870, so an approximate ten year span, another is that there is a clear and specific body style used on both the china and the parian versions.  

The geographical dispersal of these dolls, few of them though there are, could support the possibility that they were given these bodies by their manufacturer. Of the twelve examples I know, one china and four parian examples have spent the last 100 years in the United Kingdom and four china and three parian examples have resided an equal length of time in the United States. These two nations were the biggest market for German toys in the 19th Century and have the most easily discovered examples, so, even allowing for some skewing of the statistics, the spread would sustain the alternative speculation that some parian dolls in the 1860s were produced with wooden bodies by the manufacturer. This does not preclude enterprise by one or more toy shops.  Either way it would not be a surprising development, following the change in fashion from china to parian-headed dolls, if a few more expensive examples were still given articulated wooden bodies. The very few examples to be discovered now attest that this practice did not persist for long. 

Articulation is an asset in a play doll. It has long given the earlier Penny Woodens their huge appeal as dolls' house inhabitants; they take their roles so much more satisfactorily and can take a different pose and tell another story tomorrow, a true stimulation for role play and the imagination for children of all ages. The main disadvantage may be that dolls' house dolls traditionally were more modestly priced than larger dolls but this variation still needs a high degree of finish, the time consuming manufacturing process would give less potential for a profitable product. 



5. Parian lady on wooden body, 4.5 inches high © Michelle Watson, The Lucky Black Cats Emporium


Michelle Watson, from The Lucky Black Cats Emporium, has agreed to share her pictures of a parian lady on wooden body 4.5 inches high who is very nicely proportioned.  Her head (above) is one of the early parian type from perhaps as early as the late 1850s. The same head appears on dolls with cloth bodies and original clothing from about 1860 (see pages 77 and 78 of Dolls in Miniature by Evelyn Ackerman, 1983, 1991, published by Gold Horse Publishing).

6. Parian lady, 4.5 inches high, back view © Michelle Watson, The Lucky Black Cats Emporium 

The body on this doll has some overlap of detail with the Kister type, the back is shaped in the same way although the silhouette, more easily seen in the back view (above), conforms to the other more shapely bodied examples from the 1860s. Looking at the 1860s wooden bodies across all head substances, the smaller the doll the more disproportionate the body tends to be. Logic would predict that the smaller the body the closer to the limits of the material (wood), so the distortion of proportions could well be the compromise needed to get a smaller doll.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this theory. Some amazingly fine fully articulated one inch penny woodens exist who are well proportioned. These dolls are almost certainly earlier and would have taken more than usual skill to make and probably, even with great skill, considerably more time than the usual product made for sale. They are a demonstration of exceptional expertise and have survived as treasures for that reason. There may also be considerations of material choice involved, what species of wood, pine or fir, the seasoning time required, what part of the tree and the sawing from the original log, all part of the craftsman's wisdom. These considerations would all have contributed to the everyday production issues but do not preclude some compromises for general production volume.


Ann Meehan has two china headed examples of porcelain dolls on all wooden bodies, both very beautiful dolls.


7. 10 inch lady with china head on all-wooden body © Ann Meehan


It is difficult to guess what the body of the 10 inch lady doll is like from photographs as her clothing is very much intact and should stay that way. She is a well proportioned example, a most unusual doll with a wonderfully sensitive countenance and very early hairstyle.



8. 10 inch lady with china head on all-wooden body, back view © Ann Meehan 


She is so unusual that it is hard to draw parallels between her and any other example. Her costume is consistent with clothing from 1840 to 1870 so not definitive. To me she certainly feels like an earlier doll, 1840s -1850. Her quality does suggest an early date and exceptional manufacturer. One would have to suspect there are very few dolls like this one.


9. Wooden feet of 10 inch lady with china head on all-wooden body © Ann Meehan 


Ann's 6 inch gentleman is also a handsome dressed example with good proportions and long legs.  His wooden body and joints are more easily discerned beneath his original clothing.


10, 11. 6 inch gentleman with china head on all-wooden body  © Ann Meehan  


Like Ann's lady, he has the wooden hands and well formed feet more commonly found on Papier Mâché milliners' models. The forearms and hands seem to have been turned into a shape resembling a skittle before the hands were modified with whittling.


12. China head of 6 inch gentleman with all-wooden body  © Ann Meehan 

His head is a good quality glazed china with the black mustache and goatee and black painted hair with pronounced side parting seen on some 1860s gentlemen dolls. He is rather like a specimen of the production of Conta & Böhme, shown in Mary Gorham Krombholz's book, Identifying German Parian Dolls, published by Reverie in 2006, p 96.  

It is possible that Conta & Böhme (manufacturers of porcelain products, including china dolls, in Poessneck, Thuringia Germany from about 1800 - 1931) were the manufacturers of these later wooden-bodied parians and chinas. Mary Gorham Krombholz states that the earliest doll head shard found dates to about 1845, and on p 91 of the book just mentioned, is a reference to five lathe operators and two apprentice lathe operators being included in a list of their employees at the appropriate time. While these bodies do have the usual jointing system of all articulated wooden dolls from the 19th century which includes the shoulder joint, the body shape of these 1860s all wooden-bodied chinas and parians is different, being much more curvaceous. 

Rereading Identifying German Parian Dolls, pages 51 & 52 caught my attention. The photographs show a display of Kling products from one hundred years of manufacturing 1834 -1934. (The C F Kling & Co. porcelain factory were based in the town of Ohrdruf, Thuringia and operated from 1834 until the early 1950s. Krombholz surmises that they produced dolls perhaps as early as the 1850s.) One of the small dolls shown in that display is a wooden-bodied china of the straight shoulder plate type with china lower arms and legs. The implication must be that she/he ( the windswept hairstyle could be either) was being claimed by the Kling company as a Kling product. It would be so helpful to have more clarity. More research is required.

Several other manufacturers could have been responsible for these 1860s dolls. They are not unlike some of Kling,  Alt, Beck & Gottschalk or Simon & Halbig's products; at least one has an impressed number on the back of her shoulder plate. They could also still be Kister products, but they do feel different.  A comparison between Catherine and Henry (see pictures below), who are 3.5 and 3 inches respectively, may demonstrate this. They both represent small children and are very close in size and date with equivalent joints that work in the same way.  Catherine is an 1860s china of the Kister type with their typical china hands and feet, Henry just seems to be very different.  (Anne, shown below in the photo of four dolls together, demonstrates the typical Kister type 1850s body.)


13, 14. Catherine, 3.5 inches (left) and Henry, 3 inches (right) © Caty Hancox



There is also the possibility that several factories put a few dolls on articulated wooden bodies as they give a most appealing result, but then abandoned the wooden bodies when economic pressure made them unsustainable. Where it is possible to compare body shapes for the group of non Kister type wooden bodied porcelain headed dolls, they all seem to be the curvaceous style.  The more elaborately detailed articulated wooden-bodied dolls seem to be made before 1870, the period of German unification; this might not be coincidental.

It is interesting that some mid 20th century wooden doll and ceramic / wooden doll makers, like Sherman Smith (USA) or Eric Horne (UK), did dispense with the more complex shoulder joint. The arms on their dolls have to move up or down together rather than being able to move independently.

The photo below shows the shoulder joint used on articulated wooden-bodied dolls in the 19th century. This simple but ingenious modification held the arms in place with more wooden pegs and allowed for the arms to be independently posed. This is even present on some of the tiniest penny woodens, less than 1.5 inches high!


15. Articulated shoulder joint. Photo © Caty Hancox


Charles, shown on the left in the photo below, is an 1850s Kister-type head with the typical three hole shoulder plate, who was given a new all-wooden body by Sherman Smith in 1965. He is now 4.5 inches tall, although originally he would have been about 4 inches. His head is a high quality example with vivacious brush strokes around his hair line and red painted lid lines. He was designed to have the wooden articulated body with china forearms and lower legs, but he has had this Sherman Smith body for about one third of his existence, now it is part of his history.

16. Charles, left, an 1850s china head with an all-wooden body made by Sherman Smith in 1965. Eric Horne all-wooden doll, right, made ca 1980. Photo © Caty Hancox


The Eric Horne doll, right (above and below), was made in about 1980, a modern interpretation of the 19th century classic. She appears to be turned from beech, a timber not commonly used for continental penny wooden dolls.


17. Back view of Charles, left, an 1850s china head with an all-wooden body made by Sherman Smith in 1965, and right, an Eric Horne all-wooden doll, made ca 1980. Photo © Caty Hancox


Another variation from the second half of the 20th C that one occasionally sees was made or marketed by the US firm Shackman, and seems to have been based on an example of the 19th C parian with wooden body. These Shackman dolls have bisque heads with modeled hair and the body has the curvaceous silhouette with painted wooden hands and feet. As with the Sherman Smith and Eric Horne dolls, these have a simple rod to join the arms at the shoulders so their arms go up and down together.

There are a few examples of china dolls with wooden hands and feet in reference books. China Dolls for Study and Admiration by Mona Borger, 1983 published by Birger Publications, has an example, 3.5 inches, on page 97. This doll has a china head, and all-wooden articulated body with boots like Henry. He is placed by Mona Borger at about 1860.

Another china-headed example recently sold by Michael Canadas and David Robinson from Carmel Doll Shop is illustrated (below) with their permission. She is 2.75 inches tall, so very close to Catherine and Henry (photos 13 and 14) in size, but, like the boy illustrated by Mona Borger, has a glazed china head. Michael and David's doll is like Henry and Michelle Watson's 4.5 inch lady doll (photos 5 and 6) in body style, actually very like.

18, 19. 2.75 inch china-headed doll with all-wooden body. Photos © Michael Canadas and David Robinson of Carmel Doll Shop.



It is interesting to compare articulated bodies from the late 1850s and 1860s on wooden dolls with Papier Mâché/ plaster heads, with wooden-bodied ceramic (china) dolls.


20. Group of four dolls: Catherine, far left, a wooden-bodied doll with china head, lower arms and legs; Marianne, centre left, papier mâché head on all-wooden body; Eleanor, centre right, papier mâché head on all-wooden body; Anne, far right, a wooden-bodied doll with china head, hands and feet. Photo © Caty Hancox


Both the typical earlier doll, Anne, on the right of the group of four dolls, and the 1860s Catherine on the left, are examples of the Kister-type wooden-bodied china doll whose body was designed to go with these heads from inception. The inclusion of the papier mâché headed dolls between these two helps us to understand what contemporary fully articulated wooden dolls were like at the time the ceramic-headed versions were being manufactured. They may have been the speciality of another German region where porcelain ingredients were absent but were manufactured at the same time and were a rival product, destined for the same market. There do not seem to be more survivors of this variation than there are of wooden-bodied ceramic-headed dolls; very few come up for sale.

Marianne, centre left and 5 inches, has a crisply modeled earlier 1840s hairstyle and turned hands and well formed feet. Eleanor, centre right and 7.5 inches, has a later 1850s hairstyle and less realistic feet. The hairstyles on both dolls are modeled in the head material at the time of manufacture in the same way as the ceramic dolls under consideration. They are both high quality dolls with well finished and well-proportioned bodies. Their bodies have a lot in common with Catherine's, the torso curves up to the armpits from a narrow waist in the same way. Marianne's feet are similar to the feet on both of Ann Meehan's dolls, and again like the feet on the papier mâché dolls referred to as milliners' models who have non-jointed leather or occasionally cloth bodies. Their hands and forearms are also similarly made. 


21. Back view of the four dolls: Catherine, far left, a wooden-bodied doll with china head, lower arms and legs; Marianne, centre left, papier mâché head on all-wooden body; Eleanor, centre right, papier mâché head on all-wooden body; Anne, far right, a wooden-bodied doll with china head, hands and feet. Photo © Caty Hancox


Eleanor has a later hairstyle, one from the later 1850s, which places her firmly in the later section of the time line for fully articulated bodies.  Her feet are more perfunctory appendages, less well expressed and charming than Marianne's, but her hands are still of the former quality.

Both Eleanor and Marianne have adult hairstyles, so while Marianne may be assigned a more juvenile role in my dolls' house, she was designed to be an adult.  Her nice feet just seem to be the product of earlier manufacture.


There is the basis of evidence to confirm that for however short a time, some parian-headed dolls were given articulated wooden bodies like the slightly more common but still rare china-headed varieties. All the parians on wooden bodies to have come to my notice have wooden hands and feet, feature a curvaceous body silhouette and are small enough to occupy dolls' houses for which they make magical inhabitants.



22.  Examples of Grödnertal dolls, 6.5 inches to 2 inches, from about 1830. Photo © Caty Hancox


The timeline for articulated wooden-bodied dolls appears to go;

  • Late 18th century to late 19th century, penny woodens or Grödnertals (see photo 22 above), high quality early on, with quality gradually diminishing over time.
  • 1820s to late 19th century, Plaster/ Papier mâché heads added to penny wooden type body. The earliest of these feature the Apollo Knot hairstyle (see photo 23 below), which could have been an added impetus for the innovation: hand carving that hairstyle would have had a very high failure rate not to mention injuries.
  • Late 1840s to late 19th century, china heads placed on specifically designed wooden bodies with china lower limbs, (Kister type).
  • Late 1850s to late 19th century, parian and china heads placed on similar wooden bodies with wooden lower limbs.


23. Apollo Knot hairstyle.  © Caty Hancox


The time line shows overlapping of all variations and "late 19th century" appears to be about 1870, the period of German and Italian unification.   If this was a contributing factor to the end of manufacture of good quality articulated dolls with wooden bodies that would not be a surprise. 1870-1871 was the time of the Franco-Prussian war, and there was turmoil in various European states around that time which changed the power balance throughout Europe in ways which the significant wars and problems of the 20th century have occluded from our understanding, not least the effects of the rapid industrialization which ensued. 

After 1870 all dolls do seem different, china dolls get either much fussier or much cheaper, bisque is the medium of the most beautiful as well as the less expensive but still fashionable article, and wooden dolls become even more stylized but much less detailed, different dolls for a different world.

Wooden-bodied parians appear to have had the shortest manufacturing time of all. If you know of any other wooden-bodied parian dolls it would be wonderful to learn about them. If you find any do treasure them, they probably truly are more scarce than hens' teeth.


Most grateful thanks must go to Ann Meehan, Michelle Watson, Michael Canadas and David Robinson who allowed their photographs to be shared and gave thought provoking responses to my speculations,  and Rebecca Green who edits so sympathetically.

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