What Dolls Tell Us About the Lifestyle of Early Residents
by Barbara Comienski (collections volunteer/docent, Bay Village Historical Society)
The Rose Hill Museum has been fortunate to acquire so many lovely vintage toys. Among these are a varied collection of dolls. The lovely 14” Kling doll pictured gives us a glimpse into the lifestyle of even more refined families in the late 1800s.
What is the most intriguing insight into this doll is what one doesn’t see when viewing her. With central heating and improved fabrics, we stay sufficiently warm despite winter winds off the lake. Earlier residents of Bay Village, though, had to insulate themselves against the elements. Under this doll’s lovely white dress, one can see how this was accomplished.
As one lifts her dress, one views an appropriate cotton petticoat and chemise. But below that is winter insulation. The doll wears a heavy cream-colored flannel petticoat with pink featherstitch embroidery. She also has a wool knit top. Then, rather than traditional pantaloons, she wears a knitted set reaching clear to her ankles. The flannel petticoat, heavier weight knit undershirt, and the longer pantaloons would have been utilized by early settlers also. This doll wears heavy knitted boots on her feet, again emulating normal winter wear.
The Kling porcelain company was founded in Germany in 1834, but did not begin production of doll heads until 1879. Their dolls were priced for a middle-income consumer, unlike French dolls which were always more expensive. “Kling” is the German word for “ring”; therefore, the dolls were marked with an incised bell. Our doll’s blond mohair wig and glass eyes are a typical style for bisque-type porcelain dolls of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Most bisque and china doll heads were imported from Germany until the first World War. They would have been readily available in general stores in even small towns and villages. These heads were shipped by the millions, and even were used as ballast in cargo ships! Because of their fragility though, only a small percentage have survived. Our doll’s head is attached to a commercial fabric body stuffed with sawdust. She has bisque porcelain limbs. Many families made their own all-cloth bodies to save on expense; these were often quite disproportionate to the head.
Her white dress was the dressy style favored by upper middle class and wealthy families. Maintaining white clothing which could stain easily was a challenge in and of itself, so a family’s status was reflected in having the resources and means to do so. Her white cotton capelet reminds us of the cool breezes from the lake for which residents would need to prepare when outdoors.
We encourage you to take a second look at the toys and dolls on display at Rose Hill the next time you visit.
If you are interested in researching objects such as these, please consider donating your time as a volunteer to the Bay Village Historical Society. You may find out more on our website Support Us Page. You may also contact us by phone at (216) 319-4634 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rose Hill and the Osborn Learning Center are closed to the general public until April 2023. Please come and visit us this spring!