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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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VIRTUAL REALITY: REAL-LIFE DOLLS WERE A BREAKTHROUGH

VIRTUAL REALITY:  REAL-LIFE DOLLS WERE A BREAKTHROUGH
Simon & Halbig character doll, circa 1910, sold for $24,000. Photo courtesy of Theriault's.
She’s the kind of doll that makes you stop and look again as though you might catch her taking a breath. Sleepy gray eyes, peach complexion, delicate features, and dimples that soften into a discerning smile.

A study in turn-of-the-century refinement dressed in a silk frock. A real child in a relaxed pose.

This rare German bisque character doll by Simon and Halbig was made around 1910. She was featured Feb. 10 and 11 in Theriault’s West Palm Beach auction and was expected to bring $15,000-$20,000. The doll sold for $24,000. Theriault’s specializes in dolls.

Some of the most valuable dolls are made of bisque. That’s because bisque is a perfect medium for recreating lifelike features such as dainty ears, creamy complexions and starry eyes.

You can tell the oldest bisque dolls, those made in the 1870s, because their mouths will be closed. Open-mouthed dolls with ceramic teeth were a manufacturing novelty of the late-19th century and doll buyers welcomed the new look.

Nowadays, collectors value the older closed-mouth doll more. “The better dolls keep their eyes open and their mouths shut,” says Pittsburgh collector and dealer Joyce Kintner. “There are also fewer of them around.”

The Germans and French were the aristocrats of the bisque era. The dolls they made during the golden years of manufacturing (1860-1890) are some of the finest. In the late-19th century they stole the market away from china dolls.

Names like Jumeau, Bru, Simon and Halbig, and Kestner are trademarks in the industry. The difference in quality between a German and French doll is usually negligible.

It is the eyes that create the mystique with dolls, and the French made their dolls with unusually large ones. This detail makes French dolls especially popular.

Character dolls became popular around 1910. Prior to this, people were used to seeing dolls with pretty little girl faces, or adult faces. The early dolls reflected a Victorian notion of children with little imagination and even less emotion.

The teachings of Freud and Jung changed contemporary thinking and with that came a change in doll manufacturing. Character dolls were modeled after real people, not idealized versions.

This was an important distinction and these dolls were very popular. Dolls became personalities.


Q. Any information on Wallace Nutting and his work? I have two pictures by him that are at least 78-years-old. Katherine Liguori, Coraopolis, Pa.

A. Wallace Nutting was an important American photographer between 1900 and when he died in 1941. One of the most common sights in early and mid-20th homes are Nutting hand-colored pictures.

You could buy his prints in department stores like Rosenbaum’s and Gimbel’s in the ‘20s through ‘50s. They were popular, affordable and friendly. An Afternoon Tea, A Basket Running Over, Drying Apples, Seascapes, and Interior Scenes are a few examples.

It is estimated that 2500 different titles were produced and millions of those prints sold around the country. Like most inexpensive wall art, people grew tired of them after a while and many were thrown out or retired to the attic.

The last 25-years has seen resurgence in these prints. A good resource is The Price Guide to Wallace Nutting Pictures by Michael Ivankovich. He lists values from $25 to over $1,000 for Nutting prints. Prices vary around the country.

From my experience, his interior scenes depicting a room and people in it are usually more desirable than outside scenes, say in a garden. An average print can fetch $85 at auction.

You won’t see many Nutting snow scenes or prints with men in them so prices are stronger for these. Condition is important.

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