Sunday, November 09, 2014

Evolution of Hands in Early Wooden Dolls

Actually, More like De~Evolution.....

 Normally we think of a craft as getting better over time....carvers get better and more skilled as they work. True, for an individual, but absolutely not as a 'trend' or idea. I have found that in dealing with early toys and dolls, and by early I am speaking of 18th c and first quarter 19th c....the earlier the toy, the more detailed and 'perfect' it is. Things pre Industrial Revolution era were made by hand, each one at a time, and as the years ticked by, and things became more life became more 'busy', we see the details all but disappear.  Such is the case with hand carved wooden dolls~ I have several early ones here at the Museum, so thought I would pick some out to illustrate, and the hands are perfect examples! Above is an expertly carved hand from a c1720-40 Queen Anne Pandora~ you will find all the same carved details in her hands, as you would see on a real person. Wrists are defined, fingernails deeply carved.
 The palms and under the fingers carved in high relief~ right down to the life line creases center palm
 Her arms not only jointed at shoulder and elbow, but as well, a swivel joint at the upper forearm to allow her hands to be rotated into different positions
 This next precious is a c 1815-20 Grodnertal wooden, quite a bit smaller yes, but the hands still are quite detailed. The fingers have been carved in a curved, expressionate  position, with separate thumb
 If you look closely, she also has carved fingernails with fingers also being carved on the underside. Her arms are jointed at both shoulder and elbow, but no swivel joint for lower arms. She is fully gessoed tho~ the entire arm all the way up to the shoulder, allowing her to wear short sleeve gowns. If you look at her elbow joint, it too is gessoed.
 A bit later in the 19th c, around 1830, this next doll was made. The hands are starting to morf into basic triangular shaped paddles, tho she has separate thumbs still. Carving of her fingers is very basic that consists only of two single very shallow cuts on the upper hand only
 Inside the hands are now very flat and plain, and gesso now only reaches the elbow
 Next dollye, c1840 Tuck Comb, has but a nub for a thumb poor girl! (How is she supposed to grab anything with that??)

 This little gem, late 1840-1850 is what was referred to at the time as a 'Penny Wooden' doll, as they were small, sold a plenty by peddlers on the streets for just a penny (still a good amount in that time tho). Gone are the ball joints, now replaced with simpler mortise & tenon joints that were not that strong~ the entire lower arm held onto the doll by  a single tiny wooden peg (hense the also popular name of  'Peg Wooden')....which is why these dolls are missing their lower arms and legs alot of the time.
Her poor hands look more like some sort of weapon  to me....she could more easily spear a piece of paper than pick it up to look at it.  Even still, there is a charm like no other when it comes to these early playthings, no doubt best friends of our Grandmother's Grandmother's Grandmother, and now, me too.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating - thankyou

Megan Hodges said...

Fascinating, thankyou

Janet said...

What a great little lesson in how we take something beautiful and in an effort to save time, money, or just settle for less, things get simpler and simpler until you no longer recognize the original in the knock-off.