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Wisconsin Historical Museum Online Collections

Bisque doll (named Nancy Hanks) made in Germany by Simon & Halbig/Kammer & Reinhardt, 1905-1909
This bisque doll, named "Nancy Hanks," was made in Germany by Simon & Halbig/Kammer & Reinhardt between 1905 and 1909. It can be found in the online doll collection.

About the Doll Tour

Content of the Tour

This tour features 1200 dolls from the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Museum. This tour does not include dolls made by Native Americans or dolls in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society's historic sites.

The tour contains selected information about each doll. The first thing you see is a thumbnail image and a brief description of each artifact. Clicking on the thumbnail results in a zoom image. Clicking on the brief description yields more information, including:

  • Catalog number - this is the identification number that the Wisconsin Historical Museum uses to track the object. Please refer to this number in any correspondence with Museum staff.
  • AAT object term - this is what the artifact is called according to the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, a vocabulary created by the J. Paul Getty Trust.
  • Materials/Medium - this is a listing of the materials of which the object is made, in terms used by the Art and Architecture Thesaurus.
  • Detailed description - this is a physical description of the object. Information about the condition is not accessible online at this time.
  • Object history - this is contextual information about the object, its maker, its owner(s), and/or the circumstances surrounding its creation and use. If such information is unknown, the object history does not appear.
  • Height - this is the height of the doll in inches.
  • Dates - these are dates associated with the object's history. Dates may refer to design, manufacture, modification, use, and/or subject.

If you would like more information regarding any of the objects, please contact the Curator of Costumes and Textiles. The Historical Society cannot provide information regarding appraisal values and storage locations.

Organization of the Tour

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The tour consists of lists of object records created from searches of a master database. The searches represent different ways to access the doll collection – by category, collector, country and maker, decade, and material. For those who would like to just browse the collection, there is an "All Dolls" section. Some of the definitions are from The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls (1968) by Dorothy, Elizabeth, and Evelyn Coleman.

Touring by Category

In this section dolls have been grouped in ways that reflect who they represent, the culture of the maker, and other unique characteristics that do not fall into collector, country and manufacturer, decade, or material categories.

  • By age and gender represented – dolls depicting adults (non-gender specific), babies, boys, children (non-gender specific), girls, men, and women
  • By brand – dolls associated with specific brands, such as Barbie, are indicated here
  • By ethnicity/nationality represented – dolls meant to represent people from other cultures and usually not made by people from those cultures
  • By occupations represented – dolls representing specific occupations (including military and religious ones) and activities (including weddings and Scouting)
  • Artist dolls – one-of-a-kind dolls made by artists and not mass manufactured
  • Black dolls – dolls representing people with black skin
  • Boudoir dolls – dolls meant to sit on a bed, often with long extremities
  • Character dolls – dolls representing real or fictional people
  • Doll heads – heads of dolls without any body attached
  • Dollhouse dolls – small dolls meant to be used in a dollhouse
  • Frozen Charlottes – china dolls molded as one piece including arms and legs; may include molded hair or bonnets
  • German character dolls – dolls made in early 20th-century Germany that are lifelike representations of real, but unspecified people, usually babies or children
  • Half dolls – dolls whose torsos and heads are molded as one piece
  • Handmade dolls – dolls made at home and not mass manufactured
  • Mannequin dolls – stylized, miniature representations of the human figure, intended to display doll clothing
  • Mechanical dolls – dolls that walk, talk, or perform some other activity
  • Milwaukee Handicraft Project dolls – dolls made for schools and nurseries by the MHP, a WPA organization active between 1935 and 1943
  • Novelty dolls – dolls that are atypical or unique, often made of unusual materials such as corncobs or shells, and usually mass-produced but in small quantities
  • Peg wooden dolls – dolls whose arms and/or legs are attached to the body with pegs
  • Puppets and marionettes – small figures of people or animals that can be manipulated by a hand inside of them or by strings
  • Topsy-turvy dolls – dolls with two heads, one at either end
  • University of Wisconsin dolls by students of Hazel Manning – a set of 29 dolls made by students in Manning’s history of costume class in the School of Home Economics between 1928 and 1937
  • Vegetable dolls by Ethel Bachelle – a set of 34 dolls made by Bachelle of Chicago between 1930 and 1936 as prototype characters for her book The Garden Party of Vegetable Folks, which was never published; a mock-up of the book is housed in the Society’s archives
  • Wisconsin Women dolls by Joan Beringer Pripps – a set of 41 dolls representing prominent Wisconsin women made for Wisconsin's centennial by Pripps of Milwaukee in 1947 and 1948

Touring by Collector:

Some of the dolls originally belonged to an individual who either saved them from her childhood or collected them as a hobby later in life and then donated them to the Wisconsin Historical Society as part of her estate.

  • Alice Kent Trimpey (1864-1949) – Alice ran an antiques store with her husband E. Bert Trimpey in Baraboo, WI. After rediscovering her first doll Becky, she began collecting dolls and is considered one of the first important doll collectors in the United States. She wrote two books about her collection, The Story of My Dolls (1935) and Becky, My First Love (1946). She bequeathed her doll collection to the Society, except for Becky who was buried with her. Photographs of the dolls taken by her husband are located in the Society’s archives.
  • Amalia Baird (1884-1951) – Amalia C. (Olson) Baird was born in Illinois of Norwegian parents, but spent most of her life in Eau Claire, WI. She worked as superintendent of Luther Hospital until December 10, 1922 when she married Joseph Charles Baird, a doctor. She seems to have collected dolls as a hobby. Some of the dolls in the collection were hers as a girl, others belonged to Baird family members, and others she bought as an adult, several at Marshall Fields in Chicago. She bequeathed the collection to the Society in her will. Photographs of the dolls are located in the Society’s archives.
  • Amelia (1870-1961) and Elsie ( 1879) Stevens – Amelia & Helen Elizabeth or “Elsie” Stevens were half sisters. They were both daughters of Breese J. Stevens, a prominent lawyer in Madison, WI who once served as the city’s mayor. These dolls are the ones they played with as girls. In 1918 Elsie’s mother, Mary (Farmer) Breese, wrote “An Account of Elsie’s Dolls,” which is now located in the Society’s archives, along with a photograph of all Elsie’s dolls probably taken in the late 1880s. The dolls were donated by Amelia.
  • Edith West (1860-1942) – Edith Matilda (Richards) West grew up in Racine County, WI. On December 20, 1880 she married George Arbor West, an attorney, and moved to Milwaukee. Her obituary states she traveled extensively and collected dolls in native dress from the countries she visited. She bequeathed the doll collection to the Society in her will.
  • Frances Fairchild (1845-1925) – Frances (Bull) Fairchild was the wife of Lucius Fairchild, a Civil War general, Wisconsin governor, and United States diplomat in Europe. The dolls fall into two types: those that probably belonged to her daughters Mary (b. 1865), Sarah (b. 1867) or Caryl (b. 1875), and those she picked up in her European travels. The doll collection came to the Society as part of her estate.
  • Joan Freeman (b. 1931) – Joan, the daughter of an English professor, was born in Madison and raised in Madison and Milwaukee. The majority of the dolls in her collection are dolls she played with as a girl.

Touring by Country and Maker:

In this section the dolls have been organized by country of origin. Since a third of the dolls are from Germany and another third from the United States, these have been further divided by manufacturer. All of the German manufacturers listed predate 1925. The American manufacturers have been divided into historic, those who were primarily in business before 1925, and modern, those who were primarily in business after 1925.

Touring by Decade:

This section organizes the dolls into decades. Exceptions occur for the 18th century, which is treated as one group, and the early 19th century, which is divided into two 25-year increments.

The same doll can appear in more than one era if it is associated with a date range that straddles these eras. For example, if an object was made sometime between 1850 and 1870, inclusive, then it will appear in the lists for decades 1850-1859, 1860-1869, and 1870-1879. Circa dates frequently result in the placement of an object in more than one era. Sometimes an object may seem out of place in a given era. This may be because a doll has been altered significantly at a later date.

When you click on the brief description of an object in a list, you will be able to see the various dates associated with it.

Touring by Material:

This section organizes the dolls by the materials used to make the head. To see the other materials used to make the doll, click on its brief description.

  • Bisque dolls – made from porcelain with matte finish (not glazed); these are organized into all dolls with bisque heads, dolls made entirely of bisque, and parian dolls, which have a matte finish but are left white and do not have a flesh tone
  • China dolls – made from porcelain with shiny finish (glazed), usually left white; these are organized into all dolls with a china head and dolls entirely made of china
  • Applehead dolls – made from dried apples
  • Celluloid dolls – made from a synthetic material primarily composed of cellulose nitrate
  • Cloth dolls – made from fabric
  • Composition dolls – made from a glue and wood pulp mixture (does not include papier-mâché)
  • Cornhusk dolls – made from dried cornhusks
  • Leather dolls – made from tanned animal skins
  • Metal dolls – made from copper or zinc (early) or from brass, pewter, tin, lead, or aluminum (later)
  • Nut dolls – made from dried nuts, including hazelnuts, walnuts, hickory, and chestnuts
  • Papier-mâché dolls –made from a paper pulp mixture with sizing, paste, or resin added, or from sheets of paper glued and pressed together
  • Plastic dolls – made from molded plastic, either soft and rubber-like or hard
  • Rubber dolls – made from natural or synthetic rubber
  • Wax dolls – made from wax reinforced with another substance, often composition
  • Wooden dolls – made from wood
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