Friday, February 20, 2015

The History Of Faceless Dolls - Updated February 2015 - Part II - Amish Dolls

The Amish have strong religious beliefs which influence their daily lives. Their dress is plain and simple and so are the dolls they make for their children. According to the Amish tradition, the Bible says that you are not supposed to make anything that is in the image or likeness of a male or female. For that reason the dolls are "faceless" like those depicted in the picture of the "Amish Doll Patterns By Jan Steffy Mast" book to the left.

In some Amish homes even "faceless" dolls were forbidden. Instead of a doll the children were given a piece of wood wrapped in a blanket. Since very few toys were allowed in an Amish household, boys and girls both played with the dolls. Both boy and girl dolls were made.

If you were to examine an old Amish doll you might see 4 or 5 layers of cloth on the head or the body. If the doll became too dirty, ripped or worn then it was covered with a new piece of material.

On the Welcome To Lancaster County website you'll find traditional Amish dolls, like those shown in the picture to the right, sold in Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania.

According to their website, "These unique dolls tend to be rag dolls with the unusual characteristic being that they are not depicted with a face."

"It is not known for sure why these Amish toys are faceless. The most commonly accepted explanation is that the Amish religion prohibits Amish people from being photographed for fear that doing so would encourage vanity and other frowned upon behavior."

"The dolls are always depicted with traditional Amish clothing. Amish children never have the option of dressing their dolls in exotic and colorful dresses, outfits, and bathing suits as is common with mainstream children dolls such as Barbie."

"Likewise, depicting these traditional Amish crafts sans face, discourages individuality over the common good of the Amish community."

"Contrary to this theory that the Amish religion is the cause for the dolls to be faceless, there have been found Amish dolls with faces sewn on or drawn on. These dolls date as far back as the early 1900s. Although the origin of the faceless rag doll may never be known for sure, they remain today associated with the culture of the Amish people."

Most Amish women have been making dolls (faceless and with faces) for their children for generations. This tradition has become a cottage industry for the Amish community. The picture top and right is of a popular "faceless" Amish boy and girl doll.

Over 20 years ago I bought a similar set of "faceless" Amish dolls. My dolls had on burgundy and black outfits but, pretty much, looked like the picture. I would have included a picture of my two "faceless" Amish dolls in this article but I can't remember where they are right now. They're here somewhere.

According to the Amish Dolls page of, "Amish dolls are a type of rag doll and a popular form of American folk art, which originated as children's toys among the Old Order Amish people. While some Amish dolls have faces, the best-known ones do not to emphasize the fact that all are alike in the eyes of God."

I ran across several reasons for the Amish dolls being faceless. While no one knows for sure there are several explanations.

One is that a young Amish doll was given a doll by her teacher and when she brought that doll home her father replaced the dolls head with an old sock. He told her that "Only God can make people." Since then the dolls have been faceless.

The other version to this is that the doll with a face was given to a young Amish girl at Christmas. Her father became enraged and cut the dolls head off replacing it with a sock saying, "Only God can make people."

While most of the faceless Amish dolls are generally thought to look like those in the picture above to the left there is an earlier version of the Amish dolls that were designed and sold by Lizzie Lapp (1860–1932) of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her dolls did not have hats or bonnets, had hourglass shapes to their body versus the are best recognized by the hourglass shape to their bodies, and, sometimes, mittens for hands.

Her dolls are very difficult to find. I was able to find the doll pictured to the right on the Garthoeffner Gallery website.

Following is the website description for this doll:

16” Tall, Circa 1910; by Lizzie Lapp, a well known Amish doll maker known for her dolls with mitten hands. This doll is one of those without the mitten hands but has the original dress, socks and upturned feet with original face. This doll came out of an old collection just two days ago where it had been for 40 years.

Clothes for most Amish dolls were very bland.  Solid colored fabrics may have been cotton, linen, muslin and wool.  Sometimes the dresses and outfits were made from old worn clothing - old dresses and shirts.   The dolls may have been stuffed with old rags or, once on awhile, straw.  The dolls could be either hand sewn or machine sewn.  It is not uncommon to see multiple layers  of fabric on the head or body of the doll when it got worn. Antique Amish dolls are highly collectible and would be well worn, probably dirty from wear and tear, and with multiple layers of fabric.

I found the doll pictured to the left on the website.  Her description is as follows:

Beautiful early Amish doll from late 19th C. or very early 20th C. She is 12" in height with a rag stuffed body and layers of fabric for her round, pumpkin-type head. Some are cut away. From Lebanon county, Pennsylvania, she wears an early dark red wool dress with mother of pearl buttons and applied bands as cuff decoration. Girls' dresses button in the back so at some point she got turned around. Blue rags are visible in her heavy body. Looks like she has old, replaced limbs that were soft stuffed and made in different twill. She probably received heavy play and was made new again for successive generations. What a special doll in her Cranberry dress ! Item ID: 1650

The faceless Amish doll in the picture to the right is also from the website.  Her description is as follows:

Here is a nice, large vintage Amish doll from the Midwest with dated label and detailed construction, that is rag stuffed, i.e. homemade. Era: Dated 1960 on original tag Height: 18“ Construction Fabric/Stuffing: Rags are 1950-60's dress scraps. Body-shape, Hands, Feet: applied muslin stub hands to rectangle body, applied boot feet in black taffeta. Body made up of used poly twill with numbers written on it. Head, Hair: cotton flannel gathered ball, i.e. pumpkin head, floppy and heavy. Clothing: original 2 piece child-style Charcoal grey poly pleated dress and matching apron, poly blend patterned black bonnet. Provenance: "Amish-made" in Midwest. In Very Good condition, some soil on hands, over 50 years old. The Amish are just not making dolls like this anymore. All are poly fill stuffing with simple designs for mass production.  Item ID: 1631

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