Thursday, April 28, 2016

Milliner's Models Dolls - Fashion Model or Toy?

Image Courtesy National Gallery of Art,Washington.

When I saw the "Milliner's Models" Doll Illustration, shown in the picture above, from the Dolls from the Index of American Design at the National Gallery of Art I was curious as to exactly what a "Milliner's Models" doll was.  I'd never heard of them.

Here's their description for that doll: This doll is one of the loveliest of the so-called "milliner's models." The term is actually a misnomer, for such dolls were meant to be used as toys. Many early nineteenth-century paintings show children holding such dolls. There may have been actual milliner's models before the toy doll of that name came into use, but we do not know how close the resemblance between the two may have been. This doll is dated about 1834. The costume is simple and beautifully made; the hairstyle is that of a young girl of the period. Pantalettes are typical for this sort of doll.

Credits: Eugene Croe (artist), American, active c. 1935, Anonymous Craftsman (object maker), Ruth E. Whittier (object owner), Doll--"Betsy", c. 1937, watercolor and graphite on paper, Index of American Design, 1943.8.15453.

Image Courtesy  National Gallery of Art,Washington.

The next slide for the Dolls from the Index of American Design at the National Gallery of Art was another "Milliner's Model" doll.  She's shown in the picture above.

According to their description: This milliner's model doll is a much sought after type with a knot at the back of the head. Because her ears show, this doll is particularly interesting to collectors. Most milliner's model dolls are from the first half of the nineteenth century. This one, dating from 1843, wears a muslin dress and muslin pantalettes.

Credits: Elmer R. Kottcamp (artist), American, active c. 1935, Anonymous Craftsman (object maker), Mrs. E.B. Wierman (object owner), Doll, c. 1940, watercolor and graphite on paper, Index of American Design, 1943.8.16647.

The dolls were from 1843 and were much sought after.  I had to know more.  Here's what I found:

Milliners dolls heads, arms, and legs were made of papier-mâché during the 1820's - 1860's.  They usually had molded black hair with other painted features and were used as fashion dolls or models for shopkeepers.

I found a wonderful Milliner's Models or Varnished Heads Article by Gregory LeFever .pdf article that said: Contrary to their name, these papier-mâché dolls were never intended as fashion models for shopkeepers but simply as children's toys.

The article goes on to explain about the history of these beautiful dolls and contains many images of them.  It's a wonderful article to read.  If you'd like to read more of that article please click here.

I loved all the pictures in his article and wanted to see more.  I began my "Milliner's Model" doll online search.  Here's what I found:

Image Courtesy of

The GERMAN PAPER-MACHE LADY DOLL KNOWN AS MILLINER'S MODEL c. 1850, shown in the picture above, is from  I love this dolls face and her beautiful outfit.

According to their description: 13" Paper-mache shoulder head of adult lady with oval face and elongated throat,black sculpted hair waved behind her ears into two long finger curls,with the remainder of her hair drawn into a tightly-braided chignon at the back,painted blue eyes,painted facial features,closed mouth,slender kid body with wooden lower limbs. Condition: generally excellent,very minor craquelure on shoulders,cheek paint rub. Comments: Germany,circa 1850....

Image Courtesy of

The GERMAN PAPER-MACHE LADY DOLL KNOWN AS "MILLINER'S MODEL" IN ORIGINAL GOWN c. 1860, shown in the picture above, is from  The outfit and buttons are definitely unusual.

According to their description: 20" Paper mache shoulder head with rounded facial shape,black sculpted hair arranged in uniform size finger curls,painted blue eyes,black upper eyeliner,painted brows,accented nostrils,closed mouth with center accent line,blushed cheeks,slender kid body with paper banding at elbows and knees,wooden lower arms and legs,painted flat green shoes. Condition: generally excellent,light craquelure to original finish. Comments: Germany,circa 1860.....

I just love the hair and expression on the Papier-mache Milliner's Model Type Doll c. 1840 on the website.  Check her out.  You will, too.

I don't know about all of you but it really doesn't matter to me whether these dolls were actually early fashion models or toys. I just love their hair and find them all quite charming.

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