You certainly have to admire a doll that is so well loved that she is made over and over for 140+ years. Such is the case with the Moravian Rag Dolls, shown in the picture above, otherwise known as Polly Heckewelder Doll. This doll is the oldest continuously made cloth doll in America.
I think she's just beautiful and hope you would agree. Based on the picture above it's not hard to understand why this doll is loved so much.
Given her 140 year history, it seemed like there might be a lot of information about this doll so I decided to do a little research. I was wrong. There's not a lot of information on her out there. Here's what I found:
According to Cloth Dolls From Ancient To Modern by Linda Edwards: A charming little doll called Polly Heckewelder has been made by members of the Moravian Church since 1872. The dolls namesake was the daughter of Moravian missionary John Gottlieb Ernestus Heckewelder. His daughter Polly was born in 1781 while he was working with the Delaware Indians and she is believed to be the first child born in the Ohio territory.
Also: The Ladies Sewing Society of the Moravian Church Guild in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, first made these dolls for the aid of wounded Civil War soldiers. After the war the funds were used to help former slaves and eventually to aid moravian ministries for their other charity work.
From what I understand the dolls were all handmade as a means to benefit the Moravian Church sisters, members of the Ladies Sewing Society of the Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem Pennsylvania. The dolls that were dressed like young girls were called Polly Heckewelder, in honor of Johanna Marie Heckewelder (known as Polly) the daughter of the Reverend Heckewelder. The dolls have been made for over 140 years.
The dolls are 16" to 18" and have hand painted faces and hair, cloth bodies jointed at the hips, knees, and shoulders. They have mitten stitched hands with separate thumbs. They have both a lace and outer crocheted bonnet and they are wearing an 1870 style dress blue or pink checked in color with a lace apron, white stockings, and black shoes.
The Polly Heckewelder doll, shown in the picture above, is from the Moravian Church in North America article entitled "Polly Heckewelder: A History-Making Doll Still Making History" Jan/Feb 2014 newsletter.
According to their article: The Polly Heckewelder doll, the oldest continuously made American doll, is made in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Made and sold by the Moravian Ladies’ Sewing Society since 1872, this doll carries the memory of the real Polly around the world. “Polly” dolls tell more than the story of Polly Heckewelder. The story of the doll includes the story of its creators, the Moravian Ladies’ Sewing Society and how she came to be.
It seems that Johanna Maria Heckewelder (who was called “Polly” later in her life) was born April 16, 1781 and her parents were missionaries to the Indians in Ohio and lived there for several years. In 1782 the Indians made her a cloth doll with a hand painted face, ball like head, and European style colonial clothing, This doll is now in the doll collection of the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA.
According to the article: The Moravian Ladies’ Sewing Society was established by Polly Heckewelder in 1861 and was known as the Soldier’s Relief Society of Central Moravian Church to do war work during the War Between the States.
After the war ended in 1865, the Society became the Freedman’s Aid Society and in 1869, it became the Moravian Ladies’ Sewing Society and so it remains to this day. At that time, it was decided by the group to make dolls in honor of Polly Heckewelder. Perhaps Polly’s own childhood cloth doll influenced this decision as an appropriate way to honor her. The ladies could still have a sewing group and do useful work by making and selling dolls.....
The first Polly doll was made and sold in 1872. That doll was about 19 inches tall and dressed typical of a little girl of the 19th century. She had a ball-shaped head and hand painted face.....
Also: The importance of the Polly doll is that she represents a labor of love and dedication of many Moravian women working together through a period of more than 140 years to tell the story of the real Polly, and her role in Moravian history. Over the years, it has been estimated that more than 6,000 dolls have been made and shipped to different countries around the world.
If you would like to read more of their article and a little bit about how the dolls have changed and how they're made please click here.
If you would like more information on how the dolls are made today and to order a Polly Heckewelder handmade doll from the Moravian Ladies Sewing Society please click here.
If you'd like to see an amazing amount of pictures of beautiful 19th century dolls Theriaults has a wonderful "The Backler Collection" October 2014 Theriaults issue on Issuu.com. There is a wonderful picture of Moravian Society Dolls on Page 172.
The Early “Polly Heckewelder" Doll, shown in the picture above, is from the LiveAuctioneers.com website.
According to their description: Moravian cloth doll with hand-painted face (somewhat darkened) and hair made by the Ladies Sewing Society of the Central Moravian Church of Bethlehem, PA beginning in 1872 and still being made. This is an early model with antique replaced dress and underwear, no shoes and stockings, Also included are an original dress (fading, soil and wear) an antique pinafore and a reproduction bonnet. Very desirable early model........
The Vintage Moravian Cloth “Polly Heckewelder" Doll, shown in the picture above, is from the MorphyAuctions.com website.
According to their description: Made by the Ladies Sewing Society of the Central Moravian Church of Bethlehem, PA, beginning in 1872. All cloth with beautifully hand-painted face and tan hair, gray eyes; all original clothing with crocheted cap, pink checked cotton dress, dimity pinafore, cotton shift, slip and panties, white stockings, pink leather shoes. Also included is a lacy Moravian Haube or prayer cap......
The Vintage Polly Heckewelder Moravian Cloth Doll, shown in the picture above, is from the MorphyAuctions.com website.
According to their description: Made by the Ladies Sewing Society of the Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, PA from 1872 on. Hand-painted face and hair, stitched on under bonnet with fabric matching dress. Original blue cotton dress and dimity apron, white cotton underwear, white crocheted outer bonnet is correct style but appears to be newer, missing stockings, black oilcloth shoes. A little fading to face, light soil and lower arms and legs.....
The Moravian Church Benefit Cloth Rag Doll Polly Heckewelder Painted Face 18 Inch c. 1872, shown in the picture above, is from American Beauty Dolls and Antique Vintage Jewelry on the Rubylane.com website.
According to their description: This is a wonderful 1800s Moravian Church Benefit Cloth Rag Doll “Polly Heckewelder” dating from 1872, when the dolls were first produced, to about 1900. She is one of the earliest handmade and hand painted face dolls, and has a seam jointed very firmly stuffed cotton cloth body with stitched mitt hands and formed feet. Her 18 inch body is in excellent condition with overall age staining appropriate for her age........
For a doll to be loved and made for over 140 years is quite a feat. Wouldn't you agree? I just wish there were more pictures of her and more information.