I love a great variety of dolls--new, old, bisque, composition, vinyl--but antique, cloth dolls just make my heart sing! So when I saw this little sweetie at the last doll show, just lying on a table in nothing but his (her?) birthday suit, I couldn't resist taking a closer look:
At first glance, I thought it was a Martha Chase doll, so I didn't study it too closely. I already have a Chase.
The kind seller noticed me looking and casually mentioned that it was a "Rollinson". I had heard of Rollinson dolls before, but never seen one in person. Since it looked so much like a Chase, I asked him how he could tell the difference?
Apparently, Rollinson dolls have a center seam running up the back of the head, while Chase dolls have a circular one running up and around the crown. Rollinson dolls were also stamped with the name on their torso, but as is the case of my doll, it has probably been worn off. When I saw the price tag of only $50, I couldn't resist. I have seen these dolls go for hundreds of dollars in the past!
It is said that Gertrude Rollinson first started making flat-faced cloth dolls in the early 1900's to give away to crippled children at Christmas. Unhappy with the affect, though, Mrs. Rollinson experimented with sculpting techniques and came up with a doll very similar to Martha Chase dolls. You have to wonder, did Mrs. Rollinson have a Chase doll as a child and this is what influenced her dollmaking? Martha Chase started making dolls in the late 1800's, and Mrs. Rollinson created her molded face doll in 1916. Her dolls became very popular in a short amount of time, and she was unable to keep up with the demand. Realizing she needed help, she commercialized her dolls and The Utley Co. of Holyoke, MA began to produce them.
Here is my Rollinson, holding my Chase.
It is believed that Rollinson dolls were produced for a very short period of time, possibly only two years. Maybe this is the reason you rarely see one.
You may have noticed that this doll only has one arm! Somewhere along the way, he(she--I haven't decided yet!) became an amputee. But just look at the individual fingers on the remaining arm! I'm so impressed. My hope is to replicate an identical arm for the other side, but I'm a little daunted by creating those individual fingers. We'll see.
These two look so sweet together, don't you think?
Thirty-five styles of Rollinson dolls were produced by the Utley Co. A 1916 ad states that they were lifelike, flexible, washable, and non-breakable. Mrs. Rollinson stated that it took twenty coats of paint to finish her dolls, sun-drying between each coat. Whew! The dolls are stuffed with kapok. I've always wondered what this was, so I looked up the definition: "a fine, fibrous cottonlike substance that grows around the seeds of the ceiba tree, used as stuffing for cushions, soft toys, etc." Now you know! Some dolls were wigged, while others, like mine, came with painted hair. They came as either boys or girls, and were dressed accordingly.
At this same doll show, I also found a sweet, tattered, old baby dress made from cotton dimity and edged with lace. I am thinking of cutting it down to fit this doll. That's if I decide to call it a "her".
Most of the dress is in okay condition, but there are pieces shredded and missing from the sleeves. It will be bit of a challenge to restore them.
Here you can see the very similar ears on the two dolls.
Close-up of the Chase...you can see why Rollinson dolls are easily mistaken for Chase dolls. Both dolls have shoulder plates, painted limbs, and are identically jointed.
I love my new (old!) cloth baby. To think that this might have been handmade by Gertrude herself just thrills me to no end. Is that weird? I think that this is part of the appeal for me with cloth dolls--the fact that each one is handmade. Who played with this sweetie and held it close? What has he/she seen in the past 100 years of it's existence? Of course, we'll never know for sure. But I can love this little sweetie while it's in my possession, and maybe even make things a little better for him or her with a new arm and some clothes!