Maud Humphrey

Maud Humphrey

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ethnic Dolls

Lately, I have been finding sweet, old, ethnic dolls at the thrift stores.  I never thought much about these dolls before, but suddenly I am looking at them with a new appreciation.  Some of them are handmade, and their costumes are quite detailed.  I've been having fun trying to guess which country they might represent.  First up is this dignified lady, whom I believe may be from India: 
She stands about 11" tall and has a stiff, non-jointed cloth body.  It is firmly stuffed and her left foot is attached to a small wooden disc with a metal pin.  Her detailed outfit is made from cotton and silk.  She has black wool hair that is styled in a braid.  I am very intrigued with the metal chain that hangs across her face, as well as the nose ring made from small beads.  Her right eye is faded and painted higher than her other eye, which just makes her more charming to me.  I suppose she is more of a figurine than a doll, but I like her all the same.
Uneven, hand-painted eyes
I love the face on this girl.  Her expression is so sweet and serene.  She also has a stiff cloth body, but her arms are slightly jointed at the shoulders for a little more movement.  Her outfit is silk, her hair is wool, she has hand-painted features.  She also has separately attached cloth breasts and stitched fingers.
She measures 10 1/2", and I think she probably represents China.
Not sure which country this sweetie represents...maybe Germany, Finland, Sweden, or ???  She has a cloth body with jointed arms and legs, allowing her to take a seated position.  I think she's newer than the previous two, since her shoes are molded plastic.  Her costume is mainly cotton and non-removable.  She stands 8" tall.
She has a molded, cloth face with hand-painted features and blonde, (wool?) braids.
This celluloid (possibly early plastic) cutie stands close to 9" tall.  She is jointed at her neck, shoulders and hips.  Her detailed dress is completely removable, closing with metal snaps along the back.  Her cotton bloomers, however, are not.  She also has cotton stockings but has lost her shoes somewhere along the way.  Felt flowers adorn the upper portion of her removable apron. 
I adore her snail braids which wrap around to the back of her head.  No idea which country she represents...any guesses?
This is Neela.  While not a vintage doll, she does represent an Indian girl from 1939.  She is part of the Girls of Many Lands series issued by American Girl back in 2002-2005.  She is 9 1/2", all hard vinyl, jointed at the neck, shoulders and hips.  These dolls had very detailed costumes and originally came with a book which told that character's story.  My Neela was found at Goodwill, so she is missing part of her costume (a sarong?), and a former owner gave her a bad haircut.  That said, I still like her a lot.  These dolls weren't meant to be played with...simply stood on a shelf and admired.  This is where I think American Girl missed the mark.  They could have made them accessories, clothing, room boxes, etc., and I think they would have really appealed to older girls or adult collectors. 
If her face looks at all familiar to you, it is because these dolls were sculpted by Helen Kish!
Another Girls of Many Lands doll:  Spring Pearl from China.  I LOVE this doll.  I purchased her from Ebay after seeing her in person for a lot more money at a local doll show.  Her outfit is super detailed.  She carries a little draw string purse and wears bracelets.
Her character is from 1857.   Isn't her face just gorgeous?  I think there were eight dolls in this series.  I have two others:  Kathleen from 1937 Ireland and Isabel from 1592 England, but I didn't show them here since they aren't "ethnic".  There is always quite an assortment of these dolls to purchase on Ebay at any one given time.  Some are more expensive than others, but they are really quite affordable for the quality.  I have seen them go for as little as $15, depending on the doll.
And last but not least, here is the baby of the group, a 9 1/2" little guy from Japan.  His jointed body is made from papier mache or a light weight composition, and his head may be fashioned from crushed oyster shells.  His finger and toe nails are painted red, and his wig sits at the top of his head.  He has a detailed outfit which wraps around him and can be removed.   Look at those big ears!  His face is too adorable. 
Believe it or not, I only paid 87 cents for him at a local, hole-in-the-wall thrift store!
Excluding the Girls of Many Lands dolls, I believe the rest of these dolls were meant to be souvenirs.  Like I said earlier, I used to pass these dolls by, never giving them a second glance.  But now, I have become strangely intrigued.  What countries do they represent?  When were they made, and by whom?  I can just imagine some poor peasant woman, painstakingly hand-painting the faces of the cloth dolls and sewing their outfits to make a living.  Except for Spring Pearl, I haven't paid more than $2.99 for any of them!  I am now actively seeking out these little gems, and the older the better.  I especially love handmade dolls and the stories their faces seem to tell.


  1. I love your ethnic dolls! I have Neela which I bought brand new years ago from AG. I also have quite a few Chinese dolls. You got a bargain on yours!

    1. They are fascinating, aren't they? I know I'll probably never see all those countries in person, but at least I can hold a little bit of that country in my hands!