More Perfect Imperfection in Orphaned Vintage Dolls



My doll love again . . . three more shabby orphans. Sweet friends are these old composition dolls, triplets, abandoned & unloved when I found them some time ago. Now living here at Fat Lawyer Farm (FLF) with my little family of dollies.

I don’t know the history behind these dolls, where they came from or who owned them or how many owners they had.

In fact, with most of my old dollies, I know little or nothing of their previous life. No idea how they came to be forgotten & abandoned to decay, crack & weather.




I seem to be in some sort of old doll mode lately in between the many other things I’ve got going on here at home.

Our little patch of land constantly needs attention.  I’m not a gardener by any means and did not plan on wearing a gardener’s hat. I would have been considered a non-gardener before moving to FLF & more the ‘accidental’ gardener since being at FLF.

Fortuitiously I get right on in when there is physical work to be done whether in the garden area or elsewhere on the property. Of course, I bring in others if need be. I find it hard to stay away and be blase about our surrounds.

I’m always needing to plant or transplant something, or prune & shape a tree or shrub. My mind gets fixed, intent on figuring out what plant would work where best. It is nothing for me to shift a tree if, later, I deem it not suitable for the spot. And, while I have no idea what I am doing, everything seems to grow. The best part is that I have come to see I derive a lot of pleasure from gardening. Who would ever have thought . . .

Our patch has mostly Australian native trees as well as a few of the more exotics & ornamentals like elms & ash trees.

Right now I’m working, steadily, on planting & transplanting trees & shrubs around the dam, the pond & beyond.  August is the last month of winter here so there is some urgency in getting the planting done before spring arrives in September.  

As well as the outside area I’m painting and repairing furniture.  I’m also fitting curtains for a window located high up in the lounge. I’m adding architraves to a bedroom window & working with the local computer guru in upgrading the computers & internet for the law practice.  Things like Outlook & One Drive instead of Google & Drop Box.

And a frightfully cold, wet day to be out gardening today with snow in some parts of SA. The soil is not damp. No, it’s wet, soggy & muddy. And more rain coming which is very good.

After finishing today, I came inside muddy, filthy & drenched from head to toe. But oh so invigorating getting out there, down into the dirt & mud. My clothes were soaked. On the veranda I removed my wet boots & socks placing them inside below the wall heater. My hands & fingers were brown & wrinkled from the wet soil & the mud & dirt much of which stays under my nails. I’m not into pretty, polished nails. Never have been much to my mother’s dismay. At times my hands become like farmer’s hands. Not very lady-like I know but who cares.I took a long, hot shower before tea. I am very lucky in that we have plenty of water here including a bore, or well, from which we pump.




Right now, middle of winter, part of my relaxation & solace comes in my old composition dollies. I enter a different world, a less intense mind set when I play with these kindred friends.

My work room is warm & cozy with its own reverse cycle.  I would be lost without it as I feel the cold & then, later, it gives me an air-conditioned space in the hotter months.


What is a composition doll? I talked in some detail about some of my other dolls in posts here Pt 1, here Pt 2 & here Pt 3. There you’ll find a good introduction suffice it to say:

composition doll is a doll made partially or wholly out of composition, a composite material composed of sawdust, glue, and other materials such as cornstarch, resin and wood flour. The first composition dolls were made in the 19th century. They were marketed as unbreakable, compared to earlier more fragile dolls.[1]

Dolls made of composite are hard bodied & pre-dated plastic.



This is the one on the right in the image at top.

These old composition dolls have various flaws, beautiful flaws, some more obvious than others.  Perfect imperfections that come with age & quite common in old composition dolls.  The two dolls discussed today are a Pedigree (made in UK) & a Reliable (made in Canada).




You can see dolly’s eyes are sleepy eyes or eyes that close when laid flat.  They still work on this one as you see.

Bottom eyelashes are painted on.  Top eyelashes are good.






Moulded hair.

Now, I’m not a doll expert.  I simply like certain types of old dolls about which I do a bit of reading/research to find out the basics.  I follow my nose basically.




This little dolly (front left in the three-some picture above) has the typical lifting issues quite common in these old pieces.




You can see the paint is lifting from the contour/indent areas on the composition.  This dolly, in fact, shows all the typical areas such as the sides of the nose, eyes, corners of the mouth, ears &  feet & contours of the arms & leg sockets, the joins.

If there’s a crack somewhere, it usually means an opening underneath & lifting from the composition.




Sometimes, even if there is no visible crack, a careful look & I might find the paint has lifted usually where the paint has risen, bubble-like.  If I break the bubble I can see the composition underneath.  I don’t make a habit of  doing that as I want to keep the dolly as is.




Check out the sad little face, a broken antique face, cracked, crazed & peeling showing a true distressed, worn patina with all the damage & flaws that come with age & neglect.


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Sometimes the composite material itself decays & wears if the doll has been subject to moisture, to hot & cold conditions, along with wear.







You can see where they have experienced damage & decay on the hands & fingers which are brown & darkened from age.  Also general wear on the body.  One has a crack on the left tummy.  This kind of damage is not unusual.




This doll shows exactly what’s happening as the shape of its face gives rise to the paint lifting off the composition drying, cracking, splitting, peeling & chipping.  Any old composition doll that’s basically been deserted & not cared for will likely come with similar imperfections in the paint as well as stains.

My reading indicates that some of the older composition dolls could be 60-80 years old now.  Generally they have glass eyes unlike the vintage hard plastic & vinyl dolls which have plastic eyes.




Even though the eyes are stuck & wont move on this doll, the top eyelashes are OK.  The bottom eyelashes are painted on.  It is not easy to find dolls that have been discarded & neglected with one or both eyes not shattered or damaged in some way.




The glass eyes in these two dolls look to be “blown” or “crystallized” giving them that vacant look.  Known as “shattered glass”, “crystallized’ or “blown eyes”, or “flat” or “foggy” eyes, they are an issue with older composition dolls.




Pristine eyes, the beautiful glass eyes often found in old composition dolls, especially the German ones, are not easy to come across & would likely command a much higher price than I would be willing to pay assuming I was into restoring these dolls – which I am not.

I don’t want the dolls in pristine condition.  I don’t want them perfect.  I am not a collector of dolls.  Not in the slightest.  The few I have stumbled across are much the same as you see here.


Sometimes they become a kind of living art, man-made works of art, displaying aging and its imperfections like that we all experience over time.  I wonder about these dollies?  What trauma has this little person been through & survived?  When was innocence lost? 

And who of us has had a perfect life?  Who of us has retained the perfect, youthful skin we had at birth?  Sometimes, these dolls seem not to be static objects . . . little guys with a life story that I will never know, a life story that may have been lonely & traumatic at times.


As a lawyer, I have had clients like broken and abandoned dolls, women, children, who share a life story of trauma, sadness, abuse & heart-break yet who are survivors.








I fell in love with these lonely little orphans just as they are, as I found them, as you see them now. They came to me broken, sad and lonely little people, survivors still surviving and looking for a home, safety, comfort and protection  . . . a new life.  They are move-able art that survives.  Art that becomes living little humans. I don’t want to repair them, take them to the doll hospital, meddle with their life-story, a secret unto them.


I wont be changing their looks other than dressing them.

I won’t be repairing the old glass eyes.

No doll hospital for these dollies.  No repairs.

It would sadden me to see their character & personality, their innocence, their experiential story, completely erased.

Their looks, especially their faces & the sad, vacant eyes, tell their story.

I love these fragile, heartbroken little people just as they are.  With me they embark on another chapter in their life story.


I know there are some folk who don’t like certain types of dolls, not just dolls that have ended up abandoned, neglected & broken like these.  People who fear those dolls often call them “ugly” or “creepy” or “scary”.  I’m not sure that amounts to a phobia. While I don’t understand that kind of ‘fear’ of dolls I accept that it is real for some.

This short article explains the condition called pediophobia: the unwarranted, irrational & persistent fear or worry of dolls.  It is a specific phobia belonging to the category of ‘automatonphobia’.  Pediophobia comes from the Greek word paidion meaning ‘little child’. 




On the topic of dolls, why not the poem ‘The Dolls’ by William Butler Yeats.  A quick scout around the internet & you find various analyses & critiques of the poem.




. . .  & we will meet the vacant eyed doll in the centre (above) & more in a later post …. stay tuned.

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