more perfect imperfection in these vintage orphans




Loving my old dolls again especially the vintage composition dolls.

Sweet friends are these shabby orphans, triplets. Abandoned & unloved when I found them some time ago.

Now living here as part of my collection, my little family of dollies.

I don’t know the history behind them, 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, break & weather.




I seem to be in a sort of doll mode lately in between the many other things I’ve got going on here. I found another last week & picking up another this week.  They give me the break, the change I need, from  managing the outside area here at Fat Lawyer Farm, the somewhat sprawling, wandering, all over the place garden going on here at our little patch.  It is one of the most time consuming things constantly needing attention.

I’m not a gardener by any means & hadn’t a single gardening bone in my body when we came here.

Certainly, I did not plan on wearing a gardener’s hat.  I most certainly didn’t slog away at law school to work in a garden. Hmph!

I would have been considered an absolute non-gardener before moving here. A gardening dullard.  I’m what you call an ‘accidental’ gardener.  It was never in my plan. 

Fortuitiously I get right on in when there is physical work to be done in the garden & elsewhere on the property.  Of course, I bring in others to help when needed. I find it hard to stay away, 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. It’s 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’m doing, my plantings seem to grow.

I have come to see I derive a lot of pleasure from this activity, or, more accurately, transforming the barren plot of land it was, inhabited by goats, into what is, at least for me, a gardenish kind of area. Who would have thought . . .

Our patch has Australian natives like gums, acacias & grevillias to name a few as well as some of the more exotics & ornamentals like elms & ash trees, pawlonias, jacarandas, white cedars, pepper trees, conifers and the like. I love & want shade, I want the big ‘ole shady trees.

I’m still steadily working on planting & transplanting trees & shrubs around the dam, the pond & beyond.  Now that is a big job not to mention shifting & placing large rocks.  

As well as the outside I’m working on finishing the inside of the house.


Anyway, there I was being gardenish this morning . . . a coldish, wet, day to be out in SA. It’s the last month of spring, two weeks ’til summer on 1 December, and I still needed a jumper today (sweater). The soil is wet, muddy & damp – a good thing & more rain is coming, a very good thing, especially as we are about to hit summer. While the rains this year have been outstanding, the long cold is driving me nuts.  Heaters on today  . . .  I don’t do cold well unless I’m physically working which means I don’t feel the cold.

Finished for the day, I came inside early all muddy & filthy with damp boots, wet socks . . . but oh so invigorating getting out there & into the dirt, the Barossa terroir.

On the veranda I removed my wet boots & socks placing them inside below the heater.

As usual my hands & fingers were brown & wrinkled with heaps of dirt under my nails. I’m not into pretty, polished nails. Never have been much to my mother’s dismay. Not very lady-like I know but who cares. At times my hands are rough & brown, like farmer’s hands. I grew up a country girl. You got in & got the job done, rain, hail or shine. No matter the task you dealt with it. Idleness, laziness, being slack, was anathema to our way of life . . .  

Anyway, a long, hot shower hit the spot. Indeed, while we are fortunate having our own water here, via an excellent bore, or well, from which we pump, the house is serviced by rain water stored in a huge zincaloom water tank not far from the house, the catchment for run-off being the house & shed. So everything inside the house including toilets & showers are serviced by rain water.




Er, sidetracked again I see. This post is supposed to be about dolls, old dolls, my enthusiasm for them, especially the vintage composition dolls.  Part of my relaxation & solace comes in these exquisite pieces. 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-conditioning in the hotter months.


Anyway, what is a composition doll you ask? 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 second image above.

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 60-100 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.

The dollies remain as original as possible, as I found them, in all their imperfections.

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 experienced over time.


I wonder about these dollies.  I am never alone in the house.  I know that whenever I look the dollies are looking too.

I wonder, 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 & looking for a home, safety, comfort & 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. Does it? 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) in a later post . . .  stay tuned.

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