Composition Doll, Doll, Vintage Doll

with a face only a mother could love … this little misfit fits right in



This little lady was tucked ever so tightly into the rickety old cardboard box when I first laid eyes on her. As lonely & forlorn as she was and ‘blind’, I was immediately drawn to her, had to have her.

Who owned this dolly I wondered?

What sort of a life had she had?

Where had she been?

How had she traveled?

What had been her journey?

How did she come to be like this?

Of course I could see how worn, weathered & tattered she was, the obvious damage, the cracking & crazing on her face. Yet, I smiled inwardly when I saw the little face, a face that was faded & wrinkly, with no eyes, just two black holes where once her eyes existed. I knew she wouldn’t win any beauty contests, I had to have her despite her condition, despite her blemishes, the damage suffered. There was an inherent beauty in this little lady. I knew she was coming home with me.



I believe her eyes are loose inside her head i.e. they have been pushed in & out of the eye sockets leaving her blinded. Oft times with these old dollies, the constant handling, or mishandling, the wear & tear, means the eyes get pushed back in or fall into the head cavity. I will try to retrieve them from inside her head and, assuming they are in tact, re-insert them where they belong giving her sight again. They may well be glass & may be the moveable sleep eyes.



At home & after taking her out of the box, I felt she might have some historical interest.





She is a walker & crier doll as she has the wood & metal walking mechanism. She has a voice box (in her tummy area) which no longer works.



I could see her body was made of what appeared to be composition. On closer inspection, however, I believe she may be entirely paper mache i.e. a doll made from a paper mache mix that’s covered by some sort of mud or composition (compo) mix. Her quite light head indicates she may be paper mache & not solid composition.

Papier mache dolls come under the collective term of composition which also includes celluloid and numerous others. It is sometimes hard to know when a doll is made of papier mache or composition but in general terms papier mache dolls are basically made of paper pulp plus other substances whilst composition dolls are made from wood pulp plus other substances. Confusion still reigns as some dolls’ bodies are referred to as composition when in fact they are made from papier mache.  via History of Paper Mache Dolls



Now, I’m not an expert by any means but composition is generally the heavier medium. Once, certainly in the 19th century, paper was pressed into moulds to make doll heads. Composition is made up of pulped wood pressed into moulds.


The Manufacturing Process – Composition Dolls

Various recipes were used for composition, but most included sawdust, cornstarch and glue, ingredients Canada had in abundance. The doll industry was the largest consumer of cornstarch in Canada before the Second World War.

The ingredients were mixed together, then the paste was spread onto brass moulds and heated. Once dry and hard, the two halves were glued together and prepared for painting. The surface was coated with glue to make it hard and smooth. At least two coats of paint were applied before facial features were painted.

Dolls had all-composition bodies or stuffed cloth bodies with composition arms and legs. They wore mohair wigs or had hair painted on. The manufacture of composition dolls was labour-intensive and provided jobs at a time when jobs were hard to find. In 1936, the Reliable Toy Company produced 1.5 million dolls in 300 models.



making composition parts

dipping the bodies

assembling the parts




In the box & in the images, you can see her paper mache feet more clearly. Notice one foot, with the cardboard type bottom/sole, is separated completely. I will re-attach it. There is no definition in her feet like toes or anything.

Sadly, there are no identifying markers on this dolly, nothing to indicate her origin, her age.



The missing base of the foot let’s you see the hollow leg. As I say, the doll is light in weight . . . more paper mache.

She has no shoes or socks.




The material, from which she is made, is so thin it almost looks like her legs are made of thin cardboard covered by a mud paper mache mix that’s covered, painted. You can see where her paper mache legs are joined in the middle like two pieces of cardboard coming together as a seam.


In a late 19th century dictionary papier mache is defined as “a tough plastic material made from paper pulp containing an admixture of size, paste, oil, resin or other substances or from sheets of paper glued and pressed together”.  via History of Paper Mache Dolls

The papier-maché in the late 19th century was indeed a type of composition but more often used a mixture of shredded newspapers and, sometimes, gypsum [gips] instead of sawdust that was common in most typical composition dolls.  ttps://







Basically, while her body is more or less in tact – limbs & head in place –  the compo/paper mache mix is chipping & sort of coming off mainly on parts of her right arm & the back of her right shoulder & a little on the right side of her face & right leg.



The white powdery material you see maybe evidence of gypsum which was used instead of sawdust to bind the material in most typical composition dolls. This surface damage is confined to these parts of her body.



There are various blemishes, dings & dents in her body as well as the obvious cracking of the paper mache on her face which clearly exhibits the break down of the composite material.

Things like storage, temperature changes, humidity & exposure to moisture usually cause this kind of breakdown in these old dolls.

Basically, paper mache & composition dolls came after bisque/porcelain. They quickly became very popular because they did not break (compared to porcelain). But composition never really tolerated anything other than the right temperatures. Dolls had to be stored in places not exposed to great changes in temperature. Otherwise they cracked.



Water is a composition dolls worst enemy. Extremes of temperature in heat, humidity, over time, affect the wood material which expands or contracts, the painted surface on top doesn’t, instead fine lines appear in the paint called crazing and cracks that expose the material below. 

Ultimately, in about 1949/50, I believe, composition/paper mache dolls were superseded by plastic

This little lady shows wear & tear on her body including cracking & discoloration. Yes, I could sand down parts of her & re-cover or re-mould her body with appropriate moulding materials, clays etc.  But I’m not at all inclined to do that, to change her in any way, to bring her ‘back to life’ as they say.




As mentioned, she is jointed at the legs/hips.



If you look closely you can see she has painted eyelashes.





Her hands aren’t too bad with little chipping/damage.



You can see the breakdown of the paper mache cover/compo material is chipping off on the left hand finger above.




She has red polish on her nails, wears pink lipstick & blusher on her cheeks.



Just because I cant see teeth doesn’t mean she hasn’t any. They could have been knocked out or into her head cavity. I will investigate that further.





While her dress, petticoat & panties are basically in tact, I query whether her clothing is the antique original. You can see press studs on her dress.

Her clothing, despite being quite worn & fragile from age & use, discoloured & somewhat brown & faded in parts, even brittle in places, may have been added later. Nevertheless, at this point, I have no desire to replace her clothing with more modern reproduction stuff.






In gently lifting her straw hat off I could see her hair, the wig, was plaited (braided). Looks original. I am not sure it’s not a human hair wig.





She has a cardboard pate fitted into the opening on top of her head (like in the 3 images above) to which the wig is attached. The wig itself is attached to a muslin (cheese cloth in Australia) type fabric which is then fitted onto & over the cardboard pate.



Unfortunately, her hair, the top of her head, seems to have been pushed in, into the head opening somewhat making the top of her head rather flat. I can see the pate in there. This damage, the flatness, is not noticeable because she wears the straw hat. In fact it looks like her head might have been pushed down onto her right side at the shoulders sometime in her life.

Poor little lady.



I have thought about trying to clean & re style her plaited (braided) hair wig given it’s a bit tatty & disheveled but, I’m not sure I can, or should. I don’t believe I will re-do her hair. I don’t believe I will re-wig her or replace her wig. It could be a mohair wig or made of human hair.

I prefer to leave her as I found her and do this with most of the old dollies I keep.




A little research indicates these dolls were really made for the moneyed classes, the rich, the wealthy & their well schooled, good mannered & well behaved children. They were also the plaything of wealthier adults.

Many old toys & dolls often received a great deal of love & affection usually reflected in their condition when found. Perhaps this little lady reflects that. ‘Eventually the hugs, kisses and carriage rides translated into bumps, bruises and broken parts.’



Like my other dolls, I love her just as she came which means I may not touch her at all other than re-attaching the bottom of her foot. I may well leave her just as she is reflecting her life journey.

To me, along with the little family of rescued dollies already ensconced here at Far Lawyer Farm, her brother & sister dollies, she is beautiful just as she is, just as I found her.

Yeah, yeah, I know some of you regard her as creepy, spooky, as the ugliest, scariest doll ever seen, fit for the dust bin, fit for the Halloween house of horrors. Me thinks ya’ll been watching too many movies & TV shows 🙂 causing you to suspend your belief in reality – or is it suspending your disbelief in unreality?

When we give dollies human characteristics, we have to be careful not to forget to tell a who from a what. The horror we perceive is, in fact, an emotional response to a fiction. Nevertheless, I admit she is very crackly & crazed & without eyes is arguably down right ugly.

But I can see through that.

Who truly believes beauty is skin deep?



She is an old doll, a doll that was perhaps dressed & re-dressed. A doll that was hugged, squeezed, kissed & carried by various means. This ownership, this ‘love’, no doubt brought with it wear & tear, lumps & bumps, chips, bruises & breaks.

Perhaps dolly ended up this way because she was so loved & adored, so played with, so shared.

Perhaps somebody loved this dolly so much, played with her, dressed her, carried her, dragged her, dropped her, shared her, routinely leaving her in the attic, on the veranda, the porch or in the weather for periods of time.

Perhaps she ended up like this because her owner grew up, abandoning her to the shed, the cellar, leaving her to the vagaries of moisture, heat & cold & as a playground for mites & critters.

Ultimately she is safe here where she has a home, a place of re-love & re-homing where she is fully ensconced, along with my other old dollies, without any discrimination or prejudice.

Every doll I own is one of a kind each with a different life story.



If you are interested in knowing more about these dollies, I have previously spoken, in some detail in various earlier posts. There are links in those posts to other posts on the dollies.

Checking them out may help you appreciate why I enjoy giving them a new home.