A Motschmann Type Baby to Study

Although Charles Motschmann was not the only European doll maker to copy the little limp Japanese baby doll shown at the London World Exhibit in 1851, his is the name that has been attached to this type of baby doll, with a fabric center section covering a crier, and cloth upper arms and legs connecting its limbs to the body. An affectionate regard for these strange little morsels is an acquired taste like that for ripe olives. I am among the smitten. Here are a few pictures of the babies to enjoy.

How do we dress an early baby doll? First of all babies of the 18th and 19th centuries were not all clothed in white or pale pastels. Red was a favorite color for a baby dress, particularly for a boy baby. Bright calico and wool challis prints were frequently used. A study of early portraits of children gives us a one of the best windows on children's clothing in different periods. Even better is the study of actual dolls themselves.

Early dolls representing an infant are unusual. When we find them with original clothing we have a good reference for dressing the dolls we might make such as an Izannah style infant doll.

Janie was a precious Motschmann baby, a papier mache doll of 1860 or so. She measured 14 inches in length, and had the black pupilless glass eyes typical of her kind. Named for the dealer I bought her from in Pennsylvania, she was a very nice example of this unusual form, and also had a gorgeous original costume, all hand stitched of course. The striking dress was of a light weight printed blue wool. Her undergarments were like those of an older child rather than an infant, being long pantalets and a chemise plus 2 petticoats and long stockings. Janie was lost in a house fire in 2005, and I have watched for another since that time.

Now I have another slightly smaller one at 12 inches long. The little black glass eyes have a very life like quality, and she has my heart already. Her simple white dress is less impressive than Janie’s was, but it is her own original garment, made with stitches so tiny I can scarcely see them. It is what we think of as a more conventional baby dress, with cartridge pleats at the waist and a gathered “fan front” bodice. She also has a cap of creamy silk and lace, it is melting but still with her, and a little short jacket. Believe me the bald little thing needs her cap, I may make her another! Because I would like to lay her in a cradle, I have chosen to hang the very long dress near her, on a sweet little wooden hanger my son in law made for me. You are welcome to make some like it. I have coated the wooden hanger with Liquitex Acrylic Medium, which also is a varnish, to seal the wood. I am ever mindful of the bad effect wood has on old textiles.

A third baby belonging to a friend of mine, is pictured, in parts. This one has sleeping eyes, and a slightly waxed papier mache head. The torso was stuffed with paper, and the crier bellows fit inside the cardboard tube center section of the torso. Replacement parts could be made of paper clay. Those of you who have doll making skills can always use these skills for doll repair when a needy one comes your way.

Edyth O’Neill

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  1. I'm crazy fascinated with the motschmann bodied dolls. Your baby is darling, she looks so sweet in her cradle.

  2. Very well written and illustrated. I love these little bodies too! I shared this site with one of my customers!


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