Dominique Pennegues
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Dolls made of stuffed cloth  existe since the creation of textiles,  several thousands of years ago, however, few have survived.
The oldest French stuffed cloth dolls, preserved mostly in American collections, are  stuffed stocking dolls from the 18th century. They are handcrafted, intricately needle carved, measure between 25 and 30 cm and are anatomically correct. They have belonged to families of the French nobility emigrated to the United States, and were manufactured in very small numbers. A couple of dolls of this type, but made of fine cloth stuffed, was presented in Paris by Mr François Theimer at one of his auctions at the Ambassador Hotel a few years ago. Other similar dolls also appear in a few collections. A complete family was presented again by Mr François Theimer in one of  his catalogs few years ago.
Dolls with stuffed cloth heads on stuffed cloth-and-skin bodies were also produced during the 18th century, but again, only a few copies have survived.
One of those such precious testimonies of the quality of French production of that time was sold by Mrs. Florence Theriault in one of her auction in 2012. The doll is 12.5 cm high,  head is needlee sculpted and has enameled eyes. Under the robe is placed an hand written paper note: "I was born April 13, 1785".

 Apart from this early, small scale made production, reserved to the elite of the time, historians date the large making of cloth doll  doll for commercial purposes around 1870, and located it in the United States, with dolls made by Izannah Walker of Rhode Island. Izannah Walker was actually recorded as "doll maker" in 1865, and filed a patent to protect her production in 1873.

 Her dolls has usually a light color skin appearance, but there are also few colored dolls, also some rare young boys as well as women dolls. Each doll seems to be unique and can be considered as a portrait doll, inspired by paintings or live models. The sizes vary between 35 and 60 cm.
However, the award to Izannah Walker for being the "pioneer manufacturers of cloth dolls" seems questionable to us.

 We do have a problem of terminology in the expertise of cloth dolls because, in no way, the term "cloth " defines the final look of the doll, but the material used to make it . Once this information is placed and accepted, we can conclude that the beginning of the industrial manufacture of cloth dolls occurred, not in the United States, but in France.

In fact, a French patent was filed in 1856 by Auguste Brouillet-Cacheleux for some material he called "carton linge" (cardboard-cloth), made of hardened fabric. An addition to the patent was filed in 1861 for a ball jointed doll body where the French inventor mentions the use of its "cardboard-cloth" among other possible materials. The illustrations accompanying the patent show two types of ball jointed doll bodies. One does not know if the first ball jointed bodies were made of "cardboard-cloth" or of wood, or papier maché.

 A report on the 1878 Paris International Exhibition refers to some dolls named "Bébé Mousseline" noted for their beauty and lightness, but too expensive. Would it be Auguste Brouillet-Cacheleux dolls?

A Brouillet-Cacheleux doll has been repertoried in an American collection. Its head and body are made of coated fine muslin upper several layers of jersey and has the appearance of paper mache. Only the incredible lightness of the doll says it is manufactured in molded fabric.
 Another Brouillet Cacheleux treated and molded fabric doll, with the second body mentioned in the patent, was presented by Mr François Theimer at one of his auction at the Ambassador Hotel in Paris. This baby shows a revolution in the world of dolls, both through the ball jointed body and the use of "Carton-linge" to make the entire doll.
 In the United States, women inspired by the success of Izannah Walker's dolls, started the making of cloth dolls too. Martha Jenks Chase created new cloth dolls with the appearance of a young child. She quickly became the first manufacturer of this particular type of dolls.
 At the same time, Ida Gutsell filed a patent for lithographed cloth dolls on piece of cloth, to be sewed at home. Her dolls have a vertical seam in the center of the face that makes a three dimensions head.
By 1892, appeared on the U.S. market "washable and unbreakable" cloth dolls named "Colombian Dolls". One may consider these dolls as the real first "artist dolls," their creator, Emma Adams, having followed several years of Art School before starting making her dolls.
In 1894 in Germany, Margarete Steiff began making original stuffed felt toys  (it was a pioneer in this area). She used for her dolls Ida Gutsell's method, which is to unite the two parts of the face by a vertical seam that crosses the forehead to the chin through the nose. Margarete Steiff dolls are particularized by the fact that they are stuffed felt and they stand alone with their large flat feet. Their eyes are also most of the time the "button boots" type.
 Meanwhile, French doll makers had not lost interest in using fabric to produce unbreakable light weight dolls, and in 1897, we find a new patent filed by Etienne Verdier and Sylvain Gutmacher for the manufacture of laminated cloth heads and bodies.  This patent proposes the manufacture of an unbreakable doll, made of superposed layers of fabric,  starch coated so to unite with each other. The assembly is then placed in the press to get a kind of thick and stable "cloth". Pieces cut from the cloth are then molded and pressed to get both sides of the head of the doll. Cuts are done to insert the eyes and teeth, and both sides of the head are then assembled and glued. The whole is covered with a flesh-colored coating, followed by two coats of varnish which give the head the appearance of bisque.
 In 1899, American Ella Smith, Art teacher, started her production of "new cloth doll" named "Alabama indestructible". They were made of  layers of silk jersey and plaster of Paris. The faces were hand painted jersey.
In the UK, Henry Dean founded his company in 1903, Dean's Rag Co., and produced  cloth dolls solded in printed kits, ready to be cut and sewn at home.
We also find this type of lithographed cloth doll in the U.S., also in France, which were made, among others, by G.Gérardin.
 Subsequently, the global production of cloth dolls accelerated and deposits of innovative patents multiplied. In Germany, in 1905, Mr. Schwerdtfeger  filed a patent to cover the faces of felt dolls with a cellulose layer allowing faces to be washed.
 Several manufacturers, including French Edouard Raynal and Italian Elena Scavini (Lenci dolls) will later copy  this patent for their production of cloth and felt dolls.
 In France, Marcel Pintel began in 1906 the production of toys stuffed fabric and enriches it quickly by making stuffed cloth dolls too.
 Again in Germany in 1910, Kathe Kruse introduced her first stuffed cloth doll in a department store in Berlin. Her dolls were pure artistic creations in the best sense of the term. Only Elena Scavini with her Lenci dolls, could later compete on such artistic level with them.
 The First World War broke out in 1914 and the production of cloth dolls suddenly took its real boom in France.

It's Stéfania Lazarska, a Polish painter living in Paris, who had the first, the idea of producing artistic cloth dolls she created with other Polish artists in her art studio located in the Montparnasse district.

The success of her "Artist's Dolls" was immediate and her initiative was copied by prominent women, and among them, Aurore Lauth-Sand. These creations were exhibited at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Pavilion Marsan, in Paris in 1915. Artistic stuffed animals were noticed during this exhibition, including those inspired by the work of French artist Benjamin Rabier, and those, less childish, created by Russian artist Ms. Salsaka. The latters, created especially for adults, could possibly be the cause of fashion for stuffed animals to decorate interiors soon after the first war.


In 1915, Emile Lang filed a patent for a method of making molded fabric doll heads. The originality lies in the fact that the two parts of the head are glued together instead of being sewn.

This process was taken over by Elena Scavini for some of its molded felt body, then Edouard Raynal for his series of so-called  "Lenci type" dolls.

Emile Lang was especially remarked for its production of a stunning serie of soldiers, as well as elegant artist's dolls made after illustrator Jean Ray's models. The comparison between these two sets underscores the resilience of the French manufacturer to produce totally different kinds of dolls of the same high quality.

 Still in 1915, Adrien Carvaillo, and his wife Laure-Marie, began the manufacture of decorative objects made of fabric, then, later on, started the making of stuffed cloth dolls that were marketed under "La Poupée Venus" label after WW1.
Same year, Mme d'Eichtal made cloth dolls inspired by Kathe Kruse's dolls , using " Francia" as trademark. These Francia dolls were successfully exported across the Atlantic, and one may found to day interesting Francia babies  in American private collections.
 Only few manufacturers of cloth dolls made in France continued their production after the end of the First World War, but fashion for cloth dolls was launched and they took the name of "Modern Dolls" or "Artistic Dolls." Leading manufacturers such as S.F.B.J. started the making of cloth dolls, same time as new makers started to appeared on the French and international markets, among them, Elena Scavini (Lenci dolls), Louise Kampes (1) (Kamkins Kiddies) Denis Giotti (Poupées Magali), Chad Valley and Norah Wellings, Gaston Perrimont (Poupées La Nicette), Marie-Clelia Oliveiro and Amilgar Broglie (Poupées  Clelia) and finally Martha Gold and Edouard Raynal (Poupées Raynal).


Amazing, slender creations by Stefania Lazarska were, in turn, the ambassadors of a new fashion dolls for adults, the so called "Boudoirs Dolls", which have been very popular in the twenties and thirties.
 Today, some of them, such as Les Poupées Rosalinde, compete in market value with French bisque dolls from the 19th.
Sadely, French collectors do not give much interest to this type of dolls, and one can thank our American friends who have managed to preserve this wonderful heritage from the genius of the Roaring Twenties,  that French collectors will eventually rediscover one day.
After WW2, the manufacture of cloth dolls in France did not take a new start  until the seventies, but never find the success of its debut, apart from some artwork, such as Marie d'O beautiful dolls  which remains an exception.




(1) Note: Bernice Millman, author and expert on Kamkins dolls, informs us in her article in the UFDC 2009 Journal, that Louise Kampes began production of cloth dolls in 1910, and not 1919 as it is common to believe. This adjustment in dating is important because it dates the beginning of this very fine production the same year as the Käte Kruse's, both productions showing striking similarities in the heads and bodies of dolls made by these two great artists who have marked the market for cloth doll in the USA and Europe.