News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

February 27, 2006

Historical Treasure: Paper mache doll one of oldest dolls in collection

One of the oldest dolls in the Vigo County Historical Society’s collection takes the spotlight as this week’s treasure. It is a 31-inch paper mache doll made by Ludwig Greiner.

In 1840, Greiner, then residing in Philadelphia, began making dolls, and in 1858 applied for and received the earliest known United States patent for making heads of paper mache.

The ingredients were one pound of white paper, one pound Spanish whiting, one pound rye flour, one ounce glue and linen cloth for reinforcement. He made the heads in sizes for 13 inches to 35 inches. The hair was molded with a center part and was usually painted black, although after 1872, many were given blonde hair. A few of the dolls had brown painted eyes and a very few had glass eyes, while the majority were painted eyes in various shades of turquoise.

The bodies of the dolls were made of cloth and the arms and legs were made of oilcloth. The feet were usually encased in handmade boots of velvet or similar cloth. Most of the early Greiners had no marks of identification, but those made in 1872 and later had a paper label on the back shoulder.

Even without labels, however, the Greiner dolls were usually recognizable because of the expression of the facial features and the hair style.

The Greiner doll in the Historical Museum is one of the larger models. She has oilcloth hands and arms and her boots are of blue velvet. She is dressed in an old dress of blue-and-white-striped cotton with white lace and white eyelet-trimmed undergarments.

The doll was given to the Museum by the DeBaun family and is one of the dolls from the collection of Ruth’s mother, Clara Muncie Mayfield.

This Greiner paper mache doll may be seen in the Nursery on the second floor of the Museum. At present, she is resting in an antique rocking chair, near the viewing window.

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