Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Three Little Swiss Friends

Somewhere fairly recently I read the Friends From Foreign Lands series by Madame Alexander premiered in 1928, but according to my Patricia Smith book they started with the one-piece Tiny Betty 8 inch doll in 1935 and with the Wendy Ann 9 and 11 inch bodies in 1937. I don't know when they became the "Friends From Foreign Lands", but this series is undoubtedly one of the most famous and beloved of all Madame Alexander's dolls. Madame Alexander's little international children are avidly collected even today. In its longevity it's probably second only to the Little Women series, which has been produced from the start, beginning with cloth dolls. The "Friends" seem to have debuted in composition. At least, I haven't seen and can't find any photos of international dolls produced in cloth.

I was amazed when I opened a box of 1970s dolls a few months back and pulled one tiny and very old composition doll. The entire box had been stored somewhere damp, so even though none of the dolls had clearly ever been played with, they were all damaged to some degree. This one had a costume with hardly any play wear, but his composition body really suffered in sub-optimal conditions. The whites of his eyes were chipped away and the lips had a large crack running through them. The body, especially the torso, had deep cracks and lifting to the surface paint and there was less-severe crazing throughout. I repaired the deep cracks with epoxy and painted those areas and then went back over the crazing to repair it. I also found the legs were quite loose, particularly one of them, but this was the result of the composition leg bars having worn almost away. I rebuilt those with epoxy. I decided the bands are strong enough that I didn't need to re-string the doll, and frankly I'm a bit worried about trying to pull the elastic tight enough without damaging the leg bar, so I'm not re-stringing these unless I have to. At this point they are appropriate as display dolls for adult collectors, not play dolls.

The doll had cracks and lifting to his composition.

The face had paint loss.
The doll after repair.

I hadn't yet re-painted the face and was planning to use a similar bride doll from a different manufacturer as a model when I saw another identical doll who was part of a "brother and sister" pair. I was able to win those two dolls and so I could use the undamaged one as a model for the repaint. I am pleased with the result.

The doll with new face paint.

This hat is probably handmade.

The shoes have tissue paper stuck to them

There is age discoloration and spotting.

The Alexander tag

The first Swiss boy's repair was basically the exact opposite of the Swiss pair. For one thing, I wasn't sure whether he was Swiss or not because his tag doesn't say. His body was a mess but his clothing just needed a careful light cleaning. His shoes looked at first as if the surface of the oil cloth was peeling away, but close inspection revealed tissue paper stuck to them. Evidently one owner carefully wrapped the doll in tissue and then another (probably a younger relative) stuck it in the box of 70s dolls and stuck it in the basement or attic or somewhere and the tissue fused to the shoes in the damp environment. It's really sad; this doll would be pretty much near mint if it hadn't been stored improperly. I'm just glad I got him in time to prevent more damage! I gently scraped off as much tissue as I could from the shoes but there's still a lot on there. I thought about trying a Mr. Clean Eraser or really fine sandpaper, but I'm scared to try it.

The Swiss boy and girl

The little Swiss brother and sister have wonderful bodies and faces with almost no wear but their clothes are in worse condition. All I had to do to these two was clean them, repair and seal slight crazing, and style their hair. Their bands are tight. The girl's, in fact, are so tight it's hard to lower her arms! I've decided all three of these must have been re-strung in the fairly recent past.

The restored dolls

The costumes on these two are extremely fragile. I considered leaving the light all-over crazing because I was almost afraid to try to remove them. The boy's green ribbon sash was crumbling to pieces at the lightest touch and the girl's black bodice was so full of holes it looked like lace. I treated both these with Fray Check to keep them from further disintegration and sewed the bodice together as much as possible by hand. The boy's shoes are breaking apart at the snaps. One snap has broken off the shoe body but is still attached to the strap. The other snap is partly pulled off the shoe. The socks on both dolls are completely rotted away on the tops of the feet. I carefully unsnapped the shoes and slid the feet out to repair the dolls and then I slid the feet back into the socks and shoes and snapped them so I touched the shoes as little as possible and the socks not at all. I added a scarf from a later 1960s Madame Alexander doll to the girl's costume to hide the torn bodice. I hoped I might be able to replace the bodice with new fabric but the entire dress is so fragile I worried I would tear it up trying to rip the old fabric out.

The bodice is torn.

The girl's tag

The socks are rotting.

The dress has attached pantaloons.

The Swiss boy

His socks are also rotting.

The boy's tag

The brother and sister with finished costumes

Although in exceptional shape for 1930s dolls, the brother and sister bodies do show some age. The boy, especially, has some fading and age spotting to the areas of his skin that were exposed to sunlight. His knee blush has faded. The girl has really bright knee blush but her forearms are faded. I scrubbed the bodies clean and then just repaired the crazing and sealed the paint with gloss sealant. I thought about re-painting the faded areas but decided all-original paint on dolls this age is too rare to undo. The girl has one eye whose white are may have had a paint touch-up at one time, but I really can't tell for sure. There's a very slight difference in texture. At any rate, these dolls have just amazingly bright and complete factory paint.

The dolls after repair.

The boy's lower legs are faded.

Of this brother and sister pair, the girl is probably the elder. Her back is marked "MME ALEXANDER NEW YORK" only and her tag just says "Swiss". The boy's back is marked "Wendy Ann MME ALEXANDER  New York" and his tag says "Swiss" along with "Madame Alexander". The first boy has the same Wendy Ann mark as the second boy but his tag is different again, with no indication of the country he represents. It's clear at this time the tagging and marking system was not yet standardized.

The girl's mark

The boy's mark

I have just fallen in love with this tiny trio. I almost don't want to sell them! If I hadn't paid quite as much as I did for the brother and sister I would be truly tempted to add them to our collection. I'm actually more Swiss than any other nationality, even though I identify more with the Scandinavian side because they are much more recent immigrants. My Norwegian/Swiss grandmother had a Swiss pen pal who lived in the Alps and she'd saved all the letters and photos her friend sent. We used to pour over those and she would tell us about her childhood. The scenery in which her friend was privileged to live was just stunning, evident even in the faded photos (which were about the same age as these dolls!). I love to think my grandmother could have, had she a member of a more affluent family, owned these exact dolls and identified them with her friend from a foreign land! As always, these dolls and many more are for sale in my eBay and Etsy stores, so please check: Atelier Mandaline eBay and Atelier Mandaline Etsy.

Swiss "twin" boys

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