Thursday, October 15, 2015

Betsy Ballerina

Betsy McCall goes trick-or-treating.

The Uneeda Betsy McCall doll I repaired in my vinyl doll tutorial is finally ready to go. As I mentioned in that post, this is a seriously rare doll. I am so happy she turned out really well. It would have been an awful shame if such a hard to find doll was not salvageable. Betsy's just so darn cute, too! I've wanted one of these for a while now, ever since I saw the 1962 McCall's magazine Betsy paper doll series. During that year instead of paintings or drawings, the paper doll sheets were illustrated with photographs using this doll. Actually, I believe they used the 29 inch version, but at any rate, the doll that has this face and jointing. I love those photos! Betsy is photographed out in the world doing all sorts of things a real girl would do. I was inspired to make some photo illustrations of my own. I had Betsy go trick-or treating, with some help from my kids, who pretended to be fellow trick-or-treaters. Then I photographed Betsy teaching a tiny Betsy doll to dance and holding the same doll. I think these turned out so cute, I will have some note cards printed up to sell in my Etsy store. A lot of doll sellers do that in order to have a steady supply of inventory that doesn't require restoration, and probably also because it's just fun!

The doll has 10 articulation points.

She can pose well.

Her vinyl has some spots.

Part of the reason this particular doll is so fun to photograph is the fact that she's so poseable. Leave it to Uneeda, creators of the famous Dollikin dolls, to re-imagine Betsy articulated. Betsy has ten points of articulation, so you can move her head, wrists, ankles, waist, hips, and upper thighs. The swiveling thighs are really unique; I don't think I've ever seen another doll, even Dollikin, with that feature. I've asked Betsy to perform several of her dance moves so you can see how well she moves. I took her photos under my studio lights and in natural light. The studio lights highlight every flaw, but you don't notice imperfections nearly as much in natural light. I've had several people leave me feedback that my dolls are nicer or prettier than shown, so I decided to use two different kinds of light. This way, you can see any flaws really well but you can also view the doll as she will really look to you in your home.

Betsy can dance.

The restored face under studio lights.

Betsy's trick or treat pumpkin is included.
I know this Betsy was sold in a ballet costume, as well as a plaid dress, and I think she also came in a day dress with a pinafore. I'm pretty sure her pink leotard, tights, and shoes are original to her. They are factory made and fit perfectly. Her tutu was missing, though, and her tights are cut off and finished along the tops of the thighs, turning them into stockings. I made her a new tutu and replaced the silver elastic cords in her shoes. I thought she might like a tiara (what girl wouldn't?) so I made her one from glass beads, Swarovski crystals, and jewelry wire. There are a couple tiny holes in her tights and leotard, so I treated these with Fray Check to keep them from getting bigger.

Holes in her outfit have been treated.

I made Betsy a tiara.

Betsy in natural light

The restored face in natural light

Betsy comes with her pumpkin, so she would make a terrific Halloween centerpiece or decoration. For the rest of the year, just remove the pumpkin. Betsy is sturdy enough to stand up to play, although you should remember vintage toys might not meet some of today's requirements for toys. She's also a very expensive doll, due to her rarity, so you might not want to risk letting her be a play doll. She could withstand it, however, especially for ages 8 and up. I've given Betsy a new hair net and tagged her with my own signed tag. Right now I have Betsy priced at less than half her value on Etsy, although that price will rise later. I have several of my listings much lower than usual, which I'm calling my Introductory Pricing in an attempt to drive more business to that new store, and I am also offering a 20% off coupon to the first 20 customers who leave a positive review for my Etsy store. I hope you'll stop in and check it out!

Betsy has a hair net and tag.

I have a tiny Betsy McCall doll in the works,and when I saw her in my studio next to this doll I realized she's the perfect size to be a doll for this doll. So I did a series of photos with both Betsys dressed as ballerinas. They are so adorable! The Tiny Betsy will eventually become an ice skater, but for this series she's a sweet little ballerina. I plan to have some of these made into note cards suitable for framing, so please be watching for those. Please also make sure to check out Atelier Mandaline on eBay for even more dolls!

Betsy teaches Betsy to dance.

My Betsy doll with her Betsy doll.

Halloween Betsy

Monday, October 12, 2015

Identifying Lenci Dolls

One tagged and one untagged Lenci doll

I wrote in my last post about my pleasure in having the opportunity to purchase a real, tagged Lenci doll from around 1940. Besides the fact I've always wanted one, or have wanted one at least since I was about 10 (this entire blog began years ago with a post about my love for Edith, a Lenci doll) I was happy to get one so I could definitively compare a doll I'm pretty certain is also a Lenci, but who has lost her clothing and tag.

Two Lenci dolls

The large Lenci doll is tagged twice, so she makes a good comparison doll for the small, unmarked one. I saw the little unmarked doll in a lot of doll clothing and bought the whole thing because I was just sure it was a Lenci doll. When I saw her in person I was even more sure, and now that I've compared her to a tagged doll I'm certain.

The large doll has a tagged dress.

Even Dorothy Coleman, the author of my Lenci book admits it's very hard to pin Lenci dolls down to one specific type. Madame Lenci designed a vast variety of dolls, and her company was beset from its inception by Italy's series of wars. The various wars caused supply shortages, forcing changes in the dolls' composition. Sometimes war produced opportunities for different types of dolls; one Lenci doll was found with a bisque head and flirting glass eyes. The head was marked with a Star of David, leading to the conclusion it was probably made by a Jewish company forced out of business by the Nazis. Lenci was probably able to pick up the heads at a large discount. More changes were forced by the popularity of Lenci dolls. Many companies, some founded by former Lenci employees, made cheaper copies of Lenci dolls, forcing the Lenci company to scale back their own quality and lower their prices in order to compete. Some of these dolls are nearly identical to Lenci's own dolls, which leads to confusion today, when so many years have passed.

Zigzag stitching

Comparison to the small doll

Stitching on the large doll

One of the myths about Lenci dolls is that if the doll has zigzag stitching on the back of the neck it's a Lenci doll. Lenci dolls are sewn this way (see the photos), but they were not the only company to finish dolls with this stitching, so it's not definitive proof of a Lenci doll.

Comparison of the hands
Blushed fingers

Another thing people say about Lenci dolls is the pointer finger and thumb are sewn separately, with only the center fingers joined. This is sometimes true, but not always. I've never seen a Lenci doll with mitten hands or stub hands, but I have seen different varieties of finger stitching. What I haven't seen beyond Lenci dolls and what to me is anecdotally almost a sure sign of a Lenci doll is the blushing on the hands. Lenci dolls are blushed extensively and beautifully from head to toe with pastels and the hands are no exception. Note the blushing on the inside of the pointer finger and less noticeably on the stitching line of the larger doll's hand and compare it to the faint traces of blush left on the inside of the thumb and along the stitching lines of the smaller doll's hand. Her other hand still has bright blush. The smaller doll had more play and more of the pastel blush wore away, but it's still there if you look closely. I haven't ever read this in any books, but I've sold probably about a hundred vintage and modern Lenci and other brands of pressed felt dolls over the years and none of them are ever blushed like the Lenci dolls. If you find one with the pastel blush intact and a Lenci face mold it's almost certainly a Lenci doll.

The later dolls often have cloth, not felt, bodies.

Cloth body, tab joints, felt limbs
Lenci is famous for their child dolls whose bodies as well as faces were pressed felt. The hollow torso dolls are pretty unique among felt dolls of the time period. Nowadays Maggie Iacono produces dolls entirely of moulded felt, as does R. John Wright, I believe, but back then Lenci was pretty much the only company working that way. After a while, however, Lenci started to use regular cloth for their doll bodies instead of felt, especially on the regional dolls and mascotte dolls whose clothes were not removable. During Mussolini's time the Lenci company and factory was basically stolen from Elena Scavini and given to friends of Mussolini. Elena Scavini was kept on, some say against her will, to run the company but many changes were made during this time. The original Lenci factory was destroyed in World War II bombings and a new one was built. Elena Scavini herself died shortly thereafter, in 1950 or '51, reportedly in a car accident, and the original Lenci dolls were lost to history until the revival of the 1970s and '80s when reproduction dolls were produced with the original Lenci moulds and techniques of the Lenci heyday. You can see from the photos above that both of these dolls use the cloth bodies with felt limbs. Note the string tab joints used on the small doll; this jointing technique is sometimes seen on larger felt dolls using felt tabs rather than disk joints.

Another thing to note in the photos above is the impressive detail given to the underclothes on even the smallest and cheapest Lenci dolls. The tiny lace trim on the petticoat and pantaloons are a Lenci hallmark, as is the scalloped felt edging on the small pantaloons. The early Lenci child dolls wore bodysuit style chemises with inset bands of tiny lace very much like the lace on the larger doll. If you find a Lenci type doll with such a chemise it's a good clue of a genuine Lenci, as are the felt edged pantaloons on smaller dolls. The following photos show examples of Lenci underclothes from the Coleman book. See the string tab joints of the arms in the first photo.

A Lenci chemise with inset lace

Felt edged pantaloons

A surprise-face mascotte with felt edged pantaloons

Lenci dolls, especially the child dolls of the 1920s, often have feet with toes defined by stitching and are sometimes marked on the soles of their feet or shoes. As you can see, however, a doll without this type of feet is not disqualified from being a genuine Lenci. The feet of both dolls shown are pieced together and have cardboard sewn inside the soles to aid in standing. Neither has a Lenci mark on the soles, although the small doll is marked with the number 5 on one foot. Note the small doll's legs are cloth and not felt, characteristic of later 1940-ish mascottes.

Comparison of legs and feet

By far the most famous and copied Lenci face is the googly-eyed "surprise" face. Almost every Italian doll company of the time produced similar surprised dolls for the tourist trade especially. The side glancing eyes are a famous Lenci trait, but many companies copied that so it's not a sure indicator. What is unique to the Lenci faces, especially all but the earliest ones, is the deeply incised sculpt. The Lenci googly eyes are pressed so thoroughly into the felt and painted with such shiny paint they look as if they could be glass. Some were in fact made of glass, but even the felt ones look at first glance as if they could be. Another fairly unique Lenci hallmark is the use of modeled and painted eyebrows. The eyebrows were sculpted into the mould so they stand out in relief on the felt faces and then are painted over with color. My little doll is a fantastic example of these Lenci qualities.

The Lenci surprised face, with raised eyebrows and deep modeling.

More examples of surprise-faced Lenci dolls

Other pretty unique features of my doll that mark it as a Lenci is the use of both felt and organdy in the costume. Lenci was famous for their felt flowers as well. Some other companies, notably Magis Roma, used the felt flowers but they tend to be flat whereas Lenci's are mostly sculpted as is the rose on the neck scarf. Hardly any other companies made dresses from both felt and organdy but most of the Lenci dolls' are made this way.

Another Lenci feature that's fairly exclusive are the use of applied felt ears. Even the tiniest Lenci dolls have ears. This was copied by other companies, but few made their ears with as much care as Lenci. The larger doll ears are two layers with tucks for shaping and top stitching and blushing. The small dolls' ears are single layer.

Ear comparison

My small doll is notable even among Lenci dolls for her felt hair. I've seen a couple Lenci dolls with long felt braids but I've only read in the Coleman book about a doll with felt curls like this one's. There is no photo of that doll, but it is mentioned. I've never seen a Lenci-type girl doll with a felt wig other than actual Lenci dolls. Eros of Florence made a lot of male dolls with felt wigs but not female.

The felt curls wig is unusual.

I'm quite confident, indeed, I'm certain, this is a Lenci mascotte, probably from around 1940 or so, the same age as my larger Lenci. I plan to make a dress for her so she doesn't have to hang around in her underwear any longer and am perusing all the photos of various Lenci costumes I can find to help my design's authenticity. The large doll and many others are available in my Atelier Mandaline eBay and Etsy stores and this one will be for sale soon, so please check.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Torino Girl?

A Lenci Doll
Recently I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to purchase a real, bonafide vintage Lenci doll. This is the real deal: not a 1970s and 80s repro or a "Lenci-type" or a trashed Lenci. She's a nearly perfect, tagged twice, huge and gorgeous Lenci girl. The only thing is, who is she? My Lenci book shows many similar regional dolls, but not this exact one. The wrist tag, which would normally have the region noted, is missing. At first I saw a doll on the Internet listed as being a "Positano" doll (which is a city, not a region I don't think) and thought this might be it. The photo was only of the head and shoulders of the doll so I couldn't see the entire thing. Then I saw two of the small plastic face dolls made in the 1950s wearing this costume, albeit in a much less detailed incarnation. Both those dolls had their heart shaped wrist tags with "Torino" written on them. Now, Torino, or Turin as we say, is a city again, not a region, but I'm starting to think Lenci must have produced "regional" dolls just for some cities. I know I've seen Magis Roma and other Lenci competitors' dolls for "Roma" or "Firenze" (Rome and Florence, also cities), so it's likely Lenci made such similar dolls, being the driving force behind the Italian felt doll trend. Unfortunately, I only have one Lenci book and from what I can see Lenci doll collectors don't make particularly good web developers in general, because I can't find a Lenci web site that really has extensive information, or information that doesn't contradict my Lenci book.

Characteristics of Lenci dolls of the 1940s

Another issue is that, according to my Lenci book, the use of net and the tag on my doll, as well as the cloth instead of knitted socks, dates my doll to around 1940. Italy was almost constantly at war throughout the period of Lenci production under the Scavinis and they don't seem to have even produced catalogues during the late 1930s and 1940s. My book says the dolls produced after the start of World War II were small, 12 inches and under. This doll is a generous 22 inches with her headdress, so I'm thinking she's a late 1930s doll. The other possibility is she was a pre-war doll dressed and sold during or after the war. One interesting feature of this doll is that she has a bust applied to her chest. The bust is made of rubber or some other hard moulded material that's starting to flake away at the edges. I noticed it because little flakes of stuff had fallen down onto her slip and I looked to see what it was. It is still quite stable if you don't mess with the clothes or body. The clothing is sewn on, so there's no danger of the bust being affected by dressing and undressing the doll.

The cardboard tag

The sewn-in tag

A Series 110 doll
Comparison of faces

As you can see, the cardboard tag has been torn off and pinned back on the skirt, but it is original because the matching remnant of the tag is still attached to the staple in the skirt. The cloth tag sewn inside is further confirmation this is an authentic Lenci doll. Just in case that isn't enough, I photographed the doll next to a photo from my book of a 110 series doll and it's clearly the same face mould.

The doll's bangs needed repair.

The reason I had even a prayer of buying this doll is she had some dark glue on her forehead where her bangs were once glued on. Her bangs had matted up and gotten smushed over to the side. This apparently looked so serious as to be unrepairable to the seller, because she discounted the doll heavily as a result.

Combing out the mohair

There are lots of warnings on the Internet that mohair wigs can't be washed or repaired (there are similar warnings about composition dolls, but that's not true either) but those are over-exaggerations. You can wash a mohair wig in cold water so it won't turn into felt. However, I would not try to wash one on a felt doll unless it was absolutely filthy. Felt shrinks when wet, even in cold water, so you might risk ruining the pressed felt face if you got it wet. In this case, the felt wasn't really dirty. You can clean and separate mohair by gently combing it out with a wooden or bamboo skewer. I got the bangs combed out but they were too thin to hide the darkened glue underneath. I took the doll's headdress off and combed out all her hair with the skewer. Then I lifted the top layer of hair up and cut a piece of mohair from the back underneath the other hair. I sewed this over the original bangs in the same manner as the original hair, re-styled the pony tail in back, and replaced the headdress. I think it looks fantastic! There is a little thin spot at the ends of the bangs over one eyebrow that makes them look slightly uneven, but it's not at all serious. You can't tell from looking at the hair that it was ever thicker in back and the bangs are a perfect match to the existing ones. I sprayed the style in place with Mink hairspray when I was finished styling. This hairspray is old-fashioned and kind of hard to find but it's worth it for mohair especially because it adds a shimmery sparkle to the hair and makes it look really new again.

The restored hair

The restored hair in back

The next problem I had with the doll is that her thumb and finger were sewn together on one hand, an indicator that she had originally held something in that hand. I searched and searched and when I still thought she was a Positano girl I read that doll held a wooden bird cage with a wooden bird inside. Now, I think Torino probably held a bouquet of flowers. I found this out too late, however, after I already made a bird in a cage for her. Oh well; I guess you could always remove the bird cage later if you wanted. But surely lots of Italian girls kept birds?

The thumb and finger indicate the doll held something.

I made the bird cage out of champagne bottle tops (my last two, so now I have to drink more champagne!) and the bird from polymer clay and feathers. The bird is kind of just a ball of fluff, but it does have black bead eyes and a beak made from a feather quill if you look closely.

A handmade bird in a cage

Now that this doll is finished, I just love her. I really don't want to sell her, but when I was saying that my husband looked pained, so I went ahead and listed her. It will take a lot to get her out of my doll case, however! I got to thinking, I don't really collect dolls. I much prefer making and restoring them, and I can own this lady for a little while at least and really enjoy the incredible artistry of the Lenci brand before she moves on to a new owner.

The doll and costume are incredibly detailed.

It really is almost unbelievable to study one of these dolls in person. The level of craftsmanship and detail is just mind-blowing. Even this doll's tiny ears have been shaped with tucks and top-stitching, blushed with pastels, and "pierced" with hoop earrings. The earrings match the pins in her headdress and her bead necklace and metal barrette.

The doll wears earrings.

Even underneath the clothing no detail is spared. Most dolls if this type have rough pantaloons under their dresses, but this doll has a fine petticoat that feels like batiste and matching pantaloons, all trimmed with lace!

The underclothes

Lenci was famous for the felt flowers they made, and I can see why. The dress is scattered all over with tiny flowers, front and back, and each one is a little work of art, with layers of felt petals and embroidery.

Felt flowers on the dress

The large flowers at the waist are even more impressive, with felt stamens and grains of pollen. Each leaf and stem have stitched shaping. I can't even imagine how long one of these bouquets took to produce!

The doll is 22 inches with her headdress.
She is 20 inches without the headdress.

So, I have this doll listed in my store, but I don't really want to sell her, so it's okay if you don't look! I do have many beautiful dolls in the eBay and Etsy branches of my store, so feel free to visit and purchase those OTHER dolls!

The doll has jointed limbs and can sit.