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.

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