I first met my Grandmother's childhood doll Peggy many years ago. She was carefully wrapped in a soft white cloth and lived in a stout cardboard box, which for many years was tucked away in the depths of one of my mum's cupboards, safely out of reach of my sisters and I. Peggy, an Armand Marseille bisque doll, was one of a few cherished belongings which passed to Mum when her own mother, my lovely Gran, sadly passed away in Autumn 1975, at the age of just 54 years.
Gran was born in 1921, so my guess is that Peggy must now be fast heading towards a hundred years old. Imagine that! Armand Marseille dolls were produced from 1885 until about 1930 and their bisque heads were created from unglazed porcelain with a matte finish, which gave a realistic, skin-like, texture. The thing that immediately resonated with me is how loved Gran's doll must have been to have survived for almost a century! In the 1920's and 1930's, these china dolls were very fragile so must have been dressed and carried with immense care ... it is a complete wonder, not to mention tribute to their careful young owners, that any survive intact today!
I have loved dolls and bears from childhood, through adulthood and don't mind admitting to adopting an occasional elderly dolly to share with my own Granddaughter ... in fact we seem to have gathered a lovely little collection of 1960's dollies over the past couple of years and they are regularly 'fed', dressed and taken for walks by their dedicated, almost-but-not-quite-four year old, custodian.
When Mum arrived at my house for a cuppa recently, I didn't notice a cardboard box tucked in her bag. We sat on the sofa, chatting about everything under the sun as usual, while we sipped mugs of hot tea (Mum) and coffee (me) ... then Mum handed me the box. At first it confused me as I instantly knew what was in the box, but wasn't sure why Mum was handing her doll to me. I carefully slipped the lid from the box and gently unwrapped Peggy from her blanket, taking care to support her china head as if she were a precious newborn baby.
I asked Mum if she would like me to dress her doll as poor Peggy was as naked as the day she had first been created by Armand Marseille (a popular doll manufacturer situated in Koppelsdorf, Germany). Somehow Peggy's original clothes had been lost through the passage of time. Mum smiled knowingly and that was when a strange thing happened, or maybe not so strange after all...
So, Peggy now lives with me and while she waits for me to finish knitting her an age appropriate dress and undies, she has borrowed a pretty cotton dress and knickers from my Tiny Tears doll, to cover her modesty. I have had a fascinating time researching vintage knitting patterns from the 1920's and 30's, so that I can knit something akin to what Gran and girls of her era may have dressed their dolls in. It has been an interesting dip into the social history of my Grandmother's day but more importantly, Peggy has given me a wonderful means of reconnecting with my Gran. Taking care of the dolly Gran cherished as a very young girl, has bridged the decades since her loss when I was only twelve years old and offered me a fresh view into my Gran's life as a young girl ... an elderly dolly always comes with a window into history, you just have to take the time to peek through the layers of dust and try to piece together the past.
I am so grateful to my Mum for passing Peggy into my care for the future and absolutely thrilled to be able to show her to my Granddaughter and tell her about how my Gran, her Great-Great-Grandmother, loved her dollies too.
Incidentally, for those of you wondering who Peggy's little teddy bear friend is ... he was made by the wonderful Pamela Ann Howells of 'Bears that are special'. Pam, a doyenne of the UK teddy bear world and on a personal note, a very lovely lady and old friend from my show days, was previously assistant designer to the famous Chiltern Hygenic Toy Company, in the 1950's.