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Penny Toys and Novelties


During the late 1800s there were probably about 30,000 street sellers (known as costermongers) in London, each selling his or her particular wares from a barrow or donkey-cart.

The array of goods for sale seems to have been mostly English made and included miniature clay pipes, doll's furniture, pottery bird whistles, jumping jacks, a doll in a walnut shell, a mouse in a matchbox and wire puzzles.

These would have been made by the costermongers themselves or by poor artisans. Others would have been made by the firms which made seaside buckets, pea shooters, tin whistles and other small items for Bazaars, Christmas stockings and crackers.

These are different from the German made painted tin toys that are also referred to as penny toys.
Other costermongers  specialised in buying waste products such as broken metal, bottles, bones and ‘kitchen stuff’ such as dripping, broken candles and silver spoons.




The costers were a mainstay of London life dating back to the 11th century. Unlicensed and itinerant and often hounded by the authorities, they cried their wares with vigour and panache.

The tradition of Pearly Kings and Queens originated in 19th Century Victorian London. They evolved from Coster Kings and Queens, who were elected as leaders of London’s street traders, Costermongers, costard being an apple, monger being a seller.

The transformation to the complete pearly costume as we know them today finally came in the 1880s through a road sweeper and rat catcher by the name of Henry Croft.


There are many myths and stories about how he ended up wearing the first suit. The most colourful one tells that he came across a discarded shipload of pearl buttons on the mud banks of the Thames.


Wherever he actually found them, he set about smothering a worn out dress suit and top hat with 60,000 smoked pearl buttons incorporating patterns, symbols and slogans such as: 'All for charity and pity the poor'





Armand Marseille


Armand Marseille was born in 1856 in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of an architect, he emigrated to Germany with his family in the 1860's. In 1884 he bought the toy factory of Mathias Lambert in Sonneberg. He started producing porcelain dolls' heads in 1885, when he acquired the Liebermann & Wegescher porcelain factory in Köppelsdorf.


Mould 390 and mould 370 are the most common. 390 was a head mould that was fitted to a composition body; 370 had identical features but was a head and shoulders mould that fitted to a stuffed leather (kid) body. This mould was used for over thirty years. The dolls are stamped with a variety of marks that usually contain the initials A.M.


The two dolls in the image above and to the left are made by Armand Marseille and were on display in Pollock's Toy Museum dressed as a Pearly King and Queen.



Bisque as a material

Bisque or Biscuit refers to any pottery that has been fired in a kiln without a ceramic glaze. This can be a final product such as biscuit porcelin or unglazed earthenware.

The porous nature of (fired) bisque earthenware means it readily absorbs water, while vitreous wares such as porcelain, bone china and most stoneware are non-porous even without glazing.


A bisque doll or porcelain doll is a doll made partially or wholly out of bisque or biscuit porcelain. Bisque dolls are characterized by their realistic, skin-like matte finish. They had their peak of popularity between 1860 and 1900 with French and German dolls.


Most bisque dolls have a head made of bisque porcelain and a body made of another material. Bisque is unglazed porcelain with a matte finish, giving it a realistic skin-like texture. It is usually tinted or painted a realistic skin color. The bisque head is attached to a body made of cloth or leather, or a jointed body made of wood, papier-mâché or composition, a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials. Doll bodies are only rarely made entirely of bisque because of its fragility and weight.



In 1945 an American company started to manufacture dolls in a converted garage. Twenty-five years later it had become one of the largest companies manufacturing and distributing toys in the world.


It controls factories in Canada, Hong Kong and England (a subsidiary called Roesbud Ltd) -quite apart from its huge plants in California. The company is called Mattel Inc , the mainspring of its sucess a teen-age doll, Barbie, launched on the world in 1958.

On the occassion of her sixteenth birthday an American journalist celebrated her thus: 'Sixteen years ago, naive people thought General Motors and U.S Steel were keeping the country solvent. Actually it was the introduction of Barbie.'

'I first met Barbie when my daughter stood in front of a counter in a department store and pleaded, "Look Mommy here is a doll just like you. I want her."

By her sixteenth birthday Barbie had aquired a platoon of family, friends and 'licensed friends'. Friends included a boyfriend, english chums and 'licensed friends' linked Barbie with the swinging world of models,TV series and Miss America. She had become the apotheosis of a consumer society.


Bebe Jameau

Jumeau was a French company, founded in the early 1840s, which designed and manufactured high quality bisque dolls.

It was founded by Louis-Desire Belton and Pierre-François Jumeau in the Maison Jumeau of Montreuil-sous-Bois, near Paris, France.

While Belton did not remain with the company for long, under Jumeau's leadership (and later, under the leadership of his son, Emile), the company soon gained a reputation for dolls with beautiful faces and "exquisite" clothing which replicated the popular fashions of the time.

The dolls were internationally sought after as luxury items and status symbols. The firm was also regarded as an industrial success, with production figures of over three million dolls annually by the mid-1890s.

The "Golden Age" of the Jumeau factory lasted for two decades, from the late 1870s to the late 1890s, when the competition from German dolls sent the firm into financial difficulties.






Childhood as we know it today was largely created in Victorian times.

Most young children before the 19th century toiled the day long as their parents did, working in the fields or minding the animals. Other tasks would be sewing, weaving, cutting or making by hand, the small necessities of life. As factories replaced home made items, child labour in towns increased. Child Labour was cheap, but it was whittled away by successive Acts of Parliament, till in 1870 compulsory education brought a kind of liberation to children.

Industrialisation brought a rapid increase in national wealth and a rapid expansion of the mercantile and professional middle class which fostered this wealth and was its chief beneficiary.

More and more parents could afford to bring their children up in a protected and privileged world.

The school day was filled with class or team activities. While the nursery included instruction in the three R's, it still left many hours to be filled with harmless and improving pastimes and play. This lead to an ever increasing demand for indoor games and toys such as jigsaws, Noah's Arks, building blocks and rocking horses.


Dean's Rag Dolls

The printing and publishing firm of Dean & Son had been established in the City of London since the 18th century, first in Threadneedle Street and later on in Ludgate Hill. Dean's were among the first to produce children's books designed for entertainment as much as for instruction.

Dean's first rag book title was: The Life of the bold AB on his ship to the rolling C. The pages could be washed without damage, the colours were fast and the product was certified as hygenic. In fact for children who in the words of the manufacturer 'wear their food and eat their clothes' it was perfect and an immediate sucesss.

In 1905 a subsidiary , Dean's Rag Book Company was formed to specialise in rag books and rag dolls. The first cloth doll was the Big Baby Doll, 30 inches high and designed to be dressed in cast-off baby clothes.

It was printed in colour on calico, like the books, and sold flat in a sheet, to be cut out and sewn at home. The rag doll quickly became popular, but many customers disliked the trouble of cutting, sewing and stuffing; so Deans devised machinery for doing this and sold the dolls ready made a well as in a sheet.

By the 1920's, other materials particularly felt and plush, were being used by Dean's for their dollmaking alongside the printed rag dolls.




A doll is a model typically of a human or humanoid character, often used as a toy for children. Dolls have also been used in traditional religious rituals throughout the world. Traditional dolls made of materials such as clay and wood are found in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe.

The earliest documented dolls go back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. They have been made as crude, rudimentary playthings as well as elaborate art. Modern doll manufacturing has its roots in Germany, from the 15th century onwards.

The earliest dolls were made from available materials such as clay, stone, wood, bone, ivory, leather, or wax. Archaeological evidence places dolls as the foremost candidate for the oldest known toy. Wooden paddle dolls have been found in Egyptian tombs dating to as early as the 21st century BC.

Dolls with movable limbs and removable clothing date back to at least 200 BC. Archaeologists have discovered Greek dolls made of clay and articulated at the hips and shoulders. Rag dolls and stuffed animals were probably also popular, but no known examples of these have survived to the present day.





Action Man was launched by Palitoy in the UK in 1966, copying upon the success of ‘GI Joe’ in the USA introduced in 1964. GI Joe was a bold gamble for US owners and producers Hassenfield Brothers, as he represented the first ‘doll’ for boys, and was more accurately described as an ‘Action Figure’ and ‘Moveable Fighting Man’. Action Man featured a robust, articulated plastic body, strung with elastic, and had one of four painted hair colours.


Doll Makers

Between 1790 and 1935 thirty -six wax doll makers are listed in London street directories. Very few of these dolls, that have survived, bear any makers identification marks. But doll experts can usually identify the work of two outstanding families, the Pierottis and the Montanaris.

Domenico Pierotti, by trade a modeller in papier mache left Italy in 1780 and settled in London. He opened a shop on London's Oxford Street that he called the Crystal Palace. As well as wax dolls he sold ; "an extensive assortment of French and German toys, Mediaeval Articles, Work Boxes, Roeswood French and German Toys, Rosewood writing desks and more..."

His son Enrico, and in turn Enrico's son, continued making wax dolls  up until 1935.

Augusta Dalton grew up in Grantham, the daughter of the local publicans of the Nag's Head pub. When she was older she moved to London where she met the exotically named Corsican gentleman Napoleon Montanari. They married and he, the sculptor, made the wax dolls and she made the costumes. Their elder son Richard Napoleon Montanari (born about 1840) was also a wax modeller and doll maker.


They became much respected for their wax dolls winning a medal at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and even, it is said, supplying dolls for Queen Victoria’s children.

Wax doll's heads are made by pouring melted wax into a mould. This is the method used by English doll makers but the result is rather fragile. A cheaper method is to make the doll's head out of wood or paper mache and dip it in wax to give a final finish to the complexion.

A third method, sometimes used for small doll's house dolls, was to simply carve a solid lump of wax into a human likeness.




Grave dolls


By the tail end of the 19thcentury, it was customary for the family of a deceased child to leave a doll at the gravesite. Of course, leaving toys at the grave of a child remains a familiar sight, but ‘mourning dolls’ were no shop-bought playthings.

The life of the Mourning Doll began at the funeral/wake of the infant, where a wax likeness was made and presented in the child’s own clothes. Often, the doll’s realism was enhanced by wearing cuttings of the child’s own hair. Frequently pictured lying with the deceased on their deathbed, they were also displayed in miniature coffins as an idealised image of peaceful death.


Considering that many infant mortalities were caused by disfiguring and draining illnesses such as smallpox, scarlet fever, tuberculosis and diphtheria, the doll offered an idealised reality of their loss. While their child may have departed gaunt and bloody, the wax effigy would look as though it had simply closed its eyes and gone to sleep.

Subsequently, these peaceful dolls were often sculpted with flat backs and heads to ease placement in frames, coffins and at the graveside. As the years passed, tastes changes and weather and vandalism played their part, many of these dolls were left and scattered with the years.


Historic toys


What would the first toys have been or looked like? Most probablly the first playthings would have been things readily found in nature.

Pebbles, fruit stones or nuts, twigs, shells, seedpods or pips etc. Strange as it may seem the picked clean and dried bones of animals were used in the game knucklebones or as  a crude form of dice. The same animal's bladder would be used blown up and used as a ball. A leather covering would make it stronger and it could not only be thrown and caught but stand up to being hit with a convenient stick. Until the 17th century the balls made for the royal game of tennis were made from sheepskin stuffed with wool.

Pebbles or pips would eventually become playing counters or marbles. Sticks would be refined into rackets and cues.

Objects with human and animal forms that may have been toys have been found in deposits from ancient Sumer dating to 2600 BC. The earliest-known written historical mention of a toy comes from about 500 BC in a Greek reference to yo-yos made from wood, metal, or painted terra-cotta. It is believed, however, that the yo-yo originated in China at a much earlier date.

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Although a latecomer to the dollmaking scene in Germany, Heubach produced many distinctive dolls. Nearly every doll from this company could be considered a character doll — Heubach was not known for dolly-faced dolls.


The bulk of their production was from around  1880 through to the 1920s, and although it might be difficult to attribute the dolly-faced dolls of the four main doll making companies to their manufacturer by looks alone, most collectors can identify a Heubach by sight.


They had many pouty children, and most of their dolls sported closed mouths. Additionally, Heubach dolls tend to be smaller than the dolls of the other four companies; the vast majority are under 20” tall.




Kestner is often called the King of Dollmakers, and for good reason. One of the longest surviving dollmaking companies in Germany, Kestner actively produced dolls from approximately the 1820's through to the 1930's — over a century of quality doll production.


In the beginning, Kestner produced wood and papier-mache dolls; then they made China (porcelain) dolls, and finally bisque dolls (commonly called porcelain today). They are best-known for their bisque dolls which ran the gamut from early turned-shoulder head (stationary neck) dolls with kid bodies, to dolly-faced dolls with fully jointed composition bodies, to lady dolls, to all-bisques to character dolls.


Collectors love Kestner dolls, not only for their quality but for the wide variety of dolls available.


sugaring the pill

preserved fruits.jpg

Miss Campion, aged two and a half was painted in 1661 demurley clutching a wooden bat. This is not a toy but a horn book- an early device for teaching the alphabet. An inscribed sheet of parchment was stuck to the wood, covered for protection in a transparent layer of horn and given to the child to study.

A new raw material on the market was making, for the luckier Tudor and Stuart children, the job of learning their letters a much sweeter one. Cane sugar, through the crusaders had tasted it, remained an expensive and little known luxury until Christopher Columbus planted the first sugar canes in the Antilles. By a century later, in 1627, when 80 English settlers were harvesting sugar cane in Barbados, a new and vastly profitable industry had come to fruition.

The new sweetmeats could be bad for the consumer, Queen Elizabeth's teeth were blackened and rotted by her indulgence in them.

But what was that to a Tudor child if now and again they could get hold of a nibble of marzipan, a comfit, a candid rose petal or a jellied fruit.

English School - Lord and Lady Clapham wooden dolls made in the William and M - (MeisterDr

Lord and Lady Clapham

On the 19th April 1974 at Sotheby's Bond Street auction rooms, a Swiss lady paid £16,000 for two old dolls. They were described in the catalogue as:

"A pair of William and Mary male and female wooden dolls and their armchairs. Both the dolls heads with delicatly painted eyes and eyebrows, scarlet lips and well rouged cheeks, the bodies with well-modelled hands and legs jointed at the hip and knees, both 22 inches high"

No one had ever paid such a sum for a doll. After a day or two of stunned silence the Victoria and Albert Museum decided to launch a public appeal to raise money to buy these dolls back from the purchaser, and to ask the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art to prevent their leaving the country for 3 months.

The money was found and the Swiss lady generously relinquished her hold and the dolls have since been on view in the Costume Galley of the V&A.

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