For day 6 of my Izannah Walker Birthday Celebration I thought it would be fitting to talk a bit about the way the dolls are made and share with you my article about Izannah Walker and her dolls, which originally appeared in the September, 2017 issue of Antique Doll Collector Magazine.
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Izannah Walker and Her Dolls by Paula Walton
For more than 80 years, doll lovers and historians have been writing about Izannah Walker’s dolls. What is it about these handmade painted cloth dolls that have made them so beloved by generations and cause them to command such high prices today, 200 years after the birth of their maker?
The reason for their great appeal varies from person to person, but the prices the dolls fetch when sold indicate how dearly they are loved. In the 1860’s, the dolls were reported to have sold for up to $10, the equivalent of $264 today, which made them a very expensive plaything. Recently a 17” Izannah Walker boy doll sold for $41,250 at a McMaster Harris auction, proving that they continue to be quite costly and greatly desired.
I am particularly drawn to Izannah’s pre-patent dolls, meaning those made before she applied for and received her 1873 United States patent. Izannah Walker had a very lengthy doll making career, from age 28 until her death at age 70. It is very interesting to examine her dolls and see how they developed and changed during those 42 years, while still maintaining their essential look and design.
It is quite difficult to accurately date an Izannah Walker doll, as the pre-patent dolls were not signed or labeled. In the best instances, it is possible to trace the date a doll was made by researching the doll’s original owner. Fortunately, several dolls have survived along with records of their young playmates. A few examples of such dolls are the c. 1861 Izannah Walker doll originally owned by Mary Estelle Newell, and accompanying photograph of the child and doll now in the collection of The National Museum of Toys/Miniatures; the c.1857 doll given to Helen Marshall by her aunt, Elizabeth Pinkham Crosby, currently in the collection of the Nantucket Historical Society; a doll named Ella, given to Elizabeth Coggeshall Pope of New Bedford, MA when she was born on October 26, 1857, sold by Withington Auction In October, 2008; a c.1865 doll originally owned by Mary Whitney Carter of Pawtucket, R.I., auctioned by Theriault’s on April 9, 2011.
Another method of attempting to date Izannah’s dolls is by searching for them in period photographs. Finding only a photographic image, without an accompanying doll and family history, is problematic. Often the photographs do not have a date or the name of the child pictured in them. Izannah Walker dolls can be found in rare daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cartes de visite (cdv), and even in at least one stereograph. Without a date on the image, it is necessary to try and find a birth record for the child in the portrait, if the child is identified.
Failing this option, the next possibility is trying to date the image by the method used to capture it. Daguerreotypes were made from 1839-1860, although most daguerreotypes we see today were made after 1845. Ambrotypes were developed in 1851; they became more popular than the daguerreotype and virtually displaced it by 1860. Ambrotypes waned between 1861-1866 as they were steadily replaced by tintypes. The tintype, developed in 1853, was most widely used during the 1860s and 1870s, though lesser use persisted into the early 1900s. Cartes de visite were introduced in New York in late summer of 1859. The Civil War gave them enormous momentum as soldiers and their families posed for cartes before they were separated by war. Lastly, by 1860, both amateur photographers and publishing firms were making stereographs, which are still being made today.
So you have all of these different methods of photography with over lapping time frames, which means that you can broadly calculate when the photograph of the doll would have been taken by identifying the method, but can’t really pinpoint an exact year. The final hope for dating a daguerreotype, ambrotype, and some tintypes is studying the components of their cases and trying to narrow the time range based on when the separate parts of the case were made.
To make the quest of dating even more of a challenge, throw in the possibility that the Izannah Walker doll, in the photograph you are trying to date, may have been a studio prop owned by the photographer! Nick Vaccaro, a noted collector and dealer of early photography, had a portion of his collection displayed in the exhibition, Forever Young: Victorian Photographs of Children and Their Toys at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. Mr. Vaccaro related that it was common for photographers to have a box of toys in their studios to help keep children still while being photographed.
For daguerreotypes in particular, the exposure time took anywhere from a few minutes to as long as 20-30 minutes for very large images. Sometimes the photographer would place iron stands or armrests behind the sitters to help keep them still. In the case of young children, you will sometimes see a mother, completely covered by a length of fabric, holding her child. You will also find blurred images when the children moved. So it is no surprise that a photographer would want toys to keep a child interested and entertained while they had to sit in one position.
From all accounts Izannah Walker was a very enterprising woman. I can picture her approaching photographers and offering her dolls for sale. After all they were very attractive and most importantly unbreakable! The difficulty here lies in the fact that there is no way to tell just how many years a doll may been in the prop box when the photograph was taken. The same issue exists with portraits of children holding family dolls, as without additional information, it is impossible to know if the doll previously belonged to an older family member.
All of the Walker pre-patent dolls have molded cloth heads, with an outer layer of stockinette. The heads were made in two halves and joined by a seam that runs behind the ears. The mold for these dolls stops at the neck. The neck edge was sewn onto a woven cloth shoulder covering that usually has a seam down the center back. The bottom edge of the shoulder covering is sewn to the doll’s body; the second skin comes up and covers this stitching line. The “second skin” was most often made from cambric, a closely woven plain weave cloth of linen or cotton, with a smooth, lustrous, heavily sized finish that was commonly used as lining fabric in the 19th century. The dolls’ arms and hands are cut as one piece, with a seam line running down the inner arm; thumbs were applied separately. They have a stitched upper arm joint, much higher than normal for an elbow. Their legs are also cut as one piece, with the seam line almost always running down the inner leg. The legs have stitched knee joints and a seam line at the ankles where the pieces for either bare feet or boots are attached.
Izannah stated “These parts (arms and legs), if thought desirable, may be made with advantage in a similar manner to that above set forth for making the head, neck and body.” in her patent information, however I have never seen a pre-patent doll, or the few patent label dolls that I have examined, with arms or legs that were pressed in molds.
Izannah Walker clearly used many different styles and sizes of molds to make heads. Finished dolls ranged in size from 14 to 29 inches. Because pressed cloth heads are more yielding and malleable than molded heads made from china, bisque or papier-mache, that means even heads made from the same mold can have a slightly different appearance. Izannah and Jane Walker, along with their aunt, Jane Hintz, experimented with new ideas and techniques. You can find a few dolls with eyelashes, one or two with the slight remains of a wig/rooted hair, etc. As a doll maker, that is exactly what I expect to see in any handmade item being produced by a single person or small group of people over a long period of time. These differences are one of the things that make the Walker dolls fascinating to study.
All of the dolls were intended to be children. Their original clothing would have had short, not full length, skirts. People often find 19th century children’s hair styles confusing, since both young boys and girls wore dresses. Boys had side parted hair, and girls’ hair was parted in the middle. This is true for children in paintings, photographs and for Walker dolls. When you see a pre- patent Izannah Walker doll with tall painted black boots that have a red top in the front, it is a boy. Her girl dolls with painted footwear have boots that lace up the front or have scallops around the top edge and painted “buttons” on the sides. A few rare dolls have low topped painted shoes. Bare feet are less common. I have yet to find an example of a barefooted boy.
For more than twenty-five years, I have researched, examined, owned, restored, and reproduced Izannah Walker dolls. During that time I have been able to put together a very loose timeline of when certain construction methods and stylistic changes took place. These are the markers that I look for if I am trying to estimate the age of a doll. They are not cut and dried changes. There are certainly exceptions to this timeline, but it is a good starting point when examining a Walker doll.
Izannah’s earliest dolls, beginning in 1845 and ending sometime before 1855, have faces that are a bit longer and slightly square in appearance. The dark brown painted lines surrounding their eyes and eyelids are very thin and fine, without a lower lid line. Highlights in their irises are fainter to non-existent. Their ringlet curls are painted in a more primitive folk art manner. They have slightly broader, flatter noses, and much longer arms with slightly larger hands. Their bodies have wider waists and hips, with a body covering that is generally made from white or pale pink linen cambric.
The dolls have a distinctly different look from approximately 1855 until a point prior to 1861. In this middle period the doll’s faces become more round, with a slightly narrower nose that has a more pronounced, rounded tip. The modeling of their lips is also more rounded. Their eyes have a curved, more deeply set appearance, with very thinly painted outlines, more often painted black than brown. Lines for lower lids appear. Lighter highlights are painted on the irises, mainly underneath the pupil. The painting of their curls is improving. Many have very thin necks. Their arms are getting slightly shorter, with marginally narrower hands. Waists and hips are more slender. Second skins are cotton or linen cambric, and usually white.
From 1861, until the patent label dolls appear in 1873, the faces of the dolls continue to be rounded, although many have a flatter lip area and less deeply set eye molding, with wider foreheads. The lines around the eyes thicken and are mostly painted black. Eyes still have lighter highlights, but now the highlights travel higher up the right side of the pupil. Ringlet curls are better shaded and more delicately painted. Arms and fingers shorten slightly again. More cotton is being used for second skins, both in cambric and other fabrics, which often dip down to a V at the center of the chest. Most of the examples of rare blue body covering that I have seen fall in this time frame. Shoulders are often wider.
1873 – 1888. Izannah Walker makes dolls with molds that include the shoulders and upper body.
Izannah Walker’s dolls have had long and eventful lives. Numerous things have happened to them since they were first made by the Walker sisters and their aunt. Many of the dolls have been either partially or completely repainted, some have replaced limbs and second skin body coverings. Along the way, they have lost and acquired pieces of clothing. All of these occurrences sometimes make it difficult for collectors to determine exactly what parts of the doll are original, or are later additions and repairs.
Some collectors have speculated that Izannah Walker may have made portrait dolls. It is my personal opinion that she might have painted a certain hairstyle and/or coloring to reflect that of a particular child, but that she would not have created commissioned “portrait” molds. Altering the way the doll was painted is a relatively minor matter. Making a new mold would have been a costly, time consuming process, which would have resulted in an incredibly high price for a toy doll.
At this point, no one knows exactly how and by whom the positive images for the doll molds were made. Izannah’s patent information states, “In the construction of my doll I usually employ a press, A, of ordinary construction, provided with upper and lower dies, of suitable shape, to form the front and back of the face, neck and chest, and sometimes the body of the doll”. In order to create a sand cast mold for the metal (probably cast iron) dies, it would have been necessary to compact sand around a model, or “pattern”. A pattern is a replica of the object to be cast. It can be made of wood, metal, or other materials.
Reuben Harlow Neal Bates, born in Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1802, is known to have made dolls similar to those of Izannah Walker. It is believed that his dolls were never offered for sale, but at least one example of his doll, along with the cast iron molds for its head and the sewing pattern for the doll’s body were passed down through his family. He was a pattern maker all of his working life. Bates appears in the Providence, Rhode Island censuses for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. A photograph of the Bates doll and accompanying molds appear on page 39 of Janet Johl’s 1952 book, Your Dolls and Mine. The body of the doll was described as being well made and covered with blue cloth. Two Reuben Bates doll head molds, one female and one male, have been in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society since 1987. The accession information for the two molds states: “ca. 1850, Bates, Reuben Harlow Neal, 1802-1891 (Metalworker), Iron doll head mold, front of head (face) only. Originally thought to be made by Izannah Walker, mold was made by Reuben Bates of Providence, a longtime friend of Izannah Walker’s and a patternmaker for the Barstow Stove Company. Dimensions for the female mold are 1.5 x 4.25 x 3.125 inches, and 1 5/8 x 4 1/8 x 3 inches for the male”. Theoretically, it is possible that Reuben Bates may have made the patterns (three dimensional models) and molds’ for Izannah Walker’s dolls, according to her sketches and specifications. If Izannah Walker met Reuben Bates after she moved to Rhode Island 1850 – 1853, and he began making the patterns for her dolls, that would explain the rather dramatic change in their heads and faces.
In the 19th century, New England and New York had many innovative and enterprising cloth doll makers. It is interesting to note that dolls similar to those made by Izannah Walker and her family were being made in Rhode Island during the same period. I own a mid-19th century cloth doll with a painted stockinette face that descended through a family from Providence, RI. Her maker is a mystery and she is needle-modeled, so not constructed in the same manner as an Izannah Walker doll, but she does have a very similar appearance. I also have a second needle-modeled doll that shares a remarkable number of features with my “mystery doll”; unfortunately I do not have a provenance for her. This second mystery doll was previously owned by Estelle Patino and is shown on pages 21 and 73 of her 1988 book, American Rag Dolls Straight From The Heart. She identifies it as a “20” 1870’s Oil Painted Rag? Izannah Walker” and as a “20” Possible Early Izannah Walker”.
No one has yet been able to find a way of identifying exactly which dolls may have been made by Izannah Walker, Jane Walker or Jane Hintz. Naturally there would be some differences between their works. Did they each make dolls from start to finish, or did they divide their doll making chores among the three of them? I am confident that additional research of Izannah Walker, her family, and her dolls will unravel this mystery and will continue to add to the story of these amazing women doll makers.
Izannah Walker Timeline
1817- Izannah Walker was born September 25, 1817. She was the third and youngest surviving child of Gilbert Walker and his third wife Sarah (Sally) Swasey. Izannah had six older half-siblings from Gilbert Walker’s marriage to his second wife (who died in 1808).
1824 – Izannah and her older sisters, Ann Richmond Walker and Jane Hintz Walker, go to stay with their mother’s family at the family homestead in Somerset, MA.
1825 – After their mother and infant brother died, followed shortly by their father’s death, the three orphaned girls continued to stay with their maternal relatives. The Swasey family included their aunt Jane and her husband, Captain Anthony Hintz, who were childless. The Hintz’s had purchased the Swasey family home and property from Jane Swasey Hintz’s parents. The elder Swasays, Capt. and Mrs. Hintz and the three Walker sisters lived together in Somerset, MA on the Swasey homestead, which had been in the family for nearly a century.
1839 – Capt. Hintz writes his will, leaving the original Swasey homestead and adjoining orchard to his wife, Jane Hintz. He stipulated that after Jane’s death, the estate should go to their nieces, Jane and Isannah Walker. (Izannah’s name was often misspelled throughout her life.)
1845 – Izannah’s neice, Mary Helen Smith Holbrook, was born in New London, CT in 1843. In later years, Mary’s daughter, Helen Holbrook Robertson, stated that her great-aunt Izannah began making dolls as early as 1845 when Helen’s mother, Mary Helen Smith Holbrook, was a child.
1850 – 1853 – Sometime during this period, Izannah leaves Somerset Village, MA and moves to Central Falls, RI.
1855 – A doll is purchased from Izannah Walker for young Martha Jenks Wheaton Chase, who was born in 1851. A photograph of a letter, written by Martha Chase’s daughter, Anna M. Chase Sheldon, stating that her mother’s doll was purchased from Izannah Walker in 1855 is included in “A Treasure Indeed” by Grace Dyar, published in the UFDC Region 14 1981 souvenir booklet “Memory Lane”.
1865 – The Rhode Island State Census lists Izannah Walker’s occupation as “Doll Maker”.
The Massachusetts State Census shows Jane Walker and Jane Hintz (Izannah & Jane’s aunt) as “Doll Manufacturers”.
1860’s – At the March 18, 1957 meeting of the Somerset (MA) Historical Society, Flora B. Wood presented a paper about her mother, Augusta Louise Marble, who was born in Somerset in 1861. Excerpts from Flora B. Wood’s paper were reprinted in The Spectator newspaper on October 26, 1994. “When my mother was a little girl in the 1860’s many of the little girls of Somerset had a Jane Walker doll. I have a picture of my mother holding one. They were handsome and lifelike and made by Miss Jane Walker, who lived on Main Street in the Village. They were made in several sizes and sold for up to 10 dollars.” The U.S. dollar experienced an average inflation rate of 2.12% per year between 1861 and 2017. $10 in the year 1861 is worth $264.18 in 2017.
1873 – On June 12, 1873, Izannah Walker applies for a United States patent for an invention related “to the manufacture of dolls; and it consists, mainly, in the secondary or double stuffing next the external or painted layer, whereby, with a sufficiently soft surface, the tendency of the paint to crack or scale off is obviated.” Her patent is granted on November 4, 1873.
1845 – 1886 Izannah’s great- niece, Helen Holbrook Robertson, was quoted in the In the 1952 book Your Dolls and Mine by Janet Johl, as saying “From 1845, when the first doll is said to have been made, until she died in 1886 (her actual date of death was 1888) , Izannah Walker carried on the business, not securing a patent until persuaded to do so by friends in 1873.” Additional information that Helen Holbrook Robertson related to mid-20th century doll collector, Lila Singsen, whose conversation was reported in Your Dolls and Mine, was that the earliest dolls were made for friends, and that as the business grew, Izannah put her three sisters to work painting the dolls’ faces.
1888 – On February 15, 1888 Izannah Walker dies of consumption, now known as pulmonary tuberculosis. She is buried, alongside her best friend Emeline Whipple, in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI, which is not far from her final home in Central Falls, RI.
1899 – On October 6, 1899, Jane Hintz Walker dies and is buried in the Palmer Street Cemetery in Somerset, MA. According to cemetery records, Jane purchased her own burial plot. There is a four-sided monument on Jane’s grave that includes the birth and death dates of her grandparents, Jerathmel Bowers Swasey and Sarah Hellon Swasey, her aunts Parthenia Palmer Swasey and Jane Hellon Swasey Hintz, her uncle by marriage Anthony Hintz, her parents Gilbert Walker and Sarah Swasey Walker, and two of her siblings Anthony Hintz Walker (age 11 days) and Izannah Frankford Walker.
Copyright 2017 Paula Walton All Rights Reserved
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Antique Doll Collector Magazine. The magazine sold out almost immediately upon publication. Print copies are occasionally available on eBay and a digital copy, which includes all of the original photographs, may be purchased from https://www.antiquedollcollector.com/
Paula Walton is a former museum director and curator who has been recognized 40 times as one of the top traditional craftpersons in America. Her specialties include doll making, reproduction clothing, 18th & 19th century women’s decorative arts, and the restoration of painted cloth dolls and textiles. Contact her at email@example.com, 860-355-5709. For information about the Jenny Lind Doll show and exhibit featuring an Izannah Walker doll in original clothing see http://www.jennylinddollshow.wordpress.com/. A bibliography for the sources used in this article is posted on http://www.izannahwalker.com.