Alien (Heads) The Invasion of the (Peg Wooden) Body Snatchers
The first half of the nineteenth century in Europe was a hotbed of social and economic upheaval culminating in the beginnings of the industrial revolution. It was also a period of extraordinary creativity and monumental change in the doll world. Over the course of this fifty-year time period the primary material for dolls heads changed from wood to papier-mache to porcelain and doll-making evolved from a cottage industry of killed artisans to a mechanized, factory based production model that could be operated by less skilled labor.
BY ROBYN KATZ. Photography by Stanley Kiyonaga unless otherwise noted
Source: Winter 2015 • Doll News , Pages 46-57
The Industrial Revolution was focused on improving production methods through mechanization so that goods could be made more efficiently and les expensively. As a result of this process, the handcarved wooden doll industry that had prevailed during the end of the eighteenth century and the first two decades of the nineteenth century was overtaken and exceeded by the papier-mache doll industry in the succeeding thirty years. Two of the primary advance made in papier-mache doll production during this time were the use of molds to produce doll heads and the tran ition from the traditional jointed wooden body (variation of which are found on most nineteenth century European wooden dolls) (Fig. I) to the "milliners model type" body with a stuffed kid torso and turned wooden arm (Fig. 2). These and other innovation allowed the growing papier-mache doll industry to mass produce cheaper, but highly detailed, dolls (Fig. 3). At the same time, the majority of wooden doll were becoming increasingly more simplified and stylized, a well a significantly smaller in size. to compete economically with the influx of their cheaper, mass-produced papier-mache rivals (Figs. 4-5).
What is an "Alien Head" Doll?
Within this same period, a mysterious group of dolls was produced that seems to exemplify the shifting dynamics of the doll industry during this time of dramatic and rapid change. These doils have peg-jointed wooden bodies, like their earlier peg wooden/tuck comb relatives, but with heads of material other than wood. Most often these heads are of papier mache or another composition material, but some are wax-coated or entirely of wax.
A term to describe this group of dolls -"alien head" - was coined by John Darcy Noble in the early 1960s. The first recorded use of the term that I have found was in the article "The Decline and Fall of the Wooden Doll" by Ruth and R.C. Mathes, published in the 1964 is ue of the Doll Collectors of America Manual. This article pictured and discussed a handful of examples of what were described as "very rare" doll .
Included in this group were dolls with
jointed wooden bodies and porcelain/china heads, but since the term "alien bead" is not generally applied to the e dolls today, they will not be covered in this article.
Although the term "alien head" is known to doll collectors, it is not widely used in the re earch literature. For example, there i no entry on 'alien head dolls" in the Coleman Encyclopedia. Present-day auction houses do not use the term either; they usually catalog these doils, sometime inaccurately, as wooden or papier-mache. In addition to the Mathes article, I have seen the term used in one book on miniature dolls. I also saw it for the first time about twenty years ago when it was used as an exclusionary criteria for the wooden and papier-mache categories at a UFDC doll competition. I remember reading the signs saying "No Alien Heads" and laughing while envisioning little dolls with green faces and antennae demanding "Take me to your leader."
The alien head dolls that I have seen vary significantly in appearance, but they have a number of characteristics in common. They are quite rare, most often small in size (3-to-8 inches), and date primarily from the 1820s through the 1850s, the height of papier-macbe doll production in Germany. The head of these doll are usually made of composition mixtures, and it is very difficult, if not imposible, to tell by inspection what the specific mix is for any particular doll.
Early research literature uses the term "plaster" to describe these materials. More recently, these dolls are being classified as papier-mache, although it i not usually evident whether paper pulp was part of the material used in their production. Some of the doll head also have a thin coating of wax. Unlike the all-wooden doll whose head and torso are carved in one piece, the "alien" heads are attached to their wooden bodje with a wooden peg and the joining i covered with ge so and painted to match the head (Fig. 6).
A disproportionate number of the alien head dolls that have survived are in remarkably good condition de pite being delicate. One possible explanation i that these dolls were likely u ed in doilhou es, dioramas and displays rather than as children's playthings. This might also explain why, as with dollhouse dolls of other materials, a higher-than-usual percentage of the alien head doll are male.
There are a number of potential explanations for the genesis of alien head doll . It i certainly possible that doll makers of the time had a limited but ready supply of jointed wooden bodies, and simply used them until they ran out or were replaced by le costly alternative such as the "milliner type" bodies with kid torso and turned wooden limbs.
It is also conceivable that the various small artisan group and cottage industries making dolls during thi period were experimenting with different materials and construction method in an attempt to compete with larger companies beginning to use more standardized and mechanized means of production. In some cases, pictures and descriptions in catalogs of the period or compari on of unique painting tyle or other signature features support the attribution of doll to particular makers. However, the specific origin of most alien head doll remain a mystery.
In my ongoing quest for these intriguing dolls, I have come across approxjmately sixty example . I have managed to acquire qwte a few for my own collection, but have also located a number in the collections of friends and acquaintances who have generously allowed me to photograph their dolls for this article. By observation, I have identified three major subcategories of alien head dolls:
1. Dolls with molded hair
2. Dolls with molded bats
3. Dolls with applied wigs
Alien Head Dolls with Molded Hair
Dolls with molded hair are the ones most traditionally associated with the term "alien head" and are the most frequently found type. The most common dolls in this category are tiny in size (3-5 inches) and have very simply molded and painted facial features and hair. Examples include the 3½-inch tall gentleman in his fanciful costume shown in Figs. 7 and 8 and the three 4-inch nuns shown in Fig . 9-12.
Less frequently found are lady dolls with more detailed and elaborate molded hairdos resembling those of the larger papiermacbe doll heads typically appearing on milliner model type bodies. The 3½-inch and 5-inch alien head ladies in Figs. 13-16 are of the usual very small size and have tbe common simple painting of facial features, but their molded bun and topknot make them somewhat rarer. Fig. 17 shows a grouping of three 3-5-inch alien head ladies, the smaller two of which are more simply molded and painted, and the largest of which has more visible modeling to her hairdo.
The most exclusive dolls in this category are even larger and more detailed, sometimes having beads that closely resemble the more commonly found papier-mache dolls without jointed wooden bodies. The 7-inch doll in Figs. 19-21 wears a highly detailed original folk costume from the Vierland region of northern Germany. She has molded hair;
the tiny real hair braids visible in Fig. 21 are affixed to her hat. For comparison, Fig. 22 pictures this doll alongside her similarly costumed 14-inch non-alien head "big sister." The larger doll bas been attributed to Lowenthal & Company, one of the few doll factories located in northern Germany. It is possible that her smaller, alien head relative was also produced there.
The 10-inch doll in Figs. 23 and 24 is uncommonly large for an alien head doll. The female head has a typical 1840s hairstyle with a high bun and "spaniel ear" braided side curls, but the doll is unusually dressed as a warrior archangel with leather armor and metal wings and shield. Papier-mache heads with similar hairstyles can frequently be found on milliners model type bodies on dolls from this same period produced by Johann Daniel Kestner's factory.
Illustrations from Kestner catalogs show that the factory made dolls with papier-mache heads and jointed wooden bodies, so this doll is possibly one of theirs.
The final and rarest example in this group is a 6-inch doll with an uncommon hair extension of braided and lacquered hemp applied to her molded hairdo (Figs. 25-26). She has very finely painted facial features and unusual brown hair, closely resembling dolls from
the of Johann Friedrich Muller where she was likely produced.
Alien Head Dolls with Molded Hats
A much rarer group of alien head dolls are found with molded hats, and a disproportionate number of these dolls are male. Among these dolls are a few that are molded painted and costumed to represent men from foreign lands in exotic headwear such as turbans and fezzes.
Pages from the catalogs of the Kestner factory show hatted male doll with papier-mache head on jointed wooden bodies (Fig. 29), and doll heads with both German regional and foreign headwear (Figs. 27-28), so the hatted alien head doUs are often attributed to Kestner. However, sample catalogs from other papiermache doll manufacturers also contain illustrations of hatted men on jointed wooden bodies (Fig. 30), so it seems likely that Kestner did not maintain a monopoly on these dolls.
The two dolls in Figs. 31-34 are both 7-inche tall and all-original. They have very imilar facial feature , although one is dressed in the European fa hion with a molded top hat and one is dressed in Arabian garb with a molded turban. The two dolls in Fig . 35-38 are somewhat maller at 5-inches but have the same finely detailed modeling and painting found on the two larger dolls. The rare tiny boy with molded cap in Fig . 39-40 is only 3½-inches tall and is the only example of an alien head child that I have seen.
The 6-inch doll in Fig . 41-43 is also very rare, a she is the only female example with a molded hat that I have found. In addition to her hat, she has highly detailed molded and painted braid and earrings.
Alien Head Dolls with Applied Wigs
Perhaps the most unusual and mysterious alien head dolls are those found with applied wigs. All of the dolls I have seen of thi type are female and have a wax coating of varying thickness applied over their papier-mache heads and shoulders. The wigs are of very fine human hair, styled with tiny braids and loops and often decorated with silk ribbons.
The Mathe article in which alien bead dolls were first cataloged refers to wigged alien head doll as "bald-beads" and states that the few such dolls they have seen have painted ribbon laces spiraling up their legs to a bow tied below the knee. The 6-inch lady in Figs. 44-47 is one such doll. While I have seen everal other examples of imilar dolls with the same painted footwear de cribed in the Mathes article and shown in Fig. 47, they are not the only wigged alien heads in existence. For example, the lovely doll in Fig. 48 is of a comparable size and appearance to the preceding doll, but wears painted red boots with tiny blue laces, without the crisscrossed ribbons and bows.
Another group of wigged dolls (Figs. 49-54) not only lacks the painted footwear details described by the Matheses, but differs very significantly from the prototypical alien bead in size, appearance and construction features.
Unlike the mostly dollhouse-size alien heads typically found, these dolls are ll-to-13-incbes in height. The wax coating on their head and shoulders is noticeably thicker than that of the smalJer wigged alien head dolls pictured in Figs. 44-48. Two of the four dolls have eyes that open and close with a wtre lever, clearly a feature of a play doll rather than a doll made primarily for display. All four dolls likely date from the later stages of the 1820-50 era of alien head production, and the many similarities between them would seem to support a common manufacturer.
The alien head doll disappears from the scene some time in the 1850s, as the industrial revolution is fully underway and porcelain dolls come to prominence. Wonderful examples of these rare survivors are still out there to be found and further research needs to be done on their origins.