Image Courtesy of Theriaults.com
Would you pay tens of thousands of dollars for a doll? Maybe the question should be would you pay tens of thousands of dollars for a beautiful handmade 19th century doll that is the epitome of simplicity and grace? If I had that kind of money I probably would - especially if the doll kept increasing in value.
The VERY RARE AMERICAN CLOTH MORAVIAN DOLL KNOWN AS "MAGGIE-BESSIE" IN ORIGINAL COSTUME, shown in the picture above, is from the Theriaults.com website.
According to their description: 13" All-cloth doll with flat-dimensional face, oil-painted complexion, hair and facial features, short brown center-parted hair with feathering details, shaded blue eyes, black and brown upper eyeliner, feathered brows, outlined nose with accented nostrils, closed mouth, stitch-jointed body, oil-painted lower arms and legs.... Comments: created by Bessie and Maggie Pfohl in their Moravian community of Salem, North Carolina, early 1900s. Value Points: the rare American doll is flawlessly preserved with daintily detailed hair, and most endearing expression, with original costume. Realized Price: $13,000.
The A COMPANION AMERICAN CLOTH MORAVIAN DOLL KNOWN AS "MAGGIE-e BESSIE", shown in the picture above, is also from the Theriaults.com website.
According to their description: 13" All-cloth doll with flat-dimensional perfectly rounded face enhanced by chin definition, oil-painted complexion, hair and facial features, short brown center-parted hair with feathering at sides of forehead, shaded blue eyes, black and red upper eyeliner, feathered brows, outlined nose with accented nostrils, closed bow-shaped mouth, stitch-jointed body, oil-painted lower arms and legs..... Comments: created by Bessie and Maggie Pfohl in their Moravian community of Salem, North Carolina, early 1900s; the hand-crafted artistry and personality of each Maggie-Bessie doll is evident in this and the preceding lot. Value Points: most appealing shy expression with beautifully painted facial details and blush. Realized Price: $9,000.
I found the pair of "Maggie Bessie" dolls, shown above, totally charming and, of course, had to find out more. After all what could make a pair of dolls worth $22,000 collectively?
I knew there were many different types of dolls created by members of different Moravian Churches for benefits, etc. I had to know what made these dolls so special and worth so much. Here's what I found:
It's not often that a doll has a master's thesis written about them, but "Maggie Bess" did in 2011. Laura Katherine Waters wrote The Appearance of Simplicity: Winston-Salem's "Maggie Bess" Dolls and Twentieth Century Antimodernism for her Master of Arts Degree at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. Fortunately, for all of us, she created a .pdf here. It's an interesting read and I hope you get a chance to read it.
According to her thesis: Margaret “Maggie” Gertrude and Carolina Elizabeth “Bessie” Pfohl produced these playthings in the Moravian Community of Salem from approximately 1890 to 1940. Appearing basic in design, these cloth dolls epitomized simplicity from their handmade construction to the clothes they wore. As a reflection of sentiment following the American Civil War and the onset of industrialization and modernism, the manufacturers and consumers used them to express anti-modern conservative values. The Maggie Bessie Collection illustrates a traditional gender divide, a rejection of mass-produced products of leisure, an alternative to the mass-produced products of
leisure, and twentieth century Moravian and White, Southern Identities.......
Laura's thesis contains a picture of the Maggie Bessie doll at the Old Salem Toy Museum as well pictures of the original pattern pieces for the three sizes of the Maggie Bessie dolls. What's interesting about the templates is they used greeting cards for some of the pattern pieces. If you're a doll pattern designer I'm sure you can relate to that. I know I can.
Image Courtesy of The Old Salem Toy Museum and Antiques and The Arts Weekly
The Maggie Bessie dolls, shown in the picture above, are part of the doll collection of the Old Salem Toy Museum and appeared in an article entitled "The Old Salem Toy Museum Celebrates Fourth Year" in the newsletter for the Antiques and The Arts Weekly website. The article was about Tom and Anne Gray, the Old Salem Toy Museum and the toys they donated to the museum collection.
According to their article: Maggie-Bessie doll, Salem, N.C., 1890–1910; painted cloth. Distinctive cloth dolls made in Salem by sisters Margaret Gertrude and Caroline Elizabeth Pfohl for more than 50 years became known as “Maggie-Bessie” dolls. The Pfohls made 435 dolls by 1916. The miniature doll is from a set of six also by the Pfohls, circa 1935. Old Salem Toy Museum.
I also found a wonderful article on Maida Today entitled "The Story of the Maggie Bessie Doll" on Maida Today which was written by Bradley Justice. It has a lot of information on the sisters and many pictures of various Maggie Bessie dolls. I hope you get a chance to read it.
My understanding was the dolls were made for 50 years from 1890 until 1940 in three sizes: small, 13-14 inches, 2 large, 17-18 inches, and 3 “great big” 20-22 inches. All seemed to be beautifully made.
I wanted to see if I could find any dolls created early on. Here's what I found:
Image Courtesy of Morphy Auctions
I found the Sensational “Maggie Bessie” Cloth Doll, shown in the picture above, on the MorphyAuctions.com website.
According to their description: Made by Maggie and Bessie Pfohl in Salem, NC. All cloth with painted hair and features, detailed blue eyes, closed mouth, rosy cheeks, short painted blonde hair with center part; all original bonnet (yellowed), dress (some age wear), slip, panties, stockings, garters and shoes. Highly desirable and sought-after doll, in the smallest size made! Condition (Excellent). Size 13" T.tional “Maggie Bessie” Cloth Doll.
Image Courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com
The Rare All Cloth Maggie Bessie Doll c. 1918, shown in the picture above, is from the LiveAuctioneers.com website.
According to their description: Ca. 1918, Salem, NC. Beautifully oil-painted face with very detailed eyes, ears, nose and mouth, painted light brown hair with center part (some paint flakes on hair). Cloth body with joints at shoulders and hips, cloth is painted over-all and some paint is flaking from hands and lower arms. Maggie Bessie wears her original clothing: pink cotton dress, white cotton slip and onesie with tiny lace trim. Clothing is in excellent condition with some light soil on the back of the dress. She has her original bonnet, shoes (missing one sole and one buckle), and stockings......
Image Courtesy of Theriaults.com
The AMERICAN CLOTH FOLK DOLL WITH PAINTED EARS KNOWN AS "MAGGIE-BESSIE" c. 1890, shown in the picture above is from the Theriaults.com website.
According to their description: 18" All-cloth doll constructed with five pie slice-shaped seams at the back of the head from the center crown, small chin seam, flat dimensional face, oil-painted complexion, hair and features, short brown center-parted hair with little tendrils of curls above the painted ears, large shaded blue eyes, painted brows and eyeliner, outlined nose with accented nostrils, small closed mouth with prim lips, firmly stuffed body with stitch jointing at shoulders, elbows, hips and knees, separate thumb, wearing original costume with neatly embroidered bodice.... Comments: an early model of the American folk doll by Maggie and Bessie Pfohl of Old Salem, North Carolina, circa 1890. The doll was featured on the Spring 1999 cover of Doll News. Value Points: very fine artistry of painted complexion and facial features on the well-preserved early example of the "Maggie-Bessie" doll, with rare painted ears.
There were several other Maggie Bessie dolls for sale on the Theriaults.com website at one point in time - all beautiful, and, yes all worth a lot.
Reproduction Maggie Bessie dolls have become popular over the last few years with doll makers. I wanted to see who was making the reproduction dolls and if there were any patterns out there currently for them. Here's what I found:
Cindy Ribet sells Reproduction dolls here.
Image Courtesy of Susan Fosnot
Susan Fosnot sells a pattern for a Reproduction Maggie Bessie on her Susan Fosnot website. The pattern, for the doll in the picture above, is here.
According to her description: Maggie Bessie dolls were made by two sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth Pfohl, in North Carolina around the turn of the century. This is a faithful recreation of their original design. The pattern yields a maximum amount of realistic shape from a minimum number of pieces and seams. Authentic early 20th century dress pattern is included, as well as pattern for drawers and slip. Pattern includes template for the face. Finished height is 14”.
As far as I'm concerned the Maggie Bessie dolls are definitely examples of simplicity and grace. I'm sure the Pfohl sisters would be pleased to know their beautifully made dolls are highly cherished and sought after by doll collectors today. I wonder what they would think of the price?