Saturday, December 11, 2010

Black Izannah Walker Dolls

Izannah Walker's black dolls are not often seen.  One is pictured above in an article written by Donna Kaonis for the Sept/October 1993 issue of Antique Doll World.   The doll was in Richard Wright's collection at the time of the article. Antique Doll World is not a current publication.  If  you're interested in reading about antique dolls, Antique Doll Collector magazine offers great articles specifically on antique dolls.  Donna Kaonis, the writer of this article on Izannah dolls, is now editor-in-chief at Antique Doll Collector magazine.


The closest account of Izannah's dollmaking that we have from her time is from Philomena Hart's column in the Providence Bulletin, as quoted by Janet Pagter Johl, on pages 37 - 39 of her book Your Dolls and Mine:

"Mrs. N.M.R. (Mrs. Norman H. Robertson, grand-niece of Miss Walker) wrote me a fascinating account of a doll which she thinks is the predecessor of the Chase doll of Pawtucket. It was made in Central Falls by Miss Izannah Walker.(1817-1888) She was the aunt of my correspondent who says of her, "Always inventive, she had created a stockinette doll as early as 1848 when my mother was a little child in New London, Conn. Family tradition tells of her struggle to perfect her work and of the long wrestling with one problem, how to obtain a resistant surface to the stockinette heads, arms, and legs, without cracking or peeling. With this problem on her mind, Aunt Izannah suddenly sat up in bed one night to hear a voice say "use paste." It worked... Aunt Izannah always deplored the fact that she was not a man. However, she made dolls and doll furniture, tinkered with household gadgets, designed a parlor heater, "that beat Ben Franklins," raised canaries, dabbled in real estate, and was looked upon with admiration by male contemporaries because of her skill with carpenters' tools, so perhaps she was resigned."
Mrs. Singsen, an early collector whose Izannah Walker dolls were photographed in Janet Johl's book, contacted Izannah's grand-neice, Mrs. Norman H. Robertson for more information, and received the following reply :
"The Walker family came to Central Falls in Somerset Mass., and the first dolls were made for friends. One, owned by the family and now out west, is one of the very earliest and is practically life sized. Izannah Walker had three sisters, and as the business began to develop she put them to work painting the dolls faces. There were also darky dolls made, but these Mrs. Robertson said, had wool hair instead of painted on hair. From 1845, when the first doll is said to have been made,until she died in 1886, Izannah Walker carried on the business, not securing a patent until persuaded to do so by friends in 1873."

Izannah Walker black dolls differ from her Caucasian  dolls in that the hair was not painted, but was applied wool to the top of the head.  Who knows where this wonderful black doll is now?  Collections shift and change often.   Here is a closeup of the magazine page:

Black Izannah Walker Doll featured in Antique Doll World Sept/October 1993 issue.

Which brings me to my next gentle request.  It would be a joy to feature your original  antique Izannah Walker doll on the Izannah Walker Chronicles.   All copyright of pictures is retained by you.   You may offer pictures anonymously or publicly according to your comfort level.  Please contact me  using the button at the top of the page.

Thank you in advance for broadening 
the knowledge of original Izannah Walker dolls.  


  1. Hi Dixie,

    It's been a long time since I've been in touch. I moved to Gettysburg, PA at the beginning of April, and have been so busy unpacking, etc., that I haven't had much time for anything else. I just recently located all my research notes and binders. I was really beginning to panic!

    I wanted to point out that Izannah's grand niece's name was Helen, not Norma. She was Mrs. Norman Robertson, and her name was Helen Holbrook Robertson.

    Keep up the good work. Talk to you again soon.

    Monica Bessette

  2. Hi, Monica -

    Thanks for sharing that. :-) I spent several hours on tracing out how she was related and found her real name there. It would have been much easier to ask you! ;-) I hope that you're settling in nicely in your new home.



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