Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Thoughts on Conserving Izannah Walker Dolls

This post is a preamble to a forthcoming post about an Izannah Walker doll which has been conserved by a doll collector of over 50 years who is also an artist, well-versed in antique textiles, and has extensively studied Izannah Walker dolls.

As I've been updating the pictorial directory on this site, I'm studying certain dolls intently. Some dolls appear at auction and some time later in other venues, having been changed. This is a statement of fact, not judgement. Sometimes dolls have had some tiny conservation/repainting done to replace lost paint, sometimes they have been totally repainted, and sometimes they have had old repaint completely removed. It's fascinating to see. 

A doll collector who is a purist will say LEAVE that doll alone, no matter what. Let them wear their story to this point. When I was giving a talk on Izannah Walker dolls via Zoom I revealed the prosthetic arm I made for my Izannah Walker doll who is missing an arm. This is attached to a band worn over the shoulder of the doll and NOT sewn TO the doll in any way. A collector listening held up her Izannah Walker doll which was missing some parts and said, "I left it alone." 

Sometimes a doll comes across your path and you know it needs to better reflect the intent of the original maker.  A case in point is this 13" Martha Chase doll on the left in the picture below, which I bought along with the other Martha Chase doll of the same size. The water-based overpaint on her limbs is cracking and peeling off. That's what happens when water-based paint covers oils. Her repainted eyes say, "I've seen things." I don't want that to be her story. Until I decide what to do with her, I gave her a little "Joy and Peace" companion doll made by Peggy Flavin. The big doll Zelda watches over, telling her "every little thing's gonna be alright"!

Many antique dolls have been repaired and/or repainted at home, long ago by a family member. Sometimes children's dolls were sent off to "doll hospitals" to be fixed, such as the Martha Chase Doll Factory. At that time an Izannah Walker doll was merely an old doll in need of repair, not an example of folk art to be preserved. Sometimes the repaint is so old it doesn't register with a blacklight. 

Izannah designed her dolls for play. She wanted to make an "everlasting doll" but her point for doing so was pragmatic. Her goal was that a child could actually PLAY with her doll and not be harmed by it when playing with it, per her patent. An advertisement discovered by Kathy Duncan show Izannah's dolls were being marketed for play and being forgotten!  The ad copy says, 

"their chief merit consisting in their ability to stand rough usage and abandonment serenely"

Izannah's dolls were not to be placed on a high shelf to only be used for an hour on Sunday. The dolls were designed to travel through life with the child. And they did! Many an Izannah Walker doll has lost body parts while their owners danced with them.  They are prone to breaks at the ankles, and sometimes the arms, from being carried by a child. 

This is the case with the doll that I, Dixie, own.  She's missing an arm, and a foot.  Her body covering is in tatters. I named her Hope. Someone felt this doll was important enough to be stabilized, having stitched the torn stockinette on the head down in a somewhat awkward way. Aside from the prosthetic arm, I have not changed this doll at all. She is in "original" condition, although very, very worn. If she were to continue on her journey, someone might decide to conserve her and give her better paint, a new nose, a new body covering, etc. 

Collectors of Izannah Walker dolls face a decision point when they purchase a doll. How best to preserve the original design of the doll, and also stabilize and conserve these examples of folk art for the future?  Sometimes the answer is "leave it alone". Sometimes the answer is "there's an Izannah under there" and filler and repaint needs to be removed. 

Before doing anything, here are some questions to consider: 

Who should do repairs? 

Repairs should be done by someone who has studied Izannah's dolls extensively,  is an artist with many years of experience with oil paints, and has years of study of antique textiles.  

Other questions to consider: 

What feels original and should be left alone? 

What mutes the original design and should be removed?

Will the doll be better off if nothing is done?

If nothing is done, does it expose the doll to ongoing additional damage?

Will the changes made be removable? 

Will changes made disrupt original parts of the doll's paint?

I'm sure readers can supply more questions and thoughts.  This is just the tip of the iceberg. 

The next post will document an Izannah Walker doll which was conserved by its owner, an expert in antique textiles, a doll collector of 50+ years, and an artist of many decades. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

A Record-setting Sale Price for An Izannah Walker Doll

The sale of the iconic John Thayer, an Izannah Walker doll in Carol Corson's collection, set a record.  John Thayer and his accessories and bench sold for $62,000. 

All types of dolls sold for strong prices at Withington's auction today.  Here are the hammer prices of the Izannah Walker dolls. A buyer's premium of 15-18% would be added to the hammer price.  

Withington's realized prices for this auction can be found here:

To see more images of each doll, click the images of the dolls to go to a post about that particular doll. 

Lot 100 sold for a hammer price of $62,000.

Lot 111 sold for a hammer price of $23,000.

Lot 115 Sold for a hammer price of $25,000. 

Lot 145 sold for a hammer price of $24,000. 

Lot 150 sold for a hammer price of $21,000.

There were lots which included dresses which fit some of the Izannahs, but I don't have the ending prices for those lots yet. ~ Dixie 

Realized prices for this auction can be found here:

Monday, October 3, 2022

Jane Hintz Walker and "Jane Walker Dolls"

This past weekend I (Dixie) gave a Zoom presentation about Izannah Walker dolls for a doll club. Reviewing past studies of Izannah Walker dolls kicks up particular questions. In researching I skimmed the History of the Town of Somerset, Massachusetts, which you can read at the following link:

What a world we live in where fragile historical records and old books can be digitized to be read by so many people! 

There isn't mention of the Hintz family, or of Izannah or Jane in this book, but it gives background of the place where they lived. The town was in a boom of industry during the time that Jane and Izannah Walker lived there as girls. Textile mills were being built along the river, the pottery industry was booming, there were said to be up to 10 shipyards on the river near to the town, as well as some actually IN the town.  There was a stoveworks.  All of these industries might have given both Jane and Izannah first hand views of some components which would later be used in making dolls.  

We know Jane Walker made dolls, but there are so many questions which come of this.  We don't know that she made dolls which were similar to the dolls known to be Izannah Walker dolls. Was she making dolls under the auspices of the "Celebrated Miss Walker Dolls" described in the advertisement?  Were her dolls made to be sold through the dolls Izannah made and were marketed by wholesaler E W. Billings which was discovered by Kathy Duncan?  Or did Jane Walker sell them directly on her own in her own town?  

A search for more information on Jane Walker led me to an old post here on the Izannah Walker Chronicles, with a comment made by Monica Bessette:

Monica's comment is shown in the image above and restated here:  

Hi Dixie,

Don't forget. . .this was written for the Somerset Historical Society, and these dolls were known to locals as Jane Walker dolls. The following is from my 1998 article, "Walker Dolls: A Family Business" It comes from a paper presented at the Somerset Historical Society meeting of March 18, 1957. The writer of the paper was former town librarian, Flora B. Wood. Flora's mother, Augusta Louisa Marble, born in Somerset in 1861, is the subject of the following excerpt reprinted in the October, 1994, issue of The Spectator, and entitled,


"When my mother was a little girl in the 1860s many of the little girls of Somerset had a Jane Walker doll. I have a picture of mother holding one. They were handsome and lifelike and were 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. I haven't succeeded in locating one, though it is possible someone has one, as they were quite famous locally and there must have been many of them. Mrs. Arline Simmons Sampson remembers going to Jane Walker's house when she was a very old lady and no longer made dolls. Mrs. Sampson says she dressed very quaintly almost in Pilgrim style. She liked children, and always treated them to apples and cookies." 

Izannah's older sister, Jane Walker, remained in the house that was left to the two of them until her death in 1899 at age of 85. Izannah left Somerset in the early 1850's when she moved to Rhode Island. This 1957 paper was presented long before Walker dolls were collected by modern day collectors. Hope this helps.

Monica Bessette

Records which used to be on microfiche are being digitized and made searchable today.  We can expect that people like Monica Bessette and Kathy Duncan might uncover information which previously required in person research.  That is a great development! 

If you have not read Monica's articles they are well worth reading! 

“Izannah Dreaming,” Monica BessetteAntique DOLL Collector, March, 2018, pp. 20-25.

“One Collector’s Vision Unearths a Unique Doll from the Past,” Monica BessetteAntique DOLL Collector, May, 2020, pp. 36-41.

“The Doll of Her Heart: The Story of Alice Kent Trimpey,” Monica BessetteAntique DOLL Collector, July/August, 2019, pp. 60-65 (inspired by Tillie, an Izannah in Wisconsin).

“The Search for Izannah Walker,” Monica Bessette, Doll News, Fall, 1994, pp. 48-53

“Walker Dolls: A Family Affair,” Monica BessetteDoll News, Summer, 1998, pp. 41-44

A Pictorial Directory of Dolls<br> Featured on the Izannah Walker Chronicles

My mission for this blog in 2008 was to create the site I wished existed - a site for doll makers and collectors who love Izannah Walker dol...