Having had four children, three of whom were little girls, our house has seen its fair share of dolls and dolls prams. Distant memories of patrolling the neighbourhood on Christmas morning guiding children, prams, babies and bikes comes to mind. That was a very long time ago yet even then those dolls could talk, eat, cry and wet their nappies.

Looking back over the years doll development has actually been quite slow. The first walking doll was made as early as the 1820s while talking dolls took longer to perfect. Early examples produced sound due to the action of turning the doll’s arms or indeed the whole body with this exertion of pressure producing sound. Later from the 1880s, the pulling of a string became very common. However, these early talkers merely squeaked and it wasn’t until Edison’s invention of the miniaturised phonograph that the dolls finally spoke or sang. Dolls made in the 1890s containing the original tiny wax cylinder phonograph in their torsos are very rare today.

During this time, many new automata functions were being patented, not just the phonograph; one patent of particular interest was that of the ‘Mama Doll’ produced by Madame Hendren, the trademark of Averill Manufacturing Company. The ‘Mama Doll’ was a soft-bodied doll with composition head and composition lower arms and hands. What made her so unique was her voice box; when her body was tilted she cried out ‘Ma-ma’, hence the name. She is typically marked “Genuine Madame Hendren Doll”. These dolls became incredibly popular in America in the early 1920s, stealing the market from the previously desirable German bisque doll.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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