It must have been a beautiful doll once, with lifelike translucent skin of wax on a molded papier mâché core and realistic glass eyes with brown threaded irises rimmed in purple.
Due to light exposure and variations in temperature and humidity, the paint and wax coatings on the doll's face have faded, split, and chipped. A wig, once held by straight pins was not present when the doll entered museum founder Electra Webb's collection. This doll, looking something like spawn of Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies, is a poor representation of what it once was.
So why is it in Shelburne Museum's collection, you ask?
This doll, made sometime around 1850, is the only known remaining example of the work of London wax and composition doll maker Anthony Bazzoni. His printed mark is found above the doll's hips. Rarely did wax doll makers from this period sign their work. While this doll has no internal mechanisms, Bazzoni is celebrated as one of the first makers to create a talking doll. The eyes were not made by Bazzoni, but by another specialist craftsman. According to Henry Mayhew's book London Labour and the London Poor (1851), there were two dolls-eyes makers working in London when this doll was produced. These craftsmen made artificial eyes for humans, too. As the only known example of Bazzoni's work, this doll could be considered a type specimen, a term coined in biology for a physical example, usually held in a museum, that defines a species.
Fletcher Allen Health Care, Vermont's university hospital and medical center, lent a hand in our efforts to document how this doll was made by taking x-ray images and computerized tomography (CT) scans.
The radiograph shows that a fairly coarse paper pulp was used in the mold. The outlines of the pulp wads are evident through the cheeks and temples in the image. The apparent texture of the paper is consistent with Mayhew's description of the re-purposing of the coarse blue paper bags used to package sugar during that period. The pins that once held the wig are inserted behind the eyes, not into them, as it appears here. You get a sense of the globe-shaped eyes.
The images from the CT scan show us the doll in cross section and a whole lot of features that we couldn't see in the radiographs: how thin the papier mâché core is and the shape of the eyes. We see that the eyes were free-blown given the slight variations in shape and the presence of the flanges where the blow tube had been attached at the back.
Among the things the CT images from the body show is that the stitching that holds the cloth body closed under the head is in good condition, but the seam appears to be a bit open, explaining why some sawdust is loose in the doll's storage box.
So in addition to learning more about how this doll was made, I learned a bit more about its condition without having to take it apart. We really appreciate the time the radiological techs took to produce these images. I hope they enjoyed looking at something that wasn't human. (The tech did try to input the doll's date of birth in the system, but the computer wouldn't take it.)
After almost 10 years in storage, we're bringing this doll back on view, along with the x-ray, in the Conservation exhibition in one end of the Circus Building. If you'd like a closer look at any of these images, take a look at the Bazzoni doll's set on Flickr.