Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chinese Cloth Folk Art Dolls - A Research Case Study - Part One



1950's Chinese Dolls can be found in CreekLifeTreasures shop on Etsy


It is impossible to know "everything" antiques and vintage, professional appraisers and collectors have specialties.  That said, growing the skills and proficiency required to answer questions and build not only your knowledge base but also your reference "library" of links are key.  Most vintage sellers have a good general knowledge, are committed and actively work to expand their capacity and hone their research skills.  In our "at your fingertips" information age, researchers are fortunate for the plethora of online resources.  Not only via web sites but also the many detailed and comprehensive blogs created by collectors.  Naturally, there are vintage and antique guides which can be purchased or loaned from the library.  The downside of printed pricing materials is they're oft outdated.  Good practices still require a thorough search online to verify accuracy. Within all this it's important to not overlook the story.  It is the framework, comprised of the history and the provenance of an item, which is important.

With smart phones, Etsy, eBay, and Facebook support groups, along with pricing apps a lot of research happens on the fly.  Frankly much of researching is pretty mundane, checking the current market prices, nailing down a year of manufacture, verifying it's not a reproduction worse yet a counterfeit prior to a purchase.  But then, every once in a while you come up with something you know is special but you haven't a clue, you go with your gut and make a purchase without any knowledge.  Once home you begin the process of researching and appraising an item in preparation to list it for sale.

This case study begins with one such occasion and my first research tip.


Mimi of CreekLifeTreasures, on Etsy, purchase the three Asian cloth dolls pictured above.  It was one of those estate sales which is the real deal.  Retired military family, life-long collectors of just about "everything" especially Chinese Art and Artifacts says Mimi.  A "huge home with a full attic, and had room to keep everything.  I think more than anything they simply didn't throw anything away"  Mimi went on to say, "They had full decorative Chinese robes that were also for sale.  The first thing that sold was a jadeite hand mirror for $7,500.00, the man drove 4 hours one way and stood in line for over 4 hours to get it.  It was that kind of sale, I so want a 'do over'." "The entire house was like a museum." Who wouldn't!


Whether you are a buyer or a seller, join a support group.

One online group of vintage sellers, called the ESPTeam (Etsy Pickers and Sellers Team)2., has the What Is It and What Is It Worth research thread which is one of  the most utilized threads on the team page.  It's where sellers ask for assistance with their problematic identification and research issues.  I was one of the members in this thread back in October of 2014, checking the posts to see if I could assist anyone or learn a new tidbit when I came across the post from Mimi of CreekLifeTreasures requesting assistance with her vintage handmade Asian folk art dolls.  She posted pictures on the flickr web site and her story began to unfold.


This is what Mimi was told at the estate sale.

1.  The husband was in the military, a retired USMC Colonel, whose last known station was in China.  In 1958 they moved to Hubert, NC upon their return to the United States.  Hubert is a community outside of Jacksonville, NC which is the home of the Camp LeJeune USMC Base.
2.  The husband preceded the wife.  She was 93 when she passed away in 2014.
3.  Their only daughter is 72 and living in Florida.  The dolls were hers.

Mimi found the dolls sitting on a wicker shelf in their only daughters (now 72) room.  She said, "The room was preserved just like it was when she was still a child living at home." "The room looked just like (when) she had walked out of it 50 years ago.  It was kept 'perfect', with twin wicker beds and chest."

In her October post Mimi said, "The thing that is really throwing me off is the "red dot" or "bindi" on their forehead."  She wasn't sure how that played into the origin of the dolls. Interestingly, the area of Mainland China with the richest history of Hinduism is the Guangdong and Fujiab provinces which are almost directly across from the island which is now known as Taiwan.  More about this later.

Antique Female Chinese Stockinette Cloth Doll / 1950s
Female Chinese Silk Cloth Doll

Male Chinese Stockinette Cloth Doll


Early on in her initial search Mimi found similar dolls listed as artifacts on the Wing Luke Museum web site.  Several of those dolls (as seen below) have bindi marks on the forehead.  However, no history or provenance is provided.  Mimi contacted the museum requesting more information, but unfortunately the Museum's curator never responded.   Below you'll see the photographs and descriptions of the doll artifacts of the museum.  I've included some of the photographs and descriptions because the online pages where they were archived have subsequently been taken down (perhaps they are updating their web site).1

When researching Hinduism in China I found the following  on Wikipedia, "Many legends and stories in Chinese folk religion, such as Nezha (deity), have been traced to Hindu mythology," which can be viewed HERE. Of course it is conjecture on my part, perhaps the bindi marks are a nod to these legends, rooted in the historical fact that India was one of the earliest trade partners and cultural influences in China.

Chinese Doll Artifacts photographs Courtesy the Wing Luke Asian Museum


Doll A. Artifact Description - Wing Luke Asian Museum
Cloth body with pink silk trousers, orange silk jacket with embroidered flowers. Pink silk apron with woven floral pattern tied in back with silk cords. Shoes are orange with yellow silk soles. Face is painted. Hair is black fuzzy yarn with braids wrapped with rust thread. Damage: surface soil hem on pants, jacket bottom, and sleeve hand down in places.1

Doll B. Artifact Description - Wing Luke Asian Museum
Stuffed cloth male Chinese doll. Facial features created by stitches in cloth head, highlighted by painted details. Circular band of black thread embroidered in head for the hair, topped by a queue of braided black cotton thread with orange thread binding. A jacket of diagonal stripes of blue, turquoise, and brown with red binding, fastened with four frogs in the front. Orange trousers with blue polka dot trim at the bottom, dark green shoe. Condition: There are insect holes in the trousers. The left shoe is missing.1

Doll C. Artifact Description - Wing Luke Asian Museum
Cloth Chinese boy doll. Facial features made by stitching with painted details. Circular ring of black embroidery for hair topped with braided black cotton queue with orange thread binding. Gold jacket with embroidered flower (peony) pattern. A front bib of light blue with green, pink, and black floral (peony) embroidered pattern. Red trousers and printed floral patter shoes with yellow soles. The bib is tied around the neck and across the back with braided white cord.1

Despite the fact that the museum didn't answer, in finding similar dolls four things were accomplished.

  1. The dolls were identified as Chinese in origin.
  2. They provided a spot-on comparable of the style of doll.
  3. They provided a baseline of condition.
  4. The descriptions provided a descriptive dialogue "standard" and key vocabulary words used to properly describe the dolls and clothing.  Such as the term "frogs" is used for the jacket closures and  the term "queue" for the boy doll's hairstyle.


Don't give up if you've contacted someone for more information and they don't reply.  In my experience at least 90% of the people I've contacted over the years are wonderful in sharing their experiences, knowledge, photographs etc.  Take a different tack and try again.  That is exactly what Mimi did when she e-mailed an appraiser who was listed on the PBS Antiques Roadshow web pages.  The appraiser referred Mimi to another appraiser, Bradley Justice,  also located in North Carolina, you can read a short bio and find his contact information HERE.  Mr. Justice is not only an appraiser, he owns The Swell Doll Shop , which has been featured in Chapel Hill Magazine, sells on both eBay and Etsy (you can find those links on his shop web page by clicking the The Swell Doll Shop link), is Curator for Doll and Miniature Museum in High Point, North Carolina, is a member of and a Contributing Editor in the Modern Category for the United Federation of Dolls, Inc.

This is what Mimi learned from Mr. Justice:
"These dolls are Chinese and were made for the tourist trade. The style originates to the 20's and was made into the 50's. They are needle sculpted and are silk, both stockinette and woven.  They do turn up frequently, but yours have exceptional coloring and they tend to fade with time."
He also provided an appraisal which Mimi used to establish the price of her dolls.

Look for Chinese Cloth Folk Art Dolls - A Research Case Study - Part Two which will be published soon.  As soon as it is I will link it here.

I would like to reiterate I have not nor will I receive any compensation for showcasing Mimi's dolls which are for sale in her Etsy shop CreekLifeTreasures.

I hope you've enjoyed this post and found it helpful.  If you have please consider joining and following along either through Google+ or in Google Blogger.  Thanks!  Deb

1. The photographs and descriptions are Copyrighted 2006 by the Wing Luke Museum and are being used for educational purposes per their Copyright Statement under the Fair Use stipulation not for profit or resale.  Users of this blog are held to the same Standard of Use.  To be clear, I do not charge or accept any type of payment or trade for what is posted, discussed, linked or referenced on my blog.

2. If you would like more information on The Etsy Pickers and Sellers Team you can find it by clicking this link the EPSTEAM on Etsy.