NotesThis doll was probably made by the Pierotti family doll-making company in England in about 1880. The Pierotti family is the only well-documented doll-making family of the era.
The Pierottis, from Volterra in the north of Italy, appear to have been a wealthy family that owned vineyards and traded wine. Giovanni Stefano Pierotti, born in 1730, probably came to England on business. He is documented as having married an Englishwoman in Reading in 1750. His son, Domenico, born in Italy, moved to England as a child to live with his aunt. From her, he learnt the trade of making wax covered paper-mache objects. Records show that he was selling dolls at the Pantheon Bazaar from 1793. Domenico's ninth child, Anericho Cephas became a wax portrait modeller and is also believed to have made high quality wax dolls. It was one of Anerico's children, Henry Pierotti, who made the name famous by winning an award at the 1849 London exhibition and opening a shop in the mid 1800s in Oxford St, selling wax dolls, decorative display figures and figures for tailors and dressmakers. Family tradition has it that many of the dolls were modelled on the family's children.
Making such dolls could be a health hazard, as indicated by a descendant of the family, Irene Pierotti, in an article in 'Country Life'. She comments that her grandfather died from poisoning from the lead that was used to colour the wax. Upon his death, her grandmother and five of her children continued the business, selling dolls in London shops such as Morrells, Mortlocks and Hamleys. The family's doll-making tools were donated to the Rottingdean Museum in Sussex and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood after the death of the family's last doll-maker in 1935.
The process of making the dolls involved pouring warm, molten wax into a cast. Colour was introduced to the wax by adding carmine and white lead. After removing the wax head from the mould, the marks were smoothed over, eye holes were cut and glass eyes inserted and fixed in place with liquid wax. Real human hair was implanted by inserting a heated needle or knife, although by around 1845, mohair, which is similar to human hair, was often a substitute.This process of insertion caused a scar on the wax, which was removed by smoothing over with a warm roller. It is thought that this must have been a particularly slow process, with each head requiring at least a full day's work. Although craftspeople were required to finish off the doll's hair and features, some elements of wax doll production were done in bulk. A row of heads might be poured together, or piles of body parts might be made at the one time. Dolls like this one had cloth bodies and very short, porcelain arms and legs. The parts of the limbs that were likely to be exposed were made of porcelain, whereas the covered portions, such as the tops of the limbs, were made from cotton and stuffed with sawdust or kapok.
The dolls were often dressed in clothes of very high quality, as is the case with this doll. Such costumes were usually made by hand, even after the invention of the sewing machine.
Information from: Coleman, Dorothy S, Elizabeth A and Evelyn J, 'The Collector's Encyclopaedia of Dolls', London, Robert Hale and Company, 1970.
Hillier, Mary, 'The History of Wax Dolls', London, Souvenir Press, 1985
King, Constance E, 'Antique Toys and Dolls', London, Cassell Ltd, 1979
King, Constance, "Dolls and Doll's Houses, London, Chancellor Press, 1996