About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Sunday, March 9, 2014


It has been quite a long time since my last post thanks to the demise of my old computer and, arrival of a new computer. This milestone was followed by a less than smooth transition from my old familiar workhorse to a state of the art monster that was overwhelming as all my photos, documents and emails were transferred from one to the other.  The last straw was getting locked out of my own computer.  It would have been less expensive to get a locksmith to open my door than to have a technician get me back into my computer.

For most of my life one of the things I have most liked to do is to attend an auction.  From a very young age tagging along with my mother and her friends to an auction was great fun for me.  Even when very young and quite shy, I was never too shy to raise my hand if there was something I really wanted and had enough money to buy.

In those days most country auctions took place on site at the house where the goods originated.  A tent might be set up in the yard but not always.  Sometimes there were chairs and sometimes you brought your own.  The sale items were carried out the door in random order and offered up by the auctioneer.

Another favorite hobby was collecting antique dolls.

My first antique doll was found in a shabby backyard antiques shop in my hometown.  It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, the roof of the building was leaking. In the corner was a doll all in pieces, unstrung with her clothes in a pile on top of her.  I pestered my mother until she was quite annoyed and finally let me buy the doll for $1.50.

At home I washed her, strung her with new elastic (cut from an undergarment) and put her clothes back on.  She had beautiful “paper weight" eyes and long hair that I rolled up with small curlers. She had a cute little closed rosebud mouth and  pierced ears.

Cosette with the paperweight eyes

More importantly, on the back of her head it said “Tete Jumeau”.  On her body it said “Medaille d’or, Paris".

At this point my mother began to register a little more interest in my new treasure.  She even named her Cosette after Cosette in Les Miserables because she was a little French girl.  A bit more research and it seemed that I had found a particularly nice old doll.

A real beauty from Paris! 
Soon after, we attended an auction in Fitzwilliam, NH.  In the auction were a number of doll heads never attached to bodies.  Some had blue eyes and some were brown.  They appeared to have been imported and never made into complete dolls.  On the back of these heads it said “Armand Marseilles 390”.  That sounded like a French name to me so I bought one with brown eyes and an identical head with blue eyes.  This was too good to be true!  More French dolls.  And it was too good to be true.  Armand Marseilles dolls are German and not in the same league and my Parisian darling.

By this time I was hot on the trail of old dolls.

As the word spread around my small town a few people gave me their dolls some of which were very good.

One elderly lady, when faced with going to a nursing home, gave me her black china headed doll from 1870 with a trunk full of clothes made by this lady’s mother in the 1870s.  The wardrobe of clothes with every conceivable garment from the period plus sheets, pillowcases and shams, even a quilt and bedspread was very special and wonderful.  The doll’s name is Amy Fiske.

Amy Fiske is wearing one of her summer dresses
and holding her summer straw hat in her lap.

Amy Fiske made her national debut last month when she was featured in an eleven page spread in DOLL NEWS magazine, the magazine of the United Federation of Doll Collectors.  She now has many new friends and fans.

In this photo Amy is posing with her
Jenny Lind trunk and wearing her winter
coat, muff and pillbox hat with faux fur.

My dedication to this collection has been sporadic.  The dolls will be packed away for years and then brought out when some new doll or other inspiration renews my passion for dolls.

But there is one doll that I always wanted and never owned. While almost all antique dolls came from Germany with a few from France and wax dolls from England, very few were made in  America.  One exception was the Greiner doll, a doll I coveted but that constantly had eluded me.  

Greiner dolls, the first dolls to be patented in America, were the papier-mache headed  dolls, created and patented  in 1858 by Ludwig Greiner, a German immigrant in Philadelphia. There were other dolls being made in this mid-century period but the numbers were small in comparison to the vast numbers of dolls being imported from Germany.

So what could be more exciting to me than an auction with many dolls for sale.

This “dolls at auction” scenario came true this week in a nearby town.  Among the dolls to be auctioned was the coveted Greiner doll…the doll that had eluded me during a lifetime of interest in dolls.  Sometimes I couldn’t afford them; sometimes the condition was too bad, and at other times they were over-restored with their battered faces garishly repainted.  

The doll to be auctioned was advertised as "composition".  To be sure it was really a Greiner I sent the auction photo to an expert in this field of doll collecting, Edyth O’Neill in Texas.  Edyth, after enlarging the photo assured me it was most likely a Greiner.  With doll prices having bottomed out, I thought this might be the the time, this might the place and this might be the doll for me. 

I arrived early to look for the label on the doll.  There it was, “Greiner’s, Improved Patent Heads, Pat. March 30th ‘58”. (as in 1858)

The Greiner label is clear and crisp dating the doll to 1858

Having the doll come up for bid very late in the auction, I refrained from buying any of the other dolls offered, saving my money for the Greiner.  So I waited and waited for several hours.  By the time the doll was auctioned in was late in the auction and many had left.  None of the dolls had brought any fancy prices. In fact, the prices were pathetic.  The Greiner didn’t bring a fancy price either.  I won the doll for $125.

Penelope is very somber as she surveys her new home

She was dressed in some nice garments.  Some were probably hers and other ill-fitting garments were too big or inappropriate for her.  She does need a proper dress.

A beautiful blouse, another chemise and a large petticoat will be passed on to other dolls.

A friend asked me what her name was.  I hadn't even thought about that!

"I think her name should be Penelope", responded my friend.  So Penelope it is.

Please meet the new kid at my house...Penelope!

This dress has to go.  It is the wrong style and the wrong size but the best we could do
on short notice.

Here are some of the extras that came with her but not fitting.

Front of blouse with nice detail
Back of blouse with tiny buttons

Here are a two more of the extra garments.                       
Another chemise

Petticoat for a large doll

Thinking that I had covered this story I prepared to post it today, Sunday.  The post had been written for at least ten days but never published because the computer problems interfered.  But another bizarre chapter was about to be written.

A long time friend and intermittent doll collector from another town came to visit yesterday: Saturday.  I proudly presented Penelope and went on a great length about the disastrous prices at this auction and how doll prices had bottomed out.  As we drove away from my house to attend an evening event I was still going on and on about the distressingly low prices.  I then urged my friend not to even think about selling any dolls right now. Then I remarked, "You still have all of your dolls, I hope."  To which my friend responded, "No. You just bought one of them."  What?  I could hardly comprehend what my friend was saying.  It was true. All those dolls sold at auction belonged to my friend.  The collection built at great expense over time at the top of the market had been forfeited for peanuts.  Penelope was the Greiner doll my friend had bought but I had never seen.  

I was so upset I could hardly drive my car.  No, it wasn't my loss.  In fact, it was my gain but that didn't make me feel any better and I am still in shock.  I kept wondering whose dolls they were that were being offered and sold  for such low prices but would never have guessed.. 

As I sat there in the auction hall I was distressed for the owner of this collection of good dolls that were on the auction block in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Little did I know....

But for Penelope there is a happy ending.  She will get a new dress.  That is the least I can do for the doll I waited fifty years to own.

Thanks for reading.



  1. Oh my goodness what a turn around indeed! I am so happy for you finally getting her and yet so sad for your friends loss!

  2. You were ment to get this special doll! My hope is that your friend will find some comfort knowing she is in loving hands.

  3. I am glad you now have your computer working because I so enjoy reading your blogs. They are always interesting and invoke memories.

  4. Life is so strange, If we wrote it as fiction it really would not be accepted. Enjoy your Greiner doll, they are among my favorites too.

  5. Enjoyed reading about our play house in the garage at your house! What a wonderful surprise.
    Gordon also reads your blog and pointed out the story of the shoe in the chimney. He will again spend the summer here and I bet he will look for a shoe in the right hand chimney

  6. Susan!! My playhouse partner from long ago! What a wonderful surprise. Did you read "Could This House Have Been Saved"? My frantic call to the chair of the historical commission in that post was made to your dad.

    Thank you for getting in touch. Made my day!