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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


No, I am not talking about myself.  I am talking about a very old doll!

For all of my life I have spent varying amounts of time in the summer on Cape Ann (Gloucester and Rockport, Massachusetts)  before becoming a permanent resident thirty five years ago.  These summer vacations were so special to me that it is no wonder that I and so many others like me eventually have found their way back and made this place by the sea, America's oldest seaport, their home.

In the late 1940s my mother and her friends would take frequent antiquing trips, often around the Monadnock region of New Hampshire; Fitzwilliam, Keene, Rindge, Peterborough and north central Massachusetts.  I was too young to stay home alone all day so had to accompany the ladies as they went from shop to shop.

On one of these outings I found an old doll in a corner on the floor.  After a lot of begging I got the doll for $1.50. This doll turned out to be a very special French Jumeau.  That event inspired me to keep looking for old dolls to collect.  My mother encouraged me and often made dresses for dolls acquired along the way.  None equaled the first one; it was surely beginners luck, but many more dolls, some better than others, came my way.

In the summer of 1950 we visited an antique shop in Rockport on Cape Ann.  The shop was in a very old house and was called "Saltbox Antiques" after the shape of the ancient house with its long sloping roof in the back and a huge chimney emerging from the ridgepole. The owner was a well known antiques dealer named Louis Polack.

The 1757 house built by Ephraim Shelden.  The saltbox was added by the Rowe Brothers circa 1787.
Inside the shop I found a very old china doll.  Her head was made of china, her black hair with a part in the middle was painted on with no wig.  Her body was cloth. Once again my mother consented and shelled out $10 for this doll.  The doll was wearing some undergarments but no dress.  My Mom made her a dress which now, more than sixty years later looks as old as the doll..Time has taken its toll on the fabric.

Brilliant blue eyes and pursed lips are the
distinctive features of the very old china doll.

Mother took my doll collecting seriously and each time Ifound a new doll she filled out an index card that went in a file box.  On the index card she stated the date and place where I found the doll, the cost, the value, the marks on the doll and any other pertinent information.  She also listed the name of the doll which in this case was simply "Saltbox"

Old index card from August 1950 describing the doll
Recently an acquaintance gave me the name and phone number of a lady in Rockport who lived in one of the oldest houses in the town.  She had some questions about her house.  Although I am no longer a Realtor, I was for many years, specializing in old and historic houses.  This mutual friend urged me to call her and look at her house.  The owner of the house, by the way, is a puppeteer..

Before going to meet the owners and see the house I did a little research to find out what kind of a house I was going to visit. You guessed it!  It was the old saltbox house; the same house from which I had acquired my old doll that long ago summer.

I called and made an appointment to meet the owners and see the house.  But first I unearthed the doll and my mother's index card with the date on which I had been there as a child.  It was August 1950.  I took the doll and the old card with me much to the delight of the homeowner.  As someone who loves dolls and puppets she was amazed that I had been in her house so many years ago and that the doll had been there, too.  Her first question was to ask the name of the doll.  For some reason she never did get an appropriate name.  I just called her "Saltbox".

We toured the house.  Then over a cup of coffee I reminisced and shared my memory of the house and what it looked like way back then in 1950.  I certainly couldn't recall too many specifics or even which room the doll was in when I found her.  But I could not forget the general appearance of what was  probably the oldest house I had ever been in at that time with its expanse of pine paneling and sheathing,  huge cooking fireplace and heavy beams.

Now that "Saltbox" is seeing the light of day for the first time in years she is comfortably seated  in a Windsor armchair in my house.  For the time being at least, "Saltbox" is out of her box and enjoying a place in my house just as I enjoy looking at her; a reminder of my happy childhood and that long ago summer vacation when I found her at the "Saltbox Antique Shop" in Rockport.

Old doll, circa 1850, from the saltbox house in Rockport. She has
lost one shoe but is still in hopes it will be found.

The plaque on the house says that it is the Zebulon Parsons house circa 1740 but a little research turned up new and different information.  It is the Ephraim Shelden house built after the land was purchased in 1757.  Shelden relocated to Woolwich, Maine in the 1780s and the house was sold to Ebenzer and Benjamin Rowe.  Apparently these two brothers added the saltbox in the rear with two cooking fireplaces to accomodate two families.

It has long been thought of as the Zebulon Parsons house, a nice old sounding name.  Zebulon Parsons, however, did not own the house until the late 19th century and was there until 1901.  The house had a long history before Zebulon came on the scene.

That is why with all of the new information available online many houses need to be checked.
Tradition can not always be equated with accuracy!

But whatever the name, it is a great old house!


  1. Hi Pru, Love you and your dolly! Have a great day! E

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Hi Prudence, thanks for your wonderful posts. I have an rss feed on my blog that takes my readers to your most recent articles. It's a great way to share each other's stories. Gordon Harris, Ipswich town historian and vice-chairman, Ipswich Historical Commission. Go to https://ipswich.wordpress.com