The Dolls of Munich

This summer I had the chance to visit the Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum) in Munich, Germany. I’ve always loved German dolls, and have some Gotz and Engel Puppen in my collection. So naturally I was excited to check it out!

The view of Marienplatz from the entrance to the Museum

The dolls at the museum come from all over the world, and they have everything from 18th century fashion dolls to Barbies. I took lots of pictures to share with you all! In this post I share some of the oldest dolls in the collection, and I’ll do another post on more contemporary dolls.

18th Century dolls

These ladies are British dolls circa 1780. Their heads and torsos are made of gessoed wood, or wood that has been treated to allow for a smooth painting surface.

Wooden British dolls circa 1780

They look a lot like Felicity’s fashion doll!

Some of the oldest European dolls were made of pipe clay, while later dolls were made of bone, wood, resin, or papier mache. The larger doll below is made of papier mache coated in wax. The sign says that she radiates “calm and harmony.” Very few of these dolls have survived. These are not her original clothes, though.

Dolls made of papier mache covered in wax
Papier mache Biedermeir doll from early 1800s, kitchen equipment circa 1780


German Fashion Dolls

Here are some glazed porcelain fashion dolls. The doll in the middle looks like a Frozen Charlotte doll, which were popular around the Victorian era. The busts on the end are from 19th century German fashion dolls.  When fully assembled, the dolls would have fabric bodies, porcelain hands and feet, and elaborate fashionable clothing (to match their perfect hair, of course!).

Glazed porcelain fashion dolls
Nuremberg Clothes Shop, circa 1805

The image above is a miniature Nuremburg Clothes Shop made in Sonneberg in Thuringia sometime after 1805. There are 110 separate pieces in the ship, including a mini sample book, price list, and hat iron.

These ladies are Italian, made from pine wood in the Val Gardena Valley.


Dolls that Walk and Dance

The last dolls for this post — but certainly not the least interesting! — are mechanical dolls that walk and dance. Around the 1800s people were fascinated by automata, and it was trendy to build human-like or animal-like machines that imitated the functions of life. Many of the best philosophers and scientists believed that bodies were elaborate machines, and that life was a mysterious ingredient that separated us from the rest of the natural world. The view that life is a mystery that can’t be physically explained was called “vitalism.” If vitalism were true, we should be able to create exact replicas of the human body that lacked life force and therefore lacked souls or minds. I’d read a lot about this, so I was really excited to see some examples of mechanical dolls in Munich.

The above image is a walking doll by Nicolas Steiner. She moves her arms and legs, and says “MAMA.”

There were also dancing dolls on display. This ballerina from Decamps, Paris (circa 1880) winds up with a key and performs pirouettes while waving a flower garland in her hands.

If you want to see some automata in action, there are some great videos on youtube. Here’s a video from the MET of a piano-playing doll from 1780:

And here’s a brief demonstration of dolls that can write (the Scribe), along with an explanation of how they work. It’s in French but there are English and German subtitles.


That’s all for this post! I have lots more pictures, including some of my favorites (like 19th century child dolls, dolls by Kathe Kruse, and old Barbies!) I’ll post them soon in a second blog post. Until then!

xoxo Toni


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