any of us first being smitten with the boudoir dolls from the 1920's - 1940's, have made some mistakes in our purchases along the way costing us both monetarily and emotionally. I, personally, spent hundreds of dollars on a purchase only to receive what I thought was the dollie of my dreams and have it turn out to be a nightmare. So, after careful consideration, I decided to post some hints and ideas that may help boudoir doll enthusiasts, new and old. :)

lease know, that this information is only intended to help, not to hurt.  Some of this article is my opinion based on years of research. Am I a professional? Some would say that I am. I certainly would never say that I know everything about these dollies. Also, you know what you like and what you are comfortable with. Some boudoir doll lovers only want all original dolls, some feel that all original is not important. All of that is your choice. With that in mind..... here we go.....


omposition Dolls were made of sawdust mixed with a staying agent like starch or sugar water and placed in a mold until hardened. The two halves were then sealed together with glue. Spackle was used on the sides of the heads to "smooth" out the cracks. The parts were then dipped in paint, sometimes in a base coat first and sometimes several times.  After they dried, the features were hand painted. This media is probably one of the most unstable media there is. Wood contracts and expands with the climate and the paint can only lasts so long. Consequently, depending on the environment of the doll, the condition of this doll can deteriorate rather quickly. As time went on, the transition was made to hard plastic so sometimes you will see a doll with a composition head and hard plastic arms and feet. The bodies can be made of muslin, gauze, felt, flannel, velvet, corduroy or cotton fabric and stuffed with straw, excelsior, sawdust, kapok, cotton batting, or lint and string from the floor.

Things to look for-Composition Head

Is it REALLY Composition?
Not knowing what Composition is, many sellers say a doll is composition when it is not. Some even say it is "composite" although I have never been able to figure out what that is. If in doubt, look at the face paint. Usually, the plastic faces have a more "perfect" look. The eyebrows are more similar and are "raised".

Composition Condition?
Light crazing, deep crazing, pealing, basket case. Best to see an up close and personal picture. Composition dollies with inset eyelashes usually crack on the outside corners of the eyes. Don't forget to look for the development of bubbles on the inside corners of the eyes by the bridge of the nose, around the  nostrils, and sometimes around the mouth. The sides of the head/neck tend to crack and peel because of the spackle underneath. 


loth dolls can be found anywhere from simple handmade dolls from a pattern of the time with flat cotton fabric head with embroidered faces to more elaborate factory created heads made of primarily of either molded cloth or "suede" with hand painted facial features. Some manufactured in France have silk overlay giving the doll's face a very lovely muted effect. Cloth dolls were made both in the US and overseas.

Things to look for-Cloth Head

Is it REALLY a Silk Face?
Not knowing what a silk faced doll is, many sellers say a doll has a silk face when it does not. More times than not, the face is simply molded cloth. Sometimes the silk has completely disintegrated. If it is silk overlay, check the face very carefully to be sure there is no damage specifically on the nose, the chin and the eyebrows as it cannot be repaired.

Cloth Face Condition?
As stated with the silk face dolls, cloth dolls have a tendency to have smooched noses and chins. If the damage is minimal, they can sometimes be punched out from the back of the head through the seam with a knitting needle but if there is any loss of fabric, this is hard to do without punching a whole through. Very light surface dirt can sometimes be cleaned with an chalk eraser or a light vacuuming or "air in a can". Soil, dirt and water spots cannot be cleaned safely, so, if you think you will be able to fix these things, you will only ruin the doll.

Things to look for-The Rest of the Doll

Body Condition?
So many times, sellers forget to give us a picture of what the doll body looks like. Sometimes the clothing is still attached so it is hard to see. If it is not original clothing or the clothing has been removed, I ask to see a picture of the naked body. Missing limbs are easily hid in the folds of the dress but I still want to know they are missing. As I almost always undress my dollies the minute I get them, I don't want to find out that the dollie I just purchased is actually a "Frankenstein" dollie. As time goes on, you will know what head is supposed to go on what body and what kind of limbs they should have.   

Hair/Wig Condition?
What is the hair made out of?  Does it have a wig cap, glued or pinned on. Most of these dolls originally had wigs made from either, mohair, human hair or silk strands. Later, on the plastic and vinyl head dolls, you may find rooted synthetic hair. Usually, the hair was stitched on to a piece of fabric or tape and then glued, nailed or pinned onto the head. Many times there was hair only around the face in the front with a hat to cover the bald back so that is normal.

Clothing Condition?
Let's face it, old clothing is going to have stains, holes, pulls, snags, fading and other "stuff". Silks, lace and other "cheap" fabrics will disintegrate. It is just a matter of environment and time. So, it falls back to how nicely it displays as it is or you can redress. Originally, many dolls were sold naked and the owner dressed them using fabric and patterns of the times or they purchased a "kit" everything to make a lovely dress. As time when on, many composition headed dolls were mass produced and the clothing and head ware were nailed or stapled directly onto the doll. 

Know the Difference

ellers don't know these dolls so they will "unknowingly" use terms that really are not correct when describing the dolls.

It is original and clothing is usually still attached. Sometimes you have a box and/or tag.

Reconditioned or Refurbished
Light touch-ups to composition and it is sealed to prevent further damage. Still maintains the original look, style and/or condition. Clothing laundered, mended, lace replaced (similar to original).

Fixed but repair may still be noticeable. 

Restored to its original look, style and/or condition with repairs no longer noticeable. 

Repainted or Art
The look and style of the doll is now different then it was originally.

Little Hint

eep in mind that some sellers don't know how to spell boudoir so they may list the dolls under a misspelling, bed dolls or simply as a compo or composition doll. You can also try looking for French, Antique or Vintage as some like to make them seem more "special" by using these terms whether they are true or not. (Most of the standard composition types were made in the United States.) You can learn more about boudoir dolls on my Boudoir Doll History and Boudoir Type pages.

sincerely hope this information is of some assistance to those of you out there who are just crazy for these dollies and helps keep the "craziness" a good thing instead of a not so good thing! You will find that the more you look, the more you learn and the more you will appreciate this little known part of doll history (her-story).



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