NASHUA, N.H. — On October 20, Withington Auction hosted Dolls At Auction, featuring more than 500 lots of dolls, accessories, toys and furniture, both for dollhouses and children. Headlining the sale was the collection of Carol Corson (1939-2022), a teacher, lecturer and author, who was a regular attendee at Withington auctions, building her collection over 50 years. The stars of this sale were part of Corson’s collection, five Nineteenth Century cloth dolls made by Izannah Walker (America, 1817-1888) who patented the manufacture of pressed-cloth dolls in 1873.
Made from her home as an unmarried woman, Walker’s dolls are the earliest examples of commercially produced cloth dolls with press molded stockinet heads known in the United States at a time when rapid industrialization was transforming how every category of goods was made and sold. According to Withington, only about 3,000 of these dolls were made by Walker in her Central Falls, R.I., home. Pressed cloth dolls were even more fragile than their porcelain-limbed counterparts and many do not survive, especially in the condition presented in the Corson collection.
Corson was a scholar of Walker’s dolls. In 2011, she wrote an article titled “An Izannah Walker Reunion” on the occasion of the 75th annual meeting of the Doll Collectors of America, during which 31 “Izannahs” were gathered together by those in attendance. Five of those were the dolls presented by Withington during this sale, some with paint-decorated furniture and clothing.
The top Walker and overall highest achieving lot was that of a boy doll, made in the mid to late Nineteenth Century. Named “John Thayer” for three generations of the original owner’s Chester County, Penn., family, the doll is doubly rare for its gender. “John” retained his original, sewn-on frock with matching trousers and black-painted boots with red shields and gray-painted soles. His feet were tilted down, indicative of being an “Izannah,” with slightly worn toes most likely from being dragged on the floor by a child. The lot included display items from Corson’s collection: a 17-inch red stenciled period child’s wagon seat, two round stenciled tin items, a small cloth dog and elephant, a tin wagon, a small whip and crazy quilt, as well as a miniature tin train, all selling together for $73,160.
Two more “Izannahs” followed, both with the pressed stockinet heads, stitched fingers and painted features that are hallmarks of her make. The second highest selling doll, named “Caroline” in the catalog description, wore a period red and blue print dress with red leather shoes; the lot included an additional green dress and a yellow-painted barrel back doll’s chair. The doll had some wear and restoration and sold for $29,500. Following closely behind in price was another group lot; the “Izannah” doll wore a green printed dress, black-painted leather boots and a necklace of red beads, sat on a period ladder-back doll chair and included an alternate blue and white dress in her wardrobe that bid to $27,140.
Prices quoted with buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Withington’s Holiday Auction, Part Two of the Frost and Dunlap Estates, will occur on November 26. For information, 603-491-7136 or www.withingtonauction.com.
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