Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Collecting character wooden Polish dolls

You've seen them at flea markets, estate sales and in antique shops. They are wooden, hand painted and have jointed legs and arms. Some have 'Made in Poland' stickers on their big feet and all of them are cute! My daughter began collecting these little sweeties when her Polish great-grandmother gave her one of these dolls as a gift. The hunt was on to find more of these little character dolls and my daughter's collection grew.

Over the years we managed to gather bits and pieces of information about these dolls but there seemed to be very little of it out there. We discovered they are made by a sort of wooden doll cottage industry in Poland. A sample of them was found in a doll book once but I cannot remember which book. While flipping through a vintage 1970's House and Garden magazine I did find a black and white ad in the classifieds for ordering the Pinocchio dolls:

Stocking stuffer
What child hasn't heard of Pinocchio, the puppet who tried to be good? And what child wouldn't be delighted to find him on Christmas morning? Here he is, handmade by European woodworkers, gaily dressed in a knitted suit. His arms and legs move, and he's a lovable 7" tall. $1 each plus 25 cents post. Victoria Gifts, HG11, Bryn Mawr, Pa. 

Classified ad in 1970's House and Garden magazine

We have found some of these Polish dolls taller than 7". Some wear simple outfits while others can be quite elaborate. My impression is the wooden doll was mass produced but then sent to craft people who sewed and glued outfits for them using scraps of fabric, but I could be wrong. My reason for thinking this is due to the quality of the stitching or lack of.

Some of the larger dolls:

Some of the more interesting character dolls include these:

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood





More character dolls:


Scottish doll in kilt

When collecting these vintage cuties look for cleanliness, good joints, paint that is not scratched, peeling or missing and overall appearance. Dolls usually sell in the $10.00 to $15.00 range, even less for well worn or damaged dolls and dolls that are only good for parts or in need repair. Some of the more elaborately clothed dolls or unusual character dolls can be more costly but I wouldn't pay much more than $25.00 for one. These wooden Polish dolls can be found everywhere and in all sorts of condition.  Happy collecting!

Santa Claus
Some of the Polish dolls on display


Barbara said...

I've collected these dolls for over 30 years now. My Mother gave my sisters and I dolls each Christmas. As we got older the dolls were more decorative (and unique). One Christmas she gave us a 'girl' Polish (wooden) doll and the next she gave us a 'boy'. I use to get these for $2 to $5 but 25 years ago everything was cheaper (he he)! Sometimes I see them way above $25 (I use to buy every one I saw but not at $25 or more). Of course there are also several that I paid $1 for each but they are in varying stages of hair and dress lose.

I thank you for sharing your daughter's collection. I appreciate the extra detail you provided. I agree with everything you wrote (well that I could confirm from my own experience...'cause as you said: There is very little information out there!). I had someone from Poland once look at them and she said they must have been made for export because she never saw them herself in Poland. Of course there are probably things that one population of a country sees and another does not (no matter where you live).

Here is what I can add:
--- It seems that they were made over a number of years as some just have that 'older look'. I've found that the 'thicker' legs, feet and arms are the oldest (hey, one might say that is true for humans as well...he he). Also the darker wood looks to be more aged.
--- There seems to be themes:
----- Girls in dresses...some in newer-type flower dresses and some in older country/holiday dresses. There are also those in felt capes!
----- Girls/Boys with suspenders and skirts/shorts...I think that is the larger part of my collection
----- Service people..nurses, factory workers, police, bellhops, sailors, maids, welders, clowns
----- Cowboys...Actually I was out West (USA) at an old time General Store and they had replicas of old time toys for sale. I was surprised to find Polish (wooden) dolls dressed as cowboys in checkered shirts, blue pants and felt cowboy hats. They were to represent dolls that a child might have on the Prairie (simple wooden dolls).
----- Pinocchio dolls...always in suspenders
--- Sometimes the outfits must have been put together with what ever material they could find. Some of my favorites are the (badly) mismatched top and bottom outfits...red dots on top and green stripes on the bottom!

In parting, my Mother saw a Santa over 25 years ago. I've never seen one...until...until...you shared your photo! Thanks for sharing!
Now I can say for sure: SANTA SANTA SANTA!!!! He DOES exist!

Faith said...

Thanks for the info, very interesting.

Tera said...

Just the article and info I was looking for. Live your collection!

Sarah said...

I have collected a few of these dolls and remember my sister having one in the 1970's. I have always known them as Joli dolls. This might be a lead to their origin in Poland.