Fit for a queen
It is a miniature version of the larger tuck comb dolls of the period, perhaps most notably those belonging to the young Queen Victoria. These dolls derive their name from their distinctive topknot coiffure - a fashionable hairstyle in the early 1800s, which often involved the use of combs to fasten the hair in place.
The doll resides in a small card box, which was sent in 1840 as a gift to three-year-old Stella Reichel, who inherited A la Ronde in 1879. The box is coated in pale pink silk and has a mirror set in its base and a glazed panel in the lid.
It was sent with an accompanying folded letter, which had been tucked into the bottom of the box and was not discovered until 2014. Although there are specific references to the box in the letter, there is no mention of a doll.
It is likely that the box’s diminutive size subsequently lent itself to the storage of such a delicate and precious object – the doll itself stands barely 20mm high.
Carved in wood, the doll has minutely articulated arms and legs and the head has been painted with the centre-parted hairstyle that is typical of this period, with curls at the temples.
A tiny pair of eyes and some very delicate eyebrows have been added over a white base coat, with a sweep of crimson for the lips and cheeks. The lower portions of the arms are painted white, resembling kid gloves and the lower legs are similarly painted to suggest stockings with tiny red slippers on the feet.
Purchased without clothing, the doll’s costume would have been designed and sewn by the new owner. This doll has been dressed in an approximation of a fashionable evening dress of the day: an off the shoulder, high-waisted gown in pale blue-green satin (now faded) with a scarlet sash made from a twist of silk thread.
Small scraps or off-cuts of fabric left over from dressmaking would have been saved and kept in a lady’s workbox for just such a purpose. It was not unusual for dolls to be dressed in miniature versions of a full-size outfit worn by a parent, elder sister or even the doll’s owner herself.