Mechanical Dolls Faked with New PartsBy Mark Chervenka
Mechanical Dolls Faked with New Parts
A new windup mechanism with a music box is being used to create old appearing mechanical dolls (also called automatas). Old doll parts including bisque heads, wigs and clothing are used to conceal the new body and mechanism within. Several of these dolls have been sold in the $600-800 price range; one was seen at one of the nation's largest Toy & Doll shows in June, 1994 priced at $1,400. All of the faked dolls so far have used the same type of new mechanism that is sold with a new vinyl body measuring about 15" including the base (Fig. 4-5). The mechanism is powered by a wind up music box which moves the head and arms as the music box plays. The motion resembles that of genuinely old and similar sized antique dolls by the French doll firm of Jumeau — the head moves back and forth while the arms move up and down.
The fakes seen so far have used old doll parts, such as heads and clothes, to cover the new mechanism. Clothing has been glued or sewn so tightly as to prevent the clothing to be conveniently removed for examination of the dolls body. The original wooden base on the new doll movement is also usually replaced or covered with old fabrics. Although the mechanism is shown here with a standing doll, the mechanism can also be used with a seated figure — be alert for both styles.
Detecting the New Mechanism and Body
Obviously, everyone can't carry around a portable X-ray machine but you can carry another type of scientific instrument — a pocket sized black light. Despite the use of genuinely old fabric, the modern thread used to sew the fabric produced a strong white fluorescence under long wave black light. It was easy to see that the lace in the skirt and collar as well as other trim pieces were pieced together with the new synthetic thread. Traces of new glue also fluoresced around the cuffs, hands and ankles. A painted design on the wicker basket in front also fluoresced brightly proving its recent production. (It is extremely rare for genuine Victorian-era paint, particularly paint on toys, to fluoresce.)
Another way to detect the fakes is to hold the suspected piece to a strong light. Generally, a strong light will make the pink vinyl body show through some part of the clothing particularly around the legs. You can also try to remove, separate or push back clothing from the neck, wrists and legs. If the clothing is glued or otherwise fastened in those areas or the seller refuses to allow you to inspect the body, assume the doll has been altered. Another detail to consider is the song the music box plays. Most genuine old music boxes play Victorian era tunes or the classics. If you hear Sound of Music or I Did it My Way, run!
Perhaps your best defense is a healthy suspicion. Knowing that an item can be reproduced should make you examine every purchase with care.
Thanks to Mary Gorham for her loan of the faked doll and the new doll mechanism for this article.