Sunday, September 1, 2013

Recent Investigations: The Purple *Thing*

Lately I'm researching my newest acquisitions, so I'm postponing some entries on infant layettes until I'm in the mood. See, the thing about being a collector is that the having of things is less of a thrill than the hunt for said things, so the baby gowns I've got are older news. Don't get me wrong, I get jazzed about owning the stuff, too, but there's just something about not knowing if there will be a nice little surprise in the next booth at the antique mall. Finding a bargain gives me a shot of adrenaline that makes me feel all happy-buzzy. And the high is that much more exciting when you know that the seller didn't know what they had, and therefore didn't price it accordingly.

As a case in point, I found this purple silk thing labeled "bonnet?" on a recent antique trip with a friend. The seller wasn't quite sure what it was, but it was roughly the size of an adult head, so they made a guess. I'd be inclined to buy that (actually, I did buy it, but you know what I mean), except that I would have expected a 19th-century silk bonnet to be lined, and I've never seen one with a hole at the back- especially a hole defined by a shiny brown linen band with a button closure. So "bonnet" just didn't seem right.

I had seen a similar linen tape as a waistband with a button closure on a mid-19th century petticoat in my collection, so my brain went to "skirt". It was so tiny though that if I was right, then it had to be for a doll. Sure enough when I set it down with the waistband up, it made a perfect miniature 1870-ish skirt that reminded me of an amazing purplish gown in the V&A's collection. Mystery solved!

The band on the purple thing (top) looked like the waist on a
mid-19th-century quilted silk petticoat (bottom).
The Victoria & Albert Museum has the most
amazing costume collection, including this
ca. 1870 purple gown. The V&A also published
several fantastic books on the fashions in their
collection and I recommend them to anyone
interested in close-up views of some of the finest
surviving garments in the world.
Looks like a doll skirt to me. Fancy!
I wasn't sure I should I pay money for it though. Yes, it was under $20 and would be a helluva lot easier to store than an adult size crinoline skirt, but dolls kind of creep me out, so I try to limit my collecting behavior to clothes that were worn by real living people. Still, there was just something about it. Maybe the "something" was that I knew what it was when the seller didn't- I mean who doesn't love to be right like that?- or maybe it was the enthusiastic encouragement I received from my shopping buddy, but I bought it.

This is where I would tell you all about this image if I knew anything about it other 
than I found it on Pinterest.
In the end, I have no regrets. I could always sell it to the doll-collecting world if I get tired of it, and this was a fun little research avenue. The doll skirt gave me something new to look for when I'm exploring that time-sink known as Pinterest. On a recent Pin-Binge I was exploring a board with 19th-century photos and I stumbled on a wonderful shot of a little girl looking lovingly at a high-fashion doll. Most of the dolls I've seen in children's photos are being cuddled or held in some way, but this doll was placed on the chair with the back of her full crinoline skirt towards the camera. I couldn't find any details about the image, but I love having it as an illustration of how my tiny purple not-a-bonnet crinoline probably looked in its original context. Next goal: find that amazing dress the little girl is wearing for under $20!


  1. What a great 'eye' you have and a wonderful find on the doll skirt. I have found some wonderful buys on early doll clothes at doll shows. Attendees seem to be just looking for dolls.
    By the way, the above image is probably a tintype, circa early 1870s and the doll appears to be porcelain or china with real hair and turned head-quite unusual!

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