A Large & Unusual French Papier-Mâché & Carton Fortune Telling Doll c.1850

Origin: French
Period: 2nd Empire
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1850
Height: 12.5”
Diameter: 5” (approx.)

The rare and usually large fortune telling doll papier-mâché and carton fortune telling doll, with blue painted eyes, open/closed mouth, green painted moulded bonnet, cylindrical carton body with jointed arms, wearing a black jacket with lace trim and polka dot under garment, yellow figured top and hat, the skirt made of multi-coloured folded paper, each with a hand written fortune in French and holding a black cloth book in hand with text in French; ‘Confide in me - I know the past and the future - nothing can resist my magic wand’, the whole having approximately 115 leaves in beautiful French script and surviving from the middle of the nineteenth century.

The condition of the doll is pleasing in that 90% of the fortunes remain in-tact, with expected wear and nibbled losses to the edges of each piece. The painted features have chipped play-worn wear commensurate with well-thumbed use over many years. She remains unspoiled and aside from general fade she is how she would have been when she was so lovingly made.

In the mid-nineteenth century many travelling peddlers and gypsies earned money by advertising their services as fortune tellers or ‘fate ladies’. In the same vein, Victorian ladies were soon creating miniature fortune telling doss, such as this, to predict their futures. The dolls had paper skirts which could be unfolded to reveal the fortunes. It became a popular pastime for ladies to read their fortunes while taking tea or at parties. Most fortunes painted a rosy fortune but a few warned of trouble ahead. One leaf just picked out a random was ‘oue etes tellement bonne que vous excusez toujours’ or translated ‘you are so good that you always apologise’.

Their scarcity makes them desirable and more special, as most were ephemeral and didn’t survive due to the fragile nature of the paper. Earlier types have china part and peg bodies, and some had papier mache or leather parts. From the 1850s onwards, composition dolls became popular.

The size and the beautiful addition of the book in her hand makes this example even more desirable and she proves an irresistible curiosity as well as being a decorative delight and a highly sought after collectable.