An Early Victorian Composition Half-Figured Fortune Telling Doll c.1850-60

Origin: English
Period: Early Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1850-60
Height: 5”
Diameter: 5” (approx.)

The rare fortune telling doll with moulded and black painted centre-parted hair with ringlets around the sides, moulded clothes with red spotted pinafore and collar, her arms held across her chest, the dress made of many pieces of concertinaed and folded multi-coloured paper, each leaf unfolding to reveal a handwritten fortune (approximately 150 leaves) in beautiful English script, the whole surviving from the third quarter of the nineteenth century.

The condition of the doll is pleasing in that all of the fortunes remain in-tact, with expected wear and nibbled losses to the edges. The painted features have chipped play-worn wear commensurate with well-thumbed use over many years.

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. I have just opened one and it read ‘if you really wish to marry, look alive and do not tarry”.

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.

A scarce and wonderfully entertaining item; wherever fate may lead us let us follow!