My local Goodwill has a whole corner shelf filled with these breakable little treasures, set high above the questing hands of juvenile browsers, looking out at the world that only ever looks back.
I was that little girl, once, and I'm pretty sure that my own porcelain doll came from the Salvation Army Thrift Store, and eventually went back to same. I remember she looked like a little girl, but I wanted one I'd only ever seen in stories: one who looked like a miniature woman. Perhaps I wanted a fashion doll instead of a baby doll, a sophisticated, elegant lady doll to match my self-concept, because I never saw myself as a child even when I was one. Until yesterday, I never saw such a doll in real life.
I picked her up and showed my friend, who laughed and recoiled. "Oh, it's creepy! You don't want that!" Of course I wanted her! Little-girl-Karen living inside memory wanted her! But that dress, that poor, torn dress, so faded and sad... it had to go. "I'm gonna buy her," I said, and "what for?" from my friend. "I'm gonna fix her up and make her pretty." "Then what?" "Probably give her back to Goodwill... I don't know. She deserves a better dress, at least." Won over by my personifying language, my friend amended her pronoun if not her judgement: "Well, she's still creepy!"
The first thing I do when I get her home is undress her to see what I'm working with. The only damage is her missing thumb; her soft body is clean and sound, her other hand and her feet and head are whole. Unlike bisque dolls, this doll had a glaze on her, making her skin glossy rather than matte. Her dress, hand-sewn and falling apart, is not salvageable: I could mend the ripped seams, but there's no un-fading what has faded.
The "As-Is" on the Goodwill tag means the item is damaged and not eligible for return after purchase. The black X and the tag alike come off easily with warm water and rubbing, revealing an imprint:
B. SHACKMAN & CO.
Google is surprisingly unhelpful when I look up the imprint: I try "1979 BSCO doll" and "BSCO doll history" and "doll maker BSCO" and other variations on that theme, and get Pinterest pages with pictures of (creepy) dolls, or Etsy pages selling them, but nothing to say what BSCO stands for or where it was made or anything. But the word "Shackman" comes up several times, so I search for that, and voila!
Some sources say Bertha Shackman founded B. Shackman & Co. , often abbreviated BSCO, in 1898, when she was 49 years old (maybe 50?). But since her husband David Shackman was already dealing in novelties in 1885, and the B. got added to the business name the same year he died, perhaps they started it together? Or she took it over after his death? Or maybe it was always her project but she took more credit once she was widowed. I'd be curious to know!
The company was a wholesaler of novelties such as children's toys, gag gifts, cards and stationery, et cetera. They also had a storefront in New York City, in a section of town that was for a while called the Flatiron Novelty District because of the variety of similar stores, there. They moved locations a few times and Bertha ran the company with the help of her sons.
Bertha Shackman was hit by a car and died on September 5th, 1925. The company stayed in the family until Dan Shackman Jacoby, her great-grandson, sold it to its employees in 1985.
I can't find out if B. Shackman & Co is still in business. Several of the blogs I linked above say it is, but the company website says "server not found" when I try to access it.
I start with some scraps of tulle and petticoat net that I have, and whip up a crinoline for her. The top of the skirt is tulle, in two layers, The bottom ruffle is a folded strip of petticoat net. I fold it and enclose its raw edges in the tulle because petticoat net is scratchy, and I don't want to scratch my hands. I leave the skirt entirely open in the back and tie it on her like an apron.
Next up: she needs underpants. I have some Swiss dot with faux hemstitch eyelets that'll do marvelously. I cut a rectangle for each leg, fold them around the leg, and mark the approximate bottom of the crotch with a pin. Then I cut a little half-U shape out above that pin, and there are my leg pieces. I sew them together and give them an elastic waistband.
So much for underwear; on to the dress itself! It's small work to disassemble the already torn dress and see my pattern shapes. Then, because the original dress is a bit big on the doll, I pin it tighter to make the bodice fit better before tracing off new pattern pieces. The sleeves I leave exactly the same; they'll be gathered into the now-smaller armscye, and I'm sure they'll fit fine. They're leg-o-mutton sleeves, so they're supposed to look enormous!
I use my sewing machine for most of the project, only hand slip-stitching the velvet trim on cuffs and waistband. Because of the smallness of the garment, it's hard to hem around the neckline, so I sew a piece of iron-on interfacing as a facing, turn it to the back, and press the whole together, simultaneously enclosing and glueing the raw edges.
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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