‘Frozen Charlottes’ from yesteryear

“Frozen Charlotte” dolls were small and the owner was able to take them virtually anywhere.

I found this little cutie in my many items for future inventory for the shop. I have never found one in quite this immaculate condition. Usually, they show some wear and maybe a bit of chipping even on the porcelain, but this particular young lady is even holding a beautiful black and white spotted kitten in her arms. She has a hairstyle from the 1920s so I am presuming it would be from this time frame — and she is marked “JAPAN” on the back. Anything before the 1920s would probably have been marked “GERMANY” as that is where the earlier porcelain or bisque dolls were made.

Many were made without any clothing as they were to be played with in the bath, and then later dressed as they wanted to. However, in later years they were mostly clothed and maybe even holding something (like this little kitten in my photo). These sweet little dolls could be played with most anywhere due to their size. Some were made of ceramic bisque instead of porcelain. Most of the earlier ones were porcelain — mainly from the 1850s to 1920s.

As a matter of fact, most were called “Penny Dolls” in the ’20s as that is what they sold for — a single penny. We need to remember though, a penny in the earlier 1920s was still to be considered hard to come by at times. In the early 1850s, these little dolls were made in size from less than one inch to as much as 18 inches or more. The smaller versions were even used in a Christmas pudding or cakes as prizes for youngsters — the smaller sizes also were used for the beautiful Victorian doll houses created for the luckier young ladies of this era.

We have found, occasionally, a small doll with a glazed front but an unglazed pottery or stoneware back, as these were allowed in bathtubs and would stay afloat with their little mistresses in the bath water. Please remember that these little dolls probably went everywhere with the young ladies — they were put into their small purses “just like mommies’ purses” or found in the beautiful white and fuzzy muffs when it was cold outside and the young lady of the house wanted to bring her special little doll with her on a carriage ride.

The haunting story of how these cute little dolls became known as “Frozen Charlottes” is a bit overwhelming. I have always called them that during my last 50 years in the antique business, but I had no idea how the name came about until a few years back. The name came to be from a story written back in 1843 about a young lady named Charlotte who had frozen to death while on her way to a ball. Because of her beautiful clothes for the festivities, she refused to have a blanket over her and she froze to death by the time she got to the ball.

It’s such a sad story, but I guess most of our things of yesterday and/or even of today have a story about them and how they came about with their names or their attire. Amazing what we find out in all of our antiquing references as well as online today. But, we need to remember that “Frozen Charlottes,” our cute little porcelain or ceramic bisque dolls of yesteryear, have become a big collectible, and the earlier ones are a true antique. However, in just over a few months, we will begin the 2020s and many of our finer collectibles will become true antiques — anything over one hundred years old is a true antique, therefore our sweet little “Penny Dolls” or “Frozen Charlottes” will definitely continue to be a fun find wherever you are on a buying excursion or when you least expect it.

As the stories go, there is another version of our cute little doll’s popularity: A ladyfinger and Bavarian cream dessert called Charlotte Russe was also another name, hence the frozen version of this dessert became known as “Frozen Charlotte.” As they say, it is an “appropriately sweet, if not chilly, name.” Sometimes in my big world of antiquing, no matter how old I am or I get to be, there is always something rather amazing just around the next corner and I can hardly wait to see what it will be.

Please remember when you are hunting for your favorite items to add to your collections, quality and condition is very important. If the item is rare and very difficult to find, then condition might not be as important. But, if you find more than one item, naturally choose the one that is in overall better condition. Or, maybe you are one of those collectors who will buy them both — one to play with and handle more frequently while you keep the better one under glass for better protection from dust. It all depends on your own personal way of collecting.

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