The Drake House Museum

Drake House Museum

I had the wonderful opportunity yesterday to visit the Drake House Museum in Plainfield, New Jersey. My daughter is interning there as part of her graduate program at Rutgers University.  The Drake House Museum has a small, but significant, collection of antique dolls. You may not know that I am an avid doll collector.  When Nancy Piwowar, the Museum’s president, found out that I was familiar with antique dolls she invited me down to help identify and offer conservation advice. I will be researching these dolls further and helping write up a plan for conservation for the museum as well as, writing articles for their newsletter. However, I simply couldn’t help sharing this lovely lady right now.  She is 14 inches tall and has the most remarkable brown eyes. Brown eyes are rather rare on old china dolls and these are just lovely. She has a light pink tint to her head, rather than the stark white other china dolls have. Her ears are exposed and she has lovely feathery hair. Her arms are leather with individual sewed fingers. Her body is “new” compared to her head but the body itself is old, possible from the late part of the 19th Century. The leather hands just might have been from her original body because there is a patch that attaches the old hands and arms to the new body.  Her body has what I call a “bustle butt” in that it is gathered and stuffed to make it look like she is wearing a bustle when dressed. She is beautifully dressed in an early- to- mid-19th Century style dress. The dress however is “new” as it is all machine sewn. She wears a pair of bloomers and two mis-matched petticoats. One petticoat is made of cotton and the other of flannel. She wears old style socks and very old style leather shoes that are deteriorated and missing soles

The back of her head as well as her nose show rub marks which suggest to me she was played with and well loved (perhaps explaining the need for a replacement body.)

She is unmarked but I am sure she was made in Germany and will speculate she is a Kestner. I have seen one other doll who looks strikingly similar to her and was also a brown-eyed Kestner. And even though I have referred to this lovely lady as a she, because her new body and dress says she is, I believe, she was a boy in her first incarnation. Her hair suggests she was originally a boy doll. She would have made a striking gentleman.

You can see her if you visit the Drake House. When I left her she was sitting on the sofa in the parlor visiting with her other doll friends. But there are more than just dolls at the Drake House.

The Drake House was built in 1746 by Isaac Drake for his son Nathaniel. George Washington stayed there from June 25-27, 1777 during the Battle of Short Hills. The original part of the house has been kept in the colonial style. In 1864 the house was purchased by John S. Harberger, the founder of Chase Bank. You will love touring this house and looking at the exquisite interiors and interesting artifacts (as well as those lovely dolls!)

The house is opens on Sundays from 2 p.m.- 4 p.m. Tell Nancy I sent you.

Here is the link to the drake house

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