Auctions: Dolls are featured at 'The Gathering' at Alderfer's

A bronze Buddha (estimate $200-$300) is among 100 lots of Asian arts and crafts on sale next week at Alderfer.
A bronze Buddha (estimate $200-$300) is among 100 lots of Asian arts and crafts on sale next week at Alderfer.
Posted: August 11, 2012

Alderfer Auction and Appraisal's summer doll sale this month is aptly named "The Gathering." The two-day, 500-lot event on Aug. 21 and 22 will bring together not only Barbies and Madame Alexanders from the United States, Lencis from Italy, Schoenhuts and Heubachs from Germany, and even a pair of Hansel and Gretel dolls from France once in the collection of Ann Wyeth McCoy, but also three rare Door of Hope Dolls from a far more remote source: Imperial China.

Door of Hope was a Christian mission that operated in Shanghai from 1910 to about 1949. There, according to an article in the May 2007 issue of Dolls magazine (accessible at , "destitute young Chinese women" dressed carved woodenhead dolls in the costumes representing the various classes of people in their country.

The Christian missionary movement in China has been well publicized, partly by Pearl S. Buck, the daughter of two Presbyterian missionaries there in the late 19th century, herself a sometime missionary and later author of The Good Earth. (Oddly enough, in 1909, Pearl Buck, then 17, briefly volunteered as a teacher at the Door of Hope mission before returning to the United States to attend college.)

At the beginning of the 20th century, missionaries in China became subject to antiforeign feelings, due in large part to efforts in the late 19th century by Japan, Russia, and the United States to gain access to Chinese trading rights and resources. In 1900, these feelings culminated in the Boxer Rebellion, named for the fighting style of its adherents, who called themselves the "Fists of Righteous Harmony." They hoped to close China to all foreign influence and slaughtered Western missionaries and their Chinese converts.

Missionaries were forced to retreat to the coastal city of Shanghai, the magazine article continued, where some missionaries' interests turned to the plight of Chinese women. "Missionary women were shocked by the custom of early betrothal of young women, the binding of women's feet, the kidnapping and slavery of girls and young women . . . and the practice of killing unwanted female babies."

Outraged by these conditions, five women of various Protestant backgrounds decided to open a mission to provide a safe haven for destitute young girls. Out of this came the Door of Hope.

Beginning in a single rented house, it grew to five separate homes where between 125 and 200 girls were sheltered and taught skills to make them self-supporting - including the dressing of dolls of the Door of Hope Mission.

Manufacture and sale of these dolls, as well as other knitted and embroidered articles of apparel and household goods, greatly contributed to the mission's income and kept it thriving. In 1940 Kimport Dolls, an importer of foreign dolls, advertised 20 various Door of Hope Dolls. In 1949 when the Chinese communists came into power, the Door of Hope Mission moved to Taipei and doll production declined.

The three in the Alderfer sale will be among the 195 lots in the second session, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 22 and also being conducted live online at Two are boys, a "groom" in a burgundy silk wedding outfit and a young gentleman in a black garment; the third, with a Kimport tag, is a girl in a fancy pink jacket. Each has a presale price estimate of $750 to $1,000, among the auction's highest. "The Door of Hope dolls are wonderful," Alderfer doll consultant Roxanne LeMay Morison said this week. "I haven't had any in years."

Also expected to bring $750 to $1,000 are an all-original K*R (Kammer & Reinhardt) bisque head character doll "Marie" and an all-original 1955 hard plastic Madame Alexander "Star Kissed Cissy" with an original wardrobe. (In June 2012, the Madame Alexander Doll Co., based in New York, was sold to Kahn Lucas, owners of Dollie & Me.)

The top presale estimate, $1,250 to $1,500, is for a complete limited-edition set of Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" by R. John Wright. Snow White stands 17 inches high; each dwarf is 9 inches high. Most of the other dolls in the session, which also features Steiff animals, as well as items from the estate of the well-known dealer and artist Jody Abrams, should bring modest three-figure prices.

The first session, beginning at 1 p.m. Aug. 21, opens with about 150 "discovery" lots of vinyl, porcelain, and cloth dolls, Raggedy Ann and Disney figures. The session continues with a dozen hard plastic vinyl figures, 50 lots of body parts, doll furniture, and 30 lots of cloth bears and some ethnic figures.

Previews: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 21 and 8 a.m. to sale time Aug. 22 at the gallery at 501 Fairgrounds Rd. in Hatfield.

More Alderfer action. Alderfer's will be busy next week, too, with a sale beginning at noon Thursday of about 100 lots of Asian arts and crafts, including woodblock prints, ceramics, netsuke, jade and other carvings, plus a collection of statues of Buddha and religious figures, mostly in bronze. None of the lots gets above the three-figure range, according to the online catalog accessible at

The dozen or so netsuke have presale estimates of $50 to $100. So do the 12 woodblocks, including the often reproduced picture of a samurai with sword by Toyohara Kunichika.

The statuary includes three figures of the laughing Japanese deity Hotei, a bronze Buddha ($200 to $300), and a painted bronze sculpture of a pomegranate branch ($200 to $400). The top presale estimate, $600 to $900, is for a Chinese two-panel screen with applied hard stone carvings.

Preview is from 8 a.m. to sale time. For further information on both Alderfer events, call 215-393-3023.

Contact David Iams at .

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