Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Leo Moss

Since this is Black History Month, I have decided to post various moments in black-doll history.  These moments will be in the form of snippets of information about a particular black doll, artist, or manufacturer who incorporated black dolls into their lines or chiefly made them.

The first snippet is about Leo Moss and his dolls. 

The above image was used in the first issue of Black Doll-E-Zine* in the Doll Collecting News section.

Leo Moss, a Black doll maker and Macon, Georgia native, made dolls in the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Friends and family are reported to have been the subjects for his dolls, many of which bore sad faces with actual teardrops molded into their papier-mΓ’chΓ© faces. It has been written that the tears were added to Moss’s dolls after his wife ran away with the Caucasian toymaker from whom he purchased doll bodies. Another source indicates that when a child cried and could not be consoled while a doll in its likeness was being made, Mr. Moss added the tears. Leo Moss dolls are extremely rare and can sell for thousands at auction. (Excerpt from my book, Black Dolls a Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion, 2008)

In communicating with an owner of Moss dolls, Steva Roark Allgood, and reading an article written by her ("To Leo Moss with love" printed in the Fall 1987 issue of UFDC's Doll News), "Leo Moss was a handyman by trade."  While most of his dolls were black, a few white dolls were made on commission.  According to Allgood's article, "Moss traded for chickens and vegetables to feed his family... The dolls were made from paper scraped from walls, boiled and made into a paste.  Each head was molded individually and colored with a spray gun used for killing flies.  Boot dye and stove blacking were used as the base color.  The glass eyes were brown and inset into the heads.  However, a few had painted eyes.  Their hair was molded and their nostrils were usually pierced.  Bodies were cloth with legs and arms mostly composition.  The bodies were made by Lee Ann Moss, Leo's wife, and some were from broken dolls they had been given...  Another source of doll parts was from a toy supplier (a white man from New York) who sold seconds, or defective parts, to Moss.  It is said that later this salesman ran off with Lee Ann taking the youngest child, Mina, with them.  Henceforth, the dolls had tears on their faces, always appeared very sad and dejected, and reflected the unhappiness he felt over this tragic event."

Allgood's five-page article, complete with beautiful black and white images of Moss dolls, continues.

View more Moss dolls here (an image--photographed or scanned by another doll enthusiast--of a page from Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide, by Myla Perkins, Collector Books, 1993). 

Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II by Myla Perkins (Collector Books, 1995) offers additional information and images of Leo Moss dolls.

*I co-founded Black Doll-E-Zine in February 2002.

dbg (still in search of an elusive Moss doll)

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