Monday, August 20, 2012

Delighted by Horsman's 1929 Black Peterkin

Black Peterkin Girl by Horsman, 1929 in need of restoration, photographed with book image of another Black Peterkin Girl

In May of this year, I found this cherub-looking, black version of Horsman's circa 1929 Peterkin doll.  Her extensive vitiligo-looking facial paint rubs probably staved off interest from other bidders and helped me win the auction for a steal.

After the doll's arrival, I entered the following description into my doll inventory Excel spread sheet prior to taking before pictures.

May - Horsman, 1929 - Black Peterkin

13-1/2-inch doll marked E.I.H. Co. Inc., composition head, full arms, full legs; cloth body; wears period-appropriate floral dress, matching bonnet, one-piece underwear; brown painted eyes, black molded hair.

Closer look at the extensive paint rubs

Weeks led to months before the opportune time presented itself to restore her facial pigment and other areas of her composition surface where the original paint had lifted.  Other than that, she had a few crazed areas where the surface had lifted or cracked.  These were all minor cosmetic issues that were easily remedied using an on-hand, water-base acrylic paint mixture of toffee, coffee bean, and raw sienna.  After drying, the paint was sealed with a water-base satin varnish.  Some of the paint rubs, particularly on the doll's head, which were minor, were left as evidence of her aging process.  I made socks for her and found some on-hand, period-appropriate shoes before taking her after photographs.

Black Peterkin Girl now
Full view of Black Peterkin Girl wearing bonnet that matches dress; handmade socks, and period-appropriate shoes

In Collector's Guide to Horsman Dolls Identification and Values 1865 - 1950 by Don Jensen (Collector Books, 2002), the author writes:

In 1916, Peterkin was one of Horsman's first all-composition dolls, made of the new hot-pressed composition, Adtocolite.  Peterkin became one of the most popular character dolls of the composition doll era.  [Helen Fox] Trowbridge* [a young sculptress] modeled the original Peterkin...(page 82).

In 1929, Horsman brought back an old familiar name, Peterkin, though it was not the same all-composition doll that had been introduced in 1918, and marketed into the early 1920s.  The new Peterkin family, which came in a wide range of outfits from rompers to Boy Scout and golf caddy uniforms, bore a strong resemblance to the Campbell Kids... Horsman's new Peterkin had a composition flange head and limbs with a cloth body.  It was marked EIH © Inc.  (Page 131.)

On page 131 of Jensen's book, he values a 13-inch male Peterkin from the late 1920s era at $350 while a 14-inch Peterkin Girl was valued $250.  Both are white dolls.  On page 132, a Peterkin Scout (another white doll dressed in full scout's uniform) was assessed a value of  $$600.  A doll identical to my girl was given a 2002 book value** of $300.00.  Based on the book images, these dolls were in much better condition than my doll.

I did not mind the minor elbow grease required to restore my doll back to a presentable state, no matter her assessed book value.  I enjoy acquiring black dolls from periods long before my existence.  I often wonder about their "lives" before they reached me.  Who were their prior owners?  Did they provide them delight?  Were they loved?  If they could talk, what stories would they tell, etc.?  Sometime their condition answers these questions for me.  In the case of my Peterkin Girl, her condition, other than the missing paint, was basically pristine for her age of 83 years.  Her body was extremely clean as were her clothing, which may or may not be original to the doll.  I believe her previous owner(s) loved her dearly.

Will she provide delight for me?  Yes.  Will she be loved by me?  Yes... for many years to come, I hope.

*Jensen searches for information on Helen Fox Trowbridge

**Book Value is the current market value assessed for a doll or other collectible by an official appraiser or other person with vast knowledge about said item.  Value is based on original cost, current condition, and market trends.  Regardless of book value or other perceived future potential value, a doll or other collectible is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it at a given time.  Book value should never be considered the price at which an item should be purchased or sold.  It is to be used as a general guide. 


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  1. How wonderful! You've given her a fresh new start and brought out a lovely whimsical expression.

  2. Your Peterkin girl is simply darling and the restoration looks really great. Congrats on winning her.

    A few days ago I painted a vintage kewpie doll(thrift store find) with acrylic paint. I wasn't sure what the outcome would be but since the doll didn't hurt my pocketbook any and will only be displayed for my personal enjoyment, I figured there would be no harm done if my attempt to completely change her look from white to brown was unsuccessful. She actually looks pretty good right now but I feel as though her paint may peel in the future so I think I will try your technique of sealing her with a water-base satin varnish. That is such a great tip! Thanks

  3. Thanks, Ladies! I think my Peterkin Girl is good to go for another 83 years.

    Hugs - the water-based varnish will do the trick to seal the paint for you.

    I use wedge make-up sponges to apply both paint and varnish. I only use paint brushes when the area being painted is small.


  4. She's really cute. I love dolls of the 1920s-1930s. I must confess, I find your wonderful doll history posts among my favorites on your blog.

    1. Thanks RLC. My doll history posts are among my favorites to write. I am glad you enjoy them. It is good to know there is at least one person who shares my interest in dolls of the past.



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