Artifact of the Day for May 30th, 2017 — ‘Frozen Charlotte’ doll

I was excited to see this find Brianne and Raine made while excavating a test unit in the field between our operation areas. I first encountered one of these in 2015, during an excavation on the east bank side of campus. The story behind these dolls is so interesting…

Head of a Frozen Charlotte doll.
Head of a Frozen Charlotte doll.

Let’s go back in time to 1843. The humourist Seba Smith published a poem called “A Corpse Going to a Ball” in The Rover, a Maine newspaper. This poem was a cautionary tale against vanity, perhaps, as it was inspired by a grim tale published on February 8, 1840 in the New York Observer of a young woman who froze to death on the way to a New Year’s Eve ball on December 31, 1839.

An excerpt:

“O, daughter dear,” her mother cried,
“This blanket ’round you fold;
It is a dreadful night tonight,
You’ll catch your death of cold.”

“O, nay! O, nay!” young Charlotte cried,
And she laughed like a gypsy queen;
“To ride in blankets muffled up,
I never would be seen.”

The poem became a folk song called “Young Charlotte” or “Fair Charlotte”, which was mainly spread and popularised by a blind singer from Vermont named William Lorenzo Carter who was a contemporary of Mark Twain.

An excerpt of one version:

He stripped the mantle off her brow,
And the pale stars on her shone,
And quickly into the lighted hall,
Her helpless form was borne.
They tried all within their power,
Her life for to restore,
But Charlotte was a frozen corpse,
And is never to speak more.

Another version excerpt:

He took her hand in his, O God, ‘t was cold and hard as stone;
He tore the mantle from her brow and the cold stars on her shone.
Then quickly to the lighted hall her lifeless form he bore,
For Charlotte was a frozen corpse and a word spake never more.

Parallel to this folk song gaining popularity was the export of small porcelain dolls from Germany beginning in 1850. These were known as “Naktfrosch” which colloquially translates to “naked babies”.  Made of one piece with fixed limbs, they were inexpensive to produce and came in all sorts of sizes, ranging from one inch to over 18 inches tall. Some were glazed, and some had minimal colouring like the hair and face painted. They were also known as pillar dolls or solid chinas. Some were called bathing babies, and marketed as Victorian bath toys as they were only glazed only on the front, meaning they float in water on their backs.

Tiny Frozen Charlotte doll recovered on a Trent campus excavation in 2015.
Tiny unglazed Frozen Charlotte doll recovered on a Trent campus excavation in 2015.

The popularity of the song quickly mapped on to these small immovable dolls and they began to be known as Frozen Charlottes, or in the case of some male version of the dolls, Frozen Charlies. The tiny ones cost a penny and were popular prizes, and sometimes were sold in a tiny coffin with a blanket/shroud. They were also sold undressed, which means that mothers and daughters could make little clothes for them.

Frozen Charlotte doll with handmade dress.
Frozen Charlotte doll with handmade dress and shoes.

In Britain, the smallest versions (called pudding dolls) were often baked into puddings or cakes as a prize at Christmastime and other holidays, similar to the baby figure incorporated into Mardi Gras King cakes.

Example German-made Frozen Charlotte dolls similar to the one we recovered.
Example German-made Frozen Charlotte dolls similar to the one we recovered.

The earlier Frozen Charlotte type dolls were manufactured until about 1914, and were replaced in the 1920s by similar bisque dolls mass-produced in Germany, Japan and the United States. The later models have many more types like aviatrix, flappers, adults, babies, and anthropomorphised animals. They generally fell out of favour in the 1940s.

We have now found parts of at least three different types of dolls this season. Two were cloth-bodied dolls with porcelain limbs and head, and now we have a Frozen Charlotte!

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