Penny Dolls vs Frozen Charlotte Dolls

Hello, my dear doll friends!! May has finally arrived and hopefully Mother Nature has gotten the memo that here in Southern Illinois, USA, it is time for the temperatures to begin to warm consistently.  Thus far, it is still in the mid thirties at night.  I’m over that!  I am ready to get outside and play in the dirt!  It is odd that we should be chatting about cooler temperatures, as today we will touch briefly on Frozen Charlotte dolls.   Won’t you join me for just a few minutes and put your feet up with a hot cup of tea and “Let’s Talk Dolls!”

Are you familiar with the term “Frozen Charlotte” dolls?  These beautiful and slightly creepy pieces of Victorian history came in a variety of styles and sizes, and have a notoriously dark origin history story.  The tale goes like this: a young woman Charlotte wanted to attend a New Year’s ball on a particularly cold night.  She insisted on traveling in an open sleigh so she could show off her beautiful gown, despite her mother’s many warnings and pleading advice to dress more warmly.  Foolish and vain, Charlotte disobeyed her mother and froze to death on the sleigh ride to the ball.  

The bleak story of Frozen Charlotte originated in a New York Observer article in 1840 that described the frigid death of a real-life young woman somewhere in upstate New York.  Over the next few years, there were some songs and poems that helped to further the popularity of the story, and soon it caught fire in America.  The story has a clear and easily-understood moral:  listen to your mother and don’t be vain.


By the time the small, white porcelain dolls were introduces to the United States by Germany in the mid 1800s, they were quickly and commonly dubbed “Frozen Charlottes” – except….they weren’t.  It is a complete historical inaccuracy.  There is not a single reference of these porcelain dolls being called “Frozen Charlottes” in the entire 19th and early 20th centuries.  This is remarkable, considering the near-universal belief that this time period was the origin of the dolls’ name.  

It’s commonly accepted that these dolls were instructional tools, physical representations of the consequences of parental disobedience.  It’s widely believed that Victorian children were well-aware of the origin story of these dolls and played with them nonetheless.  After all, many aspects of Victorian culture are openly macabre and death-obsessed, so this grisly historical narrative isn’t entirely outlandish.  But…it doesn’t change the fact that it is false.  All mentions of these dolls from the time period call them “penny dolls,” not “Frozen Charlottes.”  So when did the name we use today actually become connected to these  little porcelain dolls? It was likely coined by doll collectors as late as the mid-1940s. when mentions of “Frozen Charlotte dolls” in ads, newspapers, books and magazines skyrocketed, and soon became the common way to refer to these Victorian playthings.  


So, while it makes a compelling and delightfully morbid origin story, none of the children who actually played with these dolls knew of a connection between their favorite toy and a foolish young woman’s frostbitten corpse.  And even though they have lost a bit of their historical creepiness, don’t let that stop you from being excited if you find one of these small porcelain dolls.  They’re still strangely beautiful, wonderfully creepy, and rare – plus if anything, this small scandal of historical inaccuracy makes them even more interesting!

To be a Frozen Charlotte, the body of the doll must be frozen – no jointed arms!  The Frozen Charlotte doll is made in the form of a standing, naked figure molded all in one piece.  These dolls may also be described as pillar dolls, solid chinas, or bathing babies.  The dolls range in size from under an inch to 18 inches plus.  They are also made in bisque, and can come in white, pink-tinted, or, more rarely, painted black.  Male dolls (identified by their boyish hairstyles) are called Frozen Charlies.  


The dolls I have more of are actually “Penny” dolls with the easiest to find on the market are from Japan but there are wonderful versions from Germany and France as well.  These dolls are usually made in bisque and are painted in bright colors.  Since the bisque is not fired a second time after painting, the paint wears off easily.  Value is more based on details, condition of paint and arm positions, with crossed arms being the most unusual.  The dolls were often sold in sweet shops for a penny – thus the name.  The dolls were also sold in theme sets such as a wedding party complete with  a little church or a group of cowboys, cowgirls, and Indianas.  It is more difficult to find these still in sets, but they do occasionally show up.  These are fun to collect since there are so many fun varieties out there.  Mine are on  display in various ways around the doll room so that I can enjoy them.  They are small and fit in many places and make a nice addition to a little vignette.  


So, this is just a brief history lesson on Penny Dolls vs Frozen Charlottes.  I hope you have enjoyed it and that the story of “Frozen Charlotte wasn’t too creepy for you.   I will take some photos of my Penny dolls to display here in this blog.  I hope that you will enjoy them!  These dolls are something I have collected since I was a young child.  My paternal grandfather bought me my first one and I was hooked!

The next time we are together, the weather should be a little warmer (at least here).  Until that time, be happy, stay well, and most of all be kind!

Big Hugs