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Pin Cushion Lady Porcelain Half Dolls- What are they?

Vintage Half doll china bisque pin cushion lady

Vintage and Antique Pin Cushion Lady Porcelain Half Dolls- What are they?

I have always been a fan of pin cushion ladies or half-dolls with their delicate features and vibrant colours.

I remember, as a small child, my Granny having one attached to a huge patchwork skirt, which she used as a tea cosy over the enormous brown earthenware family, 10-cup, teapot. It was so heavy when filled that you couldn’t lift it! You just tipped it to pour!

The tea was always made from tea leaves and she used sterilised milk, which smelt and tasted absolutely disgusting! It’s no wonder that I prefer to drink coffee. Anyway, I digress….

Pin cushion half-doll

Pincushion dolls are not really dolls. They were mainly used to show off your needlework skills, including embroidery, bead knitting, cross stitch, embroidery, quilting and patchwork.  They are often referred to as “half-doll.”

The top half of each doll is made of porcelain and the bottom edge has several holes for the thread. This enabled you to stitch the half-doll on to a voluminous fabric skirt.

The finished figure was used to cover a hot pot of tea, (as already mentioned) but you can also find them covering a powder puff, pincushion, broom, brush (as in the image below), loo roll or lamps, and were also used as flower frogs or just to sit on shelves or trinket boxes.

Pin cushion Half doll table crumb brush

They were made in sizes from less than an inch (2.5cm) to over 9 inches (22.9cm) high. The one in the following image is only 4cm (1.6″) in height.

tiny half doll
Tiny (~4cm) Half doll pin cushion lady with a pink dress and pink tricorn hat

Pin cushion dolls were often hand-painted and date from the mid to late 19th century, to the mid 20th Century. Unfortunately, many bear no back mark or are just marked ‘Foreign’.

The finest half-dolls were made in Germany from renowned manufacturers such as Ernest Bohne Söhne (EBS). Reproductions are made to this day using some of the original moulds. The original EBS were slightly different in that they attached to wire frames, and hence their bases were solid and not hollow like the reproductions.

Art Deco Ernest Bohne Söhne Half-doll

Other notable makers include W.M Goebel, Dressel & Kister, Heubach & Lichte, and Sitzendorfer. The figurines ranged from bathing beauties, princesses and Queens, flower sellers, and ladies with pompadours. Some of the more unusual half-dolls are highly prized by collectors and can command quite high prices.

Bathing Beauty Half doll


The half-dolls make great display pieces with their lovely colours and finery. I have been half-tempted to start collecting the reproduction half-dolls but I have resisted, so far….



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