Hello. This Dolly, worn well by love and time (who isn’t?) is an 1820s porcelain toy which belonged to Elizabeth, daughter of early colonial Melbourne identity John Batman, who now lives at the State Library of Victoria. She’s on show only until November in the Changing Faces of Victoria gallery which looks out over the soaring Dome space on the fifth floor. Like most things made of fabric kept at the Library, she’s only allowed out to say hello for six months at a time, as light can damage the very fibre of her being.
Dolly’s head is ceramic, and many of her clothes removable, making her a luxury item, and hardier than a wax doll would have been in an Aussie summer. She’s about 25 centimetres tall and like almost all dollies of her time, she depicts a grown-up, not a baby or a child. Her clothes are of a fairly plain cotton lawn, with some lovely stitching on her frock and some fancy boot embellishments and a matching bonnet. Her arms are made of leather fashioned with weeny stitches. She was given to the Library by Miss Alison Searle in 1968.
Most dolls had wax or porcelain heads and fabric bodies, hence the old-fashioned phrase “I’m up to dolly’s wax” meaning fed up, or full up, the same meaning as “I’m up to pussy’s bow”.
Dolly used to be a popular name for girls, but any new ones are probably named after Dolly Parton. Dolly Varden is a Charles Dickens character in the novel Barnaby Rudge, a spotted trout, a cool Chicago band, a style of cake and an 1870s fad costume, following the death of Dickens, featuring a giant bustle-overskirt in a floral or other printed fabric sometimes fringed, with a padded petticoat below and a forward-tilting flat straw hat with ribbons. The effect of the dress is not unlike wearing a floral Roman blind over an armchair or a queen-sized mattress with a flounced valance. A Google search for ‘Dolly Varden fashion’ is enlightening. There are references to most sorts of Dollies in many books held in the Library.
While free associating, you might also recall tiny multicoloured lollies called “dolly mixture” or the new wave late 1970s band Dolly Mixture. ‘He’s So Frisky’ and other songs survive on Youtube. Frisky! Those were the days.