12                                                                                                        ANTIQUES IN SOUTH AFRICA, 1987

                                                      BARBARA CHARLTON

So far as is known dolls were not commercially manufactured in            Annie painted the features and the hair with oil paint, bringing
South Africa before the second half of this century, with the             the curls onto the cheeks and forehead to cover the seam which
exception of the Laubscher doll of Graaff-Reinet and the Flora            joined the two parts ofthe head. Simplecotton garments weremade
doll of Somerset East. A Brentsend doll is believed to have been          for the doll by Mrs Laubscher and her daughter Mary.
made by a Miss Brent and a Mrs Townsend in Grahamstown, but                   The prototype was successful and soon elicited requests for
little isknown of this venture and no known exampleshavesurvived.         others from friends and neighbours. Thus the Laubscher family
     From the latter yearsof the nineteenth century until the outbreak    became doll makers. In 1916Mr Laubscher registered the business
of the First World War dolls were imported into South Africa,             as a doll factory in Annie's name. He did this because the doll was
mostly from Germany, but from other countries as well. When               being copied. Most Laubscher dolls were unmarked, although a
war broke out in 1914dolls wereno longer imported and the supply          few early dolls are marked with a stamped mark         -   'MISS A
of dolls in South African shops, especially the smaller, less             LAUBSCHER GRAAFF-REINET'. According to Mrs H C
expensive dolls, dwindled until they were virtually unobtainable.         Spooner of the farm 'Schoongezicht' , Lichtenburg District, a niece
It wasthis lack of supply which led to the local manufacture of dolls.    by marriage of Annie Laubscher, the presence of metal discs (Mr

                                                                                                                I (left) The Laubscher dol1s at
                                                                                                                No 7 Castle Hjl1 Museum, Port
                                                                                                                Eljzabeth.   From left to right
                                                                                                                Rdnetta,    Graaffje, Brujntjje,
                                                                                                                Eljzabeth Meyer and Eljzabeth

                                                                                                                II (below) Laubscher dol1s jn
                                                                                                                the Rdnet House Museum,

                      The Laubscher Doll
    In 1914Mr J H Laubscher and his family livedin Donkin Street,
Graaff-Reinet. Mr Laubscher was an agriculturalistl who was also
listed as 'Florist', 'Nurseryman' and 'Seedsman'2. Innovative
himself, he was the head of a closely-knit, artistically creative
family. Mrs Laubscher waswell-known as a fine needlewoman and
the eldest daughter Anna (always known as Annie) had studied
art under Miss Bliss and Miss Cummings at Wellington Seminary.
She had a small studio and art school in Graaff-Reinet.
    In 1915Mrs Laubscher was unable to purchase a doll locally
as a Christmas present for her niece, four-year-old Marie Smit3.
At Mr Laubscher's suggestion the family made a doll for Marie.
They had been shown an American cloth doll owned by Joan
Strange, a young visitor to Graaff- Reinet. Mrs Laubscher was of
the opinion that a doll's head ought to be round and not flat like
the patterns given in magazines of the time (pers. comm. Mrs
 Isabella Traas 1986). She made herself responsible for the initial
 cutting and sewing of the Laubscher doll's head in two circular
 parts with darts to givethe spherical shape. Annie designed brown
 paper patterns for the body and the shaped limbs. These were cut
 from fabric which was to hand, but which tore at the first attempt,       Laubscher later replaced the cardboard of the original disc-joints
 and so 14-year-old Isabella was sentto purchase calico from alocal        with metal) were regarded as infallible proof of a Laubscher do1l4.
 store. Mr Laubscher provided cardboard and rivets from his                    As the business expanded young women were employed and
 workshop and devised a joint to provide movement at shoulders             trained to use the sewing machines which had to be purchased.
 and hips. He placed circlesof cardboard inside the tops of the arms       Elderly men were employed to sit and fill the dolls with stuffing.
 and legs and inside the body which werethen joined by rivets. This        School boys weregiven afternoon'jobs for pocket money. Tomake
 disc-joint meant that the doll could sit down and also that a child's     the dolls lighter Mr Laubscher substituted granulated cork
 fingers would find it easier to dress and undress it. When the body       crumbs5. The cork-filled .bodies were popular because they were
 had been stuffed with sawdust and sewn up it was dipped into a            lighter. When cork wasscarce ground mealie cobs weretemporarily
 solution of red ink and water to giveit the desired pink flesh colour.    used.
ANTIQUES IN SOUTH AFRICA, 1987                                                                                                                      13

  In August 1916 Miss Helen Murray, head of the Midland                        late 1917they numbered 72 and the doll factory was Graaff- Reinet's
Seminary (later Volkskool) wrote a letter to past students of the              largest industry.
Seminary in their 'Guild Magazine'. In it she said:                                A major problem the factory faced at this time was repairs to
                                                                               dolls. This was time-consuming work. In some instances a new
 "Ha~e I told you about Annie Laubscher's doll factory? She has really         doll was offered as a replacement for an old doll at the old price.
 worked wonders. A while ago she made a very pretty rag doll. It was so        This was an offer seldom accepted and repairs had perforce to be
 admired that she has since made hundreds.  . . The dolls are about 15
                                                                               made. Another problem was the increased administrative work
 inches tall and very strong. The arms and legs move and they cost just
 3/6d. I don't know of a better doll for children! I wish she could get more
                                                                               with which Mr Laubscher had to cope. This problem was solved
 help and establish an industry - not only to provide girls with work but      when Mr Laubscher engaged Mr Ubel, a German businessman
 to make South African rag dolls for our children. . ."6                       with a sound knowledge of business administration. Mr Ubel's
                                                                               business in Port Elizabeth had been burned down early in the war
   Mr Laubscher's mother dressed the smallest version of the doll              during a display of anti-German feeling and he had moved to
which he called 'TWIEDELS' and which sold for 9d. Elizabeth                    Graaff-Reinet with his family where they lived in straitened
van der Merwe (nee Bremer) recalled the small Twiedelsbeing sold               circumstances.
for 9d, which was within the scope of a child's purse. She                         In spite of the success of the Laubscher Doll factory Graaff-
remembered the Twiedels appearing among the 3d 'dips' at her                   Reinet shops did not sell the Laubscher doll and refused to sell
school bazaar? No known examples of Twiedels are extant.                       Mr Laubscher fabrics and supplies at wholesale prices. Mr
   In 1916Annie married Willi Kuhne and went to live in South                  Laubscher had displayed pro-Boer sympathies during the Anglo-

III Laubscher's Poppen Fabriek, Graaff-Reinet    1917. Outside the premises in Donkin Street. Seated in the centre (third row from the top) is Mr Jurie
Laubscher. On his right are Mary Laubscher and Mrs Laubscher (third and fourth from the left). On Mr Laubscher's left is Anna Laubscher. Next to
her (on her left) are Mr Ubel and lsabella Laubscher. Reprinted/rom    an original in the possession of Mrs Isabella Traas (nee Laubscher).

West Africa. Mr Laubscher continued to run the factory which                   Boer war. He had been ordered, with other Boer sympathizers of
by then employed 36 workers and produced approximately 250                     Graaff-Reinet to witness the execution of P J Fourie, an experience
dolls weekly.                                                                  which he never forgot. After the war he had granted a piece of his
    Although small changes were made over the years, the                       ground in perpetuity for the erection of a monument to six Boer
Laubscher doll retained its basic design. Shoes and socks were                 Commandos who had been killed during the war. Among the six
painted onto the lower limbs; noses were emphasized by inserting               was Gideon Scheepers, a Boer hero. It was because of this that the
a small cloth covered stick to give some shape to the face. By the             offended pro-British business community boycotted the Laubscher
1920'sfacesweremoulded in plaster of Paris and coveredwith cloth               doll.
before the features were painted.                                                  The factory reached the peak of its production in 1917with
    According to Isabella, Mr Laubscher saw a child passing in the             orders being received from as far afield as South West Africa,
street with a doll. He borrowed the doll from her and took amould              Rhodesia and Kenya.
of the face which he cast in plaster of Paris. However, no record                  A book was published celebrating the Laubscher doll. It was
was made of the doll from which this was taken. In spite offactory             a story in verse for children entitled Riena Reinet, die Storie van
production and the changes which wereintroduced, the Laubscher                 'nAfrikaansePop. The verses werewritten by E Lillian van Reenen
doll retained its homely charm.                                                and the illustrations were by Reenen J van Reenen. The story
    In 1917Mr Laubscher purchased an old boardinghouse at 16                   concerns a Laubscher doll bought as a birthday gift for a little farm
Donkin Street which provided the necessary space for the                       girl, Hannetjie du Toit, who neglects her doll when given Sadie,
expanding factory. A photograph of the staff of the factory was                a beautiful German bisque-head doll. Rienais givento a poor child
taken at this time in front of 16 Donkin Street and shows a large               -    Ella.Sadiefallsintoa damand isruinedwhereuponHannetjie
sign-board which reads:                                                        repents her treatment of Riena. The first verse of the story ran:
     .                  'DOLL FACTORY                                               "Kom luister nadie Storie        My naam is Riena Reinet
              LAUBSCHER'S POPPEN FABRIEK                                            Van die Afrikaanse pop -         Kinders let my naam goed op! "8
The extra space meant that more workers could be employed. By
14                                                                                                                      ANTIQUES IN SOUTH AFRICA, 1987

    When the war ended in 1918and glamorous imported dolls
became available again, the demand for the Laubscher doll
dwindled. The Factory Act of 1918prohibited child labour and
stipulated the provision of benefits, amenities and facilities for
the workers. Mr Laubscher was unable to comply with the new
regulations and increased rail tariffs at this time were a further
burden. By 1927 the business was no longer viable and Mr
Laubscher was obliged to close the factory.
    The Laubscher doll was popular because it fulfilled a need. In
many instances these dolls have been cherished by their owners

IV A copy of the book Riena Reinet at Reinet House Museum,

into old age. One of the earliest dolls made was for a small boy,
                                                                                  V Outa. A black painted Laubscher       doll which has been in the possession
Derek Brummer, whose father insisted on boy's clothes for his doll.               of the familyofMr   E S (Teddy)   Whitlock   ofGraaff-Reinet    for manyyears
This doll is still in the possession of the family.
    Until recently it was not generally known that some black                                                h
                                                                                  (They were an AM (A 101 M) and a Schoeman and Hoffmeister
Laubscher dolls were made. A black Laubscher doll has been in                     S-PB-H/1906/11 Germany). The mask was attached to a cloth
the possession of the Whitlock family of Graaff- Reinet for many                  head, which in turn was attached to a cloth body. Lawn was
years. It has a moulded face and is dressed in corduroy trousers                  stretched over and glued to the face mask, which was then painted
and patched jacket. A bag hangs around the doll's neck. The                       with flesh colour oil paint. The features were painted when the
moulded face indicates that it was probably made after the First                  basic colour was dry. Mrs Wheeler experimented with a mixture
World War.                                                                        of ostrich egg white and lime for casting the face mask, but found
    The warm emotion engendered by the homely Laubscher doll                      plaster of Paris to be more practical. Wigs of angora goat skin (dyed
was clearly expressed by Matron G E Cooper, who was Matron                        to resemble human hair) were fastened onto the heads. The doll,
 of the Graaff-Reinet hospital for 40 years. She wrote in a letter                therefore, had a wig which could be brushed and combed without
to the Graaff-Reinet Advertiser in 1961:                                          the hair coming out.
     "I called her Graafie. She was pink and fat with large sturdy hips - an
                                                                                      The cloth body of the doll was made of unbleached calico
     unforgettable smell of oil paint on her head and face. She was no beauty     stuffed with sawdust. Fingers were indicated by stitching. Each
     queen. Her flat nose wore out and a small stickcoveredwith cotton stuffing   leg and arm was stuffed to within a short space at the top of the
     came to light. I changed this for some dough coloured with red colouring.    limb. They werehand stitched to the body and the small unstuffed
     When pieces of cork began to trickle out of her body the places were         area provided a flexible joint. The legs could be moved forward
     darned and patched - but my love for her never cooled and as a teenager
     I still made clothes for old Graafie" .
Many Laubscher dolls have been given for safe-keeping to museums
where they have honoured places as examples of local industry.
                           Famous Flora Dolls
Grace Wheeler was living in the Graaff- Reinet district (where she
was born and had lived all her life) when she was widowed in 1905.
Her daughter, Florence, was four years old. For a time Mrs Wheeler
tried to support herself and Florence by selling her paintings, but
was eventually obliged to move to the farm Buffelsfontein in the
Somerset East district, which was owned by relatives and where
her mother's sister had lived. She rented a small cottage on the farm.
    In 1916 Mrs Wheeler started making dolls. She had heard of
the Laubscher doll, but it was not the model for her doll, which
was entirely the result of her own creative ability. The first dolls                                                                          VI The only
had carved wooden heads and cloth bodies. Some four hundred                                                                                   known example of
                                                                                                                                            I an original
dolls were made in this manner, with the carving done by                                                                                      Famous Flora doll
unemployed black farm workers. Mrs Wheeler painted the heads                                                                                  now in the
and later taught Florence this skill.                                                                                                         Somerset East
    Dissatisfied with the heavy and rather crude wooden heads,                                                                                Museum
Mrs Wheeler made moulds for plaster of Paris face masks from
imported bisque doll heads which she bought from a local store.

                                                                              In 1928the production of the famous 'Flora Dolls' ceased as
                                                                          Mrs Wheeler and Florence prepared for the latter's marriage to
                                                                          Mr Raleigh Bowker, a local farmer. This event took place on 29th
                                                                          January 1930.In 1981Mrs Bowker started making Flora dolls again
                                                                          after approximately fifty years. She wanted her daughter, June,
                                                                          to have one and she also had many requests for dolls. By mid 1986
                                                                          she had made 84.
                                                                              The only authentic, original Flora doll known is in the Somerset
                                                                          East Museum, where it was identified by Mrs Florence Bowker
                                                                          as one made by her mother and herself9. This doll, originally
                                                                          owned by Adele Hofmeyr, was donated to the Museum by her
                                                                          sisters, the Misses Isobel, Helen and Leonie Hofmeyr.             ....

                                                                            1 Mr Laubscher was well known for the successful cultivaion of three new strains of grape -
                                                                              'Laubscher's Gem', 'Margarita', and 'Graaff-Reinet Seedling'
                                                                            2 Donaldson and Braby's Cape Directory 1914-15
                                                                            3 Marie (later Mrs van der Steen of Tzaneen) was the youngest daughter of Mrs Laubschers's
                                                                              youngest sister. Her father was Mr Abraham Smit, Editor of 'Onze Courant'
                                                                            4 'Die Afrikaanse Pop' Sarie Marais 15 Feb. 1967
                                                                            5 Cork crumbs had been used as packing material for grapes which Mr Laubscher exported
                                                                              to Europe in pre-refrigeration days
                                                                            6 'Die Afrikaanse Pop' Sarie Marais 15 Feb. 1967
                                                                            7 Ibid
                                                                            8 Two copies extant in Reinet House Museum, Graaff-Reinet
                                                                            9 Pers. comm. Miss S Erasmus, former Curatrix, Somerset East Museum
                                                                            Coleman The CollectorsEm:yclopaediaof Dolls. Robert Hale & Co London 1968
                                                                            Donaldson & Braby's Cape Directory, 1914-15
VII Mrs Grace Wheeler with her grandchildrenJoan and Norman.                Donaldson's Cape Directory, 1925
Reprinted from an original photograph in the possession of Miss             Eastern Prrwim:eHerald, 'Graafie rare doll', July 24, 1979
                                                                            Eastern Provim:eHerald, 'Africana Doll finds New Home', Wed May 15, 1985
Joan Bowker                                                                 Graaff-R£inet Advetiser, 19 Jan 1961
                                                                            Harper, Victoria A. Doll &ader. South African Dolls, June-July 1982
and backwards at the hips and the doll could sit. The arms too              Harper, Victoria A. Doll &ader. South African Dolls Part n. Flora's Famous Dolls, Dee 1982/
                                                                              Jan 1983
had a degree of movement. The limbs were painted with flesh                 Oehley,Arthur. Saga oftheFa11WUS  FloraDolls.(Copy No 7 of 100copies). Somerset East Museum.
coloured oil paint and shoes were painted onto the feet.                      Reproduced from Somerset Budget, 21 March 1981
                                                                            Overrvaal Musea News, Vol 12 No 4 Dee 1985
    At first Mrs Wheeler supplied dolls for sale to the store of Mr         Sarie Marais, 15 Feb 1967
George Flight of Somerset East and to E B Parker and Sons of                Stellenbosiana Newsletter, 1:3 April 1978
Port Elizabeth. In 1926when she and Florence made their home                Tegniek, Noy 1979(p 9)
                                                                            Personal comments in an interview Mrs F Bowker, Thurs 8 May 1986
in thetown of Somerset East, Mr Archie Jameison, a commercial               Personal comments in an interview Mrs Isabella Traas, Sat 10 May 1986
traveller of Queenstown, was given the agency for the dolls. They
were then sold throughout the Eastern Cape Province and the               PHOTOGRAPHY: No I ROSE TREHAEVEN
Transkeiin increasing numbers. The name 'FLORA DOLLS' was                              Nos II, IV and VI IVAN VINCENT
chosen by Mrs Wheeler at this stage, but was never registered. At
                                                                                       Nos III and VII DEON SMIT
the height of production Mrs Wheeler and Florence were able to
make 25 dolls a week.                                                                  No V DENVER WEBB

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