Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Any and all topics which will not fit into those listed above…and some older posts which you may have already seen.

Mystery of the “Snake Charmer” Automaton

Every once in a great while a wonderful coincidence occurs that captures your imagination and sends you off on an almost manic search for as much information as you can get. Such was the case when I dove into the history of a 19 century automaton doll called the “Snake Charmer.”

First a little background

One of my favorite movies growing up – one that my mother and I watched each and every Christmas – is the classic Alistair Sims 1951 version of Scrooge, based on the Charles Dickens classic tale A Christmas Carol. Most people are familiar with the basic story line behind this famous novella. Old Scrooge is a money grubbing money lender. He is led by supernatural forces to face the horrible conditions of poor people living in 19th century England, exemplified by the iconic character Tiny Tim. The 10-11 year old is the lame son of Scrooge’s ever suffering clerk. Bob Cratchitt cannot afford to pay for the life saving surgery his son needs on the salary paid by the miserly Scrooge.

In response to two solicitations for a donation to “ feed the poor, …at this time of year when want is so keenly felt,” Scrooge famously declares, “”Are there no prisons Are there no workhouses? “

In an poignant scene about 7 minutes into the movie Tiny Tim is watching a number of automaton dolls displayed in a toy shop window on Christmas Eve. He is looking longingly at the wonderful toys including a large model ship . The movie pans across the moving figures including a tall, scantily clad middle eastern woman blowing a small horn, a stern jester and a large laughing clown in a top hat. The exotic woman doll I came to discover is called the “Snake Charmer”. She seems to be holding a long staff which is actually a long snake. In addition to undulating the “snake” to and fro, she also raises her hand to blow a horn and pivots her head to look up at the other automated dolls. It is an amazing piece of artistry and -as it turns out – a classic automaton.

Snake Charmers as depicted in 1951 movie version of Scrooge.

The movie scene ends when Tim is downcast when the coveted model ship is removed – apparently purchased by a customer. The large automated laughing boy seems to be laughing at Tim’s disappointment but the young boy laughs again at the antics of the clowns. This has always been one of my favorite scenes in the movie…not only because I was fascinated with the automatons, especially the “Snake Charmer, but also how the poignant scene captures in a few short minutes the point of Dickens’s work. AND it was some 30 years before I developed a love for and starting collecting dolls (another serendipity story for another day!)

On to the Snake Charmer

While researching a doll history some months ago I was browsing through the excellent articles published in the second volume of a wonderful resource book Spinning Wheels Complete Book of Dolls. For those of you who may not be familiar with Spinning Wheels it is one of the best sources for in depth information about dolls in general including patent info and specific historical info on many vintage and antique dolls…the kind of details not found in the usual doll compilations. There on page 257 was a black and white picture of a woman automaton..the “Snake Charmer !” It was one of two illustrations for Mary Hillier’s in depth article in the book entitled The Lure of Automatons.

At first I doubted my eyes. While the doll illustrated with the article was slightly different than than the one in the movie, the costume, face, hair staff, horn and short dress were very similar (as you will see in the pictures below. ) While the picture in the Spinning Wheels book is a bit unclear, the scanty outfit looks very much like the costume of the the doll in the movie The second picture with Hillier’s article is entitled the Snake Dancer” and according some sources is attributed to the same creators as the Snake Charmer in Hilliers article. In her article, Hillier attributes the creation of the Snake Charmer as a French toy maker named Ernst Decamps. Decamps fashioned his Snake-Charmer after his father in law and partner, Jean Roullet’s Snake Dancer. The partnership was formed between Roullet and Decamps in 1889 but in 1906 Ernst Decamps became head of their firm and it is his son Gaston who is credited with the design of yet another version of the Snake Charmer… retaining the iconic features of a long snake, a horn and a pivoting head.

After this it becomes a little murkier as to who is responsible for additional versions, i.e. revised the costume and face of the variations to the original Gaston version. For example, the famed doll auctioneer, Theriaults had a version of the snake charmer included in their May 2004 published auction catalog. Notice how the dress is longer…the face and hair are different and the snake takes on a more undulating posture.

A partial review of Theriault’s description of the Snake Charmer reveals how complex and detailed the figure was designed . “An exotically sculpted woman of gesso and composition with rich amber-brown complexion,brown glass eyes,closed mouth,portrait- like features,and waist-length brunette hair…slightly bent right knee,and a separate plate above the bosom allowing for breathing. Movements: her head moves to and fro in a sensuous circular motion,her upper right arm pivots,bringing the trumpet toward her mouth; her lower left arm pivots which appears to bring the snake to life; the snake lifts his head,then lowers it as if charmed; her bosom lifts up and down as though she is breathing. “

The catalog entry goes on to speculate that the inspiration for the automaton as being the French novelist Colette who, in about 1905 performed as the infamous Salome in Paris theatres -costumed in a sensuous bare-breasted manner that closely resembles Roullet & Decamps’ Snake Charmer. In this exotic vein the Decamps figure was designed to be a nude, but “….Madame Decamps opposed this on moral grounds. This explains why the body figure is fully sculpted rather than an unfinished armature form designed to be covered by a costume as was the norm; and,in fact, it is the only automaton so made.”

Another probably more credible inspiration was the performance of Nala Damajanti …the stage name of a late 19th-century snake charmer who toured with P.T. Barnum’s circus and performed at the famed Folis Bergere in Paris.

A 1996 catalog of London’s Sothebys auction house features a Snake Charmer…attributed to circa 1900: “Papier-mache head, glass eyes, key wind mechanism, 90cm high.”


An in depth search on the world wide web also reveals other “snake charmers”…almost always attributed to one of the Decamps men of Roullet & Decamps, A good look at these variations reveal different faces, dresses, and positions of the snake, which may be as the snake moves with the motion of the head and arms.

Titled “Zulma, The Snake-Charmer”, this doll pictured below was listed in a catalog for an auction in Portugal , VERITAS Art Auctioneers in Lisbon, Portugal This description attributes this Snake-Charmer to Jules’ grandson Gaston Decamps… again a very different rendition of the dancer with a snake.

The Snake Charmer pictured below was found in a Russian Museum web site…also attributing the dolls creation to Gaston Decamps. The website pictures resembles the auction catalog photographs of the doll offered by the Veritas Art Auctioneers in Lisbon Portugal above.

La Gazette Drourot featured a snake charmer or La Charmeuse de serpent up for auction in a French auction house, Hotel Drouot sometime in 2018 . Notice the very different costume. I

In 1994 a French documentary film shown at the Museum of Neuilly / Seine ‘s Mesnil-le Roi film festival won the first documentary prize . The film showed the motions of a variety of automatons including a short clip of the Snake-Charmer displayed at the museum. The short was presented by Lutèce Créations, the European specialist in music boxes and automatons.

Here is the link and time check if you would like to see the motion in the YouTube video:


So here we have at least five versions of the French made Snake Charmers, with decidedly different faces, dresses, “snakes” and mounts. All seem to have similar movements. One interesting speculation by a French auction site *La Gazette Drouot* is that the 1897nude sculpture by Josef Wind was the inspiration created in 1887. While the pose of the figure is the same, the lack of any costuming or a horn perhaps discouraged the French toy maker from marketing a nude. Also Decamps and company wanted to make a musical automaton for which some form of musical instrument was prerequisite.

In keeping with the other toys longingly viewed by Tiny Tim, the Snake Charmer dolls were really high end at the time they were made…and have retained their value today…only about 15 survive in private collections. The one at Theriaults sold in 2004 for $51000. A second lot offered by Theriaults in 2007- which appears to be very similar to the one sold some three years earlier (perhaps a re-sale?) realized an astounding $140,000.

If any doll collectors out there may own or know who owns one of the antique Snake Charmers or have any other information or pictures of this wonderful automaton, you’re welcome to contact me.

If you access the links at each picture in this article you can get some close-ups which illustrates the differences among these variations of the Snake-Charmer .

Also I am offering at cost a copy of my doll history book, Through Their Eyes: the American Doll’s View of History. Illustrated with both B&W and colored pictures, this book documents the relationship between the American doll and major events in the United States between the 18th through early 20th century. Contact me at to order a copy.


Two of these dolls need repair and third to help reduce my collection.

Hard plastic no markings…nice outfit…detached head

Antique wax head, cloth body leather hands. Head is detached and badly chipped

Hand crafted reproduction Bleuette cast in french chocolate bisque slip; hand made dress; doll is in good condition

Bleutte reproduction

Again make a request in comments and I will forward my email address to get your mailing address (shipping is free)
In addition, I do have dolls and doll material on Listia (a bartering site) under the name “revlondoll”

Newly Added Free Stuff

Below are pictures :

–body with cloth body…porcelain arms/hands and legs/feet.

–more wigs too many to pictures…will send 4 randomly selected ( if you have a specific request forcolor or size I will try …add to the comments.)

–pop armature for larger (18″ & above)

Again make a request in comments and I will forward my email address to get your mailing address (shipping is free)
In addition, I do have dolls and doll material on Listia (a bartering site) under the name “revlondoll”



Girl with Doll by Varnek Tomilova (Russian artist early 19th century)

So much has happened in the doll world since I posted 3 YEARS AGO!

Sadly some of the major changes are not happy ones…long time doll museums closed, doll shops have gone out of business and many doll clubs disbanded…including the one I belonged to here in New York state. But some developments have come in to fill the void. The proliferation of web sites dedicated to the sale and exchange of information about dolls have sky rocketed. Look at the rising popularity of the contemporary BJD …the ball jointed doll. I have to smile when I read a blog or hear a doll lover extoll the great technological advances of modern doll articulation!!

The development of the “ball joint” goes back to the mid 19th century, especially by European doll makers. The Schoenhut doll of PA is one of the premier examples of these early BJD’s. Perhaps the success of the new BJD’ s will spark renewed interest in dolls of all kinds and eras and will usher in a ” doll renaissance.”

In keeping with latest developments, I am going to “re-energize” this WordPress site.
Catskill will include a wide range of doll topics contained within these four categories:

Doll Collecting

Doll Projects



The third category will highlight dolls, books and accessories I am offering for sale and donation to doll lovers, groups and organizations which encourage and promote the exchange of information about dolls.

Each week I will post some nuggets of doll wisdom to help advance the “renaissance of dolls”.

Comments are welcome!

Restoring a Schoenhut Wood Doll

While researching the history of early American dolls for my book, Through Their Eyes – The American Doll’s View of History* , I came upon the story of the early wooden dolls. While most of the American made wood dolls came from New Engand, like the Joel Ellis and Mason & Taylor and other jointed wood dolls, it was the large multi-jointed wooden dolls made by Albert Schoenhut in Philadelphia PA that really drew my attention.

In 1872 Schoenhut established the A. Schoenhut Company and made toys and pianos. In July 1909 Schoenbut applied for a patent for a jointed figure, which was the basis for his spring loaded joints of the now famous Schoenhut doll. While the bodies were wood, the heads were either machine carved wood or molded composition. Eyes were both inset and indaglio. The elder Schoenhut died in 1912, a year after his now famous doll appeared. His son, Harry E. Schoenhut continued the manufacture of the doll until around 1924 when Japanese manufactured dolls forced many American and European doll companies out of business.

I was determined to have a Schoenhut in my collection, but I soon learned that they are rather costly, ranging from $150 to $600 and even more depending on condition. There was no shortage of Schoenhuts for sale online, most were out of my price range until I found a seller that was offering one in pretty bad condition. The paint had almost all worn off the head and some of the features like the nose and lips were chipped away. This is not surprising as most the Schoenhut doll heads were composition. Fortunately the body was not bad although one lower limb had broken off.

In a way the broken leg gave me a glimpse into the leg joint of the doll…otherwise all the other joints including the feet, hands, elbows, shoulders were really tight (See photos below for the original condition of the doll.)

Normally I like to do minimal restoration on dolls, but this poor doll really needed a makeover. Shown below are the various steps I took to restore my Schoenhut…using various tricks I have learned over the years!

Original condition of the Schoenhut showing the badly worn head and broken leg.

schoenh 008

Paint badly chipped from composition head

First, with a damp cloth, I removed the surface dirt…no soap or solvent…just water.

Next I chipped away the rest of the paint from the head. Using medium grade sandpaper I smoothed some of the rough spots…on both the fully exposed head and some areas on the body.

Using a water based wood filler, I re-sculpted the lips and lower nose area. Using a dremel with a very small grinding head I cleaned out the eye area, reshaping the eye ball and socket.

schoenh 017

Next I made a slurry from the wood filler and “painted” the entire head…filling in all the small cracks and fissures. I sanded the head again and applied another coat of slurry. I let this dry overnight to make sure the wood filler was completely dry.

Next I applied a coat of gesso…used by artists to prepare their canvases. Gesso also fills in small cracks. Time for a coat of paint. I used a flesh tone acrylic, but here’s a tip. Most regular acrylics will change color as they dry. The acrylics used to paint glass and metal surfaces however dry true to color. And while they cost a little more, it is worth it as not only does the color dry true, but it also flows on evenly and brush lines are nearly invisible. One more check for any rough spots and then a second coat of paint.

schoenh 019

As the original paint was so “oranged” I decided to paint the entire body. Note I attached a velcro “splint” after inserting a rod to hold the two parts of the leg together.   While the leg will not bend at the joint, the doll will stand as it designed to do.

schoen 004

Using a picture I downloaded from on-line, I copied the eye features, and lip shape. The teeth is a line of white too small to sculpt, but visible. I sealed the entire body and head with a satin acrylic, using a gloss for the eyes.

schoen 003

Next the wig and clothes…I know my restoration is very self evident, but as I noted above, the doll was in really poor condition and I am more interested in having a doll that’s nice to look at than a really beat up ugly one.

Here is my finished Schoenhut

…along with a surprise I got for Mother’s Day…a second Schoenhut!

Now my 2 Schoenhuts stand side by side…a wish doubly fulfilled!

schoen 036

*My book, Through Their Eyes – the American Doll’s View of History can be ordered directly from me by sending $19.95  to Lynn Nalven, Mountain Artisans, LLC, PO Box 64, Obernburg, NY 12767.  Shipping is free

My Sock Snowman

snowman 023

There are many instructions on the Internet of how to make a “snowman” from a sock. I found the best kind of sock is a women’s ankle sock for the snowman and children’s colorful sock for cap & scarf.

You will also need beads for eyes and nose, string or heavy thread, rice ( two 1 lb. Bags will make three snowmen) glue and any other stickers or decoration you like.

Here is my version of the “sock snowman”

  1. Cut the top of an ankle sock off evenly across the top.
  2. Fill the sock 1” from the top. Gather the top and using a heavy thread tie off as shown in picture.
  3. Tie around the middle of the sock to make the top and bottom of the snowman.
  4. Use small black and orange beads for eyes and nose…glue on face. You can anchor the beads and trims with straight pins

Next make a cap & scarf:

  1. Cut the top off a child’s decorative ankle sock…cut even across. Tuck under the edge and fold up to make a cap.
  2. Cut the other sock along the sides, leaving the toe fold. This will make a matching scarf.
  3. Glue buttons onto the bottom part of snowman.
  4. Add pompoms or other decorationssnowman 013snowman 014snowman 016snowman 015snowman 017snowman 019snowman 020snowman 021snowman 022snowman 025

In August of this year I launched my doll history,  entitled  Through their Eyes – The American Doll’s View of History.

By weaving the story of the American doll with descriptions of historical events of the day, I try to show how various social, economic and cultural factors influenced the development the doll from its early beginnings in the American northeast to a thriving industry in the mid-twentieth century. It is fascinating to see how the doll, as plaything, grew in popularity and turned into such a cultural phenomenon.

Here is a quote from the Preface:

This not just a history of dolls. This is history as seen through the eyes of the doll, metaphorically speaking of course. Dolls cannot really see! But imagine if they could! What would they tell us they saw throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries in America?

This 135 page book is illustrated with color and black&white pictures and photographs and would be appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers.

For price and order details, please contact me via this website or email me at  Mention my site Catskill Dolls for a discount .front cover final

Busy Spring!

Hi Doll Lovers,

Boy this spring has sure been busy!  What with the gardening and the spring shows…not to mention the budding rummage sales!

I have added a couple new posts under  my categories “porcelain dolls” and “shows and events” which you might want to check out.

For this post, however, I want to report on our visit to the beautiful Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania for the annual Maggie Iacona luncheon.   What a confluence of delightful experiences!

Three of my fellow doll club members and I made the 3-4 hour ride to Kennett Square, PA to join Maggie Iacona her family and over 70 friends for Maggie’s 2012 “Too Many Hats” luncheon.   Maggie showcased some of her beautiful hand sculpted and felt finished dolls.  A wonderfully prepared lunch was enjoyed by all,  including noted doll artists Alice Leverett and Robert Tonner!  Emily Iacona showed her original  documentary on Maggie’s work and premiered her stop action short about Alisa and her ‘Too Many Hats!’

We made some new friends, and I even won a hand crafted dress by Maggie herself!

After lunch we toured some of the Longwood Gardens, part of the original DuPont estate off US Route 1.  The weather was perfect and the hot house plants were in full bloom.  It was too much to do in one day, so we will probably go back next year!

Maggie Iacona is shown here holding Alisa, the 11 inch “Maggie Made” souvenir doll, along with 3 new friends (left) Janice Palumbo from Northport, L.I. (right with hat) Heather Sterckx from Oley, PA and Karen Scola, from Centereach, L.I.

My 3 “old friends” (l) Diane Mues, Gladys VanWagner both from Sundown and Karen Bartoletti, Olivebridge, New York.

The Fountain Garden at the magnificent Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA


Bratz is Going Bald Too!

Not to be outdone by Mattel,  MGA Entertainment has announced that its Bratz dolls are going bald too!  Under the banner , “True Hope”, MGA is releasing three bald Bratz dolls, three bald Moxie Girlz dolls, and one bald Moxie Boyz doll.   Unlike Mattel’s Barbie, however the Bratz bald dolls will be offered to the general public for sale.   In addition, MGA is donating $1 for every doll sold to support cancer research at the City of Hope organization.

Apparently, Mattel is planning on distributing 10,000 of their bald Barbies directly to children stricken with cancer and other diseases, but there is an estimated 12,000 children suffering from diseases which cause them to lose their hair.

In contrast, Bratz is going to be appearing in retail stores in June, but a portion of the sales of the new dolls will be donated to City of Hope, a research, education and treatment center for cancer and other life threatening diseases.


Both these doll companies should be lauded for their efforts to help sick children understand that losing their hair does not make them less “beautiful.”  It is a shame that the courtroom showdowns between these two major doll companies has cast a shadow on this and other of their doll products.  I, for one, think there is enough room in this arena for both dollmakers and I say “kudo’s” to them both.

Excerpts of Conversation with Linda Lipfert White, Granddaughter of Doll Sculptor Bernard Lipfert

The following are excerpts of emails and conversations with Linda Lipfert White, the granddaughter of famed doll sculptor, Bernard Lipfert. I was able to visit  Linda who now lives in the Lipfert ancestral home in Westbury Long Island, New York during the summer of 2011.

Bernard Lipfert sculpted and creating dolls for most of the prominent doll and toy manufacturers in American from the 1920’s-1960’s including such successful dolls as Patsy, Shirley Temple, DyDee,  and many others.  Many articles were written about Bernarnd Lipfert and his dolls which, looking back is surprising as artists working for the large doll companies were not affored much credit for their creations.

Bernard Lipfert was born in the Thuringian  region of Germany in 1886. After an art education, he emigrated to the United States in 1912.  He married twice and had a son Max Lipfert, Linda’s father.  Having raised a family of her own, Linda  spends some of the time she is not attending to the grand-kids  in reconstructing the life of her grandparents, remembering the very human side of the man who has been dubbed the “Dean of American Dollmakers.”

Next year it will be 100 years since he came to this country and I still wish I had a bigger picture of his life.  He came from a family of toy makers, in Sonneberg… He was one of eight children.  I was given to understand that it was his brother who sent him to art school  Another picture places him in Ohrdorf, prior to emigration.  He came to this country to avoid the draft in Germany; his brother had emigrated prior to him. 

He came over initially in 1912, returned to Germany and came back with Frieda,(his first wife) in 1914. My father (Max Lipfert) was born in Brooklyn in 1915 by a midwife. They returned to Germany in 1920…to seek treatment for Frieda who suffered from TB.  They lived with my grandmother’s family in Schabhausen,Germany. 

Lipfert as a young man on right.  Frieda, his first wife seated in front of  Elsie, Lipfert’s second wife.

After Frieda died, my grandfather and Elsie (his second wife and Frieda’s sister)  returned to US, 1923.   Max(my father) returned to the US in 1926, on a ship by himself. 1930 census found them all in Brooklyn.  His (Lifpert’s) move in 1941 to Westbury as I remember was in part because of the damp basement he worked in.  As long as I can remember he and my grandmother would go to FL in the winter after the rush of preparing for the toy show finished.  The last doll that he (Lipfert) made, that went into production was when he was in his late 70’s.
Lynn:  Did your grandfather ever apply for a patent or copyright any of his doll creations?

Linda: I ask my mother how come he never copyrighted his stuff and she said “It was too much to do…” I mean he really liked to do his work…he had a patent for a doll that talked…that was in 1934 but he really didn’t want to get into royalties and all that stuff.

If he needed extra money he went to another manufacturer and said, ‘Do you want a variation thereof,’  and then he would do it and then he’d make various sizes… that again he would be charging for.

Lynn:  And of course they all liked the basic work he had done, like the Patsy doll…

Linda: Well that’s why I brought out this book  (shows Lynn the Composition doll book  I have a list of dolls from this book

But I can tell you just visually which ones were his because either I have in the attic or I have seen them in the house at some point…but her never displayed anything …. I am refurbishing what was his office and he had two chairs a small liquor cabinet and a card table because they always played cards and then he had a huge slab of marble that was his table.

Lynn: That’s what he worked on.

LINDA:  Yes that was his table and he had a florescent light, but he usually counted on daylight…he did like to work at night and that was it…he had a place for his plaster…he mixed his own plaster…he didn’t  have any helpers.

LYNN: Did he ever do any lady fashion dolls…looks like most of them were children?

LINDA:  …No, not only children…Revlon…I don’t know if Barbie was a little bit after Revlon?

LYNN: Revlon was about 1952 and Barbie came out in  1959

LINDA:  So he was the first one with dolls with boobs  and she had earrings…I have one upstairs.  He did Revlon…he did Betsy McCall…which is more a girl doll.

And his bridal dolls for Madame Alexander they weren’t really ladies…you’d have  to see the one upstairs…its not a girl …its not a woman; she doesn’t really  have a chest…its kind of an anjenou.

LYNN:  Are you aware that you were the model for the Baby Coos doll?

LINDA:  I heard that from my mother; I mean he tried to model my sister too, but she was very small from birth…she was five pounds at birth so he came over a couple to time to sketch her but I don’t think that he ever used her.   It’s funny because I asked my mother about    Amosandra because if you go into the articles they give a name of a lady who did illustrations…and she illustrated (Linda: is referring to Ruth Eleanor Newton who is credited with the design for the Amosandra doll.)

So sometimes you would have a concept; then they had the person who would draw the concept ; then you would have the modeler who would put it into a three dimensional final product; then there would be modifications.  They asked the lady (Newton) to draw  what they wanted and then he (Lipfert) sculpted  it .

Lynn:   I am not familiar with that doll?

Linda:  Amosandra was a baby of Amos from the Amos and Andy show…they had a baby on the program in fact that was …I have a picture of me… I was in first grade and  I am front and center holding an Amosandra doll and that’s the doll I loved to play with.

Lynn:  He sculpted a lot of character dolls.

Linda:  All kinds of dolls…he did Pebbles & Bam Bam… he did Campbell Kids, Patty Playpal, going back to 1924 Tynie Baby Patsy was 1928   Dydee was 1933,  the Qunituplets, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Babs Baby Food, Ginny doll, Betsy McCall…he did the Ricky doll from I Love Lucy.

And they were taking pictures and you see they gave him photographs …when he was doing…you see this was in Brooklyn but they gave him photographs of Shirley Temple

LYNN:  So this is actual photograph he was working from?

LINDA:  Apparently it was her (Temple’s) mother who picked him.

So what happened was , this is the grandmother I knew… this was her sister my father’s mother so she was a little older she is like 15 in this picture but she married my grandfather…he came over first then he brought her over and she contracted TB so after WWI, I think  1920 they went back and tried to get her treatment in Switzerland and she died  Then he got caught up in the Weimar Republic where he was worth nothing and he stayed on the farm to help and then and I don’t know who specifically, whether it was from  Horsman, or somebody else who had brought him over but they paid for his fare

LYNN: Do you know her name (grandmother)

LINDA:  Her name was Frieda

Lynn: So he married the sister

Linda:  Well she was the only one left…the sister and the grandmother were on the farm and in fact that particular grandmother left my father the farm which is in East Germany and he just relinquished the land  It didn’t seem to pay to go back…

LYNN:  Do you have any contact with their families or anyone else over there?

LINDA:  No not anymore…his niece used to come over and she was… she looked like “Brunhilda”…and she used to come over every so often…maybe three or four times.  This is in Brooklyn…this the grandmother that I knew…this is my grandfather….they had like a walk up and they had a full window here…this is where he would work; he would work on the first floor and the rest of the house…he always had a hat…he had thinning here he had his hat on…a fedora  before 1930’s

My father came over in between 1928 and 1930

Here is some other pictures:  This is Sonneburg this the town he came from …it’s Thuringinwald…its very Bavarian one of his grandmother’s owned a mill with a water wheel…my mother has the painting he did when he was 16 of the watermill…but this is the town…

LYNN:  Did you ever go on vacations with him…there are references to his going to Florida and the Adirondacks.

Linda:  They went up to Vermont NH…They used to go to Saratoga a lot. He liked the horses, so a lot of times he would walk to the raceway over here (Roosevelt Field) and he didn’t bet much,  but liked to watch the horses run…in Florida they went to Hialeah but that did not start until the 1950’s

LYNN: Did they have a house down there?

LINDA:  No they just stayed down there…usually they stayed for about 3 months, after the doll fair…

Lynn: Oh you mean the New York City Toy Fair?

Linda:  Yes, usually the end of January… February and after that it was like a hustle.  His birthday was December  22nd, if I remember right, and he would be working because the doll fair…you know it  was hard to pull  him down to eat…let alone blow out candles…then in the summer time they went for 2 months in July and August… when it was hot.

Lynn:  did he seem to like any doll companies better than any others?

Linda He appreciated Madam Alexander because she presented the doll in such a nice manner,  you know dressed them well.  He  had a soft spot for her…as a matter of fact he got himself into trouble…because…at one point there was…my mother told me this story.   There was a spinning wheel that belonged to my grandmother’s mother….and it was up in the attic… I cannot envision it, but  I can remember  when Madame Alexander came here…she came here…and it was somewhat like a celebrity coming to the house… she had furs and suits…

Lynn: How old would you say you were then?

Oh I can’t remember…I used to stay her at Easter time and Christmas time for a few days…probably 1950’s

But  anyways, as I said, I can’t envision Madame Alexander going up into the attic, but apparently my grandfather showed her this spinning wheel I don’t even know how the conversation started that it even existed,  but he told her about it and she liked it and wanted it and he gave it to her. Now I don’t know how she could take it out of the house without my grandmother knowing, but he gave it to her and my grandmother was just beside herself and said you have to get it back.  My grandmother was one for giving someone the cold shoulder and making life pretty miserable and my mother was the go between to make things better but the spinning wheel never came back.  I think it cost him a fur…

I think she got a fur out of that one.

Lynn:  What did he think about all the attention the media paid to him at the time?

Publicity photo of Lipfert sculpting a doll’s head

 Linda I told you he was asked to be interviewed by Edward R. Morrow when he was first  doing public television…when he first got started he wanted to interview my grandfather and he wouldn’t do it.  The family was biting at the bit, but he was afraid because he had a bit of an accent and it was the times…he was not a…I mean he was OK in the company of friends… he would tell jokes you know…he was very …he wasn’t a shy man…

LYNN:  But he wasn’t out looking for the attention.

Linda  No, no not looking.

Lynn: Did he feel he was successful? I am getting the undercurrent that he was kind of surprised that there was this much attention paid to him.

Linda:  His philosophy was money was to be enjoyed…you work hard and enjoy what you get and in that respect…they never had a maid in the house…they were  nobody to do the yard work…he mowed the lawn, he trimmed the hedges there were very much old world in their thinking.  He was happy.

Lynn: Did he think he was doing something special for children , or did he feel this was just a job?

Linda No, it wasn’t just a job…he enjoyed what he was doing.  If he had his choice he would have liked to be a designer of figurines…(Linda: shows Lynn the last figurine she has)  He liked porcelain sculpting.

Lynn:  How did the rest of the family feel about his work and success?

My father and my grandfather were two different animals.  My father was a tool and die maker and my grandmother… she always tells the tale of when they were back in Germany  and it was Easter and she had him dressed up in a white sailor suit and she found him in the pig stye.  He was a grease monkey when he was a teenager…you know…always under the car…fixing the car and I guess …my grandfather always wore…you know he always had a tye…a wool shirt…he was meticulous with the white shirt…always wore a white shirt…sent it to the Chinese laundry and he was meticulous that way…did not necessarily want to wear a suit, but when he went to work he dressed and he had an apron.

Lynn:  Do you have brothers or sisters?

Linda: I have a brother out in Colorado and a sister.

Lynn: How did they feel about your grandfather?

Linda : It’s  funny because my brother was the artistic one, so it was my father’s  idea that he was going to send my brother over here when  he was a teenager now I would have to ask my brother when  at least when he was in tenth grade  kind of  apprentice him….grandpa was going to teach him how to sculpt  Ha!  My grandfather had him mix things, you know, but it wasn’t what my brother wanted to do so he wound up having him hanging out the window, painting the house…it did not last that long because it just was not a good idea…but it was my father’s idea that his grandfather was going to teach him how to be an artist.

My sister was much younger…I think she was a little afraid of my grandfather

But for me he would play cards with us, tell us good stories, take us to the park … I was probably closer to him than the other two.

Linda I remember both grandparents with fondness for what they taught me and how they valued me.  It continues to amaze me that my grandfather practiced his craft until he was 80 and likewise my grandmother knit socks for my father until he died. I live in a house filled with very vibrant memories, to that end I wish that more people could have known the grandfather who sculpted dolls for generations past and present.

Bernard Lifpert died in his Westbury home on January 6, 1974.


© April 2012 Lynn Nalven