Halloween is right around the corner and so we thought it was fitting to talk about a spooky artifact that might make you shiver. This artifact goes by a few names: a penny doll, a bisque china doll, and (the most unsettling) a “Frozen Charlotte doll”. China dolls are already the subject of many people’s nightmares, including mine, but this doll comes with an even creepier story to go along with it.
Frozen Charlottes are small, white porcelain dolls that were made in one piece with their arms and legs molded to their bodies. They were first manufactured in Germany and then later in Britain. They also rose to popularity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The size of the doll ranges between 1-18 inches depending on what it was used for. Smaller dolls were used as decorations on cakes or other baked goods while children played with the larger dolls. These figures are also sometimes called “penny dolls” because their simple design made them easy to mass-produce and made them accessible for children to pay for them with pocket change.
The story of how these dolls got their name was through an old North American folk ballad called “Young Charlotte” about a vain woman who did not want to wear a coat because it would cover the beautiful dress that she was wearing to the ball. However, on the carriage ride on the way to the party, she became so cold that she froze to death. Therefore, the porcelain dolls with their limbs frozen to their body came to be associated with Young Charlotte and were eventually called “Frozen Charlottes”.
Here’s an excerpt from the folk ballad:
Her father liked to see her dressed,
Just like some city belle;
She was the only child he had,
He loved his daughter well.
Her hair was black as raven’s wings,
Her skin was lily-fair,
And her teeth were like the pearls of white,
None with her could compare
At a village just sixteen miles off,
There’s a merry ball tonight,
Although the air is freezing cold,
Her heart is warm and light.
And there she watched with an anxious look,
‘Til a well-known voice she heard,
And driving up to the cottage door,
Young Charles in his sleigh appeared.
The mother to her daughter said,
“These blankets round you fold;
For it is a dreadful night, you know,
You’ll catch your death of cold.”
“Oh, no! Oh, no!” the darling cried,
She laughed like a gypsy queen,
“For to ride in blankets muffled up,
I never could be seen.”
(Jump to Verse 8)
“How very fast the freezing air
Is gathering on my brow.”
With a trembling voice young Charlotte cried,
“I’m growing warmer now.”
And away they did ride o’er the mountainside,
And through the pale star light,
Until the village inn they reached,
And the ballroom hove in sight.
When they reached the inn, young Charles jumped out,
And gave his hand to her,
“Why sit you there like a monument,
And have no power to stir?”
He called her once, he called her twice,
She answered not a word;
He called all for her hand again,
But still she never stirred.
He stripped the mantle off her brow,
And the pale stars on her shone,
And quickly into the lighted hall,
Her helpless form was born.
They tried all within their power,
Her life for to restore,
But Charlotte was a frozen corpse,
And is never to speak more.
To make it even creepier here is a frozen charlotte that was uncovered at Fort Stanwix in Rome, New York. As you see, she’s encased in a bottle but archaeologists have yet to find out why. Potentially she was meant to be displayed or the bottle was to be broken in order to free her. Both choices are fairly eerie and remind me of the many dolls that dominate horror movies. However, the popularity of this doll at the time shows that the children who played with them were not so scared. Regardless, it is always fun to come across an artifact with such a back story and hopefully you feel the same when learning about it! We wish you a safe and happy Halloween!