With the advent of winter, it is time to remove my favorite antique collectable from Granny’s curio cabinet: Frozen Charlottes and Frozen Charlies. Rich in history, these minute porcelain or bisque dolls created at the end of the 19th century continue to hold enchantment.
Apparently in 1840 the New York Observer reported a young woman had been found frozen to death in the snow. From this true article, a poem called Young Charlotte by Seba Smith was written which inspired these tiny dolls. Each winter, over hot cocoa, Granny relayed the details of the bittersweet love story of Charlotte and Charles.
One very chilly New Year’s Eve night, Charles quickly grabbed his bowler hat and hopped into his Father’s horse driven sleigh. Tightly grabbing the leather reigns he traveled the bumpy lane toward the cottage of his beautiful girlfriend, Charlotte. Charlotte carefully pulled the last layer of the lace over her crinoline and knickerbockers as Charles came up the lane. The two quickly scampered out the door, ignoring Charlotte’s Mother’s wise warning to bundle in a blanket so as not to catch a chill on the 15 mile ride.
Charlotte refused the blanket as she wanted all to see her gorgeous new gown. Several miles later when Charlotte complained of the bitter cold, Charles beckoned the horses to speed faster. After a few more miles Charles thought all would be okay as Charlotte reported she was warming. Faster they went along the gas lit lane until finally the inn was within his sight and he gleefully called out. In his excitement he did not notice there had been no response from his passenger. Merrily he jumped out to whisk his beloved into the ball but Charlotte sat silent and motionless. As he grasped her cold hand a chill rushed through him as he realized she was frozen. Devastated, he rode his sweet Charlotte back to town and delivered her lifeless form to her parents. Charles remained steadfast in his love for her until he eventually died from a broken heart.
Often called penny dolls because they were sold for one cent, these dolls were collected by Victorian children similarly to children of the 20th century collecting troll dolls. At times the dolls were sold as a collection or embedded in a variety of objects, such as a necklace, sewing thimble, pocket watch or walnut shell.
Ranging in size from under an inch to over 18 inches, frozen Charlottes were usually produced in Germany bearing the signature stature of standing naked, feet together and immobile (frozen) joints. The most common specimens bear a white body, black hair and black eyes. Other varieties include blonde, red head, black skinned or even the rarely seen seated position.
Usually made from porcelain, some have china fronts and unglazed backs making them floatable. The tiny versions were frozen and then placed in cups to cool afternoon tea, while the large version floated in bath tubs. Often a child especially well behaved during tea was rewarded with one as a gift. Another specialty purpose was to surprise a birthday child by baking a small one inside a cupcake or pudding.
Today, these little darlings are often found at estate sales, antique shops or E-bay. A copy of the original poem can be read at http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/12/charlotte.htm. Although inspired from a tragedy, these valuable treasures from the Victorian era continue to enchant collectors young and old.
Research while managing an antique store