The Jenny Lind paper doll set
The Jenny Lind paper doll set is a somewhat unusual and most charming recent acquisition by the Stanford Libraries. The doll, measuring just 10 cm in height, comes with costumes from eight of Lind’s notable opera roles, a “concert-toilette” (recital) gown, and five hair pieces. The chromolithographed opera costumes may reference actual outfits worn by Lind, or, more likely, originate from the designer’s imagination. We do know that the designer took liberties with the doll’s hair color—Lind was decidedly a brunette.
Jenny Lind (1820-1887) made her stage debut at the age of 10, acting, singing, and dancing in productions at the Stockholm Royal Theatre, and by the age of 17 had appeared in over 15 roles in 90 performances. In 1838, following an appearance in the melodrama The American Monkey, she sang her first operatic role, Agatha, in Weber’s Der Freischütz.
The 1840s saw Jenny Lind soar to the heights of a professional operatic career. Lind performed in the principal European opera houses including in Berlin, Copenhagen, Dresden, Hamburg, Leipzig, London, Munich, Paris, and Vienna. Notable roles (some highlighted here in the doll set) included Valentin in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots and Vielka in Ein Feldlager in Schlesien (the latter role written for her, though she did not sing it in the premiere); Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni; and the title roles in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, and Bellini’s Norma and La Sonnambula.
Lind’s performances and philanthropic activities were daily news fodder across Europe and in America. She counted among her friends Robert and Clara Schumann, and the singers Marietta Alboni and Pauline Viardot. Rumored suitors included Hans Christian Andersen (for whom she inspired the story, The Nightingale), Felix Mendelssohn, and (much less likely) Frédéric Chopin. Queen Victoria became one of her fans and a long friendship developed between these two remarkable contemporaries. Lind was an international celebrity by the age of 25, about when this set of dolls was produced. She retired from the opera stage in 1849, and the following year embarked on her historic tour of America, under contract with the legendary showman Phineas T. Barnum.
Small paper figures were used in many cultures for storytelling, or as objects for sacred ritual. In the West, paper dolls may have originated in 18th century France, where fabric and notions were sometimes glued to small figures to illustrate fashions that could be ordered from the dressmaker. In the 19th century, paper dolls for play, with interchangeable outfits and accessories, became popular in England, Germany and the United States. Doll sets could be purchased or made by hand, and were popular with both girls and boys; stage performers (of which Lind was an early example), historical figures, soldiers and sailors, and storybook characters were all reproduced as paper dolls. Serial publications also offered dolls and outfits, and in the latter part of the century paper dolls were increasingly used for commercial advertising. See Francine Kirsch’s article, “Costumed by Hand: Yesteryear’s Best-Dressed Paper Dolls” (Folk Art, March 2007)
The Jenny Lind paper doll set was acquired with support from the Susan and Ruth Sharp Fund, The Mary Churchill Small Moser Book Fund, and the Doris H. Linder Book Fund.