By Lolly Yocum
The story of the Columbian Dolls began with two sisters living in Oswego NY in 1891. Emma Adams set to making a sturdy doll with a soft durable body. The dolls were made of muslin and stuffed with cotton and excelsior. Emma who had studied art and was known for her portraits skillfully painted their hands, feet, and heads in oils. Her sister Marietta soon joined Emma in the now prospering doll making business. She skillfully dressed the dolls in beautiful sewn outfits.
The dolls were exhibited in 1893 at the Chicago Worlds Fair Columbian Exhibition and received a Diploma of Merit. After receiving that award the dolls then became known as The Columbian Dolls. This award “attracted the attention of Mrs. E.R. Horton of Boston”  owner of the International Doll Collection, from all American dolls, to take a trip around the world, and called the queen of her collection. The Adams Express Company and Wells Fargo paid the shipping and the doll was sent all over the United States and the world. Philadelphia was her first stop. She was exhibited for the benefit of children’s charities. The doll was returned to Boston after several years with newspaper clippings and a log of her adventures. That very doll is currently in the collection of The Wenham Museum, in Wenham ,MA.
The Columbian Dolls were stamped on the back Columbian Doll Emma E Adams Oswego NY and sold through Marshall Field & Company in Chicago. An old price sheet lists the dolls as coming in four sizes of 15,19,23,and 29 inches.2 The dolls came as boys or girls and have either blue or brown eyes. Although not mentioned on the price sheet some black dolls were made. They came dressed in gowns, dresses, and boys suits. Dresses could be had in either pink, blue or white. The prices ranged from 1.50 for a 15-inch doll in a gown to 5.00 for a 29-inch doll in a white dress.
Emma died in 1900 and Marietta carried on with the business. She hired professional artists to paint the dolls and so the style of the face painting changed slightly. Serious collectors can discern the difference in painting styles. In 1906 Marietta married and the stamp on the back of the dolls read “The Columbian Doll Manufactured by Marietta Adams Ruttan Oswego, N.Y.” The dolls were made until at least 1910 or a little later.
1. Janet Pagter Johl, Your Dolls And Mine A Collectors Handbook (New York: H. L. Lindquist Publications 1952), pg.50.
2. Janet Pagter Johl, Your Dolls And Mine A Collectors Handbook (New York: H. L. Lindquist Publications 1952), pgs.52, 53.
Coleman, Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., and Evelyn Jane. The Collector's Encyclopedia of Dolls. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1968
Edward, Linda. Cloth Dolls From Ancient to Modern. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.
Foulke, Jan. 14th Blue Book Dolls and Values. Cumberland, MD: Hobby House Press, 1999.
Goodfellow, Caroline. The Ultimate Doll Book. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1993.
McGonagle, Dorothy A. A Celebration of American Dolls from the Collection of the Strong Museum. Cumberland, MD: Hobby house Press, 1997.