What is a Lenci Doll?
Lenci is the nickname given to Elena Konig Scavini, born in Turin, Italy in 1886. She created dolls that are the benchmark by which all felt dolls are measured. Her dolls were bright and colorful; a desired approach for casting off the drab grey life of the Victorian years and bringing in the Roaring Twenties. Elena passed away in 1974, at the age of eighty-eight. She gave to the world the most splendid and charming dolls.
After finding my first vintage Lenci Doll I became quickly aware of how many "Lenci Likes" are out there. Elena prided herself for making dolls of the highest quality with the best materials. By the early twenties, many Lenci imitators quickly emerged. Through the twenties and thirties other companies built a solid business out of blatantly copying Lenci dolls. If the Lenci name is not on the doll there are several important things to look for to help you identify it as a real Lenci.
The Creation of Lenci Dolls
The first dolls Elena sculpted and hand-painted were created in her own kitchen in 1918. Patents were applied for to protect the method of making the felt-doll faces in 1919.
Throughout the years Lenci's dolls evolved and took on varying characteristics that can be noted by segmenting within time periods. Because of this there are certain features and characteristics to look for.
The earliest dolls from 1919 features characters of whimsical dolls; the cowboy, an Indian, a rotund chinese gentleman, and a Rolly-Dolly as well as a little girl with chubby cheeks. These first dolls were marked with a tiny metal rivet with the word "LENCI" inscribed. The rivet is nearly impossible to remove so any dolls from this time most likely still have this marking.
Evolution of Lenci - The Boudoir-Doll
Over the time span of 1919 to 1940, Elena Konig Scavini was strongly involved in the creation of all Lenci dolls. Between the years 1928 and 1933 the company suffered financial setbacks. The Garella brothers were brought in with their interest to invest in the company and save it from folding. Elena disliked the two men but continued to fulfill her obligation and came to work daily. In 1940, Elena told the brothers her work at the factory was finished. She had been watching a decline in materials and production. The company closed its doors in 2001.
Throughout Elena's years with the company that she built, she evolved many styles, but one thing that remained consistent is Elena's distinctive look.
1924 to 1930 THE BOUDOIR-DOLLS
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
1924 was the first year the boudoir-dolls came to market. The first dolls had bendable knees. After 1924 they discontinued the bendable knee. These dolls ranged from 24" tall to 48" tall. The bodies and legs were made of flesh-colored muslin. Only the arms and head are felt. The legs are attached to the body with a tab joint. This part was not stuffed so the doll could sit. An innovative feature for this time, Elena, introduced the head tilted back and to the side. Presenting a look as if the doll is glancing over its shoulder. The eyes are painted with shadow along the eyelashes. Lips are painted with the darker color on top, lighter on the bottom with two dots. Hands are sewn with the only the second and third fingers sewn together. These dolls wear silk stockings that go up to their hips.
Lenci Doll Ears
The Googly-Eyed Dolls
The first LARGE eye Lenci dolls, called googly-eyed, were hand painted. These are extremely rare; only a few can be found in private collections. In 1937, the Garella brothers, who were now in charge of the company, changed the painted eyes to Bohemian glass-eyes. During WWII a shortage of doll-making materials brought a halt to production. After the war production pickup again and the googly-eyed dolls were extremely popular.
1937 to 1950 GOOGLY-EYED DOLLS
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Lenci Googly-eyed dolls have either painted on eyes or eyes that move from right to left and straight ahead. These dolls are 19 inches tall. Torso are stuffed and made of all felt. The doll legs are one piece with a seam up the back. Hands have five individual fingers that are not connected. Toes are not defined by stitches. Hair is made of mohair. Eyelashes are painted around the outside of of the eye only.
Lenci Doll Feet
The Mascottes and The Miniatures
These two categories of Lenci dolls is interchangeable. In the 1930 catalog Lenci features these dolls as the Mascottes. However, they fall between the 8.5 and 9.5 inches tall and often carry the silver tag that says "miniatures". The actual term for these dolls is really interchangeable. These dolls were especially popular in America after World War II. It was a time of recovery and the economy was booming. Women were most interested in collecting dolls from other countries.
1930 to 1950s MASCOTTES AND MINIATURES
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
All Lenci dolls in this category have a wide-eyed surprised look with painted on eyes. They either look to the left or the right and are found rarely looking down. The hair on these dolls are either felt wigs or rooted hair. The dolls hands are mitten form, meaning all the finger are stitched together. Many of these dolls do not have ears and if they do they are single-layer. Some of the "miniatures" have floppy felt legs and measure just shy of 8 inches; with these dolls the head does not swivel. These dolls have cotton torsos and legs with felt arms.
Hands of the Lenci Dolls
The ONLY doll Lenci strung with elastic was the 1950's Prosperity Baby Doll.
The Adorable Lenci Babies 1922 to 1950's
In 1921 Elena's daughter Anili was born. Shortly after, Elena created the ANILI BABY doll. She used an existing doll face that she previously made and added a baby body. The doll was 16" tall. This doll had bent elbows with mitten hands. There were only three versions made. The most well known is the baby in all pink with wings on her hat.
1931 Lenci introduced two more kinds of babies: 1) BAMBINO FELT-two girls and two boys all 16" and wearing knit booties or soft felt slippers. Their hands had separate fingers except for the two middle fingers that are stitched together. 2) 21" baby or life-size was washable and stood with straight legs that did not look so much like a baby but wore baby clothes. The first washable dolls would be destroyed if actually washed. Later the more successful washable baby was developed. Another life-size baby Lenci made looked and felt more like a mannequin. These dolls were extremely heavy. They were made of molded aluminum with felt molded and glued over the mold.
1933 Lenci developed the newer washable baby doll called the PROSPERITY BABY. These babies were made of textured fabric, painted and then lacquered. For the most part these babies were bald with painted on hair. There were wigged babies but these are extremely rare. With layers of buckram fabric, glued and then painted with layers of flesh paint these dolls looked and felt like there were made of plastic. The molding was so life-like that these dolls had fat and dimples like a real baby. The engineering of these dolls was truly remarkable. I the 50's these dolls were redesigned and made of plastic and strung with elastic.
Lenci Doll Lips
Lenci Doll Eyebrows
The Anili doll is thought to be the most important part of the Lenci history. In 1946 Elena gave four sculpted doll faces to her now grown daughter, Anili, to help her start a new doll business. Anili never let on in her new business that her mother was Elena Konig Scavini.
Six different dolls were made and produced in a wide variety of costumes. The earliest dolls were made from celluloid. These dolls were sold from 1948 to 1956. Felt dolls were later introduced in 1953 and were continued to be made and sold until the late 1980s.
The Anili doll molds were made by Bubine Konig, Elena's brother and manufactured by the Mazzucchelli Company. In 1954 Anili built a small doll factory in the hills of Turin. These dolls were made in the old tradition of Lenci.
The Very Rare Lenci Dolls
Old and Rare Dolls
There are many beautiful old dolls made in the style of Lenci. Some sellers will say the doll is Lenci without any apparent proof. It is important to ask specific questions to aid you in deciding if the doll is a Lenci.
Also check out the wonderful dolls that are" Lenci type" or "Lenci style". There are some that are very lovely.
To Discover More About Lenci
These are the best resources I have come across. In 2001 I made a trip to the Cleveland Art Museum to utilize the library. I went through six books written in Italian about the Lenci company and in particular the artist Elana. This was a grueling two weeks of translating and getting the info I needed. In 2007, Nancy Lazenby published "Lenci, The History and the Dolls" and everything was finally in English. This is a must have book for the Lenci Doll collector.
What Do You Think?
You have now been given a glimmer in to the created dolls of Elanor Konig Scavini. She was a master and brilliant doll designer. Believe it or not there are still many other stages her dolls evolved through that are not featured here. For example, there are teenage girl dolls and dolls that she created with and for Disney. Please vote for your favorite!
I really like to hear back from the reader.
carol Hellewell on August 23, 2020:
thank you for this article as I have managed to identify my doll from it.
Lenci Hopeful on November 06, 2018:
I recently purchase a Lenci from 1984 (per tag). Oddly, the back of the neck has in black ink written "CG 132." Have been unsuccessful in finding any information. Your help is greatly appreciated. Thank you.
doll lover on February 19, 2018:
Thank you for the valuable information.
Jeanne Smith on August 15, 2017:
I have a Lenci doll, ID #940638, with the zigzag line down her back and BR 847 on the back of her neck. She has the "Certificato di Origine" tacked to her dress. Sewn inside the dress is black cloth tag that reads: Ars Lenci Torino, New York, Paris, London. a I am the original owner. She is a girl with a beige felt hat, beribboned with a green felt bow with flowers on the front. She is wearing a blue and green pinafore trimmed in flowers over a while blouse with puffy sleeves. She has green booties tied with a bow and whie socks. Her hands are mitten-style but with fingers stitched on. She is looking to the right. Her hair is natural brunette and she is on a green stand which matches her shoes and dress trim. I would like to know how old she is and if she has any value. I would appreciate a comment from anyone who has knowledge of this doll.
Bev Morrris on April 13, 2017:
This is the best synopsis on Lenci dolls I've ever read. I've been collecting the vintage Lenci dolls for thirty five years. I even have one with the dots for eyebrows. I'm thinking of making an offer on a Prosperity Baby if it is not the 1950's plastic doll. Thank you for all your work, I really appreciate your efforts and have added this article to my home page on my iPad.
Sperry Graham on September 02, 2016:
I bought at auction 3 of the Lenci Limited edition dolls...mine have tags & a Home shopping network tag also. I have been unable to date them. Pino, Mirtillo, and Carmen . Pino is a pine tree doll (14"?) and Mirtillo is a blueberry doll (14"). Carmen is a doll made of felt with dark hair multi-colored flowered dark dress. I was thrill to get them! I found the first 2 internet..no dates! Carmen has not been found anywhere? Thank you for this site! It was very informative.
Sam huges on August 27, 2016:
This information is very valuable, thank you for sharing this.
Pamela Constance on July 20, 2016:
Thank you so much for this information. I have a better idea of what my dolls may be worth to a serious collector.
adorrbear on August 03, 2015:
Hello. I enjoyed reading your article. I recently obtained a felt bellhop doll wearing a red outfit and bellhops cap. He has shoes on with a black tip over the toes. It was being sold as a Steiff. As a collector of Steiff teddy bears, I was pretty certain it was not Steiff. In doing some research, I found a photo of a doll that looks like the one I purchased, except the hair was black instead of the reddish brown of the doll I purchased. This doll was identified as a Lenci. The doll I purchased has side glancing eyes and when looking at the doll, the left eye is almost winking. The face looks very much like one of the dolls in the collage of photos you have at the top of the page....the one with the gold cap. Does this sound like any Lenci dolls you are familiar with? Also, if a Lenci metal tag is attached, where would it be. Thank you.
Sally Weber on July 24, 2015:
Thank you for all the info. My mom gave me her Lenci doll, with your description I know now that is is truly a Lenci and am thrilled. She is a little Orphan Annie and is 12 1/2 inchs with red, white and blue checker felt outfit. She has the double ears and zigzag sewn neck. She has the cutest mischievous expression. I never knew what to look for until I read your article so thanks again
karMALZEKE (author) on July 16, 2014:
@tlbrownohio: Hi, there is never really a bad market to sell a Lenci doll. Summer can be a tough time to sell anything because so many people take vacations. Ruby Lane, Worthpoint and Ebay are good places to sell on line. Good luck!
tlbrownohio on July 16, 2014:
I have a 16" Lenci doll from 1927-1930 and I would like to sell it. Is there a good market for selling them now?
karMALZEKE (author) on May 03, 2014:
@jnandsons: According to all I have read Lenci did make that type of doll. Thank you, Karen
robinjane7 on April 30, 2014:
Thanks for your fabulous descriptions of what makes a felt doll an authentic Lenci. I am an informed purchaser now.
jnandsons on April 26, 2014:
Did Lenci make a celluloid head with glass eyes on the normal cloth body doll?
anonymous on June 06, 2013:
It is a wonderful article. I have a questions - did ever Lenci doll had a sewn sole in a middle?
Ibidii on May 14, 2013:
Awesome lens about awesome dolls. They are fantastic! I really love them! I had not known about these dolls! :D
Bartukas on May 07, 2013:
anonymous on March 05, 2013:
THANK YOU WAS VERY INFORMATIVE
audymay on November 12, 2012:
Wow this is an awesome article I had no idea there was so much history behind these dolls. very well researched and put together article!!
JStarrB on October 12, 2012:
The dolls are beautiful. I hope I see one in person someday.
Diane Cass from New York on October 11, 2012:
Those dolls are so lovely! I've always been a fan of dolls made of soft materials, like felt. Your article is so informative I feel I could spot a fake Lenci now if I see one. Thank you!