Peggy Nisbet's not-so-Prim-and-Proper Dolls!
It may come as a surprise to many collectors to learn that the world of Nisbet dolls was not as straight-laced as might be supposed! Sometimes, underneath those sumptuous costumes lurked a surprising secret, whilst some dolls wore so little, they had almost no secrets at all!
Peggy’s quest for realism, and the many and varied sources she took her inspiration from, led her to produce some dolls that may surprise the collector.
Among the “National Dolls” family is N/120, The Can-Can Girl. Over the years, this delightful doll was made in a number of subtle costume variations, and two body shapes, and although always easily recognisable, they are all subtly different. The more popular versions have red and yellow (or yellow and red) satin dresses – the rarer versions had pink satin dresses - some even had feather boas! All the Can-Can girls had layers of frilly, lacy petticoats underneath their dresses, wore black stockings, and had flat beret style hats with an upright feather.
The earlier dolls had straight legs, nearly straight arms that hung against their sides, and the “dolly” face so familiar to Nisbet collectors. They also wore rather unflattering and overly large frilly knickers – So large, in fact, that they almost covered their knees!
The later girls were much more alluring, having far more shapely legs, and a more adult face. Their arms were spread away from their bodies, in an open embrace, and their body pose, with the head slightly tilted to the left, and the right leg bent at the knee, gave them a much more animated appearance. Their knickers were smaller, tighter, and altogether sexier, and their garters were far more obvious, being worn just above the left knee.
Another saucy French girl is from the Happy Doll series – She is T/96, Frou Frou the Cabaret Girl. She wears a skimpy, lacy top, which is little more than a thin ribbon, and barely sufficient to preserve her decency! She adopts a saucy pose, with one arm raised above her head, the other holding up her skirt to reveal her lacy knickers, and her left leg is held straight out to the side with the toe pointed, ballerina style. She is certainly cheeky, and very evocative of Parisian night life - but what was a Cabaret Girl? Was she a singer, a dancer, a nightclub hostess, or something else? We may never know, so Frou Frou remains a unique and enigmatic subject, impossible to ignore
The Belly Dancer is yet another Nisbet rarity, and a real show stopper! She was never given a model number, and was, surprisingly, never issued as a member of the “National Dolls” series. (You may be interested to know that belly dancing, though now accepted as a Middle Eastern tradition, is believed to have its roots in Egyptian fertility dances.) The Belly Dancer was first produced for a convention of travel agents held in the UK, but was later ordered by one of the Arab states, presumably to be sold on their airline.
The dancer’s dark tresses cascade down onto her shoulders, framing an oval face which has an enigmatic half smile, like the Mona Lisa – but this girl is far more exciting! Her gossamer bolero jacket is wide open, to reveal a slim and shapely figure, her modesty protected by two gold filigree cups! Her diaphanous skirt is split to the waist, showing enticing glimpses of her shapely legs – No wonder she was such a hit with all who saw her! This doll is a stunning model, and her skimpy costume allows us a glimpse into the secret, sensual, and hidden world of the Sultan’s harem!
But the surprises were not all provided by dolls wearing costumes from France and the Middle East! An anecdote we read somewhere gives an insight into Peggy Nisbet’s forthright and no-nonsense attitude to the costumes of her “little people”. Apparently, she received a complaint from a customer who had purchased a mediaeval lady. Her customer was said to be “shocked and embarrassed” to discover that the doll was not wearing any knickers. Peggy’s answer was robust and forthright – “Of course she’s not - knickers weren’t worn in those times!” Her reply typified her attitude and approach to the dolls – the accuracy and realism of their costumes was of paramount importance to her.
But Mrs Nisbet had a wicked sense of humour, too. One doll in our collection demonstrates this perfectly, and also shows us that she was not in the least prudish!
Click the arrows to see her secret!
We suspect that the doll in question is a one-off, perhaps made as a visual pun, or joke, or possibly as a gift for a friend in the legal business. We have never been able to find any mention of her in any catalogues, so it is unlikely that she was ever a production model, and her history remains a mystery to us. The moulding of her face, the style of its painting, her body shape, and the general quality of her manufacture, all point to her having been made in the early to mid 1960’s (the "swinging sixties!). She has a tag written in the distinctive hand of Peggy herself, which tells us that she is called “A Pair of Briefs”. Outwardly, she seems to be a very smartly dressed and highly respectable lady barrister, complete with wig, distinctive white collar, and robe – but underneath her gown, all she is wearing is . . . . . . Guess!
We leave you to ponder on these delightful, saucy, cheeky, risqué, and ever so slightly naughty Nisbets – We hope they have amused you, dear reader, for their maker would never have wanted them to offend!