This week we welcome Professor Jean Williams, Academic Lead for the Hidden History project, as guest blogger. Jean is the leading academic author on women’s football globally, having led research in this rapidly growing specialism for twenty years.
Drawing on her international expertise, Professor Williams will research the NFM collections to write exhibition content, and to publish new research. Working with colleagues across the museum and heritage sector, and the many communities of women’s football, The National Football Museum and Prof Williams will host the largest series of conference and public engagement events on women’s football ever convened in 2018. Currently Professor of Sport at the University of Wolverhampton and co-director of the jjheritage.com consultancy, Jean is also working with Dr Gary James, a specialist historian of football in the city of Manchester, and the team would welcome stories and news of any collections of objects of women’s football memorabilia that individuals and families may have.
Jean has begun exploring the collection at the National Football Museum and has focused her introductory blog on the history of a tiny doll which captured her attention.
Women’s Football Dolls: Grecon
Given that children’s dolls have such a long history, it is perhaps not surprising that the history of women’s and girl’s football has been partly represented through various kinds of small toy figures and I have found some fantastic examples of these while looking through the collection at the National Football Museum.
I was particularly intrigued by the beautiful little Grecon doll of a woman footballer in the National Football Museum collections. It would seem from the websites of various collectors that Grecons are wire framed dolls, covered in wool and with fixed, filled material heads. The majority of these dolls have woolen hair, but in later years the maker turned to artificial materials to form the hair and added drawn on facial features.
Many of these figures refer to contemporary culture, including a Charlie Chaplin doll complete with bowler hat and umbrella. This is somewhat ironic as, before he became famous as an actor, a very young Charlie Chaplin worked for a while as a toy doll maker after making basic models in his mother’s kitchen in London. It is said that Chaplin found it to be a precarious occupation and traveled to America to make his name on stage and screen.
But who made these unusual little toys?
According to Rosemary Myers who began collecting the dolls when she was a child, Miss Margrete Cohn, born 21/12/1894, made her first bisque dolls at art and craft school in Berlin in 1917. Her move towards making cloth dolls proved so successful that on 27 February 1920 she registered the trademark name Grecon combining aspects of her first name -Gre- and her surname –Con-. Miniature dolls appear to have been hugely popular as collectibles. Germany was particularly strong in the toys and games industry in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, before British firms like Tri-Ang used mass manufacturing principles to revolutionise production.
As Margrete Cohn had Jewish heritage, she left Germany for England in 1936 and made the country her home. Cohn re-registered her trademark here in 1940 and each Grecon doll manufactured after this time proudly bore the declaration ‘Made in England.’ Harrods and Hamley’s stocked the dolls, and Margrete exhibited at the British Industries Fair in 1947. When export sales took off, aspects of production were outsourced. The dolls were still made in 1986 and it seems from a collector’s website, which gives more information about the creator’s life, that Miss Cohn died quite a wealthy woman from her work http://grecondale.com/about-grecon-dolls/
So what of the National Football Museum Grecon doll?
Well, it has blonde hair, is made of wool, and has blue eyes with slightly pink cheeks as if she had played a hard game. The arms and legs are slightly pinker in colour than the face, which has rosebud lips and rather surprised looking eyebrows. Has our player just scored, perhaps?
To give an idea of size, I compared her to a 20 p piece as pictured here. We need to do more research to accurately date this object and it is difficult to identify a particular team as our player has a blue shirt with a white collar, canary yellow shorts and white socks with royal blue trim. Perhaps the original shirt colour was also royal blue and has faded a little over the years. Perhaps the sky blue feet are suggestive of the 1960s onwards, when Adidas began to manufacture their boots using coloured plastics, notably blue. On the rear of the player’s shorts is a comparatively large label bearing the proud announcement ‘Made in England’.
There are many more dolls in the collection, which help us to trace the history of women’s football. They range from bobble heads and soccer Barbies, Kiras, and Chrissies, to an Effanbee porcelain doll that was made in China and called L’il Innocence, highlighting the growth and reach of the women’s game.
If you have more information on women’s and girls soccer dolls please do get in touch.
Prof Jean Williams