Karen is an artist and writer with a passion for antiques. The best way to learn about the past is to go to auctions.
What Is a Lenci Doll?
"Lenci" is the nickname given to Elena Konig Scavini, who was born in Turin, Italy, in 1886. She created dolls that became the benchmark by which all felt dolls are measured. Her dolls are bright and colorful, reflecting the change from the drab grey life of the Victorian years into the Roaring Twenties. Elena passed away in 1974 at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy of splendid and charming dolls.
Brief History of Felt Lenci Dolls
The first dolls Elena sculpted and hand-painted were created in her own kitchen in 1918. She applied for patents to protect the method of making the felt doll faces in 1919.
From 1919 to 1940, Elena was strongly involved in the creation of all Lenci dolls. However, between the years 1928 and 1933, the company suffered financial setbacks. The Garella brothers were brought in 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 that her work at the factory was finished. She had observed a decline in materials and production. The company finally closed its doors in 2001.
How Do You Tell a Real Lenci From a Lookalike?
After finding my first vintage Lenci doll, I quickly became aware of how many "Lenci-likes" are out there. Elena prided herself on making dolls of the highest quality with the best materials. By the early '20s, many Lenci imitators quickly emerged. Through the '20s and '30s, 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. Throughout the years, Lenci's dolls evolved and took on varying characteristics that can be noted by segmenting within time periods:
- 1919: First Dolls
- 1922–1950s: Lenci Babies
- 1924–1930: Boudoir Dolls
- 1930–1950s: Mascottes and Miniatures
- 1937–1950: Googly-Eyed Dolls
- 1948–1980s: Anili Dolls
1919: First Dolls
The earliest dolls from 1919 feature whimsical characters: a cowboy, a Native American, a rotund Chinese gentleman, a Rolly-Dolly, and a little girl with chubby cheeks.
What to Look For
These first dolls are marked with a tiny metal rivet with the word "LENCI" inscribed on it. The rivet is nearly impossible to remove, so any dolls from this time period most likely still have this marking.
1922–1950s: Lenci Babies
In 1921, Elena's daughter, Anili, was born. Shortly after, Elena created a baby doll in Anili's honor, which she later followed with three other baby dolls.
For this doll, Lenci used an existing doll face that she had previously made and added a baby-style body. There were only three versions made. The most well-known version is the baby dressed all in pink with wings on her hat, as shown in the photo above.
What to Look For
- Height: This doll is 16" tall.
- Arms and Hands: This doll has bent elbows with mitten hands.
In 1931, Lenci introduced the Bambino Felt babies: two girls and two boys wearing knit booties or soft felt slippers.
What to Look For
- Height: These dolls are all 16" tall.
- Hands: Their hands have separate fingers, except for the two middle fingers, which are stitched together.
Also introduced in 1931, this life-sized doll was washable and stood with straight legs. It didn't look much like a baby, despite wearing baby clothes. It's amusing to think that the first washable dolls would be destroyed if they were actually washed!
Later, a more successful version of this washable baby doll was developed. It was another life-sized baby doll that looked and felt more like a mannequin. In fact, these dolls were extremely heavy. They were made of molded aluminum with felt glued over the metal.
In 1933, Lenci developed a newer washable baby doll called the Prosperity Baby. These babies were made with layers of buckram fabric that was glued, painted with layers of flesh paint, and then lacquered. The molding was so lifelike that these dolls had fat and dimples like real babies. The engineering of these dolls was truly remarkable.
What to Look For
- Hair: For the most part, these babies are bald with painted-on hair. There are wigged babies, but these are extremely rare.
- Later Materials: In the 1950s, these dolls were redesigned. Prosperity Babies from the '50s are made of plastic and strung with elastic.
1924–1930: Boudoir Dolls
Throughout Elena's years with the company that she built, she evolved many styles, but one thing that remained consistent was the distinctive look of her dolls. 1924 was the first year these unique boudoir dolls came to market.
What to Look For
- Height: These dolls range from 24" tall to 48" tall.
- Materials: The bodies and legs are made of flesh-colored muslin. Only the arms and head are felt.
- Joints: The first dolls have bendable knees. After 1924, they discontinued the bendable knee. The legs are attached to the body with a tab joint. This part is not stuffed so the doll can sit.
- Head: The head is tilted back and to the side, which was an innovative feature for this time. It looks as if the doll is glancing over its shoulder.
- Face: The eyes are painted with shadow along the eyelashes. The lips are painted with the darker color on top, then lighter on the bottom with two dots.
- Hands: The hands are sewn, with only the second and third fingers sewn together.
- Clothes: These dolls wear silk stockings that go up to their hips.
1930–1950s: Mascottes and Miniatures
These two categories of Lenci dolls are interchangeable. In the 1930 catalog, Lenci featured these dolls as the Mascottes. However, they fall between 8.5 and 9.5 inches tall and often carry the silver tag that says "miniatures."
These dolls were especially popular in America after World War II. It was a time of recovery, and the economy was booming. Women were interested in collecting dolls from other countries.
What to Look For
- Eyes: 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 rarely found looking down.
- Ears: Many of these dolls do not have ears, and if they do, they are single layer.
- Hair: The hair on these dolls is either a felt wig or rooted hair.
- Hands: The dolls' hands are in mitten form, meaning all the fingers are stitched together.
- "Miniature" Models: 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.
1937–1950: Googly-Eyed Dolls
The first large-eyed Lenci dolls, called googly-eyed dolls, 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 dollmaking materials brought a halt to production. After the war, production picked up again, and the googly-eyed dolls became extremely popular.
What to Look For
- Height: These dolls are 19 inches tall.
- Materials: The dolls' torsos are stuffed and made entirely of felt. Their hair is made of mohair.
- Eyes: The Lenci googly-eyed dolls have either painted-on eyes or eyes that move from right to left and straight ahead. Their eyelashes are painted around the outside of the eye only.
- Hands: Their hands have five individual fingers that are not connected.
- Legs and Feet: The dolls' legs are one piece with a seam up the back. Their toes are not defined by stitches.
1948–1980s: Anili Dolls
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 that her mother was the famous dollmaker 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 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.
Identification Tips: Feet, Ears, Hands, Lips, and Eyebrows
"Lenci-Style" Dolls and Lookalikes
There are many beautiful old dolls made in the style of Lenci. Some sellers will say the doll is a Lenci doll without any apparent proof. It is important to ask specific questions to aid you in determining if the doll is a Lenci.
Also, it's worth checking out the wonderful dolls that are "Lenci-type" or "Lenci-style" dolls. There are some that are very lovely.
How to Find More Information About Lenci
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 Elena. 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.
Keep Exploring Lenci's Work
You have now been given a glimpse into the created dolls of Elena Konig Scavini. She was a masterful 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. Explore her dolls and find your favorite!
Please share your thoughts on Lenci dolls.
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!