Featured in Antique Doll Collector Magazine, Volume 22, Issue No. 8
She’s Philadelphia’s own doll, a soft, big-eyed baby of painted stockinette, made circa 1908 exclusively for J.B. Sheppard & Co., a Center City department store for about twenty years. Named the Philadelphia Baby, she was designed for play rather than show, making it rare indeed to find one in excellent condition. Recently The Committee of 1926, the support group for Philadelphia’s Historic Strawberry Mansion, discovered just such a doll up for auction. Happily, the Committee’s winning bid brings Philadelphia Baby back home to her city as part of the Mansion’s treasured doll collection.
Doll professional Roxanne Lemay Morison, a Committee of 1926 board member, can point to a good number of important dolls within the collection: French fashion dolls, German bisque dolls, a storied Door of Hope grouping from China, a “Bully Good” Skookum doll from Wyoming, and more, but “What we didn’t have,” says Morison, “were any important dolls from Philadelphia or the Delaware Valley. Philly Baby closes that gap and nicely represents the vitality of regional manufacturing in an earlier era.”
The Mansion’s doll collection, one of the largest in the city, is housed in three rooms on the third floor. The collection began in 1926 when Temple University’s Women’s Club asked each state to submit a doll that represented its state for the High Street Exhibit of the Sesquicentennial. A second group of state dolls came from the 1976 Bicentennial. Those collections inspired additional gifts of antique dolls and toys, and the collection became a fascinating and valuable part of the overall furnishings in the Mansion.
As “Strawberry Mansion” now means the surrounding section of the city, “Historic” is key to referencing the Mansion itself. The midsection was built in 1789 as a summer house by Judge William Lewis, a friend of George Washington and an abolitionist. The second owner, Judge Joseph Hemphill, added neoclassical wings to either side, making the Mansion celebrated as the largest of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park historic houses. The Mansion is filled with antiques, fine art and collectible objects from the 18th and 19th centuries. A rear veranda opens onto a tree-shaded lawn above the Schuylkill River. In a kitchen garden to the side, the Mansion’s namesake strawberries still grow.
The grounds are located at 2450 Strawberry Mansion Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19132. Visiting hours are March-December, Wednesdays-Sundays, 10:00am-4:00pm. Parking is free. The Mansion is closed for major holidays and the month of January. It reopens February, Saturdays only, 10:00am-4:00pm. The first floor may be visited with an $8 donation; however, the upper floors including the doll collections are only available by reserving a free guide. To schedule a tour, a group luncheon or special event, phone 215-228-8364 or visit historicstrawberrymansion.com.