Value of Leo Moss Dolls
In today’s market, with or without tears, Leo Moss dolls command thousands of dollars placing them beyond the grasp of many collectors. Courtesy images, auction descriptions, and realized prices of past Leo Moss auctions shared by Florence Theriault of Theriault’s Antique Doll Auctions and Dan Morphy of Dan Morphy Auctions, LLC, endorse the recent market value of Moss dolls. (Note that these auctioneers use the variant spelling, paper mache, in their descriptions.)
On July 9, 2006, the following tearful Moss character doll sold in a Theriault’s auction for $9,500.00.
|Crying black child doll by Leo Moss, sold on July 9, 2006, in a Theriault's auction.|
17" (43 cm) Hand-sculpted paper mache head portraying a young crying black child, with rich dark brown complexion, sculpted fleecy hair, brown glass inset eyes, sculpted detail of slanted brows, downcast lips in fretful expression, sculpted tears, brown muslin body, brown composition lower limbs, muslin baby gown. Condition: generally excellent. Marks: L.M. (impressed at back neck), Mabel Lincoln 1922 (muslin label with hand-lettered words on front torso). Comments: circa 1920s, the doll is attributed to Georgian folk artist Leo Moss who, according to semi-documented legends, is reported to have worked during this time creating portrait characterization dolls of his family and friends; the child with sculpted tears is among his most notable pieces. Value Points: wonderfully sculpted doll with superb detail of hair and facial features perfectly preserved.
In the same July 9, 2006, Theriault’s auction, another doll attributed to Leo Moss sold for $2,400.00.
|Circa 1920 mature doll attributed to Leo Moss, sold on July 9, 2006, in a Theriault's auction.|
15" (38 cm) Brown paper mache socket head with hand-pressed sculpted detail, amber brown complexion, black tightly curled hair under sculpted red-ribbed stocking cap with turned up edge, amber brown glass inset eyes, sculpted brows, nose, closed mouth with shaded and outlined lips, composition and wooden ball-jointed body, nicely costumed in red cotton dress, undergarments. Condition: generally excellent. Comments: circa 1920, possibly the work of American folk artist Leo Moss… Value Points: despite its mystery origin, the doll has a compelling facial sculpture, unusual sculpted hat and hair, and fine patina.
On January 5, 2008, a fine example of a Leo Moss doll realized a price of $8,000.00 in a Theriault’s auction.
|Another teary-eyed Moss doll, circa 1901|
17" (43 cm) Hand-pressed paper mache head with flanged neck, rich black complexion and hair, sculpted very tight short curly hair with details of curls tumbling onto the forehead, sculpted angled black brows, heavily lidded inset brown eyes with black eyeliner, broad rounded nose, closed mouth with full pouting downcast lips, very plump cheeks, three modeled tears on cheeks as though falling from eyes, brown muslin torso and upper legs, composition lower limbs, wearing white cotton dress, undergarments, shoes, stockings. Condition: generally excellent. Marks: 1901 LM. Comments: attributed to Leo Moss, circa [1901. The] itinerant black carpenter of Georgia is believed to have created a small number of one-of-a-kind dolls depicting children of his small town world; his materials were those [found-on-hand,] for example the left-over scraps of wall paper from his day job. The tearful faced children were signature to his style, and each was created uniquely. Value Points: rare American doll with outstanding sculpting and portraiture, enhanced by the mysterious background of the artist, superb state of preservation.
The following Leo Moss doll was offered in a Morphy auction on October 23, 2010. The estimated value was between $4,000.00 and $6,500.00.
Rare & Desirable Black Character Doll by Leo Moss
This doll has a socket head incised L.M. with molded black curly hair, inset glass eyes, pouty mouth and crying expression with two tears. Leo Moss dolls with tears are particularly desirable, as it is said that these were made to express his sadness after his wife left him. [Doll has] cloth body with composition arms and legs with label sewn on chest, “Rex 1912.” Very cute sailor suit looks original, stockings and antique shoes. Usually dolls were named after the person they were made for. This doll was from the collection of Lenon Hoyt [sic]* and was displayed in her “Aunt Len’s Doll Museum” in New York City, and sold at Sotheby’s in 1994… Condition: excellent. Size 17" T.
The above-described doll, Rex, sold for $10,350.00 in the October 23, 2010, Morphy auction. *Hoyte is the correct spelling of the previous owner’s surname. Interestingly, the same doll is included as item 332 in the 1994 Sotheby’s auction catalog, The Collection of Lenon Holder Hoyte Exhibited as “Aunt Len’s Doll and Toy Museum.” In the Sotheby’s catalog, the doll’s description follows the following catalog image.
|Item 332 in the 1994 Sotheby’s auction catalog|
Known as “Rex” in the Morphy auction, the Sotheby’s description does not include the doll’s name. It also questionably categorizes the doll as modern. In addition to “Rex,” Ms. Hoyte’s online biography documents her ownership of at least two other dolls attributed to Leo Moss. “After 40 years as an art and special education teacher in New York City public schools, Lenon Hoyte—commonly known as Aunt Len—founded Aunt Len's Doll and Toy Museum in her Harlem home… Hoyte's collection included extremely rare black dolls from the nineteenth century. Among them were rag dolls made by slaves from scraps of fabric, muslin, and feed bags. A pair of [paper mache] dolls named Lillian and Leo had been made by Leo Moss, a nineteenth-century black handyman from Atlanta. Lillian and Leo had tears running down their cheeks.”
In a November 19, 2011, Theriault’s auction, the following doll is described with a realized price of $2,500.00.
|Circa 1920 Leo Moss character baby sold in a Theriaut's auction on November 19, 2011.|
26" (66 cm) Hand-sculpted papier-mache of plump-faced child with rich dark brown complexion, deeply-set eye sockets with red lower edging, brown glass inset eyes, black [painted] brows and upper eyeliner, broad nose with upturned tip, very full lips of closed mouth, sculpted ears, black mohair wig over solid dome pate, stiffened brown muslin body with brown-painted composition lower arms and legs, wearing antique cotton pinafore dress, blouse, homespun cape with green soutache [trimmed] undergarments. Condition: generally excellent. Comments: American, circa 1920, possibly Leo Moss of Macon, Georgia… Value Points: wonderful and extremely rare American folk doll, with well-detailed characterization, original finish, in rare larger size; few examples of the Leo Moss dolls are known to exist.
An additional Moss doll offered between January 11 and 13, 2013, by Theriault’s realized a price of $7,500.00.
Very Rare American Paper Mache Black Character Doll… 26" (66 cm)
Hand-pressed paper mache head with flanged neck, rich black complexion, sculpted black hair in very tight curls, sculpted angled black brows, heavily lidded inset brown eyes with black eyeliner, broad rounded nose, closed mouth with very full downcast lips in wistful expression, very plump cheeks, three modeled tears on cheeks, brown muslin torso and upper legs, composition lower limbs, wearing white cotton dress and sweater, undergarments, shoes, striped stockings. Condition: generally excellent. Marks: L.M. (head) Violet Mae Collins 6-12-1922 (hand lettered on torso). Comments: attributed to Leo Moss, circa 1920… Value Points: rare American doll with outstanding sculpting and portraiture, enhanced by the mysterious background of the artist, superb state of preservation.
Acquisition of a doll made by the gifted hands of the clever man who used found objects and existing doll parts to create dolls would certainly fulfill many collectors’ most imaginative dreams accompanied by enduring euphoria and possibly tears of joy. While many doll collectors aspire to own an authentic Leo Moss doll, this can be quite cost prohibitive for most, as illustrated by the realized prices of recent Moss doll auctions. For some, the next best thing to owning an original is acquiring one of the existing Moss doll replicas.
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