Are they beautiful, strange, or just flat out creepy? These are the questions most people ask upon seeing Frozen Charlotte dolls, the little Victorian-era children’s toys that will more than likely give you a bit of the willies.
These tiny, pale, porcelain nightmares were pottery dolls manufactured in Germany in 1850, and intended for children to play with during bath time. Some were sold in tiny bathtubs or coffins. Their popularity soared in Britain and America, where they were baked into cake as a nice (or not so nice, depending on your tolerance for creepy little porcelain girls) surprise for kids.
Frozen Charlotte dolls get their name from an American folk ballad “Fair Charlotte,” which is a cautionary tale about a girl who, after refusing to wear warm clothing in the cold because she didn’t wish to cover her beautiful dress, freezes to death (again, creepy.) The poem and song were about a real girl named Charlotte, who went riding with her suitor, Charlie, to a winter ball in 1840. When she arrived at the ball, she had frozen to death. The story says Charlie died of a broken heart soon afterward, and they were buried together in a single tomb.
Fun fact: Male versions are called “Frozen Charlies”
These little dolls can be anywhere from less than an inch up to 18 inches tall, and now turn up on beaches as a highly-sought-after find. Many beachcombers dream of finding a tiny porcelain arm, leg, torso, or head. Though they are certainly not as sweet a beach find as a nice piece of sea glass or a beautiful seashell, they are fascinating and rich historical items.
Fair Charlotte, American Folk Ballad
Young Charlotte lived by the mountainside, In a lonely, dreary spot; No other dwelling for three miles round, Except her father’s cot. And yet on many a winter’s eve, Young swains would gather there, For her father kept a social abode, And she was very fair.
Her father liked to see her dressed, Just like some city belle; She was the only child he had, He loved his daughter well. Her hair was black as raven’s wings, Her skin was lily fair, And her teeth were like the pearls of white, None with her could compare.
At a village just sixteen miles off, There’s a merry ball tonight, Although the air is freezing cold, Her heart is warm and light. And there she watched with an anxious look, ’Til a well-known voice she heard, And driving up to the cottage door, Young Charles in his sleigh appeared.
The mother to her daughter said, “These blankets round you fold; For it is a dreadful night, you know, You’ll catch your death of cold.” “Oh, no! Oh, no!” the darling cried, She laughed like a gypsy queen, “For to ride in blankets muffled up, I never could be seen.”
“My silken cloak, it’s quite enough–You know it’s lined throughout. Besides I have a silk mantle, To tie my face about.” The gloves and bonnet being on, They jumped into the sleigh, And away they did ride o’er the mountainside And the hills so far away.
There is music in the sounds of bells, As over the hills they go; What a creaking wake the runners make, As they bite the frozen snow. And away they then go silently, ’Til five cold miles were passed, And Charles with these few frozen words, The silence broke at last.
“Such a night as this I never knew, My lines I scarce can hold.” With a trembling voice young Charlotte cried, “I am exceeding cold.” He cracked the whip, he urged his steed, Much faster than before, Until at last five other cold miles, In silence they rode o’er.
“How very fast the freezing air, Is gathering on my brow.” With a trembling voice young Charlotte cried, “I’m growing warmer now.” And away they did ride o’er the mountainside, And through the pale star light, Until the village inn they reached, And the ballroom hove in sight.
When they reached the inn, young Charles jumped out, And gave his hand to her, “Why sit you there like a monument, And have no power to stir?” He called her once, he called her twice, She answered not a word; He called all for her hand again, But still she never stirred.
He stripped the mantle off her brow, And the pale stars on her shone, And quickly into the lighted hall, Her helpless form was born. They tried all within their power, Her life for to restore, But Charlotte was a frozen corpse, And is never to speak more.
He threw himself down by her side, And the bitter tears did flow, He said, “My dear and intended bride, You never more shall know.” He threw his arms around her neck, He kissed her marble brow, And his thoughts went back to the place where she said, “I am growing warmer now.”
They bore her out into the sleigh, And Charles with her rode home, And when they reached the cottage door, Oh, how her parents mourned! They mourned the loss of their daughter dear, And Charles mourned o’er her doom, Until at last his heart did break, Now they both slumber in one tomb.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2019 issue.