Norah Wellings Rare P&O SS Iberia collectors doll Cunard Souvenirware
Excellent condition no fading or damage of note
Please not: Writing on cap” QM Peter” see photo
History; During World War Two Norah Wellings made dolls representing characters from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, which were sold to raise money for the Royal Air Force Comforts Fund. She also made a number of “Jolly Boy”, felt sailor figures, which were sold as souvenirs abroad cruise liners.
All her dolls are made of cloth ,felt, plush and velvet. They have hand stitched joints and various types of moulded faces. The faces were hand painted and sealed with a waterproof coating to make them washable.
‘Norah, you are never going to be beautiful so you had better make yourself useful’. This, according to Gillian Trotter, was in Norah Wellings’ mind when she looked at herself in a mirror in 1919. With sheer determination, hard work and loads of talent Norah became one of the best soft toy makers in the world.
Norah Wellings was born in 1893 in Shropshire, England. In 1907 at the age of fourteen she left school to help her mother take care of her invalid father. Norah still received tutoring at school and studied with the London School of Art through the post.
She started her doll making career in 1919 with the Chad Valley Co. Ltd., and seven years later Norah and her brother Leonard opened their own toy factory, Victoria Toy Works. They started off small – only six staff members excluding Norah and Leonard: their cousin Mary, the four Tinsley sisters and another cousin, Arthur, who was the sales manager. When Queen Mary (the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II) visited Shropshire in 1927, Norah was able to present the Queen with one of her own designs, a ‘Cora’ doll. This was excellent exposure for Norah and her small company. That same year, after displaying her designs at the British Industries Fair in London, Norah and her company was mentioned in the Games and Toys magazine: ‘Miss Wellings has not long been manufacturing on her own account, but evidently there is a very big future for her in the trade, for her caricatures, dolls and animals are produced as saleable lines which every high-class store throughout the country will feature’.
All her dolls are made of cloth: felt, plush, velvet and in some instances cotton were used. The dolls represented children and adults, as well as storybook characters. They had stitched joints and various types of molded faces. The faces were hand- painted and sealed with a waterproof coating to make them washable. Miss Wellings was adamant that all her dolls were fully marked with sewn-on labels (cream or black) – either on the wrist or the foot: ‘Made in England by Norah Wellings’. Several imitations were made, but these dolls are unmarked. As most of Norah’s dolls were intended as souvenirs and mascots many survived and are still in good condition.
At the height of their success Victoria Toy Works employed around 250 workers but Norah still managed all the designs. According to Trotter, Norah’s motto was ‘Quality not quantity’, and it was this attitude that allowed her toys and dolls to be sold in some of the most up- market stores of the time. The well- known London department store Harrods was an important client and each year Norah designed toys specifically for their famous Christmas toy window. By 1941 70% of the company’s toys were exported to the United States, Canada, Australia and Egypt.
Norah’s dolls were sold worldwide, and many were made for various tourist industries, most notably the cruise ship industry. Almost all the shipping companies sold Norah Wellings products on board their ocean liners, with the main marketing line being the range of sailor dolls featuring the name of the ship on their hatbands. There were hundreds of ocean liners traveling between Europe and the United States, and for the majority of passengers the trip wasn’t complete without a souvenir. The sailor dolls were first introduced in 1929 and were part of the Norah Wellings novelty doll range. They soon became the most popular novelty doll in the Wellings catalogue. The very first ‘Sailor’ was model 140 and he was called ‘Jollyboy ‘. He had glass eyes, a painted smiling mouth with teeth showing and a bright orange curly wig. His head was made of velvet and he had a blue velvet body with bare feet. He wore a white cotton hat and only his head was jointed. Over the years a whole range of
‘Jollyboys’ were produced, in a variety of sizes, but all with the name of the navy ship or ocean liner on the hatband and nearly
all with bare feet. An example of her ‘Jollyboy’ sailor range forms part of our doll collection at the National Museum and dates to the 1930s. Our doll however is missing his little sailor hat. The most commonly found novelty dolls are sailors, Canadian Mounties, Scots and Black Islanders.
With the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945) the business fell on hard times but continued producing dolls alongside the army, which commandeered the machine room to store food supplies, and a company that manufactured uniforms and gas masks. After 30 years Victoria Toy Works closed its doors in September 1959. Nora did not want to sell her designs and burned all her tools, designs and unfinished dolls in a huge bonfire. The finished dolls and toys were donated to various institutions and societies.
When Norah Wellings retired, the Cunard Shipping Company asked another well-known British doll maker, Peggy Nisbet, to
supply them with sailor dolls. Norah had no objection to Peggy making the dolls but was unwilling to share her patterns or techniques. The untrained eye might mistake a Peggy Nisbet sailor doll for a Norah Wellings ‘Jollyboy’. From the 1960s other companies also copied the sailor dolls, and this included a company called Empire. These dolls are often found with a sticker ‘Empire ‘ under the collar and were made well into the 1980s.
Norah’s retirement years were spent painting, gardening and cooking at the home Leonard had built for her. She died in
February 1975 at the age of 82.
Although ignored by collectors for many years, rag dolls have recently become more sought-after. Since 2016, the vast majority of Norah Wellings’ dolls are priced between one and two thousand rand. Larger, rarer models fetch much more.
Carter, J. Norah Welling Dolls. https://www.lifestyle.com.au/dry/norah-wellings-dolls.aspx
Foulke, J. 1987. 8th Blue Book Dolls & Values. Maryland. Hobby House Press, Inc.
Goodfellow, C.1993. The Ultimate Doll Book. London. Dorling Kindersley.
King, C.E. 1977. The Collector’s History of Dolls. London. Robert Hale Limited.
Norah Wellings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norah_Wellings
Trotter, G. 2003. Norah Wellings Cloth Dolls and Soft Toys. Hobby House Press.
Trotter, G. Norah Wellings Journal. https://norahwellingsjournal.blogspot.com