The Great Boston Fire of 1872

I know, I know. This is a doll blog! But I promise you this relates to dolls or atleast one particular one. Last month  I was perusing eBay like I normally do( every waking moment….) and I saw a doll head that was advertised as “advertising doll head from Boston”. My interest was peaked. I watched it and sniped it at the last minute because I get cheap when it comes to unknown pieces. I waited for a a week for it to come in. Low and behold, I was out of town when it arrived! So I had to wait a few days longer to see this unknown treasure.

When I opened the box up and pulled the doll head out I was perplexed. All of the black paint on this large china head doll was painted on after firing. It was not a paint you would have used on a doll head. It was some common household paint. Next the thing that caught my eye was scorch marks in the inside and back of the shoulder plate.

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That’s not normal. I tend to state the obvious to myself when trying to figure things out. I also noticed how her lips were faded but not an uneven fade. You find an uneven fade in antique doll heads due to wear but this was not the case. This looked like to me, when you try and fire off painted from a porcelain piece in a kiln. It tends to come off evenly. I know personally that once red china paint gets onto the piece, it wont come off;even before firing residue can still hang on. So this was also odd to me.

There was painted words on the front of the chest plate, most of which were rubbed off with wear and tear. All I could make out was “Boston” and “10, 1872”. Why would writing be on this doll head? What made this date important?


So what does the lazy……I mean best doll researcher do? Google it! Seriously, you can get leads this way and it does help with a jumping off point. The only links that came up were about the great Boston fire of November 9-10 1872! Lets think about this for a minute……….if you are on my Facebook page you saw the images of the scorched doll heads from the Chicago fire. The same type of scorch marks were on this head.


Then it hit me. This doll head survived the Great Boston Fire of 1872! I kept looking over it hoping there was some other explanation. There had to be, artifacts like do not just pop up on eBay everyday. I walked around stunned for HOURS; just ask my boyfriend he had to deal with me like this. Don’t get me wrong, he was excited too but not as much as I was.

This fire destroyed 65 acres of downtown area, 776 buildings(including the financial district) and caused about $73.5 million in damage. Its interesting to note that only 13 people died in this disaster. That is hard to believe in my book.  It also makes me wonder what happened to the original owner of this doll. Did she survive? Did she perish? Did she survive and do the painting? I have so many questions! If only this artifact could talk! I want to take a trip to Boston at some point soon(soon being between now and 5 years from now) and get her verified as a surviving relic of the fire and see if I can dig up any information on her owner.


A birds eye view of Boston, showing the burned area.

Next to the Great Chicago fire of 1871, this disaster gets swept under the rug. It doesn’t have a great little made up tale of Mrs O Leary’s cow or some such nonsense. I think that’s why it is not really known. I had no idea until I started researching.


While researching, I found a Civil war link in this fire. The headquarters of the Boston branch of The United States Sanitary Commission was destroyed in the fire. They only rebuilt half of the building. So if you are ever in Boston, what you see was not what was originally there.

As excited as I was to discover the history behind this artifact; its still a sad event. In this fire hundreds of citizens were left homeless and businesses were destroyed. I like to think that lessons were learned and new rules put into effect. I know government doesn’t always work that way but hopefully out of the ashes came change.


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