Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Norah Wellings 'Jollyboy' Sailor Doll

I have had quite a few enquiries recently regarding Norah Wellings Sailor Dolls so I thought this would be a good choice for this article especially as it is the Sailor Doll that is most recognized as being made by Norah Wellings. The Sailors were first introduced in 1929 and he was part of the Norah Wellings 'Novelty Doll' Range. The Sailors wore hats with the name of various Cruise Ships and Navy Ships hand written on the hat band.The very first Sailor was model 140 and he was called 'Jollyboy '. He had glass eyes, painted smiling mouth with teeth showing and bright orange curly wig and his head was made of velvet . He had a blue velvet body and this was also an integral part of his outfit and his feet were bare. On his head he wore a white cotton hat. Only his head was jointed. Sometimes the hands are sewn to the legs. In 1929 they were made in three size 12",14 and 18"inches.

  First Norah Wellings 'Jollyboy' Sailor model 140. Shown in the 1929 Catalogue

In early 1930 another 'Jollyboy' Sailor was introduced model 139. It is interesting as I would have expected the number 139 to have been made first as most of Norah Wellings dolls normally run in numerical order. However this was not the case in this instance. The 139 model had painted eyes although I have seen the earliest and largest examples of this model with glass eyes but they are hard to find. The mouth was painted smiling or with teeth showing and the hair was also painted. His body construction was similar to model 140 and he still had bare feet but he was thinner and they were made with either velvet or felt heads and only the head was jointed. It appears both models were available in the early 1930's and the sizes then went from 10 inches to 36 inches. In the 1936 catalogue only the painted hair Sailor model 139 was available and he continued to be made right until the last catalogue in 1958. Model 140 had been discontinued by 1936 but I am sure special orders would still have been available.

 Norah Wellings 'Jollyboy' Sailor Model 139, Early 1930's

Before the 2nd World War the 'Jollyboy' model 139 had some variations. The head was now made in stockinette or cotton due to lack of materials and very few felt and velvet ones were made. The faces were still painted with either a smiling mouth or with painted teeth.Many were produced without painted hair. They still had the velvet body but most were now made with black feet to represent shoes.The sizes available were 7 to 36 inches. The 8 to 9 inch size with black feet is one of the most popular sailors to be found today and there were over 100.000 of these made to cover sales at Navy week which was the first week of August every year and the crews used to sell them on the dockyard. The Sailor hats had the ship names either hand written or printed on the hat band. The Aldershot Tatoo was also another very busy time for Sailor Dolls to be sold.

 Norah Wellings 'Jollyboy' Sailor Model  139 Pre World War II with black feet to look like shoes.

 In the late 1940's through to the last Norah Wellings catalogue in 1958 it is the earlier 'Jollyboy' model with painted eyes and bare feet that is pictured. The smaller sailors with black feet are not catalogued.

 Norah Wellings 'Jollyboy' Sailor model 139 pictured in a 1950's catalogue, reverting back to bare feet

 When Norah Wellings retired and ceased production in 1959 Cunard Shipping Company asked another famous British Doll maker Peggy Nisbet if she would supply them with Sailor Dolls. Peggy Nisbet asked Norah Wellings if she would have any objection to her making the dolls. Norah was quite happy for her to do so but would not supply the pattern or techniques as her dolls were such a part of her. Peggy Nisbet Sailor Dolls are often mistaken for those of Norah Wellings to an untrained eye.  Other companies also copied the sailors  from the 1960's and a company called Empire produced many. They are often found with Sticker 'Empire ' under the collar at the back .The Sailor dolls were made well into the 1980's

 First Sailor Doll is a Peggy Nisbet next to the most popular 'Jollyboy, Sailor 139

 Norah Wellings Dolls left the factory with a cotton label and most of the Sailor Dolls have the label on their foot but some have them under the collar on their back sewn on the body out of sight, often these can be missed so make sure to look there if you can't see a label anywhere. It is because the smaller 8 to 9 inch sailor dolls were made in such vast numbers that makes them so easy to find today and at reasonable prices. There are many that just collect the Sailors and want a Doll with each ships name, they certainly have numerous to choose from and some will pay extra so they can acquire a particular ships name. Norah Wellings also made other sailor dolls that are harder to find but I will cover those in another article at a later stage.


  1. I have what I thought was a Norah Wellings sailor doll, however, now I am beginning to wonder that it might not be. My doll has a porcelain head with features painted on which look very much like the Norah Wellings faces. He doesn't have his hat anymore but the rest of his body is soft velvety material, all navy blue with flesh coloured hands and feet.I think there are also some little parts of his uniform missing. It was my mothers doll and I have no idea how old he is. Can anyone shed any light on this for me. Thank you. BTW he is only about 15cm tall.

  2. Hello,
    Thank you for your comment. I am afraid he does not sound like a Norah Wellings. If you are able to email me a photograph I will try and identify him for you.My email is
    Thank you
    Kind Regards