Antique nun dolls sell for thousands

Two rare 18th-century nun dolls have sold at Reeman Dansie auctioneers in Colchester, Essex, for a combined total of £55,000 hammer.

The pair of dolls were consigned by direction of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre and were likely to have been in their possession for over 200 years. Nun dolls are believed to have been originally intended as instructional tools, for teaching novice nuns how to attire themselves, and also to maintain strict conformity to the Order’s specific costume over long periods of time.

There are also documented instances of nuns sending the dolls to their families as keepsakes or to demonstrate their costume and as first communion gifts. The earliest documented nun doll is the famous 17th Swarbrick doll, thought to date to 1680, which has come to auction a number of times, but most recently in Bonhams in London during November 2009, when the famous doll sold for £30,000.

Both dolls were sold at the sale to the same buyer, an English collector, who held her nerve against stiff competition from several international phone bidders

The English house of the Convent of The Holy Sepulchre was established in 1642 in Liège, Belgium by 20 year-old Susan Hawley. Susan’s family were English Catholics, displaced to the Continent by religious persecution. The convent was created at a time when many English speaking religious houses were being founded on the Continent.

The Liège Community flourished for over 150 years, with Christina Dennett, an early Prioress, advocated spreading the word of God through teaching and she established a school in the City.

In 1794, the French Revolution brought new threats of persecution and the community was forced to move again, much to the dismay of the the Liège townsfolk who had taken them to their hearts. After some time searching for a new home and brief stays in London, Yorkshire and Wiltshire, the community finally found a suitable location at New Hall, near Chelmsford. The house and fifty acres were purchased by a wealthy donor for the community at a cost of £4,000 in 1798, once again a school became established and the community flourished.