9th Nov, 2022 10:00

Royalty, Fine Art & Antiques

Lot 952

Very rare Lay Sister or Novice nun doll, probably 18th century

Very rare Lay Sister or Novice nun doll, probably 18th century, the doll with painted wooden face with painted eyes and brows, painted mouth and rouged cheeks, the tapering wooden torso with cloth upper arms and carved and painted lower arms with detailed fork hands, jointed at the hips and knees, dressed in probably later hand-stitched habit, her fine hand-stitched leather boots and belt possibly from an earlier scheme of dress, approximately 36cm high.

Provenance: To be sold by direction of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre

NB: 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, London on 17th November 2009 when it sold for £30,000. When the Swarbrick doll was previously offered in 1996, correspondence was initiated between the Canonesses and academic researchers, letters from that time state that almost all examples of nun dolls are now in museums or private collections and that the doll (or dolls - it is unclear whether the researchers were aware of both dolls) is one of just two instances where they are to be found in original context with their religious order (the other being The Canonesses of St. Augustine at Sayers Common), the letters also state that most examples are thought to be of French origin and that the dolls held by the Sepulchrines in Chelmsford, and at Sayers Common are of 19th century origin. However our comparisons with other early dolls point more towards an 18th century date for this doll, which would be consistent with the time when the Canonesses were in Liege, prior to the French Revolution, these dolls may have been amongst the possessions carried in 800 coffers, which were said to have been transported to England, when the Canonesses became displaced.

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, 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 were forced to move again, much to the dismay of the the Liège townsfolk who had taken the Community to their hearts. After some time searching for a new home and brief stays at 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 £4000 in 1798, once again a school became established and the Community flourished.

Sold for £33,000

Condition Report

One finger on the dolls right hand is partially missing, there's wear and scratches to the painted face, some deterioration to clothing, wear and small holes to the shoes, deterioration to socks, the clothing is attached in places including the boots to the socks and whimple to the head, making close examination of the body difficult


Leaving a bid prior to the auction
You can leave a bid prior to our auction - this is called a 'commission' bid. Prior to the auction, you can place your bid through our website (you'll need to be registered to do this). When you leave your bid, you enter the maximum amount you're willing to pay - the auctioneer will bid on your behalf up to your maximum.  Please note that web commission bids close 30 minutes before the auction starts.  For further advice contact us. 

Live Online
You can also bid live online during the auction (additional charges may apply).  To do this you must be signed into your account and registered (click here for further details).  Shortly before the auction begins (usually half an hour) the 'Bid Live' button will appear.

Auction: Royalty, Fine Art & Antiques, 9th Nov, 2022

Storage Charges:- Please note that all lots of furniture bought in a Fine Art & Antiques Sale, will only be held at our premises until Monday PM, post sale. Our hours are 9am - 5pm and collections are not available outside of this time.  All items of furniture will be collected by R & D Schofield Removals, from the Tuesday after the sale, at a cost per lot of £10 + VAT and £1 per day storage thereafter.


Friday 4th November 1pm until 5pm

Saturday 5th November 9am until 1pm

Monday 7th November 9am until 6pm

View all lots in this sale

1. Reeman Dansie Limited trading as Reeman Dansie (hereby referred to as ‘Reemans’) act only as Auctioneers and agents and their representatives is hereafter referred to as ‘The Auctioneer’.

2. The highest bidder acceptable to the Auctioneer shall be the buyer but if any dispute arises during or immediately after the sale of the lot, the lot may be put up again immediately at the absolute discretion of the Auctioneer.

3. The Auctioneer has the right at his absolute discretion to refuse any bid and to advance the bidding as he may decide.

4. The purchase price payable by the buyer shall be the aggregate of the final bid and a premium of 20% of the final bid together with any V.A.T. chargeable on the final bid and such premium. The ‘final bid’ means the price at which the lot is knocked down to the buyer.

5. The buyers to give in their names and addresses (if required) and to pay a deposit of 25% in part payment of the purchase money; in default the lot or lots purchased by them to be at the disposal of the Auctioneers. The remainder of the buyer’s money to be paid before delivery. The contract of sale is to be deemed in all cases as made exclusively with the Auctioneers and the payment is to be made to them or the Clerk only.

6. Each and every lot shall immediately at the fall of the hammer to be considered as delivered and be and remain in every aspect at the absolute risk of the prospective buyer(s) thereof and shall be taken with all faults and errors of description, whether as to quality, condition, material, date, artist or origin and no allowance shall be made in respect of any error, misdescription or imperfection. No warranty is given or is to be implied by the description in this catalogue.

7. Any person attending the Sale Room to be answerable for all damage they may do to any lots or to the premises.

8. The seller shall be entitled to place a reserve price on any lot and the Auctioneer shall have the right to bid on behalf of the seller. In the event of any reserve price not being reached at auction, Reemans are empowered to sell after the auction, by private contract, at not less than the reserve price, subject to a 10% Auctioneers discretion. The Auctioneers have the right at their discretion to withdraw or divide any lot or to combine any two or more lots.

9. The property in a lot shall not pass to the buyer until he has paid the purchase price in full. Reemans shall be entitled to a lien on any lot sold until the purchase price has been paid. All lots are to be paid and taken away at the buyer’s expense within 3 days from the sale. Settlement of the net sum normally takes place within 14 days of the sale (by crossed cheque to the seller) unless the buyer has not paid for the goods. In this case no settlement will then be made but we will take the seller’s instructions in the light of our conditions of sale.

10. Every person while on the premises before, during or after the sale shall be deemed to be there at his or her own risk and with notice of the condition of the premises and no person shall have or make any claim against the seller or Auctioneers in respect of any injury they may sustain or any accident which may happen.

11. No cheques taken unless satisfactory references are given.

12. Upon failure to comply with the above conditions, the money deposited shall be forfeited and the lots uncleared within the time aforesaid shall be re-sold either by public sale or private contract and the deficiency (if any) upon such second sale together with all charges attending same shall be made good by the defaulter of the present sale. Any surplus that may arise there from shall not be recovered by the defaulter. 

13. All goods on Reemans premises or in their custody are held insured against the risks of fire, burglary, water damage and accidental damage. The value of such goods shall be the gross amount realised or in the case of unsold lots, such values as the Auctioneers in their discretion consider to be the auction value or the reserve price less the commission payable.

14. Reemans do not themselves undertake the collection or deliveries of goods but will, if so requested instruct a contractor on the seller’s or buyer’s behalf. Reemans disclaim all responsibility for loss or damage to goods or for unauthorised removal of goods.

15. The Auctioneers will not hold themselves responsible for any action that may arise acting as agents between buyer and seller and for both equitably.

16. Should any question arise not provided for in the foregoing conditions, the decision of the Auctioneers shall be final from which there shall be no appeal.

17. Withdrawn lots & Increasing reserves. The seller may not withdraw a lot from the sale or increase a reserve on a lot without the Auctioneers consent. If a seller withdraws a lot or increases the reserve, the Auctioneers reserve the right to charge a fee equal to 10% (plus V.A.T.) of the lower estimate or reserve price (minimum fee £10 plus V.A.T.).

18. Artist’s Resale Right. Owing to recent legislation, we have an obligation to collect a Royalty tax on behalf of living artists. It is based on a percentage of the amount their works sell for at auction above 1,000 Euros (4% from 1,000 – 50,000 Euros). Buyers will be charged this levy in addition to the usual buyer’s premium. Further details available on request. Liable lots will be marked with * in the catalogue.

19. All monies received by us on account of the purchase price for the lot will be paid by us into our client’s auction account at Barclays Bank plc, account no. 63327779. Any interest earned on monies held in trust will be retained by Reemans unless otherwise agreed.

20. Reemans have in place a complaints handling procedure, details of which are available on request.

21. The seller consents to Reeman Dansie promoting the lots in any way they deem fit, including publishing them in the local and national press or via the internet.

22. Reeman Dansie is the trading name of Reeman Dansie Limited. Registered in England No. 03431939. Registered Office No. 8 Wyncolls Road, Severalls Business Park, Colchester, Essex, CO4 9HU.

Have a similar item you'd like to sell? Fill out the form below!


Drag and drop .jpg images here to upload, or click here to select images.