Tea-Serving Doll

Unknown Maker (Japan)
Chahakobi Ningyo (Tea-Serving Doll) 1868-1911
wood, papier-mâché, bone, hair, gesso, ink
19″ ht.
Kamm Collection 2016.143
Photos: Michael Start

This is a rare example of a Japanese tea-serving doll or Chahakobi Ningyo. Sadly, it is missing its clothes (see a clothed example here), but that allows you to see the mechanism that makes the doll move. These types of dolls were designed to carry a cup of tea across the table. When the cup was lifted off the tray, the doll’s arms would rise, which stopped the movement. When the empty cup was replaced on the tray, the doll would turn around and travel back to its starting point. A winding key was used to power the mechanism.

This doll is very fragile and required conservation to its head, which is made of gesso-covered paper with glass eyes and a hair wig. Other areas of the doll were treated with repairs to the many connecting elements and an overall cleaning. The mechanism was compromised, so that the doll no longer moves as designed.

Read about the Japanese cultural tradition of mechanical dolls or Karakuri here.

See other examples of mechanical dolls at The House of Automata where our Tea-Serving Doll was restored.