Nisbet Dolls of Queen Elizabeth II in Robes of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Trooping the Colour Uniform, and Silver Jubilee Gown with Train.
Nisbet Dolls of Queen Elizabeth II in Robes of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Trooping the Colour Uniform, and Silver Jubilee Gown with Train. The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest British civil and military honor. The Queen often rode sidesaddle in a riding habit and officer’s jacket for Trooping the Colour, part of the official birthday celebration for British monarchs. Her Silver Jubilee, the 25th anniversary of her ascension to the throne, was in 1977.

By Karen B. Kurtz 
Photos by Mark A. Kurtz (except where indicated)

House of Nisbet Dolls got its start in 1952 with a doll commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and grew to encompass a wide range of dolls, many celebrating British royals and other celebrities, along with traditional British costumes and traditions. Founded by British businesswoman Peggy Nisbet (1909-1995), the company grew to become one of Britain’s largest doll manufacturers. As Britain prepares to crown King Charles III May 6, after the death of Elizabeth II in September, a look back at Nisbet dolls reveals how they served as a chronicle of the changing tastes and tempos of their times and of their British roots. 

All-original Prince Charles in Royal Wedding Uniform, 1981.
All-original Prince Charles in Royal Wedding Uniform, 1981. Ron Cameron sculpted the likeness for House of Nisbet.

Nisbet’s 8-inch dolls are still relatively easy for collectors to find at reasonable entry points. Collectors recognize Nisbet dolls by their meticulous costuming. Peggy combed the markets to obtain just the right fabrics, juxtaposing textures, colors, and designs against each doll’s special requirements. She selected trim according to size, shape, and material. She produced special accessories after additional study and design. Fortunately, most original Nisbet dolls still retain their wrist tags, which identify both the doll and the real person portrayed. 

Coronation Days 

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert (1819-1861).
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert (1819-1861).

Peggy Nisbet developed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation Dress in 1952, before the Queen’s ascension. In her first dollmaking attempt, Peggy obtained permission from the Lord Chamberlain, secured financial backing with a bank loan, and hired Cyril Lancaster to sculpt the figurine in English bone china and another artist to paint the dolls’ faces. Then she vetted a group of highly skilled needlewomen “who were meticulous in their work and dependable on their promises to complete it on time,” Peggy wrote in her autobiography, The Peggy Nisbet Story (Hobby House Press, 1988). 

Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
Prince Albert (1819-1861)
Prince Albert (1819-1861)

Peggy also published her Peggy Nisbet Collectors’ Reference Book in 1976, ensuring that correct documentation about The House of Nisbet remains preserved. Directory of British Dolls, an undated booklet by Luella Hart, describes and illustrates other British manufacturers who made souvenir dolls to celebrate Elizabeth II’s coronation. 

“Many an experienced seamstress found herself unable to work on so small a scale,” Peggy wrote, “[but] engaging only the best was a wise policy long-term because the work was expertly done, making it possible for me to keep to my planned schedule without sacrificing quality.” 

Queen Victoria doll in black mourning gown
After Albert died, Victoria could not be consoled. She wore black mourning dress for the rest of her life.

Peggy’s “inspired guess” for a costume meant researching robes from previous coronations at the Tower of London and searching for the “correct shade of royal purple.” Peggy recalled that it was hard to find a lightweight velvet to use “on so small a figure. I wanted a supple cloth that would give a flowing line, not a hard appearance. After much searching, success crowned my efforts, and we started work on the prototype.” 

Harrods’ Department Store bought and sold all 250 of those figures, and they rarely surface today. After this first successful venture, Peggy was off and running, designing other dolls with Aunt Kitty making the prototypes. Peggy’s husband, William, assisted her in the business. With help from her family and staff, The House of Nisbet eventually expanded into a globally recognized doll-manufacturing firm.  

Three books about House of Nisbet: The Peggy Nisbet Story; Peggy Nisbet: Collector's Reference Book; and Directory of British Dolls.
Few resources on Nisbet dolls exist, but enterprising collectors may find these out-of-print books online.

Developing the Dolls 

“Peggy Nisbet was probably the first person to realize tourists and collectors would appreciate and display small dolls in a wide range of characters,” said Susan Brewer, a longtime Nisbet collector and British author. “Her techniques were later copied by others, such as Cornish Shallowpool Dolls, Sheena McLeod Scottish dolls, and Irish Jay dolls.” 

British researcher-collector Christine Poulten surrounded by her Nisbet collection. Photo courtesy of Christine Poulten
British researcher-collector Christine Poulten surrounded by her Nisbet collection. Photo courtesy of Christine Poulten While preparing this article for publication, we received word that Christine Poulten had passed. We honor Christine’s work and that of her husband, David Poulten, to document and record information about Nisbet dolls. Christine is remembered by her family and friends for her enthusiasm, willingness to share, humor, and legacy of service.

“The amount of inventiveness that went into the creation of every Nisbet doll is phenomenal,” said Christine Poulten, who, along with her husband, David, is known for their website Christine researches and collects; David runs the website and takes photos. Their shared mission: to document and record as much information about Nisbet dolls as they can. Susan, Christine, and David have all collaborated on research, photographs, articles, and museum exhibitions. 

“Peggy adopted injection molding with thermoplastic materials for the 8-inch styrene dolls that made her famous,” Christine said. “She wanted a heavy body that would not shatter easily. Since the plastics industry was in its infancy at the time, she had to overcome a number of technical problems. She also went through several iterations before finding a [flesh-colored] resin that satisfied her.” 

King George V (1865-1936) without his crown.
King George V (1865-1936). Even without his crown, this early doll is a splendid example of Nisbet’s attention to detail and use of rich, supple materials.

Peggy exhibited her doll line at British toy fairs and at the International Toy Fair in New York City. Saks Fifth Avenue, FAO Schwarz, Marshall Fields, and Neiman Marcus placed large orders. She placed ads regularly in American doll-collecting magazines and attended United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC) conventions every year. In 1979, the Queen awarded Peggy the Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal for her long-term significant impact and outstanding service to export trade. 

“Nisbet dolls were never cheap,” Christine said. “High cost was probably a consequence of the handmade attention to detail so evident in their construction, particularly in the early years, and in the richness and generosity of the selection and materials used to make them. New Nisbet collectors should concentrate on what is affordable for them, but even more importantly, what they really like.” 

British author Susan Brewer displays her vinyl Nisbet dolls at an exhibition in 2003. Photo courtesy of Susan Brewer
British author Susan Brewer displays her vinyl Nisbet dolls at an exhibition in 2003. Photo courtesy of Susan Brewer

“I particularly like the Tutankhamun and Nefertiti dolls because of their beautifully detailed, stunning metal headpieces,” Susan said, “but Nisbet prototypes and some of the later dolls made in very small production runs are actually most important overall.” 

Christine agreed. “Peggy Nisbet reintroduced the art of wax dollmaking to England — only three models were made — and successfully collaborated with English porcelain manufacturers, most notably Royal Doulton and Coalport.” 

King George VI and his consort Queen Elizabeth.
King George VI and his consort Queen Elizabeth were Elizabeth II’s parents.

“Transition dolls like Cinderella are popular,” Susan continued. “The 18-inch vinyl dolls are still very collectable, particularly Diana in her various outfits and Sarah, but they don’t come up for sale often. I really like the 18-inch Prince Harry, a seated toddler in a red-and-white outfit with sun hat. Prince William toddlers are also lovely.” 

Changing of the Guard 

Jack Wilson, Peggy’s son-in-law, eventually assumed management of The House of Nisbet. He expanded rapidly into plush bears, wax dolls, and the Nisbet-Royal Doulton ceramics partnership. Jack sold The House of Nisbet to Dakin, Inc. in 1988. In turn, Dakin sold the Nisbet doll rights to Diane Jones International, a company in Pontypool, South Wales. Owners Diane and Keith Jones used some of the Nisbet molds to reproduce high-quality Nisbet dolls, but upon their retirement in 1999, Nisbet production ended. Reproductions are tagged “Made in Wales.” 

Two versions of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603).
Two versions of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

The Nisbet homes in Weston-super-Mare are private residences now that are not open to the public. Dunster Park workrooms gave way to a retirement home. When Peggy Nisbet died in 1995, tributes from collectors and the dollmaking industry poured in from around the world as they remembered and honored Britain’s premier dollmaker. 

The Dress Uniform for a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) of the Tower of London is accurate in every detail.
The Dress Uniform for a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) of the Tower of London is accurate in every detail. Peggy Nisbet designed the original model and worked with the Governor of The Tower of London, who approved the work at every stage. The Yeoman Warder doll was sold exclusively through The Tower of London and exported worldwide.
A Scottish Piper wears a kilt of Royal Stewart tartan.
A Scottish Piper wears a kilt of Royal Stewart tartan.
The Grenadier Guardsman’s scarlet jacket and bearskin hat.
The Grenadier Guardsman’s scarlet jacket and bearskin hat present a magnificent sight on ceremonial occasions.

A year later, more than 1,500 dolls from the Nisbet Archives sold at a Florida auction. At least one model of nearly every Nisbet doll made was sold. Among the highlights were important prototypes, like the one-of-a-kind Beatles set costumed in psychedelic uniforms from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, wedding models of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace that the prince pulled before production, and hand-carved wooden dolls from the Nativity Collection. About 125 dealers and collectors bid on the lots. Four dealers purchased most of the rare prototypes and samples. 

Picture of a full-page ad featuring dolls from the Nisbet archives.
After the Nisbet Archives was sold at auction in 1996, a dealer resold inventory through this direct-mail advertisement.

Sadly, Nisbet dolls are now a part of history. But Peggy Nisbet’s legacy still lives on, preserving the British monarchy’s splendor in detailed miniature snapshots of the past. 

Karen B. Kurtz writes about dolls, history, and antiques. Find out more at and 

Chris Poulten and Peggy Nisbet Dolls: How It All Began 

Chris Poulten posing with a doll at a June 2005 exhibition.
Chris Poulten at a June 2005 exhibition. “This was, to the best of our knowledge, the first and perhaps the only time that all the Special Collectors Sets, Limited Editions, and Signature Editions dolls had been exhibited all together.”

By David Poulten 

One Saturday afternoon, back in September 1996, Chris had been shopping with her best friend. She arrived home glowing with excitement. She was carrying a large bag containing a set of dolls of Henry VIII and his six wives, which we later learned were from the Nisbet Portrait series. I cast a baleful eye over them, while Chris told me how much she had paid. Eyebrows raised, I asked, “You paid how much? For these ugly little dolls?” We laughed about that comment for years afterwards! 

Chris Poulten standing beside a life-sized statue of King Henry VIII.
“Chris and her hero, King Henry VIII, at the Mary Rose Museum Exhibition at Portsmouth Dockyard. The statue of His Majesty was supposedly life-size, and you can clearly see what a huge and imposing man he was! I believe that he was unusually tall for a man at the time — 6 feet 2 inches — and was powerfully built (in his youth, anyway), but piled on the pounds as he aged. He certainly towered over my 5-foot-2, eyes of blue Chris!”

Chris had always been fascinated with Tudor and Elizabethan history and was undeterred, urging me to look closer at each doll. I grudgingly admitted that, though not to my taste, they were well-made. Most importantly, I was very happy that she was so pleased to have found them! 

Our eldest son made Chris a personal computer and introduced her to the world of online auctions — the beginning of the end! Over 25 years later, Chris was still surfing the listings, and her collection had grown to over 2,000 Nisbet creations, reams of catalogs and other information, and a sizeable number of Nisbet teddy bears and other Nisbet soft toys. 

Chris Poulten standing in front of a Tudor Dynasty exhibition from July 2007.
The Tudor Dynasty exhibition, July 2007. “This was a passion project for Chris, where she tried to give as wide a coverage as exhibition space would allow of a selection of Nisbet dolls with a Tudor connection.”

In the course of our research (yes, I was hooked, too), we made numerous trips to Weston-super-Mare, staged six exhibitions at the North Somerset Museum in Weston, and established many links with collectors across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. 

Chris Poulten poses with dolls she donated to a museum.
“Chris with some of the dolls she donated to the North Somerset Museum in Weston-super-Mare following the 2009 exhibition, which was titled Porcelain, Vinyl, Wood and Wax. It highlighted some of the dolls manufactured using media other than the injection-molded styrene dolls that most collectors know and love. Because my work was sending me abroad for weeks at a time with increasing frequency, this was to be the last exhibition we were able to provide. We looked forward to our annual trips to the museum, where we would work together for a week, setting up the various displays. We were royally treated by the museum staff and really felt like part of the museum!”

In 2012, we set up the website, with Chris supplying the knowledge while I battled the software and took the photos. In later times, Chris and I talked about the new things she would like to see on the website, and I agreed that we should make the changes — a vow I intend to honor, in her memory. 

Chris Poulten's headshot
“This picture of Chris was taken in May 2018 as she was getting ready for the wedding of our youngest son, David, to his bride to be, Emma. This is my favorite formal picture of her. Later that year, Chris began to suffer more from the progressive lung disease that eventually allowed pneumonia to end her life. Fortunately, she was at her best when this lovely picture was taken.”

Peggy Nisbet’s dolls gave us a common shared interest and brought us even closer, for which I will always be thankful to those (not so) ugly little dolls!