Italian double bass player Domenico Dragonetti, who revealed the possibilities of the double bass as a solo instrument to both Beethoven and Haydn, was well-known for his eccentricities. He was a keen collector of musical instruments, paintings and snuff-boxes – including one given to him by Beethoven – at his London lodgings. But he also collected dolls, apparently touring with them and even seating them in the audience at his concerts.

“In his ‘salon’ in Leicester Square, he has collected a large number of various kinds of dolls,” the composer Ignaz Moscheles wrote in his diary. “When visitors are announced, he politely receives them, and says that this or that young lady will make room for them; he also asks his intimate acquaintances whether his favourite dolls look better or worse since their last visit, and similar absurdities.”

Domenico Dragonetti Domenico Dragonetti

Moscheles wasn’t the only one to remark on this habit. “Dolls – do not start, reader!” wrote the singer Henry Phillips. “A strange weakness for a man of genius to indulge in, but so it was; white dolls, brown dolls, dark dolls, and black, large, small, middling and diminutive, formed...