The figure, a miniature porcelain doll, which was so small it fitted neatly between her daughter's thumb and forefinger, turned out to be a Frozen Charlotte and well over a hundred years old.
This was no ordinary toy, however – Frozen Charlottes have sometimes been associated with a darker meaning bound up with the Victorian tale of a girl who froze to death on a sleigh ride to a New Year's Ball.
Poor Charlotte, so the story goes, refused to heed her mother's advice to wrap up in a blanket against the cold and met a terrible fate.
The story fascinated Sally to such an extent that it became the focus of her dissertation
when she embarked on an MA in History of Design and Material Culture at the University of Brighton
where she worked a few years later. She graduated in February this year.
"I've always loved social history and I've always been a bit of a magpie, gathering objects that tell a story or hold a memory – so studying for this MA whilst working at the University as a part-time administrator was the perfect opportunity to develop my interests further. I was extremely fortunate to qualify for the staff fee waiver scheme, otherwise postgraduate study would not have been possible.
"For my dissertation I returned to the Frozen Charlotte, now proudly displayed amongst other beach find treasures in my daughter"s bedroom.
"I decided to write an 'object biography,' tracing the doll's life history across two centuries to uncover her origins and explore the various meanings and uses that have become part of her story."
Through her studies Sally discovered that Frozen Charlotte's were sold on the streets of London by poor street traders known at the time as 'gutter merchants'.
"My research took me to local and national libraries, archives, and museums and, after graduating, I was invited back to Pollock's Toy Museum in London to guest curate an exhibition about my findings."
Sally will be giving a talk at the Novium Museum
in Chichester on 16 November 2023.
The Novium is currently displaying an exhibition of vintage Star War toys from the 1970s and the curators were interested in complementing this with a historical look at toys that were popular over a hundred years ago.
"My talk explores the fascinating world of penny toys – who made them, who bought and sold them, and the social and cultural meanings behind these mass-produced, everyday novelties.
"There will, of course, be a focus on Frozen Charlottes, the dolls that first set me on a path towards my MA and a look at whether those stories about poor Charlotte are true or just a myth."