A Short History of Dolls





A Short History of Dolls

Whilst the majority of doll collectors concentrate on seeking out bisque headed dolls, wooden, papier mache and wax dolls are also interesting and desirable.. 

In the mid Nineteenth Century fine papier mache dolls were produced with leather bodies and carved wooden lower limbs. Also, the Grodnertal region in Germany produced simply made carved wooden dolls. These are attractive with the carved “comb” in their hair. Produced in a variety of sizes, from large down to tiny Grodnertals which are ideal for dolls houses. Until recently Grodnertals were inexpensive, but they are now highly desirable and their price has escalated. 

Wax was another medium used in English doll production by such manufacturers as Pierotti, Montenari and Meech. Lifelike poured wax dolls were produced with glass eyes and hair inserted a few hairs at a time into the scalps of the dolls to give a natural look. Many were dressed in baby robes, others in fine costumes as worn by the ladies of the time. These had a shoulderhead construction, a hair stuffed body and poured wax limbs. Cheaper wax dolls - “wax over composition” - were also made by dipping a head in wax. Over time expansion and contraction occurs and these heads become crazed - but many collectors love their aged and worn look.

China headed dolls of shoulderhead and stuffed body construction, were also produced in this period. Many have simple white glazed china and black painted heads, others have elaborately moulded and painted hairstyles. Most are of small dolls house size but very large sizes can be found. 

UK collectors of cloth dolls tend to favour 20th Century English producers Chad Valley, Deans Rag Book, Farnell and Nora Wellings. Lenci of Italy and Kathe Kruse of Germany also being popular. Some wonderful cloth dolls were also produced in the U.S. by Martha Jenks Chase and Izannah Walker with numerous other naive dolls being produced by other innovative manufacturers. 

The vast majority of collectors whilst perhaps wanting the odd example of dolls such as those mentioned above, concentrate their collections on French and German bisque headed dolls. The variety is diverse and wonderful. 

From the mid 1800s until near the turn of the twentieth century, the finest and most desirable dolls were produced in France. In the 1870s some wonderful Parisiennes or Fashion dolls were produced usually with bisque heads, kid bodies and fine clothes. Bodies were produced with a variety of articulations. Fine fashion dolls were also produced by companies such as Francois Gaultier, Jumeau, Barrois, Huret, Rohmer, and Bru. 

From the late 1870s into the 1890s many fine French Bebe dolls were made. The Portrait Jumeau is a good example from the late 1870s. Now the bodies were beginning to be made of papier mache with ball joints. Beautiful paperweight eyes were used having a depth not seen before. This company was also famous for the Long Faced Jumeau, the EJ and the popular Tete Jumeau. All had closed mouths. Later in the 19th Century the Tete Jumeau was also produced with an open mouth and teeth. 

Leon Casimir Bru was another famous French producer. The company began in the 1860s and at first produced Parisiennes. Perhaps the most wonderful Bru dolls came with the design of the Bru Bebe with kid body, bisque limbs and fine bisque head. The Brevete, Circle and Dot, Bru Jne, Bebe Gourmand and Bebe Teteur (the Gourmand and Teteur being very interesting additions to a collection as they were designed to be fed by their lucky young owners!) are models to look for. 

Francois Gaultier produced heads for many other companies, and as they have a certain look can easily be attributed. Many superb Fashion dolls have FG heads. Some lovely Bebes on jointed bodies were also produced by Gaultier, with distinctive faces and large eyes. 

Superb Bebes were also produced by Schmitt et Fils. Being fine and rare, these understandably command high prices. 

Jules Nicolas Steiner was perhaps the most innovative of the French manufacturers holding many patents for his inventions of mechanical movements to his dolls. The dolls faces and the hands are very distinctive. Numerous designs are to found, the most popular are the Steiner A and the beautiful Steiner C Bebes. 

Whilst the French were the leaders in doll production in the mid to late 1800s, their demise came quickly. The German manufacturers by the 1890s were prolific producers. At the end of the 19th Century, the French doll business was in trouble because of the Germans cheap mass production. Some major French companies including Bru, Jumeau and Gaultier joined together as the SFBJ and whilst they produced a wide variety of dolls until the 1930s, the quality was not equal to their early French Dolls. One desirable SFBJ series however was their characters, made just before WWI. 

The German company of Simon & Halbig began in the late 1860s. Their variety and quality was excellent. They also produced heads for other companies e.g. Kammer & Reinhardt. Additionally, Simon and Halbig made the heads for such companies as Louis Lindner & Sohne (some unusual doll faces exist made specifically for this company), Franz Schmidt & Co and Heinrich Handwerck. Early Simon & Halbig dolls had shoulderplates and kid bodies, but most are on composition, jointed bodies. 

Kestner was producing dolls in the early Nineteenth Century. However, perhaps their best production came from the 1880/90s when lovely bisque headed dolls on composition, jointed bodies were produced. Kestner also produced some very fine all bisque dolls. 

The majority of dolls found today were produced by Armand Marseille. Some are ordinary, many of good quality. He was a prolific producer from the 1890s through to the 1930s. The most common Armand Marseille moulds to be found are the 390, a bisque head on a jointed body, and the Dream Baby - which was produced in mould number 341 with a closed mouth and 351 with an open mouth. 

There were hundreds of German doll manufacturers. Amongst those of note are Gebruder Heubach who was a producer from the mid 1900s until 1938 of a huge range of good character dolls many with intaglio eyes (where the eyes are carved into and form part of the bisque heads). Ernst Heubach, (about 1890 until 1930s) of Kopplesdorf. This company had a family connection with the large Armand Marseille company with whom they merged in 1919, only to split away again in the early 1930s. Cuno & Otto Dressel was a producer of toys for over two hundred years. Whilst they produced some original items, others heads were bought in from various companies. Many types of doll were produced by Dressel in bisque, composition, china and also wax. Catterfelder Puppenfabrik (1890s to 1930s) produced quality character dolls with most of their heads being made by Kestner. Bahr & Proeschild manufactured from 1870s until 1919 when they were purchased by Bruno Schmidt who continued manufacturing until the 1930s. Dolls were made of bisque, china and celluloid and are fine quality. Schnoeau & Hoffmeister were later producers from 1900 until the 1950s. Founded by Arthur Schoenau and Carl Hoffmeister their association was short and disagreements led to the dissolution of their partnership in 1907. The company produced many cheaper and less interesting dolls, but also some good dolls including one modelled on Princess Elizabeth which was dressed in the same outfit as the photo of her as a child in the 1930s.