Let the Buyer Be Aware
by Lynn Murray
Gier, avidité, avaricia, greed -- a human failing in any language. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of antiques and collectibles. From time to time, in the doll world, we become aware of reproductions on the market that are not adequately identified as reproductions and thus mistaken for the genuine article. Usually these items are made with such a great degree of skill that they would command a very fair price if sold honestly as a reproduction. But occasionally they fall into the hands of a person who recognizes the quality of workmanship and passes the item on as an antique, at a much higher price of course ... ah, greed! The good news is that the doll world is a relatively small world and collectors are quick to share knowledge of reproductions on the market as antiques.
In the 1960s there was a flood of reproduction FG French fashions. Dealers bought them by the carton at a show in New York City. The 18" dolls had heads marked with the FG scroll mark. The wigs were human hair wigs made in the 60s, the eyes were not paperweight eyes and the painting was less than convincing to a collector of forty years later, and the heads are larger than a real antique FG fashion. The bodies were well-made leather bodies with individual fingers and the clothes were also well made, of old materials. Inside the heads were newspaper scraps from the early part of the century and that is where the trouble began. Well-known dealers like Candace Doelman and Grace Dyer sold the dolls for just what they were, clever reproductions. However, on the secondary market, the dolls were sold to less experienced collectors as genuine antique FG fashions, "found in an old warehouse in Paris." Eventually the dolls were traced back to a mother and son team in Paris who had no idea their work was being misrepresented in America.
Twenty years later, there was a spate of Bru reproductions sold as antiques. They were made in white bisque and also in a version that was tinted brown. The leather bodies were extraordinarily well made here in America. Where the heads were made remains a mystery to all but the parties involved. Again, the dolls were sold as genuine antiques. They went unrecognized by the uninitiated and even by some very experienced dealers and doll scholars. The author learned a great deal about Brus during a court case to retrieve $12,000 paid for one of these dolls. Once a specialist on Bru was consulted, it seemed obvious that the dolls were reproductions. Our specialist, Jim Fernando, pointed out to the jury that the doll's head was not the correct size, the ears were pierced into the head, rather than through the earlobe, the neck joining was not correct, the eyes were not paperweight eyes, etc. We won the case and the retrieved money paid the legal fees, an expensive, but valuable lesson.
Since the reunification of Germany in 1989, the opportunities for deception have increased a hundred fold. And in the day of jet travel, it takes less than a day for counterfeit items to make their way to markets anywhere in the world. The first reproductions that came to the author's attention were sold ten years ago in a doll museum near the former border of East Germany. These dolls are wonderful. Their heads are made from original Heubach molds and their bodies are of composition. A man who had been employed at the Heubach factory did the painting, and thus, he was able to recreate "the look" of Heubach. The potential problem with the dolls is that they are made from the original molds, so they are the correct size and marked with the genuine Heubach mark. They are not signed by the artist or dated or in any way marked to show that they are newly made. We were asked to sign a document stating that we had been advised that these were not antique dolls. It does not require a lot of imagination to realize what is going to happen with dolls like these once they left Germany. Fortunately, the Heubach dolls like these were inexpensive enough not to tempt mercenary dealers to invest in great quantities to sell as antiques.
Unfortunately, this is not true in all cases. One simply has to visit the Sonneberg area to see what new being sold as old. Small all-bisque dolls are being reproduced, dressed by hand, put in old boxes decorated with old scrap and sold as "original in the box." Well, strictly speaking, they are original in the box, but not in the normal context. When doll collectors speak of all original, mint in box or in original box, they are not speaking of reproductions.
Automatons are being produced with remarkable skill and flare. The small bisque doll heads are being poured in the original molds, painted by hand and assembled into musical, key-wound automatons, which are then sold for thousands of Deutschmarks. Once they have been distressed a little with dust and a little spray of water, the price increases. In Sonneberg shops these items are cleverly mixed in with genuine antiques, proving even more difficult for the enthusiastic collector to detect.
Holiday items are another area that is been exploited. The temptation to distress brand new paper maché candy boxes and jack-o-lanterns and sell them as vintage, was just too much for some dealers in the area. In fact, these candy boxes are still in production in Thüringen and can be purchased from factory outlets in the area.
These automatons, dolls and holiday items are wonderful pieces of work and should be marked and sold for exactly what they are - new! Instead they turn up at Brimfield, Atlantic City and the Internationale Puppen-, Bären- und Miniature festival in Neustadt-Sonneberg as antiques, in the doll auction catalogs and frequently on Internet auctions.
The story is almost always the same: "These were found in the attic of an old abandoned factory in Thüringen. There is a little water damage, but that is to be expected after all the years under the roof. Just go through the piles of boxes and find the best ones." Or, "We found these on the days of garbage collection in Sonneberg. Once a year people can clean out their attics and put out anything for garbage collection. All the dealers in Germany flock to Sonneberg for that day." It doesn't matter how often the story is told it doesn't make it true.
A set of six wonderful paper maché candy boxes being packed in old boxes and sold as vintage inventory "found in the attic of an old factory."
Thirty years ago it was possible to find things in Sonneberg on garbage day, but not today. The factory buildings and houses have been cleaned out thoroughly. As for prowling through old factory buildings? Those buildings were raided by a series of people for fifty years since the end of the war. Old stock has long since made it to the world markets. If anything else were true, doll and toy collectors would overrun Thüringen. Factory buildings still stand, but they are now in private hands and they are closely guarded and secured. The Armand Marseilles factory was one of the first to go, demolished and replaced by a parking lot. The Heubach factory stands, at once sad and ominous, surrounded by a high fence. The Kister factory is watched closed by the local people, who appear from the wooded trails as soon as a stranger approaches. Where the building with walls full of molds once stood, patches of pink and purple lupin nod in the breeze.
One of the few remaining factories that is still intact is the Weiss, Kühnert & Company factory. When the owners of The German Doll Company, Susan Bickert and Roland Schlegel, purchased the factory, they made an alliance with history. They would preserve the factory as a museum factory and thus ensure the protection of the history it contains. Weiss Kühnert & Company was founded in 1891. They produced thousands of porcelain items including religious figures, bathing beauties, frozen Charlottes, bonnet dolls, doll heads, Kewpies and even the first porcelain Mickey Mouse figures. When Hitler ordered the company to produce items for his war machine, the master molds were simply stored away for future use. No one would have predicted that following the war; the company would be constrained to produce utilitarian items such as beer steins and ordinary tableware. The master molds rested, forgotten in their storage area, where they remain today.
The candy boxes are mounted on circles of old cardboard and stamped "Gesetz. Geschütz." Teachers will recognize the texture and smell of the powdered water paint used on these characters.
As a finishing touch, these old made in Germany stickers have been affixed to each box.
In France, one talented lady produces boxed sets containing antique dolls with wardrobes, sometimes in a presentation box, sometimes in a small trunk. She sells her products for just what they are, a new presentation of old goods. Her works turns up frequently at doll shows and auctions in the USA as all original "MIB."
So what can collectors do to protect themselves? First of all, be aware that the possibility exists that the item, which has so, captured your fancy, might be a reproduction. If the workmanship is wonderful and the price is right, it may not matter to you. Realize that there are very few antique dolls available in Germany today. At the big American shows, German dealers work hard to find dolls that they can afford to take back to their customers in Germany. Look very carefully at items you find in flea markets, especially in the Leipzig, Sonneberg, Nürnberg areas. Don't let your enthusiasm or collector's greed deceive you. Know the dealer you are buying from. Most of them are hard working and honest. Trust your instincts, if it looks to good to be true....
Three Kewpies from The German Doll Company.
Companies such as the Richard Mahr Company (Marolin), produce beautiful paper maché items in the style of the old. Masks and jack-o-lanterns are also produced by local companies, using their original molds. Through an agreement with Jesco, The German Doll Company has the rights to produce Kewpies from the original master molds found in their factory. Their all-bisque Kewpies are prominently marked on the bottom with the roly-poly logo and name, The German Doll Company. The German doll company that has been in continuous production for the longest time is the Käthe Kruse Doll Company. From time to time, they reissue a doll from the past in a very limited edition. Since the methods used to make these historical reissues are the same as those employed in the past, it may be possible to mistake the limited edition dolls with the originals, except that the limited edition dolls are clearly marked on the foot with the number of the edition. Products from these highly reputable firms are marketed through catalog companies, over the Internet at their own web sites and through reputable dealers in Europe and North America.
The German Doll Company mark on the bottom of the Kewpie's feet.
The Käthe Kruse Company reissues dolls in their historical series. The reissued dolls are clearly marked on the foot with the limited edition number. Left, "Margretchen" made in the US Zone, circa 1949. Right, re-issue of the Doll I "Margretchen" originally produced in 1914 and reissued in 1999.
NADDA member Lynn Murray originally wrote this article for the Antique Doll Collector Magazine in 2001. ADC granted permission for republishing on the NADDA Website.