by John Clendenien
At the end of the 19th century, France and Germany were the major centers for the production of dolls. Among the dolls being produced were those whose heads were made of bisque (unglazed porcelain which was fired in a kiln). The vast majority were “dolly face” dolls. These dolls usually had open mouths with teeth and eyes that opened and closed, and usually with mohair wigs that could be combed.
Early in the 20th century, some manufacturers began to produce "character" dolls. These are dolls that had a fixed expression, often with exaggerated features. The most prolific of the companies that produced character dolls were the Gebruder Heubach (Heubach Brothers) firm of Sonneberg, Thuringia, Germany and the Kammer & Reinhardt Company of Waltershausen, Thuringia, Germany. Both of these manufacturers used children and grandchildren as models for the dolls.
In their book, Heubach Character Dolls & figurines, Lydia Richter and Karin Schmelcher state that for very good reasons one could call Heubach dolls Heubach children because they are perfect portraits of children produced by this company. The production of Heubach figures (figurines) of children to character dolls was a smooth transition.
Richter and Schmelcher suggest that the first character dolls appeared on the German market about 1908. They suggest, "The sudden and great success of the character doll and its relatively quick end are too astonishing to be overlooked."
Yawning boy by Gebruder
Heubach with squinting eyes.
Boy by Gebruder Heubach
with squinting eyes and large ears.
The reaction that these character dolls caused when they appeared was similar to that of a small revolution. The traditional and rather idealized doll heads from the turn of the century had suddenly turned into realistic child faces with very human expressions such as smiling, crying, and even pouting. Some even looked like rascals! Supporters and opponents of this "Doll Reform" attacked each other in magazines and newspapers.
Kammer & Reinhardt was the first company to mass-produce character dolls; even they were surprised at the favorable reception which the character dolls received. They took over the ideas from doll artists at an arts and crafts exhibition in Munich in 1908, and the success of these dolls began to show acceptance around 1910.
France and Germany had both tried manufacturing character dolls earlier, but the time was not right. After 1900 the view of children changed. They were no longer seen as small adults, but as persons with their own personalities.
Screaming girl by Jumeau (French).
The relatively short life of the pure character doll tells us that for the most part children did not accept them. For a child, a doll should be able to play any part.
A character doll can only play a certain role. A laughing doll can never be sad; a pouty or crying doll can only play that role. Children wanted to have their dolls with sleep eyes, open mouths, and especially be able to comb their hair. These features made the doll versatile. That is why the short-lived success of the character doll could never seriously endanger the traditional doll.
Maree Tarnoska, in her book, RARE CHARACTER DOLLS, suggests adults might have been amused by character dolls and bought them for their offspring. She continues, "But they may not have represented the first choice of the child itself, although they would, undoubtedly, have been received with dutiful acknowledgement by the acquiescent daughter of that era."
Carolyn Goodfellow, in the Introduction of RARE CHARACTER DOLLS, states that the first named character dolls by Kammer & Reinhardt were modeled after their grandchildren.
The advent of character dolls gave manufacturers the opportunity to develop new types of eyes -- the side glancing, and the flirty eyes that are found in many character dolls. Side glancing eyes that do not move are often referred to as "roguish" eyes; dolls with large round side glancing eyes are called googlies.
Character dolls also brought about changes in the mouths of dolls -- watermelon smiling mouths, pouting or crying dolls, and the solemn faced boy or girl.
Multi-face doll by Kestner -- one dolly face head and three character heads. Heads can be interchanged on the body.
For Further Study
Foulke, Jan: Focusing on Gebruder Heubach Dolls, Hobby House Press, 1980
Ladensack, Anita: The History and Art of Googlies, Hobby House Press, 2002
Richter, Lydia & Schmelcher, Karin: Heubach Character Dolls & Figurines, Hobby House Press, 1992
Tarnoska, Maree: Rare Character Dolls, Hobby House Press, 1987
John Clendenien served as president of the National Antique Doll Dealers Association 1998-2000. He also served as president of the United Federation of Doll Clubs from 1987-89.