Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

Miniature room boxes and dioramas have always fascinated viewers but it takes a family to make a house a home and so it is with dollhouses. Whether precise miniature reproductions or whimsical interpretations on a small scale, a dollhouse really comes to life with the addition of dolls to inhabit it.

In the 18th and 19th century small versions of dolls of wax, wood, china or papier mache were used to inhabit the dollhouses and miniature curio cabinets of the day.  Scales varied considerably and certain amount of imagination was sometimes needed to accept the scenes portrayed. 

Small dolls of varying materials found homes in dollhouses of the 18th and 19th centuries. Scales varied widely or were completely ignored by the children who enjoyed these toys.

By the mid 19th century the scale of dollhouses started to become more regular with 1.5″ to 1′, 1″ to1′ and .75″ to 1′ being made. Toward the 3rd quarter of the 19th century these popular scales allowed doll manufacturers to offer individual and family groupings of dolls especially made for dollhouses. These dolls ranged from about 5 inches to 9 inches, scale depending.

By the late Victorian era bisque dollhouse dolls could be had in a wide range of styles, portraying adults, children and numerous service occupations such as maids, cooks and chauffeurs. The vast majority of these dolls were made in Germany and had bisque shoulder-heads on cloth bodies with bisque lower arms and legs. All bisque dolls were often made to portray dollhouse children.

The German companies that made dollhouse dolls created a host of characters to inhabit any doll’s house. Most of these shoulder-head dolls had painted features and molded hair.
Some variations on the more usual dolls included dolls with wigs, glass eyes or jointed full bisque arms.

Companies such as Simon & Halbig, Kestner, Hertwig made heads and entire dolls. Other smaller ventures such as Heinrich Schmuckler, Welsch & Co., Schindhelm & Knauer, and Friedmann & Ohnstein assembled and costumed dollhouse dolls (among other styles of dolls) which had heads purchased from other factories.

In the 1920s and 30s dollhouse dolls kept pace with changing styles and activities. Bobbed hair styles and modern costumes were used and special interest characters such as aviators and motorists were made.

These dolls in original clothing are attributed to Kestner as they resemble illustrations found in the Kestner company catalog of the early 1930s.
Small dolls made in France such as this pair of SFBJ mold 301 dolls were often used in dollhouses of the early 20th century.

Bisque dolls were not however the entire story. Just after the end of WWI in the USA a Providence, RI cottage industry known as Tynietoy was offering its own wooden dolls and a line of cloth dolls made by Marion Winter alongside imported German bisque dollhouse families.

Tynietoy’s Peggity dolls were reminiscent of German peg-woodens of the previous century. Tynietoy also carried a line of cloth dolls with wire armatures, painted features and soft metal-soled feet.

In 1917 a woman named Maragrete Cohn started making a line of cloth dollhouse dolls from her home in Berlin, Germany. These dolls had yarn-wrapped wire-armature bodies with metal feet and cloth faces with embroidered features and hair. By 1920 Cohn was using the name Grecon for her doll line. After moving to London in 1936 she continued her dollhouse doll business up until the 1980s. 

By the 1930s there were composition headed dollhouse dolls such as those made in Germany by Canzler and Hoffmann under the tradename Caho. These too employed a wrapped-armature style of body and had lead hands and feet. After WWII Canzler moved from East Germany to West Germany, eventually settling in Coburg. He changed the company name to Caco and began using plastic heads, hands and feet for their dolls to meet new US import regulations against using lead in children’s toys. Canzler sold the company in the 1970s and the dolls were continued to be made by the new owners into the 1980s.

These lovely Caco twins are in their original presentation. The 2.5″ long dolls have composition heads and metal hands and feet. Photo Courtesy of Shirley’s Dolls on Ruby Lane.
In 1935 Effanbee Doll Company added a 5.75″ doll to their popular Patsy family of dolls. Wee Patsy was sold with a tie-in to the famous fairy castle dollhouse belonging to actress Colleen Moore.

American companies such as Effanbee offered composition dollhouse dolls called Wee Patsy. Effanbee would go on to offer hard plastic dollhouse families in the 1950s.

Other dollhouse dolls of the late 1930s included German bisque and painted- bisque dolls.

Painted bisque dolls of the 1930s were sold in boxed sets. Made in Germany this box has a style label which reads: 1 set 705 7. These dolls were sized perfectly for the .75″ to 1″ scale houses popular during the period.
A Montgomery Ward catalog from 1931 suggests a family of small all bisque dolls to inhabit the Tootsietoy doll houses they sold. The Grandmother and Grandfather shown here are the type made by Hertwig & Co. of Germany and are incised Germany on their backs, they appear to match the image on the catalog page.

Shortly after the end of WWII Sheila and Charles Flagg of Jamaica Palin, Massachusetts opened the Flagg Doll Co. Their concept for bendable dolls came to being in their soft vinyl dolls which had internal wire armatures. Their line included dollhouse families which were scaled to fit the popular Masonite and metal dollhouses of the late 1940s and 1950s. 

 The Flagg Doll Company dollhouse families were listed on the advertising card which came packaged with each of their other doll styles. The dolls are small enough to work on the dollhouses offered in the catalogs of the era. 
By the time of the metal dollhouses of the 1950s and early 60s most makers were supplying dolls or figures for their product line. Renwal made a series of jointed, hard plastic people to go with their hard plastic furnishings.

Today dollhouse dolls of a wide range of materials are being made by big companies and small artist concerns providing any character imaginable to bring life to the dollhouses of children and collectors alike.

Author – Linda Edward

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