Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”  ⁓ John Keats. Half dolls were used to add beauty to a wide range of objects used in everyday life within the home.

As the 19th century was drawing to a close the world saw the aesthetic movement and the arts and crafts movement grow and take shape. The aesthetic movement sought to bring beauty into everyday life and the arts & crafts philosophy sought to bring art into utilitarian objects of daily life. Both of these philosophies paved the way for the china half dolls of the period which are so widely collected today.

Many of these lovely objects adorned the dressing table in M’lady’s bedroom. The use of small decorative trinket boxes was not new to the turn of the 20th century, in fact porcelain boxes were often offered as Fairings in mid and 3rd quarter 19th century Britain. These trinket boxes were predominately of German manufacture and are quite collectible in their own right today.

During the second half of the 19th century small, colorful porcelain figures were often sold at holiday resorts and fairs or used as prizes at fairs. Although the largest market for these items was in England, many were made in Germany. These “fairings” included items like the trinket box shown here and are in some respects the forerunners to the half dolls that came after them. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop JG Gallery.
German manufacturers often used the same sculpts for dresser dolls as they used for half dolls.

Pincushions had also enjoyed long use, serving in the boudoir for keeping dressing pins and in the sewing room for the keeping of common pins and needles. Many of the ladies’ periodicals of the latter half of the 19th century included instructions for making all sorts of “notion nanny” dolls, including those that served as pin cushions. Early versions were made using the china and bisque dolls of the day.

The June 1896 issue of Delineator magazine included instructions for making a pincushion utilizing a Japanese doll.  The articles stated “The cushion proper is of wadding covered with plain silk and the doll which surmounts it may be purchased for a small sum at any toy store. It is dressed in a pretty kimono of figured yellow silk and a broad sash is tied about the waist.”
A ca. 1910 lady’s magazine also included instructions for making pincushions with dolls. The pink silk pincushion shown here was fashioned using a small Gebrüder Heubach doll as its center.

By 1900 a number of German porcelain factories, many of which also made dolls of china and bisque, were creating china half dolls for use as pincushion tops, clothing brushes as well was making perfume bottles and dresser boxes in the form of elegant ladies. These would continue to be immensely popular right into the early 1930s.

The German companies that produced most of these dolls advertised them as “busts,” “tea busts,” or “dresser dolls.” Today collectors generally refer to them as “Half-dolls.” German companies such as Dressel & Kister of Passau, W. Geobel Porzellanfabrik of Oeslau, Karl Schneider of Grafenthal, Galluba & Hoffman of Illmenau, Schäfer & Vater of Volkstedt-Rudolstadt, Conta & Boehme of Pössneck and many others, produced hundreds of various models of these half-dolls and offered many models in a range of sizes. Other counties also manufactured these items including England, France, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the USA, and Japan.

Many half dolls were used in making tea cosies. In fact, a number of manufacturers referred to these items as “tea busts” or “tea heads” in their catalogs. Many were made up with heavily lined skirts of fabric which ensured that the teapot would stay warm. Others were made up at home using knit and crochet patterns.
The half dolls of Dressel & Kister are distinctive in their multistrand painting of the hair and the applied flowers often found on them, as well as for their narrow, tapered bases. The Dressel & Kister mark illustrated here is generally found on the inside of the base.

The porcelain manufacturers that made the half dolls sold them not only through retailers but sold them wholesale to smaller companies who made them up into finished items such as the aforementioned tea cozies and pincushions, as well as dresser sets, clothing brushes and powder puffs. The public obviously enjoyed these little beauties and they were used on items throughout the home adorning telephone covers, boudoir lamps, bridge pencils, parasol handles, egg cosies, and similar novelties. Still others were sold simply as half-dolls to be made up into useful items at home.

The March 8, 1925 issue of Les Modes de la Femme de France shows Poupees Bibelots (trinket dolls) incorporating half dolls. These trinkets included sewing notion holders, lamps, and shelf adornments.
Artist Lilli Baitz operated a business in Berlin called Lilli Baitz Kunstsgewerbliches Atelier (Lilli Baitz Arts and Crafts Studio). The half dolls she created were made of a composition material, sometimes wax-coated and were signed with the name of the model on the left lower shoulder and the name Baitz in script on the right lower shoulder. 

As fashion trends changed so did the design of these busts. They can be found depicting ladies, children and even animals. Apart from the china examples they were also produced in bisque, wax, chalk ware, composition, paper-mache, metal, and celluloid.

Variations in style include dolls with bald heads to receive wigs and dolls with objects in their hands.

As in most areas of doll collecting points to consider when collecting half dolls are detail, quality and rarity. These dolls were available in a wide range of qualities going from very heavy, low quality porcelain or other materials and “slap-dash” painting to extremely high quality with delicate porcelain and artistic painting. The low end of the price scale is primarily dolls with both arms molded in one with the torso (rare characters are the exception to this), next are dolls with one or both arms molded away and back to the torso, and dolls with both arms molded away from the body tend to be at the higher end of the price scale. There are also rarities such as exotic sculpts like the medieval-style dolls, those depicting stars of the stage and comic characters, or dolls with applied details such as fired on flowers, animals, or accessories which were added after the figure was molded. All of these considerations add to the fun of hunting for new examples for our collections.

These lovely little sculptures remind us of a time with even the most utilitarian items could afford an opportunity to bring beauty into everyday life and they continue to do so in modern collections.

Bibliography

Linda Edward Doll Values, 13th Edition. New York: Page Publishing. 2017

Jurgen and Marianne Cieslik German Doll Encyclopedia. Cumberland: Hobby House Press, 1985

Shona & Marc Lorrin The Half-Doll with related items, makers and values, Vol 1. Jenks: self-published, 1999 Norma Werner & Frieda MarionThe Collectors Encyclopedia of Half Dolls. Paducah, Collector Books, 1979

Author – Linda Edward

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