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Put On A Happy Face

In the realm of doll collecting the Multi-faced doll has always been of special interest to collectors. Doll makers in their never-ending search for novel products have repeatedly turned to variations of multi-faced dolls.

"Prosopotrope" the four-faced doll, was made from the earliest known US patent for a multi-faced doll. Photos courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers.


The production of play dolls over the past two-hundred and fifty years has been a highly competitive business. Manufacturers have constantly sought to bring different products to the marketplace in an effort to give them a competitive edge with the buying public. Many of these novelty items actually relied on previous products proving the idiom "everything old is new again."


The earliest known patent for a multi-face doll was granted to Dominico Checkeni and Georg Thompson on February 20, 1866. The patent lists Checkeni, who was from Marion, CT as the inventor. His doll design pertains to the doll's head rotating on an axis or pivot so that the four faces can be revolved vertically. The heads for these dolls were made from a form of rubber (which resembled gutta-percha) which was painted and given a wax outer-coating. In the 1880s dolls from this design were sold with a label stating that they were manufactured and sold by Ozias Morse of West Acton, MA. 


In France the firm of Bru Jeune et Cie developed a design for a double-faced doll. They received patent 78844 for a pivoting, double-faced doll on May 19, 1867. Bru produced their 2-faced dolls in a range of sizes from a diminutive all-bisque version to bisque headed dolls as large as a 24" bébé.


France's prestigious Jumeau doll company had a series of character heads sculpted in the 1890s for use on special dolls and automatons. Laughing and crying faces from this 200 series were also used on a double-faced child doll. The faces revolved within the doll's bonnet by turning a knob on the top of their head.


Bru's double-faced doll featured molded open/closed mouths and glass eyes. These dolls are seldom found today. Photo courtesy of Frasher's Doll auction.


The Dressel, Kister & Co. porcelain factory in Scheibe-Alsbach, Thüringia, Germany was rooted in businesses that began as early as 1835 but it was in 1844 that this company name was initiated when Mr. Dressel and Mr. Kister purchased the concern. It was at that time that doll heads were added to the product line offered by the firm. The factory made a wide range of porcelain products including dolls in both glazed (china) and unglazed finishes (bisque or parian). In 1863 Kister's son took over the operation and the company name changed to A.W. Kister & Co.


This 11" tall china doll represents two different phases of life. Her china head depicts youth and age. She was made by the Thüringian company of A.W. Kister. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Signature Dolls.


From 1880 to 1881 German doll factory owner Fritz Bartenstein of Huttensteinach, Thuringia took out 3 German patents and one US patent pertaining to methods for making double faced socket-head dolls. His design idea employed the use of pull-strings to turn the doll's head to expose each face. Bartenstein dolls have been found with heads of wax, wax-over, composition, or bisque. In 1882 Bartenstein successfully sued Peter Schelhorn for patent infringement over his version of a two-faced doll.


Bartenstein's dolls were marked with a stamp on the body that read "Bartenstein" or " Deutscher Bartenstein // USP No. 243,752." or "Patentirt in Deutschland." This 15" example has a wax-over-paper mache head. The doll's socket head turns inside its molded paper-mache bonnet. Doll courtesy of Ruby Lane shop All Dolled Up.


Carl Bergner of Sonneberg, Germany began his doll business in 1890. His factory used heads made for them by Gebrüder Heubach and Simon & Halbig. In 1883 Bergner was part of a committee that founded the Sonneberg Industrial School. In 1904 and '05 Bergner registered his design for doll bodies with changeable faces in Germany (DRGM 248715) and in Britain. His two and three-faced dolls can be found with faces showing three different expressions or in combinations of white, medium brown, and dark brown faces.


Carl Bergner's multi-faced dolls came in a two-faced version and a three-faced doll. By 1908 Bergner's successor, Alma Maaser, was using the name "Metamorphose" for these dolls. The dolls had cloth bodies with composition lower arms and legs. Their three faces to revolve within their pressed cardboard hoods, which were covered with cloth bonnets, by simply turning the brass loop atop their head. The back of the doll's pressed cardboard shoulder-plate is stamped C.B. in a circle. The pull-strings seen in the photos operate a mama/papa voice mechanism.


Other German companies that made multi-faced dolls include; Hertel Schwab & Co of Stutzhaus, Germany which made double-faced character baby heads (mold 567) for the firm of Kley and Hahn and Max Handwerck of Waltershausen, Thüringia which offered Googlie-eyed dolls depicting WWI soldiers from the Allied Countries.


This 9" doll bears the markings "DEP" and "Elite." The design for these dolls was registered in 1915 by Max Handwerck doll factory. The porcelain heads were made for them by other porcelain doll companies in their area. This example depicts WWI era soldiers from Turkey and France. Photos courtesy Morphy auctions.


In 1910 Bernard Fleischaker and Hugo Baum founded the company that would become known as Effanbee Doll Company. Among their earliest products were American-made composition dolls. This June 1912 ad from Playthings magazine highlights Effanbbee's Johnny Tu-face doll whose molded composition head had laughing and crying faces. This doll had painted eyes, a cloth body and composition arms.


The Ideal Novelty and Toy Company of Brooklyn, NY introduced their "Soozie Smile – The Surprise Baby" doll in 1923. Available as 16" and 17" dolls, Soozie's head turned on her flange-style neck and she had the often seen smiling and crying faces on a chubby cloth mama-type body. This example wears her original romper. Photos courtesy of Ruby Lane shop My Dolly Market.


After WWII the multi-faced doll came back with "Trudy" made by Three-In-One Doll Corporation. The patent for this doll was awarded to Elsie Gilbert Winterfeld on July 29, 1947. Doll photos courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Ogee's Antiques.


Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st a number of US patents were received for variations on multi-faced dolls. Some of these are included here, although there were also others:


#1387224 granted on August 9, 1921 to E.A. Ahler


#1608415 granted on November 23, 1926 to Ellen M. Mytton


#1615401 granted on January 25, 1927 to Harold T Payne


#2584798   granted on February 5, 1952 to Hans Goerditz


#2662339 granted on December 15, 1953 to Wanda L. Paul


#4030239 granted on June 21, 1977 to Peter Charles White


#4136483 granted on January 30, 1979 to Judy Shackelford 


#6443802 granted on September 3, 2002 to Mahvash Vakili


 Ideal introduced its three-faced "Little Lost Baby" in 1968. She was 22" tall with a revolving vinyl head inside the hood of her corduroy sleeper. The faces for this doll were sculpted by Neil Estern.


Uneeda Doll Company's 4" "Thum-things" dolls had a horizontally revolving head with three faces which turned inside of her molded vinyl hair. This Brooklyn, NY business came out with these dolls in 1973.


As previously stated, "everything old is new again," and it seems that the "novelty" of the multi-faced doll will not only continue to reflect the many moods of the consumers and doll makers of the past, but is likely destined to return in future iterations.


Author - Linda Edward




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