Character dolls: Not always pretty, but always interesting

Antique Trader hasn’t given much attention to dolls for quite some time. So, for something different, I thought I would have a look and see what was available on Ruby Lane. After browsing around for a while, I find that no better word describes character dolls than “different.” (FYI: There are currently more than 45,000 dolls and accessories available.)

Hertel & Schwabb character baby doll. Courtesy of Ruby Lane

Hertel & Schwabb character baby doll. Courtesy of Ruby Lane

Dedicated doll collectors collect character dolls. But character dolls are also the type of item that just one will suffice – if it is the right one. A non-collector might see something special – perhaps a mischievous twinkle – in the eye of a doll that is not beautiful in the traditional sense. Dolly-faced dolls and fashion dolls are – as they were designed to be – beautiful. I could even see myself adopting a character doll, especially since I consider myself a bit of a different character. 

But what was the inspiration behind character dolls? Years ago, Antique Trader magazine columnist Sherry Minton explained in one of her “Speaking of Dolls” columns: “Like the Ford Company did with the Edsel, periodically doll companies wanted to introduce something different to their line.”

Let’s look at a few currently (as of this writing) available.

Character dolls

Kathy Libraty of Kathy Libraty’s Antiques, Brooklyn, New York, has many collectible dolls in her inventory. One that stood out is a Hertel & Schwabb 21″ character baby. The description says, ” She’s marked as the 152 model, with a bisque socket head, with molded and painted features, with ice blue glass sleep eyes. She stands at 21” tall, on her original antique composition bent-limb baby body, and is adorned in a cute antique dress and vintage bonnet.” ($825) 

18" Kammer & Reinhardt 116 toddler boy doll

18″ Kammer & Reinhardt 116 toddler boy doll

Libraty also has this 18″ Kammer & Reinhardt 116 toddler boy doll. It has a bisque socket head on a jointed, slant-hip composition and wood toddler body, as well as “Beautiful butterscotch sleep eyes with painted upper and lower lashes multi stroke brows, open/closed mouth with molded tongue, deeply dimpled inner cheeks, double chin, lovely original full light brown mohair wig.”

(To be honest, dolls with tongues and teeth make me pause, but that’s part of what makes them stand out.)

The boy doll dressed in a complete sailor costume – right down to modern tan leather shoes – is priced at $1,400. If you’re truly enamored, this dealer will set you up on a layaway payment plan.

This next doll caught my eye because I think she’s the spitting image of the daughter of one of my friends. Right down to the wispy hair (although the doll’s hair is longer than the child’s). The hair is a human hair wig (although “not very nice,” Reinders says). This 30″ Gebruder Heubach character doll is offered by Agnita Reinders, Agnita*s Beautiful Antique Dolls, of San Pedro de Alcantara, Spain. Her asking price is $500.

30" Gebruder Heubach character doll

30″ Gebruder Heubach character doll

Minton’s Doll and Curiosity Shop, curated by none other than Antique Trader columnist Sherry Minton, offers this German “Kaiser baby” character doll with a face full of expression. “The wrinkles around his mouth are deep with dimples at his chin and at his cheeks. His open closed mouth shows his joy and his eyes are large and bright. His large ears are well molded and life-like and his hair is brushed in curved strokes that appear as hair. His head is shaped as a newborn baby with a flat area at the top. He has a double chin and fat wrinkles at his neck. His very unusual brown eyes give him a very different character.”

The baby boy character doll is fully clothed. He wears a handmade christening gown that measures 43″ long, as well as a heavily embroidered wool slip. The doll also wears a cotton long-sleeved diaper shirt with flannel diaper, wool knitted booties and knitted stockings. His head is topped off with a baby bonnet.

Kammer-Reinhardt German "Kaiser baby" character doll

Kammer-Reinhardt German “Kaiser baby” character doll

Minton adds, “According to the original owner, the dress, slip and wool slip were made in 1836 and were handed down in the family until they were finally placed on this wonderful brown eyed baby.” This unique character doll is offered at $325.

In sum, character dolls stand apart for their unique characteristics. They’re meant to be memorable.

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