In 1814, Samuel Hill opened the doors of the Hill Pottery Company in Flemington, N.J. According to Robert C. Runge Jr. in his “Brief History of Fulper Pottery,” the company was originally formed to produce utilitarian pottery: pottery for everyday use, such as storage crocks and drain pipes. Flemington was rich with red earthenware clay and was the perfect location for a pottery company.
In 1858, Abram Fulper, following the death of Samuel Hill, took over Hill Pottery and renamed it Fulper Pottery. Along with his sons, Abram ensured the success of the company by continuing with the utilitarian line of products with a few decorative touches added. Clay flower pots, storage crocks with simple decoration and tiles can be seen in the print advertising of the period.
By the turn of the century, the leadership of the Fulper Pottery Company was in the hands of Princeton University-educated William Hill Fulper II. Storage ware was still the backbone of the firm, but fire-proof cookware was also added to the line. Also added was the “Fulper Germ Proof Filter” invented by William and used to purify water. This precursor to the water cooler provided pure water in schools, train stations and public areas. William was a master businessman and was attuned to public trends. Art pottery had become the rage and with the help of master potter John Kunsman, a line of art pottery called VaseKraft with unique shapes and colored glazes was introduced.
In 1910, Martin Stangl, a ceramic engineer, came on board. Glazes were improved and new shapes and unique pieces such as ceramic lamps were added. Fulper Pottery, under the expert marketing leadership of William Fulper and the creative genius of Stangl, were unparallel in the pottery world but World War I brought necessary changes.
One change at the Fulper Pottery Company would affect the doll industry. Always aware of the market changes and demands of the public, William Fulper recognized that because of the war, the German dolls that made up the major portion of the dolls on the American market would no longer be available. To fill that void, The Fulper Pottery Company, under the direction of Martin Stangl, began to produce bisque doll heads and all-bisque dolls. According to “The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls,” most of these heads and complete dolls were purchased and distributed by American doll manufacturers such as Horsman, Aetna, Colonial Toy Manufacturing Company and Amberg. The bisque heads are marked “Fulper” incised vertically with “made in USA” at the bottom. An “MS” in a triangle often is found above “Fulper” and stands for Martin Stangl. The all bisque dolls usually have the Fulper mark incised on the back of their torso. The mark of the doll company distributing the dolls, if other than Fulper, is also found incised.
After the War, America again began to import dolls from Germany. Germany could produce a complete doll more inexpensively than Fulper Pottery and a few other companies who were trying to compete. By 1922, Fulper ceased production of dolls and heads and returned to making the beautiful pottery they did best. The company did continue to produce novelty doll-like figurines and pin cushion dolls for several years. Many of these were designed by Tony Sarg, who later became a designer for Madame Alexander.
The dolls by the Fulper Pottery Company are rarely found. They have a charm about them but their quality does not measure up to their German cousins or to the beautiful art pottery that made Fulper famous. The bisque tends to lack the translucence found on the quality German dolls and the Fulper dolls’ facial painting has less shading and detail. The mouths appear a little too open and the teeth too prominent but these dolls still deserve our attention. The Fulper all bisque dolls and dolls with bisque heads are not highly prized by American collectors. Because of this, prices remain low. Next time you see an example, take a good look. Many are inferior to the German dolls but some are very nice and deserve a spot in your collection.
It was a long trip from drain pipes to dolls but we are glad the Fulper Pottery Company chose to make it. William Fulper saw a need and his company filled it. His purpose may have been for profit only but I am sure the children of that troubled period were just happy to have a doll. ?
Photos courtesy Sherry Minton
Based on prices at doll shows, auctions, Internet sales and individual sales from the past 30 days. Prices will vary in different regions depending on interests and economic conditions. E-mail questions concerning dolls or prices to email@example.com.
22-inch Fulper bisque shoulder head doll, leather body, redressed $150
14-inch Fulper bisque socket head on baby body, marked Horsman $125
14-inch American Taft bisque socket head, ball joint body $200
22-inch Tete Jumeau, closed mouth, original wig and pate, redressed appropriately $4,500
18-inch Simon Halbig 1039, flirty eyes, antique clothing, original wig and shoes $525
3-inch all bisque, glass eyes, jointed at neck, shoulders and hips, mohair wig $325
8-inch Effanbee composition “buttin nose,” all original $150
7-inch German doll house man and woman, original clothes, molded hair $300
1 1/4-inch all bisque jointed shoulders/hips, original crochet outfit, molded hair $50
18-inch Alexander Madeleine, unique ball joint plastic body, original clothes $135
Sherry Minton has served as president of three clubs belonging to the United Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc. She is a senior member of the American Society of Appraisers with a Designated Specialty in Dolls and Toys. Minton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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