Speaking of Dolls: Hertwig family dolls found in doll collections worldwide

Katzhutte, a tiny village in the central eastern part of Germany known as Thuringia, was the unplanned site of what would become one of the largest porcelain manufacturers in the world. The village had once thrived as a center for iron-smelting, but by the 1800s the buildings sat empty.

In 1864, Christoph Hertwig and two partners visited the village of Katzhutte. Hertwig owned a successful porcelain firm in a nearby town and saw an opportunity here. The buildings could easily be converted into porcelain production rooms and the old furnaces replaced with kilns. There was plenty of room for storage, show rooms, molds, supplies and there was a village filled with eager workers.

Within a year of opening the factory, The Hertwig and Co. wares were on display at the Leipzig Fair in 1865. A line of products including doll heads, all porcelain dolls and decorative porcelain display items for the home were available.

While the business was financially successful, the early years did have some management struggles. Christoph Hertwig, the senior Hertwig, had allowed his 18-year-old son, Ernst, to assume control of the new company while father ran his other firm. The partners did not get along well with Ernst and it proved difficult to retain good workers.

By 1868, Christoph was forced to return to Katzhutte. One partner was bought out, the other partner, because of personal tragedy, committed suicide and Christoph Hertwig became the sole owner. Internal employee problems were addressed and solved and the business flourished. The factory expanded adding shipping and storage rooms and more employees. By 1888, 300 people worked in the factory and 600 worked at home making cloth bodies for dolls. According to research provided to Florence Theriault by the Hertwig family, during the winter months, up to 24,000 dolls were produced each day and during the summer months, over 12,000 could be produced each day.

Health issues forced Ernst to retire from the company followed soon by his father, Christoph. Two other sons, Karl and Friedrich, took over. Because of the American market and their great demands for the dolls and decorative items produced by Hertwig, the firm prospered. Hertwig was not without competitors as doll manufacturing in this area of Germany was a cutthroat business, but Hertwig continued to be able to produce a quality product at a fair price while at the same time providing good working conditions for their employees.

The third generation of Hertwigs, Fritz, Ernst and Hans, took over the business about 1915. The firm continued production until 1953 when the East German Democratic Republic took control. During the 1980s, the government confiscated thousands of examples of the Hertwig work that had been stored in the factory. These treasures were sold worldwide but, fortunately, other items were saved. Some had been placed in the Sonneberg Toy Museum years before and many were taken and hidden by the Hertwig family prior to 1953.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall beginning in 1989, international law required that the Hertwig Company items in the Sonneberg Museum be returned to the Hertwig family.

And why is the Hertwig firm so important to the doll world? Because there is one, if not several examples of their work in every collection of antique dolls in the world. This is a very bold statement, but because of the great variety of items produced, the huge volume and because the firm remained in business for almost 100 years, all of us are bound to have something created by this firm which seemed to know what its customers wanted. From a business point of view, the Hertwig Company saved a village. The family provided employment, fair wages, improved living conditions and expanded socialization to a remote area for generations.

Dolls with bisque or china shoulder heads, molded hair, painted features, muslin bodies with bisque or china limbs were the “bread and butter” of Hertwig’s early doll production. Records state that these dolls came in 25 sizes as complete dolls and 14 sizes as a head only. The example we see most often is the “low brow” china, which can be found with blonde or black hair, plain or decorated shoulder plate and sometimes with jewels embedded. One series had favorite names painted in gold on the shoulder plate.

Collctible Doll Prices Realized

3-inch Hertwig all bisque child, painted eyes and molded hair     $35

7-inch Hertwig child, one piece head and torso with molded blouse and hair    $125

12-inch closed mouth tete Jumeau, brown eyes, marked body, no clothes    $3,000

18-inch Hertwig china low brow with “Ethel” on shoulder plate    $150

12-inch Armand Marseille 1894, leather body, antique outfit, very early face    $175

23-inch Simon Halbig 1079, redressed, ball joint body, o/c eyes, original wig    $425

40-inch Armand Marseille, antique clothing, o/c eyes, ball joint body    $800

17-inch Schoenhut Dolly Face, no shoes, redressed, good coloring    $400

13-inch head circumference Bye lo baby, Christening gown, celluloid hands    $150

21-inch glass eyed French china, leather body, appropriate outfit, old hairline    $3,000

The Hertwig bisque heads that are found in greatest numbers are the bisque bonnet heads. Like the low brow china head, the bonnet head came in all sizes both as a head only and as a complete doll. The bonnet decoration ranged from very simple to elaborate and ornate sometimes including ribbons, flowers and butterflies.

Production did not stop with the china and bisque shoulder heads. Hertwig’s creativity seemed to have no limit. The firm produced Kewpies, sensual bathing beauties, snow babies, comic characters, all bisque jointed and immobile children, some with wigs and some with molded hair. Doll house dolls, nodders and dolls with side glancing googly eyes were also introduced, as were half dolls in bisque and china.

Whimsical decorative items for the home were also a large part of the Hertwig inventory. Included were candle holders, candy dishes, figural perfume bottles and stoppers often adorned with exaggerated or cartoonish characters. Also popular were beautiful female figurines, angels and small animals. America was Hertwig’s largest customer and the firm seemed to sense what this thriving nation wanted.

For additional pictures and information, I recommend “Familienchronik” published in Puppenmagazin in March 1998, Cieslik’s book, “The German Doll Encyclopedia” and “Hertwig and Co. Archives” by Florence Theriault. ?

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 dollypictures@aol.com.


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