Speaking of Dolls

Small dolls are big treasures

Dolls can be found in all sizes, but many collectors today are searching for the small all-bisque dolls from Germany, France and from Japan. As doll collections grow and display space diminishes, a collector always can find a spot for a small doll. Smaller houses, condos and apartment lend themselves to smaller dolls. Even the weather encourages small doll collecting. When hurricanes, storms and floods are threatening, it is a lot easier to pack 100 all-bisque dolls that are 10 inches and under than it is to pack 100 15-inch, 25-inch, 30-inch or even 40-inch antique dolls.

The all-bisque dolls from France and Germany with some form of jointing are the favorites of many collectors. The jointing of the dolls can be at the neck, shoulders, hips, knees or elbows with the rarest examples exhibiting all of these. These dolls were most popular during the period from the late 1800s and early 1900s. All-bisque dolls continued to be produced well into the 1900s but the quality and attention to detail diminished. The examples we see from the ’20s to ’40s, especially examples from Japan, lack the smooth bisque finish, the fine painting and the attention to detail found on earlier dolls.

These tiny all-bisque treasures must have been popular with the children and the parents of the period. They were inexpensive to produce and sell, and their variety seems endless. While some had multiple joints, other were jointed only at the shoulders. Some had molded and painted hair, and some had wigs. Some had bare feet and others came with molded shoes and socks or stockings. Some were babies with bent limbs while others were children with chubby bodies. There also were adults with painted facial hair and clowns with tall molded hats. Many dolls came with painted eyes but other more expensive examples had glass eyes. There were even dolls with molded clothes making costumes unnecessary. Most all-bisque dolls produced were less than 7 inches, but examples have been found as large as 14 inches.

The early all-bisque dolls from the late 1800s were usually peg jointed. The arms and legs were attached with elastic or linen string being held in place with a wooden peg. The tiny pegs were inserted into a hole at the upper arm and/or upper leg to hold the limbs in place. The later dolls often were strung with wire — first brass or other rigid wire and later with inexpensive galvanized wire. This wire ran through a hole at the top of the arm or leg, across the torso and was twisted on the outside of the shoulder or hip to hold the limbs in place. Another type of stringing used during this time was accomplished by stringing elastic through loops that were molded on the inside of the upper arms and upper legs. The elastic ran across the torso from side to side, was tied or clamped together, thus holding the limbs in place.

Some of the most desirable of the all-bisque are the early French dolls. These early models are of high quality with well-defined features and expert painting. They are usually slim with long slim legs, long arms and large hands. The glass eyes of these tiny dolls are of fine blown glass, and the outfits reflect the mode of the period. The wigs of mohair or human hair are carefully set often with tight curls. Some French models have delicate molded bare feet while others have long painted stockings with elaborately molded shoes.

The German dolls being produced at the same time as the French also were of fine quality. The German doll makers were master business people and seemed to have a gift of being able to produce quality products at a low price. Their all-bisque dolls tend to be chubbier than their French counterparts. They are more often found with white molded socks and one or two strap shoes rather than long black stockings and elaborate slippers often seen on the early French all bisque.

Unfortunately, most of these tiny treasures are unmarked as to maker. Some with numbers have been attributed to German makers such as Kestner, Goebel, and Alt, Beck and Gottschalck, but many remain unidentified. They are identified more by their quality and distinguishing characteristics than by their manufacturer. Collectors search for all bisque with swivel heads, with multiple joints, with glass eyes and with bare feet, but even more important is the quality of the painting and the quality of the bisque. The prices of these small treasures have risen over the last few years and no decline has been seen. Even the later dolls from the ’20s to the ’40s have seen a price increase as the more desirable all bisques become more scarce. Keep your eyes open and don’t overlook the little things. Treasures sometimes come in small packages.