Speaking of Dolls: Dressed for summer

As the temperature soars into the 90s, we look for ways to stay cool. One popular way is to put on a swimsuit and take a plunge. It was no different in the early 1900s. It was becoming more acceptable for women to slip out of their corsets and confining clothing and slip into a more revealing swimsuit. While the swimsuits of the early 1900s covered much more than swimsuits today, they still gave women the freedom to enjoy the lakes and seaside.

The evolution of the bathing suit is reflected in the popular bisque and china bathing beauties produced in Germany from the early 1900s until the 1930s. These figures ranging from about two inches to as large as 20 inches were a very popular novelty in homes of the period and were produced in great numbers. While manufacturing dolls, German doll companies such as Kestner, Hertel Schwab, Galluba and Hofman, Goebel and Schafer and Vater also manufactured wonderful examples of ladies in swimming attire. The bathing suits were molded as part of the immobile figure or in some cases, a bathing suit was formed from fabric or lace and a nude figure was dressed. Examples of bathing beauties with their original lace and fabric suits are scarce as time has usually caused the fabric and lace to disintegrate. Because of the fabric and lace being lost, these once-dressed figures become part of another group of collectibles referred to as “nudies.”

The variety of colors and styles of molded and painted bathing suits found on bathing beauties is almost endless, but there are poses that are often repeated with variations only in size. The German manufacturers took great pride in their work but they were business people and money was the bottom line. If one popular pose could be produced in a variety of bathing suit colors and styles and in a variety of sizes, it was much more economical for the manufacturer. Variations of a pose could also be achieved by changing a hairstyle from a molded hairstyle to a painted bathing cap or by adding a wig. When the figures were removed from the mold and before the first firing, accessories could be added to the hands or heads, arms and legs could be slightly bent making almost endless variations possible to the painted bathing suit ladies.

Bathing beauties can be on bases such as diving boards or sand beaches or can be attached to bisque shells, rocks or other forms. Bathing beauties can also be found in reclining positions on their backs or stomachs. Their feet are sometimes bare but the bathing beauty figures are more often found wearing bathing shoes very similar to ballet slippers, some with painted ribbons around their ankles.

While most often found in bisque, china bathing beauties were also produced. These glazed examples are not as popular as the bisque figures with their translucent lifelike quality. The colors are not as sharp on the china examples and their detail not as fine.

While not dolls in the strictest sense of the word because the figures have no movable parts, the bathing beauties have caught the interest of many doll collectors. Since most of the figures were produced by companies that also manufactured dolls, similarities in molding and painting styles are evident. Prices vary depending on detail and condition. Because of the delicate nature of the figures with their long legs and arms, they are often found damaged – sometimes missing fingers, hands and feet. A large perfect figure with good detail and color could be priced at well over $100, while a damaged model the same size might be priced at less than $25. Like piano babies, nudies and half dolls, bathing beauties are now sharing space in the doll cabinets with their cousins, the dolls.

Prices realized

The following prices have been gathered over the past 30 days from doll shows, auctions and Internet sales.  Prices will vary depending on region, economic conditions and interest.

1. Effanbee Patsy Ann, composition, near mint condition, $375.

2. 18-inch Bru fashion, oval face, leather body, appropriate dress, $3,600.

3. 35-inch French F. G. child,  bisque head, composition body, original dress, $6,300.

4. 4-inch half doll, arms away, marked Goebel, $200.

5. 14-inch bathing beauty, German, perfect condition,  $185.

6. 5-inch reclining bathing beauty, Goebel, $125.

7. 24-inch Kestner baby, bisque head on composition body, $800.

8. 8-inch Armand Marsaille 323 Googley, all original, $800.

9. 18-inch Alabama baby, applied ears, good condition, $1,900.

10. 22-inch German flat top china, original body and limbs, $300.