Speaking of Dolls: Metal in their bodies shows invention and innovation in the world of dolls

The doll world is not only a world of fantasy and fun but also a hotbed of invention and innovation. Doll makers and manufacturers are constantly searching for something that is cheaper, more moldable, more realistic or just unique.

Dolls have been created from spun glass, wood, cardboard, ivory, shells, composition, metal, cloth, bone, latex and corncobs – not to mention the more common bisque, china, wax, papier mache, celluloid, rubber, plastic and vinyl. Dolls have walked and talked by using clockwork mechanisms, phonograph mechanics, bellows, counter weights, springs, strings and traction. Doll manufacturers watch the technology going on around them and apply it in some form to their dolls.

The A. Bucherer and Cie Company of Amriswil, Switzerland, was no different. The industrialization of the first quarter of the 20th century and the advancements brought on by World War I opened new areas of uses for metal other than utilitarian. From 1921 until the 1930s, Bucherer made dolls with a patented metal ball jointed body using many of the same techniques used in the manufacturing of machines and vehicles. This should come as no surprise. The Swiss have always been leaps ahead of other craftsmen when working with delicate movable parts such as those found in clocks, watches and music boxes. The articulation possible by using finely tuned metal balls and sockets is similar to the precision works for which the Swiss are famous.

The dolls by Burcherer were advertised as having changeable heads. The heads, hands and feet were made of a composition-type material with a high gypsum powder content. The features were quite realistic with much detail. Each was hand painted and expressions vary from face to face. Head ornaments such as hats and hair pieces were molded and painted. The dolls represented comic figures, military and literary figures, celebrities and everyday people such as chauffeurs, maids, policemen and firemen. Animals are seldom found but were made. The clothes appear to be sewn right on the doll and are made of cottons and felts. Costumes are realistic and show a lot of attention to detail.

When in production, the dolls were known as SABA dolls. This is an acronym for Speilwarenfabrik (toy factory) August (first name of Burcherer) Burcherer Amriswil (location of factory). Records show that two-thirds of the dolls produced were for export. America was the largest importer of the dolls and Burcherer took advantage of our love of celebrities and comic characters. Some of the most popular examples were Maggie and Jiggs, Happy Hooligan, the Katzenjammer Kids and actor Charlie Chaplin. The military figures in very realistic uniforms and popular children’s heroes such as firemen and policemen were also favorites with the American buyer.

The dolls range from 6 1/2 inches to 9 inches and are a perfect cabinet size, making them quite popular for today’s collectors. Comic figures are the most sought after and can range in price from $600 to $800. Regional costumes and civilian costumes range in price from $300 to $400 and animals are priced at about $550. Condition, especially body condition, is important and does affect the price. Mint example and figures with boxes demand top dollar and can command $1,000 plus.

The dolls are marked with “Made in Switzerland Patents Applied For” embossed on the lower stomach. Not pretty but certainly unique; they are something new to look for.

Opinion: Is the economy affecting the doll market?

From what I have observed, the economy is making doll collectors smarter. In the three doll shows that I have participated in during the past 60 days, I see people asking more questions, looking at items more closely, looking for originality, comparing prices and allowing their brains to control their emotions.

The attendance at the shows in Alabama, Tennessee and Florida was very good, all reporting better attendance than last year. People were looking and buying. Dealers were willing to negotiate and customers were not afraid to ask. Fixer-up dolls with low price tags flew off the tables and vintage accessories quickly found new homes. Rare antique and vintage dolls also sold very well. Dolls less than 15 inches and German and French all-bisque dolls have little problem finding interest among collectors, but those dolls 22 inches to 26 inches are fighting for the buyers’ attention.

What type of doll sales is suffering? The average, ordinary dolly-faced German doll has been hurt the most. Many are too nice to be priced really cheap but they are too plentiful to be expensive. The dolls priced $300 to $700 are the ones that remain on the table at the end of the show.

If you have some extra cash, now is the time to buy. There are some real bargains out there.

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.