Dolls traditionally have been items of beauty. Beautiful costumes, long curls and sweet faces attracted the little girls who spent hours playing with their dolls. Even today, collectors are attracted to the dolls with the most beautiful faces. But there was a short period in doll history when beauty took a backseat to what artists called “realism.”
In about 1908, at the large department store of Hermann Tietz in Munich, a doll exhibition was held. Both known and unknown artists were asked to design a doll with a “realistic” expression, a doll that resembled the child of the street.
Response was good to this new type of doll and one doll company that was very interested in these positive results was the firm of Kammer and Reinhardt. The firm decided to hold a similar but smaller exhibition of their complete line of dolls in Berlin at the Tietz store. The dolls on display included all of their beautifully sculpted doll heads, but also their new “art doll.” It is still not known who the sculptor of this doll was, but his example of a baby was molded in the exact proportions of a newborn child. Not only was the head shaped as a child’s head should be shaped, but the body also was in proportion, with chubby rolls of fat at the joints, the neck, the tummy and the bottom.
Rather than having a body of cloth, leather or a simple wood-turned body – which had been used on babies up to this time – this new jointed composition body presented a much more realistic representation of a baby.
Unlike the popular line of pretty dolly faces with open-and-close eyes and open mouths showing teeth, the “art dolls” had painted features with closed or open/closed mouths. Their expressions were more extreme, often sad, serious or pensive. Their features were not always perfect and symmetrical. Sometimes the nose was broad or the smile was slightly crooked. The forehead was often very large and the back of the head was flat, not picture perfect as the traditional dolls had been.
At first, the public was excited about these new faces and the demand was high. Other doll firms wanted to benefit from the popularity of this new type of doll and most soon began producing “character” dolls.
Magazines of the day reported the arrival of “a most excellently molded baby head who was in all respects a perfect imitation of a few-weeks-old little human.” The popularity of the “art doll” or “character doll,” a name created by Kammer and Reinhardt for its “100 baby,” remained strong until about 1910. German and French doll firms had embraced the new form and most had created a variety of character dolls while allowing many of their traditional “dolly faced” dolls to collect dust in their warehouses.
But just as suddenly as it all began, tastes changed and doll buyers started looking again for those dolls with sweet faces, open mouths with teeth and open-and-close eyes. Doll firms including Kestner, Franz Schmidt, Kammer and Reinhardt and others took notice. They did not want to do away with the line of expressive character dolls they had developed, but for their own economic survival they could not ignore the demands and desires of the buyers.
Fortunately, a compromise was found. A “new generation” of dolls was created. This doll was part “character” with an expressive face and part “dolly face” with glass eyes and both closed and open mouths. One of the first dolls of this new generation (and still one of the favorites of the doll world) was the Kammer and Reinhardt 117 Mein Liebling. This combination of the best of the expressive character doll and the beauty of the traditional doll won back the hearts of the children.
Today collectors search for the wonderful expressive faces of the character dolls from this short period in doll history. While the dolly-faced dolls continued to be produced in large quantities, the character dolls were more limited. Today the characters are difficult to find and demand high prices.
Reference: German Doll Encyclopedia
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