The New Year brings resolutions and new dreams but it also brings snow and frigid weather to many parts of the world. Snow is not always welcomed by adults but for children, snow means snowmen, igloos, sledding, skiing, snowballs and rough and tumble fun. In the doll world, winter fun is epitomized in the tiny figures referred to as Snow Babies.
The origin of the Snow Baby is clouded. Some say the Snow Babies manufacture began in the mid 1800s and was based on the sugar candies and figures colored and covered with sugar and used to decorate Christmas cakes. Others believe that the Snow Babies were a commercial venture created to capitalize on the explorations of Admiral Peary to the North Pole. Another, perhaps more plausible thought, is that there were tiny figures covered with what looked like snow being sold in Germany prior to the exhibition to the North Pole and when the discoveries of Peary caught the attention of the World, the German manufacturers decided to cash in. The tiny figures began to be called Snow Babies, perhaps because the Eskimos called Peary’s daughter, Marie Ahnighito, born in 1893, a snow baby. In 1901, Admiral Peary’s wife published a book called Snow Baby with a picture of her daughter covered from head to foot in a white snow suit.
The tiny figures were an immediate success. Produced by German firms including Hertwig, Baehr and Proeschild, Galluba and Hoffman and others, the Snow Babies were imported in great numbers. Most examples found are from 1 inch to 6 inches. The larger Snow Babies are sometimes jointed at the shoulders and hips but the smaller Snow Babies, the ones most commonly found, are all bisque immobiles with no jointing. Rarely a 9-inch example is found but these are shoulder heads with molded snow hats on cloth bodies rather than being all bisque.
The figures are bisque and are covered with a coarse ground porcelain that resembles snow. They are generally all white but rarely a Snow Baby with colored clothes or with a colored accessory such as a sled is found. The great variety of positions and actions found in the Snow Babies is part of the joy of collecting them. They can be a single figure or many figures with accessories and animals on a single base. Examples of Snow Babies throwing snowballs, sledding, building igloos, riding polar bears and reindeer, sitting on a snow ball, playing an instrument and playing in the snow are but some of the forms taken.
The features of the Snow Baby are painted. Some are quite detailed and some are poorly executed. The best examples are the early Snow Babies produced in Germany. Before 1891, the figures were not marked in any way. After 1891, import laws required that the tiny Snow Babies be marked country of origin but even with this law, many came to the United States with no mark. Because of their small size, the figures were packed many to a crate and sometimes it was the crate that was stamped country of origin and not the individual items. During the war years when there was much anti-German sentiment, the “Made in Germany” stamp was sometimes removed so the figures would still sell to the Americans and to the English.
By about 1930, German Snow Baby production had stopped. At this period, Japanese production of the Snow Babies began. The Japanese Snow Babies were stamped Japan but this stamp often rubs off making identification more difficult. The Japanese Snow Babies tend to be more coarse with less snow coverage than the German babies. The facial painting is often sloppy and the fine detail is absent. Snow Babies were again reproduced in Japan in the 1960s and more recently in Taiwan and Hong Kong. American importer Shackman imported examples from Taiwan and Hong Kong and sold them quite reasonably through their catalog for many years. These examples came with a paper label which is often missing making it difficult for the new collector.
Look for detail and quality in the molding and painting. If you see too many of one pose, it is probably a reproduction. Look for Snow Babies with colors on their clothing or angels with pink wings. Examine the tiny faces. The faces with a bluish tint are early and are considered rare.
The prices of snow babies vary considerably from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. The crude examples from the 1960s and later should sell for under $25. The Japanese models from the 1960s should be under $50. German figures usually range from $50 up, depending on the detail of the figure and the size. The tiny simple single figures usually are priced about $50. The larger figures with more detail are $75 to $100. Mutiple figures or figures with animals or instruments can be as much as $300. Larger Snow Babies with jointed arms and legs sell from $200 to $400, and shoulder heads on cloth bodies sell for about $150 to $300, depending on the size.
The following prices were gathered over the past 60 days from flea markets, auctions, dolls shows, estate sales and individual sales. Prices will vary from region to region depending on interests and economic conditions.
5-inch Snow Baby, jointed at shoulders and hips, early German $300
6-inch low-brow shoulder head bisque, cloth body with bisque limbs, original $40
34-inch early tete Jumeau, redressed $7,200
21-inch china with molded bun and braid, original body, dressed appropriately $1,200
10-inch head circumference brown eyes, original body $300
32-inch Heinrich Handwerck 79, original body finish, redressed $800
14-inch Ideal Toni doll, original dressed, played with condition $60
7-inch U.S. made Annalee elf, dated 1988 $25
9-inch bisque head Simon and Halbig 1078 on five-piece paper mache body $135
8-inch black Ruth Gibbs doll, cloth body $125
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