For more than four centuries, Germany was a global center for dolls, fostering everything from technical advancements such as the mechanical voice-box to purely imaginative improvements such as the concept of the “baby-doll.” Most of Germany’s dolls were made in the region of Thuringia, where more than 500 different doll-making companies were headquartered. The close proximity of so many producers created a fertile environment for innovation, leading to innovations that we take for granted today, including the toothed, open-mouth design credited to Kämmer & Reinhardt and the range of bisque skin tones produced by Simon & Halbig.

During the 17th century, Germany’s earliest dolls or “Docken” were typically cut from a single piece of wood using a foot-powered lathe. These dolls had large, rounded heads and bodies roughly shaped like cones or playing pieces from the tabletop game Skittles. Most had no movable parts and portrayed adult characters rather than children. Eventually, small wood attachments were glued to the solid bodies of these primitive dolls to simulate arms, legs, or even facial features.

Wood dolls with flexible limbs attached by peg joints were introduced in the late 18th century, and are often called “Dutch Peg Woodens.” Intricate features were created by sculpting a flour-based substance called “Brotteig,” literally meaning “bread dough,” onto their wooden forms. These dolls were then finished with a bright, durable coating of bismuth paint.

Porcelain was adapted to doll production in Germany during the early 1700s. The country’s natural resources allowed many German companies like Armand Marseille, Dressel & Kister, Simon & Halbig, Hertwig, and Limbach to develop a variety of glazed porcelain or bisque dolls. The Gebrüder Heubach factory created particularly emotive bisque doll heads, most of which were sold to other companies for finishing. The detailed expressions on these dolls ranged from shy embarrassment to complete fear, as seen on a frightened Heubach doll with a large black fly perched on her nose. Heubach also made popular mechanical variations like “Whistling Jim,” a doll whose chest was fitted with a bellows system to create a realistic whistle when pushed, as well as character figurines called “Piano dolls” meant for display rather than play.

In the early 1800s, German factories embraced a newer papier-mâché or composition technique, whereby a soft mixture of paper pulp and glue was mold-pressed to produce specific parts. Once dry, the individual pieces were sanded, painted, and varnished to make them more durable. Though the composition method helped to standardize production, early papier-mâché dolls were often consumed by mice attracted to the flour contained in their glue mixture.

Baby dolls, called “Täuflinge,” were first produced in Germany during the 1850s, initially in a popular waxed papier-mâché style. The popularity of baby-dolls endures to this day, though the waxed composition method was soon dropped because of the rapid deterioration of the material.

By the second half of the 19th century, American retailers like FAO Schwarz and Macy’s were selling Armand Marseille’s porcelain dolls, which were designed in every price categor...

One of Germany’s most renowned doll designers was Käthe Kruse, who began making detailed cloth dolls for her seven children in 1905. Kruse sold her first group of 150 dolls to New York’s FAO Schwarz toy store, and in 1913, her dolls won the Grand Prix at the Gent World Exhibition. Kruse’s most successful design, called “Doll VIII – The Faithful Child” was modeled after her son, and was the first of her dolls made with a human-hair wig.

Another successful female entrepreneur from Germany was Margarete Steiff, who established her doll business in 1877 with simplistic cloth character and animal figures. Her soft stuffed dolls were typically made from felt, plush, or velvet with embroidery or buttons used to create distinctive features. Although most famous for her animals, Steiff also designed charismatic human caricatures, like the dapper “Grosspapa” or Grandfather. Steiff dolls are easily recognizable by the company’s signature button sewed into each doll’s ear.

World War I brought an end to Germany’s dominance of the doll world, and its wrecked economy stifled recovery in the years following. Despite this setback and the one that followed World War II, German companies continued to release innovative doll designs, such as the Bild Lilli character. Lilli dolls, first produced in 1955, were based on a newspaper cartoon series featuring a shapely, fashionable, and no-nonsense young woman. It was one of these novelty dolls, often sold in smoke shops rather than children’s stores, that Ruth Hansen brought back to the U.S. in 1956, helping to form her prototype for the Barbie series, which debuted in 1959. Hansen’s Mattel acquired the rights to Bild Lilli in 1964.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

#1221, German Bisque Doll #10, 1880's Turned Shoulder Head#1217, 1860's Flat Top German China Doll With Original Body 21 InchCf - Lot 3 Antique German Bisque Dolls Crier Heubach Koppelsdorf Etc 17" 23" 22"Huge+early 30" Armand Marseille 390n German Doll-original Loose Ball Body! MustcKa-antique German Kathe Kruse Wide Hips #1 Baby Doll Original Dress Crochet 17"Antique 23" German Doll, Bisque Head & Wood Body, Dramatic Blue Eyes, Orig Wig 16" Old Antique Bisque Head Composition German Jdk Kestner Character Baby Doll Gorgeous Amber-eyed 20" Kammer & Reinhardt Antique German Doll Just Superb!Cd - Kestner 168 Antique German Bisque Child Ball Jointed Doll 22"~ Fabulous ! Antique 13.5" German 1880's Parian Doll W/orig. Undergarments ~Antique 16" German Bisque Closed Mouth Kestner Pouty Doll W/antique Clothing*fairytale Kestner* 20" 154 Antique German Doll 'rapunzle' Gorgeous Blue Eyes!Vintage German Bild Lilli 11.5" Doll Tube StandAntique 9 1/2" German Bisque Socket Head Doll W Sleep Eyes & Jointed Wood BodyAttractive 23" Heinrich Handwerck/simon & Halbig German Antique Doll C1900-look!Antique German Halbig Heinrich Handwerck 21" Bisque Doll # 3 As-is No ReserveGotz 26" German Doll Jannicke 2004 Limited EditionRare Antique German Bisque Piano Baby Doll Trio Human Hair Wig Twins& Lil SisterAntique C1880 14" German Or French Fashion Child Doll, Poupee Peau W/orig OutfitJdk Kestner German Baby Doll W Crown Tag Orig Dress Bisque Dome Head MintyAntique German French All Bisque Open Close Eyes Vintage Mignonette 6" DollEa- Large Kammer And Reinhardt 76 German Bisque Doll Antique Leather Boots-29.5"Lg 7" Antique German All Bisque Twin Brother Sister Dolls Crochet Knit Clothes 2 Antique German Bisque Doll Parts Jointed Bodies Arms Legs Torso & ShoesGotz 26" German Doll 2004 Limited Edition Blonde Girl Jacket9" Old Antique Bisque Head Composition German Newborn Sleepy Eye Baby Doll Rare^ 21" Konig And Wernicke Baby Doll German Child All Antique+ Tremble Tongue!Antique German 29" Bisque Head Doll Marked Queen Louise-germany-13-nice-look!Antique German Germany Doll Bisque Marked Armand Marseille Early 1900'sBisque Tiny Comic Doll Miniature Hertwig Limbach Adorable Cat Germany 1900sGorgeous Brown-eyed 26" Kammer & Reinhardt Antique German Doll So Pretty 1900!Antique German Dollhouse Doll All Bisque 4 3/4" Tall Glass Eyes 30 Inch Germany Heinrich Handwerch Simon & Halbig Polcelain DollAntique 8" Bisque Head German Belton Doll - No Reserve Collection Jz2Satin Vintage 2pc Outfit For French Or German Bisque Fashion Doll, Any Doll Nr4 Antique German Miniature Frozen Charlotte Quadruplet China Dolls Crochet Large Antique German Simon & Halbig Heinrich Handwerck Doll 28"Wonderful Antique French Or German All Bisque Miniature Dollhouse Doll 3 3/4" Rare Early 30cm Tall German Bild Lilli Pre Barbie Doll 1950s , Excellent ExampleAntique Vintage Bisque Toy Baby Doll German Germany W/standDoll & Co. Huge, Stationary Steam Engine, Germany, Pre-wwii, Rare, Very Nice!Adorable Antique Armand Marseille German 990 Baby Doll 17" Old Vintage Antique Bisque Head Leather German Dep Kestner Child Doll TlcGerman Felicity Doll! True Copper/red Hair! Germany~pre Mattel~pleasant CompanyLot Of 2 Antique German Half Doll/dolls W/ Mohair Wigs - Wax Over CompositionAntique 20" German Bisque Am 2015 Doll W/antique Clothing, Fashion Lady NrC1890 Couture Dress For Large French Bebe Or German Bisque Doll, Eyelet Lace NrLg 23in Antique Victorian German Bisque-head Doll W/ Pearl Earrings, Kestner ??Antique Long Mohair Muff W/fox Head & Purse For French Or German Bisque Doll NrAntique German Bisque Armand Marseille Drgm 390 Vintage A M Doll Socket HeadAntique German Doll House Soldier Doll 6 3/4" With Coat & SwordLot Of 4 Antique German Half Doll/dolls - Pin Cushion Dolls - Original ClothesAntique-kestner-17"-germany-167-ball Jointed-sleep Eyes-porcelain Bisque DollAntique C1890 20" Fully Jointed Compo Body For German Bisque Doll 1 3/4" OpeningCathy Hansen 5" All Bisque German Doll Painted Eyes- Mohair Wig -painted ShoesAntique 1914 Ra Theodor Recknagel Bisque Head Doll Composition Body Germany 9"Antique German Bisque Doll Cuno & Otto Dressel Cabinet Sized Tlc Clothes + Antique 5 1/2" German Bisque Jointed Doll New In Box!!! Mint!!! No Reserve!!!~ Sweet! Wonderful Antique German 6" Heubach Pouty Baby Doll ~Small Bisque Googly Dolls Head Armand Marseille 322 German