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”)

Dollreference.com

Dollreference.com

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    

Rare Closed Mouth French Or German Belton Antique Doll Simon Halbig Kestner TypeRare Antique German Simon & Halbig Large 1079 Dep Doll W/ Antique Lace DressMint In Tube Sasha Marianne Doll Red Head Gotz GermanyMint In Tube Scarce 13" Claudius Sasha Toddler Doll Goetz GermanyMint In Tube Gotz Sasha Allan Boy Eskimo Doll Ltd.ed. 500 Germany16207, 8.25 Inch All Bisque German So-called Wrestler DollRare Antique German 63 Mystery Doll Simon Halbig Kestner Type C 1880 Sonnenberg Germany Bisque Head 20" Doll Closed Mouth Set Eyes OriginalLot Of 5 Antique Jointed Bisque German Dollhouse Dolls 3.25" Glass Eyes N/r! Antique Germany Armand Marseille Bisque Head Doll Composition Body 390 7 1/2 AmAntique Miniature German Kestner Doll 6" Bisque Sleepy Eyes Unique Shoes Ar174Antique Doll German 21in Marked 101 9 1/2 Nice Glass Eyes K & R ? Lqqk!!!!32" Antique Bisque Head Schoenau Hoffmeister German Doll 1906 No ReserveAntique Bisque Head & Body Doll With Right Looking Eyes, German 122 10?Antique Doll With Bisque Head, Germany, 164, 27 Inch, Kestner?12" Sasha Gotz (german Made) Asian Baby Like Doll #0140225 JointedGorgeous Shoulder Head Rudolf Kammer Lace Figurine Half Doll Rel. GermanyMint In Tube Sasha Baby Boy Doll Simon Gotz Germany 40021Lovely Antique German All Bisque Doll 4" Tall Yellow Heeled Boots Blonde HairGerman Bisque Doll 18" Kestner 143 Original Body Sleep Eyes Estate FreshAntique German Bisque Doll Kestner 146 Stunning 25"Rare C1918 5" Dollhouse Doll Man Molded Derby Hat German Wool Coat Bisque Ar168Lovely Antique German 3 1/2" Tall All Bisque Doll Original Clothes Glass EyesAntique Germany Armand Marseille Bisque Head Doll Composition Body 390 A6mRare Antique Porcelain Miniature Dollhouse Doll Glass Eyes Mini China GermanExtra Nice, Antique *22" German Child Doll~mold #168* By KestnerLovely Antique German All Bisque Googly Doll Figurine Intaglio Eyes 4" TallAntique Miniature German Kestner Doll 6" Bisque Sleepy Eyes Unique Shoes Ar175L@@k!! Antique All Original German Simon & Halbig? Bisque Doll 16in Circa 1900?Antique 31" Walkure German Bisque Doll W/ Pierced Ear, Composition Body#16208, Kestner "n" 26.5” Antique German Bisque Doll 1880'sAntique German Bisque Doll A&m 390 DarlingLarge Kestner Doll Bisque Head G11 Open Mouth Double Chin Antique German PotteryAntique Bisque Doll Heinrich Handwerck 4 1/2 Germany 25" Body 5Antique German Bisque Doll Queen Louise 36" Needs Wig And ClothesAntique Kammer & Reinhardt K&r #13 5" German Bisque Doll W/ Original DressAntique German Bisque Doll Gb George Borgfeldt 25"2 German Porcelain DollsAntique Germany All Bisque 3" Googly Googlie Eye Elf Nodder Christmas DollsAntique German Bisque Doll A&m 390 22" DarlingAntique German Simon & Halbig Bisque Doll Sleep Eyes Open Mouth 116/a No ReserveBisque Head Doll Ball Joint Body Revalo 6 Gebruder German 19 Cabinet Collect EraBeautiful Antique *sunny Blond Mohair Wig* For German Or French DollFloradora Made By Armand Marseille Antique Bisque Doll Made In GermanyWw1 German Bisque Asian Soldier Doll All Original Simon Halbig? RareLovely Antique German 2 1/2" Tall All Bisque Boy Doll Whistler Original Clothes!Sweet Antique, German China Head Doll From 2 Day Doll Collectors Estate,13 In.Antique Dollhouse Miniature All Bisque Doll And 2 Chairs Germany1890s Miniature German Kestner Doll 5" Bisque Painted Face #720 3 S Ar176Antique All Bisque German Doll, W/all Orig. Clothes.Antique German Bisque Doll Florodora 18"Darling 11" Am Armand Marseille German #1894 Doll Nr!Antique German 351 A M Armand Marseille Kiddie Joy Our Pet Baby Doll Large Antique German Kestner Bisque Girl Doll 11.14722" Antique Schoenau & Hoffmeister Bisque Doll German 5500 Dep Viola Antique German Bisque Doll Heubach Koppelsdorf 26" TlcAntique 18” Handwerck German Bisque Head Doll 109-7 1/2Antique French Original Coat + Hat For Jumeau Bru Steiner Or German Doll 17-18"Vintage Porcelain Pincushion Germany Half Doll Foreign Large Woman Pink HatToy Steam Engine-doll & Cie-germany-1900