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    

Antique German Bisque Doll HeadRare Beautiful Wedding Bride Antique J.d. Kestner Or Simon Halbig German Doll Antique German Bisque DollVintage German Bisque Doll~handwerckAntique Closed Mouth Shoulder Head Doll - Marked 4 - French Or GermanRare Antique German 257 J.d. Kestner Baby Doll W/ Antique Dress & Bonnet Rare Beautiful Antique 550 Simon & Halbig German Antique Doll Rare Large 37 Tall German Antique 142 J D Kestner Antique Doll & Original DressAntique Kestner Bisque 18" Doll GermanyAntique German Simon & Halbig Wimpern Bisque Pierced Ear Composition Lady Doll~ Gorgeous!! Antique Larger 146 German Kestner Child Doll Head & Hh Wig ~Antique Made In Germany Bisque Depose Large DollAll Bisque Simon & Halbig Antique Black Stockings German Doll & Original DressAntique Large 25" Jdk Kestner Baby Doll #257 Germany - Voice Box, Moving Tongue French Or German Closed Mouth Solid Dome Belton Fashion DollAntique "kestner" -german 3- Jointed Girl Doll 22" W/sleepy Eyes+fur EyebrowsAntique German Bisque Baby Doll A&m #990 Armand MarseilleVintage German Bisque DollVintage German Bisque DollAntique Original Aqua Silk & Gauze Dress For French Bebe Or German Doll 21-22"Antique Armand Marseille Bisque Porc. German Doll #3200 Am 1 Dep W/outfit - 19"18" German Gotz Doll22" Antique Armand Marseille German Bisque Porcelain Head Doll #390 Adorable Yqz Mystery Antique German Bisque Doll Marked "m" 24" Beautiful Dress Clothes ShoesLarge Antique German Bisque Porcelain Doll HeadVintage German Doll & Co Chicken Rotisserie Model 916 Steam Engine AccessoryAntique Doll House / Possible Moritz Gottschalk Warehouse Dollhouse GermanyVintage Antique Miniature German Toy Dog White Spitz Real Fur & Wood Fripon DollAntique German 5.5" All Bisque Doll Kestner? 150 2/0 Sleep Eyes Tlc5 Inch Antique China Head German Doll Attached To 16 Inch BodyRare All Bisque German Jd Kestner 208 Prize Baby Antique Pouty Face Doll Lovely Velvet Antique Dress For A Bisque French Or German Doll Bisque Head Baby Doll Hertel Schwab German Toy Solid Dome Sig Rattle Org Clothes 27" Antique German Bisque Armand Marseille Doll 370 Am 6 Dep W/leather Body YqzAntique German Closed Mouth Heubach Baby Doll Antique Doll Possibly Kestner, Jumeau ? German 23 " Antique Doll , Leather BodyGerman Doll House Room Box Farm Stable Gottschalk Diorama Eastolin Horse Shop AsBeautiful All Lace Dress For Large Antique French Bebe Or German DollHildegard Gunzel 20" Doll Wpm Waltershauser German Tara-bell Limited Ed 85/350Antique German Heinrich Handwerck Bisque Leather Body Doll 16.5" Tall Open MouthVintage 13" German Porcelain Bisque Doll With Jointed Arms Legs Broken HeadVintage German Porcelain Princess Doll And Story Book DollVintage Antique Doll Vertical Steam Engine Copper & Steel Toy Germany 10" TallAntique Miniature/small All Bisque German Doll~tiny Glass Sleep Eyes~4.5"~Antique Heinrich Handwerck 16 99 Dep. Germany 30" Doll With Pierced Ears!Vintage German Bisque DollAntique Bisque Doll Fur Feathered Eyebrow Glass Eye Lead Weight Kestner GermanyAdorable - 18" Kidz N Cats "teresa" Doll ~ By Artist ~ Sonja Hartmann - GermanyAntique Doll Collection Dep, Queen Louise, Floradora Germany Head Antique German Bisque Doll Early A&m Armand Marseille Wood Jointed BodyAntique Best! Hertel Schwab - German Bisque Head Doll W/outfit #136/4 - 16"18" Kidz N Cats Doll Galina Or Evita By Artist ~ Sonja Hartmann ~ Germany German Dollhouse Store Scale Room-box Miniature Diorama Doll House Antique ToyAntique German Bisque Half Doll In Dress Art DecoAntique Heinrich Handwerck Halbig German Bisque Doll Signed Compo Body 18" Antique German Bisque Doll 23" Queen Louise + Am Head Needs Tlc Or For Parts25" Antique German Am 390 Size 10 Bisque Socket Head Doll Fab Body! No Wig~~~~ Tlc!!! Cute 10" German 1909 Child Doll ... As Found ~ Antique Replica Sailor Outfit & Hat For German Kestner Simon Halbig Doll DressBisque Head~leather Jointed Body~made In Germany~doll