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    

1026, 1880's - 1890's German Fashion Doll Bisque Head1032, 5 Inch Rose O’neal German Kewpie Doll1025, Large Pet Name "helen" China Doll Head By Hertwig & Co. Germany1027, Small 1890's China Doll Head With Necklace GermanyAntique German Bisque Doll 8" Composition Body Original Clothes Mold 0Wow 1940s Kathe Kruse Us Zone Germany 14" Doll W TagAntique Jointed 9" Bisque Kestner? Sleepy Eyes German Original Old Kid Baby Doll13” Antique German Bisque Simon Halbig K*r 122 Character Doll *enchanting* 29" Fine German Mystery Antique Doll In Crispy Whites C1900 Must CAntique German Bisque Armand Marseille 351 Baby Doll Tiny 8" Wonderful Clothes+ Simon & Halbig 1159 Antique German Bisque Doll HeadAntique German Bisque Doll Pouty Face Kestner 620 620/3 1/2 Mignonette7” Antique Jointed German Elite Schoolboy Mignonette Doll 13” Antique German Bisque Heubach Koppelsdorf Character Doll 21" Gotz Elizabeth Lindner 339 Doll Lison Head Signed Vinyl German Artist Antique French Or German Bisque Head Doll Tlc Restoration Parts 10.25"Pair Antique Bisque Head Dolls 6.5" Tall Regional Costumes 1 French 1 GermanyAntique German Bisque Heubach Koppelsdorf Vtg Glass Eyes 302 Large Doll Head Antique German Toy Doll Carriage Buggy Marklin? With Bisque Doll*impressive* 29" Early Queen Louise Antique German Child Doll Display Darling!Vintage Antique 10” Simon & Halbig Doll #126 GermanyOld Boudoir Doll Head Half Doll With Cigarette German Porcelain RareAntique German French Bisque Doll Dress Pink & Lace Mignonette For 10" Doll19th Century Antique German Meissen German Porcelain Figure Of Girl With DollBild Lilli Germany 1950 S 30 Cm Original Doll!2 Antique Bisque Doll Heads Heubach Koppelsdorf 250 15/0 1079 Halbig S&h Germany1930s Germany Jointed Bisque DollAntique Germany Armand Marseille 390 Doll 24" A 9 M4.25" Antique German Porcelain Half Doll Folded Hands Floral FlowersAntique Doll Hat & Box German French Bisque Bru Jumeau Jdk Kestner Silk LaceHertel Schwab 152/11 Character Baby German Doll1930s Bisque Doll Germany ? 7 Inches With Sleep EyesAntique German Bridal Doll 18" Kestner ? Dress Shoes Jointed Arms Legs Bouquet Rare 2001 Gotz Fabienne 21.5" Doll Made In Germany W Catalog & Tag No Box13” Smiling Antique German Character Doll Dimpled Cheeks Antique German Goebel Bathing Beauty - Sitting Lady - Half Doll Related FigurineAntique Germany Cuno & Otto Dressel Doll 22-3/4" Without Wig10" Antique Bisque German Doll Hermann Steiner Little Red Riding HoodAmazing Antique German Half Doll Lady By Dressel & Kister Passau Rare Original Antique French White Pique Pinafore Dress For Jumeau Bru Steiner Or German Doll*fabulous*23.5" Antique Cm Bergmann Antique German Bisque Doll Blue Spiral EyesCollection 4 Antique Bisque Composition Black Doll German Wooden Whistle Doll Antique Miniature French Or German Dolls Brush /hand Mirror/scissors On Cloth!!Antique Vintage Silk Flower Rosette Trims Antique French German DollsGerman? Or French? Antique Unmarked Sleep Eyes Head Shoulder Leather Body Doll Heinrich Handwerck Antique German Bisque Doll Original Silk/linen OutfitAntique German All Bisque Miniature Lot Of Dolls Includes Walnut Shells1986 Pleasant Company American Girl Doll Samantha Made In GermanyBeautiful 13 Inch Bahr & Proschild Mold 224 German Bisque Head DollC1890 Kestner Drop Waist Cotton Dress For Large German Or French Bisque Doll German Bisque Antique Marked Ce83 Triangle American Indian 9" Character DollBig 19" Otto Reinecke Reineke Pm 914 Bisque Head German Antique Baby Doll 1920s Swaine & Company German Antique Doll HeadGerbruder Heubach 23" Bisque Antique German Doll 1246 12 46 Gh Sun MarkingCouture Satin 2 Pc Dress For Jumeau, Bru, French & German Antique Dolls3 Vintage Dollhouse Size China Dolls W/ Original Clothing Made In GermanyLimbach Antique Dolls With Cat And Little Pig Head /german 1900/ 6Antique German Miniature Bisque Glass Eye Dollhouse Doll W/ German China Baby !!Antique Doll Tiny Mignonette All Bisque Glass Eye 6.5" German R610 Kestner? Wig3 Lot Vintage Antique Alma Germany Porcelain Doll Clothes Estate