This scan from the 1922 Sears catalog shows the early composition Kewpie
Joseph Kallus, founder of the Cameo Doll Company, got his start in the business as a teenage art student when he went to work for Geo. Borgfeldt & Co. helping develop the first line of Kewpie dolls in 1912. His association with Rose O'Neill, designer of the Kewpies, continued after he founded his own company, Cameo, in 1922. The company opened a plant in Port Allegheny, PA, in 1933, but it was nearly destroyed in a fire a year later. They rebuilt, and continued producing composition Kewpies and other O'Neill dolls, as well as Mr. Kallus' own designs, and his interpretations of popular comic, film and advertising characters, many with segmented wood bodies. They designed and produced dolls for other companies as well, including Ideal and Effanbee.
After Rose O'Neill's death in the 1940s, Mr. Kallus acquired all the patent, copyright and trademark rights to Kewpie. Kewpies were briefly made in hard plastic in the 1950s. In the sixties, Cameo began making Kewpie and some of their other characters in vinyl. The company had another hit with the vinyl Miss Peep baby doll in the late fifties and sixties. Cameo closed in 1969, but Mr. Kallus retained his copyrights and continued to license them to various other firms. This makes identification of Cameo dolls difficult, as they may be marked with the Cameo name while actually made by other manufacturers. Mr. Kallus died in 1982 from injuries suffered in a hit and run accident. His copyrights and trademarks are still owned by his daughter, who continues to license them to various companies, including R. John Wright of Vermont, who has made some fabulous felt Kewpies in recent years.
Early composition Cameo dolls are usually marked with a label on their chest; often the label is partially or completely removed. The dolls of the 1940s are often unmarked. Vinyl dolls are generally marked "CAMEO" on the back of their heads, and sometimes on their bodies as well.
Click on the small photo to view a larger version.
Giggles was the third Rose O'Neill design produced by Cameo. This darling all-compo little girl has molded hair with bangs, with two holes in the back of her head for a hair ribbon. Both Giggles and Scootles have the same jointed body as the later compo Kewpies. All three dolls were sold in similar outfits. Baby dolls in composition include the Bye-Lo baby for Borgfeldt; Baby Bo-Kaye (also available with bisque and celluloid heads from other companies); Baby Blossom in 1927; Baby Adele in 1930. These all had compo heads and hands (and sometimes feet) on cloth bodies.
Pinkie and Joy are two other Kallus characters with the wooden segmented bodies. Pinkie has more of a babyish face with serious expression; Joy has more of a cartoonish, Kewpie type face. Larger versions of Joy have a molded loop at the top of her head for a hairbow. Joy has also been found with compo lower legs with molded bare feet, and was advertised in a cloth body version too.
Champ is a tough little boy doll, with a freckled face and his left hand molded into a fist.
Little Annie Rooney was made by Cameo in two different compo versions. One version, based on the comic strip by Jack Collins, has molded painted hair and an oval face. She has been seen with both black painted hair, and a soft brown color. The other version of Little Annie Rooney is a completely different doll, based on the movie character portrayed by Mary Pickford in 1926. She has a round head, with a yellow cotton yarn wig in long braids. Her legs are painted black to resemble stockings, and she has molded on yellow shoes.
Disney characters the company produced include Mickey Mouse, Dumbo, Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket. The last two were made for Ideal. All but Dumbo have the wood segmented bodies. Dumbo is all composition except for his felt ears. He is jointed at the neck and trunk.
Advertising dolls made in composition and wood include Mr. Peanut, Happy Hotpoint and Bandy (for General Electric). These were all made in the 1930s. The RCA Radiotron man, also known as Sellin' Fool, was made in 1926 as a display item for RCA dealers. He was based on the original advertising illustration by Maxfield Parrish. The other advertising dolls may have been dealer display items as well, rather than for sale to the general public.
Kewpie is the only hard plastic Cameo doll I could find. Fully jointed as well as unjointed versions were made.
Different versions of Kewpie were made in vinyl beginning in the late 1950s. It is nearly impossible to determine if these are dolls made by Cameo or by another company under license, unless the original packaging is present. Cameo made variations of the standard dolls as well: Kewpie Gal has long molded hair; Ragsy Kewpie has a body molded in color and is jointed only at the neck.Scootles was reproduced in vinyl beginning in 1964.
Pinkie was made as a vinyl toddler with rooted hair in the 1950s. She was a completely different doll than the compo doll with the same name.
Margie was another name recycled by Cameo, also for a completely different doll than the compo one. The vinyl version was a 17" girl with rooted hair and multiple joints.
Peanut was a bent-leg baby doll with molded hair that was sold in the Sears catalog as an unnamed doll. She appeared in the 1954 catalog alone; then in 1958 was sold together with a small Kewpie.
Miss Peep was a baby doll sold in the late fifties and through the sixties. She is all vinyl with inset plastic eyes. A black version was made as well as the more common white doll. Most versions have unusual joints at the hip and shoulder that allow the arms and legs to rotate completely as well as move back and forth. A version with regular flange joints was also made. The design for Miss Peep was evidently licensed to another company after Cameo closed, as she was advertised under the name Baby Wendy at least as late as 1973.
Other vinyl babies include Dyp-a-Babe, a drink and wet doll; and Baby Mine, who has beautiful large side-glancing painted eyes (a sleep eyed version was also sold).
Comic characters made in vinyl include Felix the Cat and Popeye.
Sources for this page include:
- "Kewpies: Dolls & Art" by John Axe
- Cameo Doll Company website, which is part of the huge Planet Smethport site, documenting the history of the Smethport region of Pennsylvania.
- "Composition & Wood Dolls and Toys" by Michele Karl
- "Twentieth Century Dolls" by Johana Gast Anderton
- "Collector's Encyclopedia of American Composition Dolls 1900-1950" by Ursula R. Mertz
- "Collector's Encyclopedia of American Composition Dolls 1900-1950, Volume II" by Ursula R. Mertz
- "Dolls & Accessories of the 1930s and 1940s" by Dian Zillner
Copyright 2006 by Zendelle Bouchard.
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