Sep 292015

Rare black composition Kewpie doll by Cameo.
Photo courtesy of eBay seller your-favorite-doll.

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. Cameo continued producing Kewpies, but also licensed other companies to manufacture them. This makes identification of Cameo dolls difficult, as they may be marked with the Cameo name while actually made by other manufacturers. Kewpies were briefly made in hard plastic by Effanbee in the 1950s, but bear the Cameo name. 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.

Mr. Kallus died in 1982 from injuries suffered in a hit and run accident. Shortly before the accident, he transferred the rights to Kewpie and his other dolls to Jesco, a California company, who continued to license them. Some of the most beautiful Kewpies ever made were produced in the late 1990s and early 2000s by R. John Wright of Vermont as high end felt collector dolls. The Kewpie trademark is now owned by a Japanese corporation whose primary business is food products like mayonnaise and mustard. It is not clear whether any new Kewpie dolls are being produced as of this writing.

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.

Rose O’Neill Designs

Kewpies were Cameo’s perennial best seller, and were made in many different versions and sizes. Some had composition head and hands on a cloth body. Early all-compo dolls had legs molded together like the German bisque version, and were jointed only at the shoulders; later they acquired a wider stance with legs separated. Still later compo versions were jointed at the neck and hips as well. Black Kewpies were made, but are much less common than the white dolls. See the Composition Kewpies page for more info.
Scootles is another doll designed by Rose O’Neill. This doll, like Kewpie, was first made in Germany in a bisque version; the composition doll by Cameo was produced in the 1930s and ’40s in seven sizes from 7.5″ to 20″. A black version was made as well. Scootles has molded hair in curls, and usually has painted eyes, although sleep eye dolls were also sold. See the Composition Scootles page for more info.

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.

Composition Baby Dolls

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.

Joseph Kallus Designs

Margie is a pretty, smiling girl with molded hair and a molded band around her head, and painted teeth. All sizes have composition heads; the smaller ones have segmented bodies and limbs entirely of wood; larger sizes have compo torsos and hands as well.
Photo courtesy of Withington Auction, Inc.

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.

Comic Characters

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.

Betty Boop was made in a few different versions by Cameo. Some had her voluptuous figure and high heeled shoes; others had a child body like that of Margie and Pinkie. Her dog Bimbo was made as well.

Other comic strip and cartoon character dolls by Cameo include Felix the Cat; Popeye and his dog Jeep; Pete the Pup; and Bonzo (also a dog). These were all made with the segmented wood bodies, although some were also made in versions with more compo parts. (Mr. Kallus was evidently fond of canines, as Cameo produced other toy dogs in composition as well as these.)

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

Rare Happy Hotpoint character doll has a composition head and segmented wood body.
Photo courtesy of eBay seller lchristoo.

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.

See also:

Learn More:

Dolls & Art
by John Axe
Find it on eBay.
Composition & Wood
Dolls and Toys
by Michele Karl
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Compo Dolls 1928-55
by Polly and Pam Judd
Find it on eBay.

Copyright 2006-2015 by Zendelle Bouchard

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