Nov 182014

Bisque and china dolls are both made of porcelain. Bisque is unglazed, while china has a shiny glazed finish. While the vast majority of bisque dolls that interest collectors would be classified as antique rather than vintage, there are quite a few bisque and china dolls that fit well into a vintage collection.

Photos courtesy of Withington Auction, Inc.

At the start of the 20th century, the majority of bisque and china dolls were made in Germany. Most of these were similar to the dolls that had been produced there for decades. But early in the 20th century, bisque dolls began to appear that had a decidedly modern look. These were the Kewpies, and they were designed by American illustrator Rose O’Neill. George Borgfeldt & Co., an American distributor, hired sculptor Joseph Kallus to turn the Kewpies into three dimensional dolls, and outsourced their manufacture to Germany. The Kewpies and their wide-eyed “googly” look were all the rage, and they were copied by many other companies. The Kewpies have been made in every material possible, and are still popular today.

German firms continued to produce bisque dolls until World War II, when the factories were converted for use in the war effort. Some of these were German designs and others were produced, like the Kewpies, for American companies. The two dolls pictured are painted bisque – the color is not fired on and probably date from the 1920s. The doll above left is a doll house size. The one on the right is a “Betty Boop” type, more commonly made in Japan.

Many vintage bisque dolls were made in Japan during the ‘teens, twenties and thirties. If they are marked “Nippon”, like the boy in blue above, they were probably made between 1914 and 1921. Later dolls are marked “Japan.” Dolls marked “Occupied Japan,” like the baby in the center photo above, were made between 1945 and 1952.

Many Japanese all bisque dolls are jointed only at the shoulders, like the “Betty Boop” dolls pictured above. These have nothing to do with the cartoon character Betty Boop – it’s just a name that collectors use.

The Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls are American-made all bisque dolls. These were extremely popular and sold from 1936 into the 1950s, when the company switched to hard plastic. The doll pictured above is September’s Girl is Like a Storm, from the months of the year series. The Nancy Ann page and the NASB Dolls Series page have many more photos of these dolls.

China, or glazed porcelain dolls were also made in the USA. This two dolls pictured above are the Flower Girls set of Godey’s Little Lady dolls made by Ruth Gibbs of Flemington, NJ in the late forties.

There are many antique reproduction china head dolls that were made in the mid 20th century. Some were sold as kits, others were made by crafters in ceramics classes, and some were made by professional doll artists. This ad was scanned from the Spring/Summer 1958 issue of McCall’s Needlework and Crafts magazine.

Bisque was the medium of choice of many of the early doll artists. Pictured above, clockwise from top left: Meg from the Little Women series by Martha Thompson; Abigail Adams by Diana Lence Crosby; Nellie Bly by Lita Wilson and Muriel Kramer; and Miss Kentucky by Fawn Zeller. See more on the Artist Dolls page.

Photo courtesy of Withington Auction, Inc.

Most of the bisque or porcelain dolls produced in the second half of the 20th century were intended for adult collectors rather than children. This trend continues today. Pictured above is Marcella by Wendy Lawton.

Learn More:

Collecting Rose
O’Neill’s Kewpies
by David O’Neill &
Janet O’Neill Sullivan
Find it on eBay.
The American Doll Artist
Volume I
by Helen Bullard
Find it on eBay.
With Kewpish Love
by Florence Theriault
Find it on eBay.

Copyright 2006-2014 by Zendelle Bouchard

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