German Dolls and World War I
Usually when dating a German doll it is wise to assume that it was made either prior to World War I or after I920. The hiatus during the war years and shortly thereafter provided a period when there were very few German dolls being manufactured. Not only were the German doll maker involved with wartime activities but feeling against Germans and their products was also a deterrent
BY DOROTHY S. & EVELYN JANE COLEMAN
Source: May 1985 • DOLL READER , Pages 51-55
Some idea of the forcefulness of this anti-German feeling in Britain can be seen by the following quotations from British toy trade journals.
February 1917: "Once upon a time ... when commercial travelers from the Fatherland were flooding the world with their eloquence - and their goods - those of us who had good taste feared for a moment that one day the world would be entirely invaded by the hideous products of German rubbish. ... Do you remember the abominable Teutonic ornaments (always adorned with English and French labels) ... ?
"And the German dolls! - The appalling dolls at Sonneberg. whose ugliness frightened the little children of England and France! ... The German doll will remain an unforgetable example of ridicule. And the awkwardness of the gretchens, with their stiffness and inelegance, which seemed to be symbolised by the heavy clumsy dolls.
"Dolls from Sonneberg were all made after one model, angular and barbarous. If you saw one you saw them all. ...
"The dolls of Sonneberg were always dressed in showy colours, shockingly assorted . ...
"The Great War among other things, has delivered us from the German doll. This alone is something! Babies will never regret it!"
These quotations are from The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader; similar sentiments were also expressed by the British periodical The Toyshop and Fancy Goods Journal in February 1917:
"Prior to August 1914 we bought all [dolls] the country required ... from Germany; Sonneberg, in Saxe-Meiningen, being the chief centre of manufacture . ... The annual report of the Sonne berg Chamber of Commerce sets forth that the German Toy Trade must count on an extremely uphill struggle to regain its prewar position in world markets ....
"The [British] Committee on Enemy Influence is giving special attention to the matter. ... and will be glad to have any information that is likely to assist in the work of frustrating the wily Hun [German]." The use of the word "all" is questionable as regards dolls from Germany. It is known that Dean and others were making dolls in Britain and that the S.F. B.J. supplied dolls, also. Of course, it was possible that many of the S.F.B.J. dolls were actually made in Germany just prior to World War I.
In January 1918, The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader reported:
"German doll manufacturers are experiencing the utmost difficulty in obtaining materials for the dresses of the few dolls which they are producing, and for what is being got exorbitant prices are being paid. This is a striking indication of the great scarcity of textile materials in Hunland . ...
"The German toy manufacturers are keenly alive to the necessity for preparing for after the war trade. They realise that most of their overseas markets are closed against them and that they will need to use every endeavour if they are again to resume commercial relations with their old customers."
The same British magazine in February 1918 stated: "A little over three and a-half years ago, at the time the war broke out, there existed in this country a perfect organisation for the distribution of German and Austrian goods in Great Britain. That organisation consisted of certain importing houses of both British and German nationality ... and in some instances of actual English branches of German and Austrian manufacturers . ...
"It is quite true that the actual English branches of German houses have been closed down . ...
"We do not know whether we can rely on a period of total prohibition of certain or all German and Austrian good after the war. ...
"Messrs Heywood[Abel Heywood and Sons Ltd. handled wood toys and dressed dolls]. .. said that they had decided not to interfere with their business relations with the firms who previous to the war, were looked upon as German houses, but if any of these houses handled a single line of German goods after the war, their account would be promptly closed, and his firm would refuse to do any further business with them whatever."
A not her article in the same February 1918, issue of The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader, discussed: "The Toy Trade in Germany .... the German Toy industry is showing the effects of over three years of war. Simplicity is now the rule in toyshops. Wood which was formerly used only for the cheaper sorts of toys, is now the chief material employed. The manufacture of new dolls is becoming impossible through want of flour, which mixed with cement forms the stuffing for the bodies. Wax, which is used for the heads of the better-class dolls, is almost unobtainable; the same remark applies to the stuffs and lace used for the making of dolls' shoes, hats, dresses, stocking, etc."
In September 1918, The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader, painted a very bleak picture of the many substitute materials that had to be used in Germany for dolls and toys. It stated:
"The shortages of countless kinds of raw and subsidiary materials is so great that the manufacture of very many sorts of toys and dolls would have been impossible but for substitutes. For many things, indeed no suitable substitutes have yet been discovered, a for instance, for furs. leather, and plush. ... Sheepskins, goatskins, calfskins, and hareskins are almost out of the question. Nor can the poor-quality felts and paper materials take the place of leather and plush; while for dolls' clothing no substitutes will do. The public reject dolls' dresses made of paper or paper stuff, alleging that paper substances are ugly and stiff and soon wear out. ...
"One of the most important subsidiary articles for making dolls is mohair. ... Sonneberg alone worked up several million marks' worth annually. In the meantime, however, a substitute had to be discovered for mohair, and it was found in artificial mohair. which unlike artificial silk, scarcely differs from the real article. But it suffers from the disadvantage of being too expensive, and apart from that has been placed under embargo for Army requirements. There was, therefore, no other course open but to use human hair. Of this, however, the quantities are not large, and as its price is high it came into use only for the very best kind of doll.
"Sewing thread is another subsidiary article for which a substitute had to be found, because the original has become very scarce indeed. It has been replaced to a limited extent by paper thread. Varnish has become so expensive that it is out of the question for the toy industry . ... ft is difficult to find glue substitutes, and there is therefore an enormous demand for bone glue. Pasteboard has taken the place of cork."
In January 1919, Games and Toys published an article on the "Toy Industry in Germany" from an earlier German periodical. It read:
"Dolls cannot be made any more owing to the lack of the meal and cement used in making the bodies. Also the material for heads for the better kinds of dolls can no longer be obtained, and the same is true of the goods from which the shoes, bonnets, clothes, etc., are made . ...
"The biggest German toy factories have secured large Government con- tracts to do war work."
The war finally ended in November 1918, but the return to peace was not followed immediately by the full resumption of the German doll making industry. The Toyshop and Fancy Goods Journal in July 1919 reported:
"Although Trading with the Enemy restrictions have been somewhat modified, it is hoped that patriotism, common-sense, and good taste will prevent dealers in toys and fancy goods from handling German-made goods for a long time to come. It is amazing, but true that German bagmen are on the warpath already, beating up for orders." But their presence was most unwelcome in Britain.
The report on the Leipzig Autumn Fair-published in The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader, October 1919, stated:
"Nearly all branches of German industry are on the verge of bankruptcy, due principally to the shortage of coal and secondly to the loss of export trade, which carries with it the inability to purchase much needed foreign raw materials ....
"In the doll trade it appears there has been comparatively few actual sales made at the Fair. ...
"The dolls in most cases were poorly clothed and made of cheap material. Better class dolls were four- or five-times pre-war prices, the reason being of course, the shortage of raw materials (cotton, wool and linen), which the Germans must purchase at the present unfavourable rate of exchange."
In December 1919, The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader, reported the following items:
"France has decided to place a big tariff on toys coming into the country from Germany . ...
"During the last few weeks many neutral and also English and American toy buyers have visited Sonneberg. ...
"An association of Sonneberg Doll and Toy Manufacturers is being formed ....
"A luxury tax of 15 per cent, to be paid by the manufacturers, has been pronounced on ... dolls or animals over 50 cm. long. Others not named are to be tax free."
In February 1920, the same magazine reported that "Nearly everything manufactured or sold in Germany is subject to one or more taxes. A tax of I½ per cent is primarily imposed on all goods sold."
The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader, in May 1920, published an article written by an American which stated; "There are here, as in England, a number of firms showing German toys. These however, it is easy to see, are nearly all either pre-war produced or assembled from old pre-war parts. and I have not yet come across any firm who is taking orders for regular German lines. It is interesting also to know that the two great toy trade journals in this country have adopted the same policy toward this trade which we have taken, and under no circumstance wiJI they accept German advertisements or advertisements for German goods."
However, in April 1921, The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader, published an advertisement for Charles W. Baker of London who offered "some of the prettiest and best finished dolls on the market." The accompanying picture showed a fully-jointed doll dressed in a chemise and having a six pointed tar label with the words "Meine/ / Einzige/ / Baby." on it. This label identifies the doll as having been made by Kley & Hahn of Germany. But it is not known whether this doll i from old stock or is a recent German post World War I product. A similar advertisement by Charles W. Baker a few months later in the December 1921 issue of the same magazine, showed a bent-limb baby version of the Kley & Hahn Meine Einzige Baby.
The Toyshop and Fancy Goods Journal, in May 1921 reported: "A big shipment of German ... dolls reached Swansea on the 12th ... German toy manufacturers have branches in France which are not stated to be German and toys are sent there all ready to be assembled."
Martin Raphael & Co. Ltd. of London advertised in The Toyshop and Fancy Goods Journal in August 1921 that they "are direct agents for the leading Continental Manufacturers and quote lowest possible prices. Wholesale and Merchants only supplied BABY DOLLS Dressed & Undressed. DOLLS HEADS of China, Celluloid and Steel, Socket, Baby, Shoulder, with and without Wigs." The British used the word "china" for "bisque" and the doll illustrated was named "Melitta." The "Melitta" dolls made by Edmund Edelmann of Sonneberg had bisque heads made by Armand Marseille.
The same magazine in September 1921, reported: "That Germany is recovering rapidly from the economical calamities under which it has suffered is perfectly obvious. ... Wagner & Co., manufacturers and wholesalers of Bayern [Bavaria], Germany and prominent exhibitors of dolls and toys at the Leipsic [sic] Messe." stated "We are too full up with orders from the United States of America to undertake any further orders for your country," meaning England. Wagner & Co. appears to have been D. H. Wagner & Sohn.
By the end of 1921 German dolls were back on the British market and the animosity and problems of the war years appear to have been forgotten.
The Toy and Fancy Goods Trader in December 1921, published an advertisement of W. Seelig of London. This advertisement included: "Kestner “Crown” Dolls; Pfeiffer's Viennese Dressed Dolls; Gerlachs Dolls House Articles; Wagner & Zetzsches Kid body Dolls, Shoes, Stockings, Etc.; Sehms Miniature Dressed Dolls; and Sonneerg Dressed and Undressed Dolls." In the same issue there was also an advertisement by Dennis, Malley & Co. with heir doll factories in Neustadt, Waltershausen and Catterfeld.
Thus, by the end of 1921, after seven years of war and post-war problems the production of German dolls appears to have been resumed. In dating German dolls one must remember that they were probably made before 1915 or after 1920. A few dolls were made in Germany at the beginning of the war and in J 919 some dolls were made for German children but in the Ciesliks' book Lexikon of the German Doll lndustry, there is a void for the years from 1916 to 1919 in nearly every entry. The German dolls that were made in these years probably can be identified because of the wartime substitutions which had to be used in their manufacture.
Authors' Note: The wartime propaganda against German dolls is pure propaganda and in no way should it reflect on the quality of German dolls. Only the wartime shortages of materials caused inferior German dolls.