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What Is a Kewpie Doll? 5 Things to Know About the Cute Collectible

If you enjoy perusing the rows of wares at your local antique store, it's only a matter of time until you encounter Kewpie dolls. Petite and unassuming, these dolls are a fantastic find for treasure hunters and doll collectors. However, outside of the antique collecting world, you may be hard-pressed to meet many people familiar with them. So, if you're wondering, "What is a Kewpie doll?", keep reading to learn all you need to know about these adorable dolls.

What Is a Kewpie Doll? 5 Things to Know About the Cute Collectible

1. They Originated as Cartoon Creations

Kewpies sprang to life on the pages of Ladie's Home Journal in 1909. Characterized by their enormous eyes and a raucous curl over their forehead, author and illustrator Rose O'Neill created a comic around Kewpies. Embracing their wholesome aesthetic, O'Neill intended the Kewpies' adventures to serve as humorous, light-hearted morality lessons and encourage virtues such as merriment and kindness.

2. They had Otherworldly Inspiration

With wide eyes and rounded features, the Kewpie is cherubic in appearance. So much so that the name Kewpie is inspired by Cupid, the Roman god associated with love. They were an instant hit, and numerous magazines were eager to publish O'Neill's characters and her witty prose.

3. Kewpie Dolls Helped Break Stereotypes

Rose O'Neill was determined to use the Kewpies for more than entertainment. She used the Kewpie comics to promote social reform, racial equality, and women's voting rights. Cute and coquettish, Kewpies pushed back against the stereotype that women who wanted to vote were harsh or masculine. Kewpies showed that motherhood and femininity could align with suffrage and eliminated some of the stigmas that women experienced.

In Nashville, Tennessee, scores of skydiving Kewpies once tumbled from the heavens. As legendary aviator Katherine Stinson flew over the fairgrounds, a crowd waited anxiously for the moment when hundreds of parachute-clad Kewpies were released above them. As the eager crowd grasped their Kewpies, they found the dolls each donned a sash promoting women's right to vote.

 

Kewpie Doll

4. Kewpies Were Crafted in Germany

It only took three years for George Borgfeldt & Company, a toy distributor, to approach O'Neill about manufacturing the dolls. So, with her sister in tow, O'Neill traveled overseas to Germany in 1912 to create a few doll prototypes and instruct the artist how to paint their iconic features.

The original Kewpies were composed of bisque, also known as porcelain. Bisque provides a human-like appearance to the skin and is the most valuable type of Kewpie. The bisque dolls came in nine sizes, starting at one inch in height and reaching a height of 12-inches. Original Kewpies have a small heart on their chest emblazoned with "Kewpie, Germany" and two tiny blue wings molded on the back of the neck.

5. The Manufacturing Method Changed

During the first world war, the production of the dolls moved to France, Belgium, and the United States. American-produced dolls were created from composition, making them more sturdy than the pure bisque models. The composition making up the doll's body consisted of glue, sawdust, cornstarch, and resin, while the head was crafted from bisque.

In the 1940s, plastic became the primary material used to manufacture Kewpies. However, some all-bisque replicas were still being made to imitate the original German doll. Collectors can differentiate between the rare bisque dolls, and the newer, more common dolls, by looking for the iconic heart on the chest. Reproductions do not have the "Kewpie, Germany" heart.

Keep watch for one of these precious dolls next time you're antique hunting. They make a fantastic collector's item or gift for the history lover in your life. Visit our shop and see what treasures, Kewpie or otherwise, are waiting for you!