Updated April 2016 by Ellen Tsagaris, Doll Collecting Expert Guide.
Kewpie Dolls - Years of Production of Kewpie Dolls
The first Kewpie Dolls were produced in 1912, based on illustrations of Kewpies that appeared in Ladies Home Journal starting in 1909. The dolls that were produced were based on a sculpture by noted artist Joseph Callus. The dolls have been in almost continuous production since that time by a whole host of companies.
Sizes of Kewpie Dolls
Kewpies have been produced in nearly every size imaginable, from 1 inch tall to well over 3 feet in height.
Materials Kewpie Dolls Are Made Of
The earliest, classic Kewpie Dolls were made of bisque, mostly by German dollmaking firms. Antique and vintage Kewpies have also been extensively produced in composition and celluloid. Many modern Kewpies are made in vinyl (the latest company to mass produce vinyl Kewpies is the Charisma Company, owned by Marie Osmond). Currently, the German Doll Company produces Kewpies from original bisque German Kewpie molds. Kewpies have also been made of offbeat materials including soap and Wedgwood.
Companies That Have Produced Kewpie Dolls
The original producers of Kewpie Dolls were well-known German doll companies including Kestner. Most of these companies, however, did not mark their dolls with an indication as to the maker. At the same time that German companies were producing bisque Kewpies, Japanese companies were knocking them off in bisque and composition, without official licenses. As mentioned, modern companies producing Kewpies include Charisma and German Doll Company as well as Cameo, R.John Wright and others.
Rose O'Neill was a fascinating woman. She was an author, artist, illustrator and sculptor, as well as an early business woman. Rose was smart enough to recognize the commercial value of her Kewpies, and Kewpies were licensed in countless forms--as paper dolls, postcards, talcum powder boxes and salt and pepper shakers.
O'Neill was a serious artist as well, and her large Monster statues won her critical acclaim. She married more than once and learned to invest her money. As a businesswoman, she sparred with George Borgfeldt and was a versatile designer. Her magazine illustrations pop up now and then in antique stores.
Her home, Bonnie Brook once burned down, and many rare Kewpie items and other artifacts were lost. It has been rebuilt and is now a museum. The website for Bonnie Brook is well worth a perusal or two, as is the biography, "The One Rose by Edwina Ruggles."
Price Trends For Antique and Vintage Kewpie Dolls
Prices for antique and vintage Kewpies have been, and continue to be, very strong. Strongest prices are for the more unusual bisque dolls, not for the very common classic bisque Kewpie (standing straight with only arms jointed) or dolls with unusual features such as glass eyes or jointed legs). Kewpies in action pose, with animals, or holding unusual accessories are favored.
Composition figures standing about 14 inches have sold for about $75 for many years, at least 30 that I have been keeping track.
Marks on Kewpie Dolls
A great majority of early bisque Kewpie dolls are unmarked or only marked with "O'Neill" on the bottom of the foot, or a paper red heart label. Sometimes the dolls are marked "Made in Germany." Later vinyl modern dolls are generally marked with the name of the maker.