Sunday, June 28, 2009


Kewpie is probably the longest lasting, most endearing doll of all time, but interestingly enough, Kewpie never started out as a doll. Kewpie was an illustration by Rose O'Neill in the Ladies Home Journal in the early 1900's. Kewpies (a play on the name Cupid), were helpful little angelic androgynous beings who assisted women in their daily lives. They assisted women in noble causes like women's suffrage and in battling injustice - things that were important to Rose O'Neill.

In 1909, Rose O'Neill patented the doll based on her illustrations, and in 1913, the first Kewpie dolls were sold. They were made in Germany of bisque or celluloid (the bisque dolls are often marked J. D. Kestner,) but soon afterwards, the Kewpie craze swept the world. Kewpies began to appear on everything from greeting cards, to tea towels, talcum powder dusters, post cards, piano toppers and food packaging, just to name a few. Kewpies became the staple of many a county fair as game prizes. Many a young man wanted to win a Kewpie doll for his lady love. Within a few short years, Kewpie became the most purchased doll on the market and is arguably the first mass-produced doll.

Kewpies were manufactured in all different sizes, qualities and materials because Rose O'Neill wanted to make sure that any parent of any child who wanted a Kewpie, could afford to buy one. The early dolls have blue wings on their backs - which makes it much easier for them to get around to do their good deeds! Their legs and necks are often "frozen," but their shoulders are articulated. Kewpies have a telltale watermelon rind grin, side glancing eyes, and starfish hands. Kewpies were made in America by the Cameo Doll Company. These composition dolls come with a red paper heart label on their chests, attesting to the world that they are the one and only Rose O'Neill Kewpie doll. Some dolls have Rose O'Neill's signature on the foot.

Later Kewpies were made of vinyl. Some of these do not have wings, and their legs are articulated. Most are made by the Cameo or F&B (Effanbee) Doll Company. Today, Charisma Dolls continues to manufacture Kewpies. Kewpies come with a variety of costumes, but in Rose O'Neill's illustrations, Kewpies did not wear clothes. Kewpies are also available made from a new type of composition, often called compo-esque or composition-esque.

I have an original 12" tall Cameo composition Kewpie with a red heart label and blue wings on its back. Its outfit is a later purchase, which I thought just suited this adorable cherub. I also have a 12" black Kewpie, made of porcelain, that was made in the 1970's. That Kewpie has white wings and is quite heavy. Kewpie 2 has been signed on her foot by her creator. I haven't dressed Kewpie 2 yet, but am debating on whether or not it should stay true to Rose O'Neill's illustrations and enjoy being a naturalist.

Kewpies are always collectable. It's amazing, after 100 years, we still love Kewpies! For the avid Kewpie fan, Rose O'Neill's home, Bonniebrook in Branson, Missouri has been preserved and is open to visitors.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Buddy Lee

Buddy Lee started out as an advertising mascot back in the 1920's, for the Lee Jeans company. He was initially made of composition and was used to model Lee's line of clothing. After his debut in Lee's flagship store in Dayton, Ohio, Buddy became nationally distributed, and eventually became the second most popular doll of that time.

Buddy was available in several different outfits in addition to his traditional dungarees. He also came dressed as a cowboy, a Coca-Cola delivery man, Jiffy Steamer man, Phillips 66 gas station attendant, football player, John Deere man, and a railroad engineer. In 1949, Buddy was manufactured in hard plastic. Both the hard plastic and composition Buddys are sought by collectors.

Buddy suspiciously looks like he was modeled after the most popular doll of his day - Rose O'Neill's Kewpie doll. With his watermelon rind grin, round head, and side glancing eyes, maybe they are cousins.

The original Buddy Lee was discontinued in 1962; however, there are modern reproduction Buddy Lees available, made from the original mold and with new uniforms. They are made of a more modern form of composition, and, while maybe not as valuable as the originals, are still collectible and delightful to view.

Buddy had a revival in 2000, when he was brought back as a marketing mascot for Lee dungarees, proving that when you get something right, it never goes out of fashion.

My Buddy Lee is the hard plastic version from the 1950's. He wears his dungarees branded with the Lee / Sanfordized label, and a matching jacket and hat. His shoes are painted on. Around his neck is a red bandana. Buddy is all original and is marked Buddy Lee on his back. Buddy is only one of three "boy" dolls in my collection.

Check out this Buddy Lee Action Hero ad from the early 2000's:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Doll Land

This blog is about my doll collection. I'm a grown woman with an obsession for old dolls. I guess you could psychoanalyse my love of old dolls, but it's plain to me that dolls are a connection with the past that is at once, human and fantasy.

Dolls tell us so many things. They give us a glimpse into the technology of their day. They come dressed with the fashion of their day. Sometimes they emphasise the pop culture of their day. Most of all, however, dolls remind me of what it was like to be young and without a care in the world.

I will be showcasing each of my dolls, most of which date from the 1920's - 1950's. I welcome comments, especially if you have a fascinating doll fact to share, or a doll story you wish to tell.

Please come and join me over the months, in my second childhood.