Sunday, June 28, 2009

Kewpie

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.

2 comments:

  1. Hi would you be willing to sell the black composition kewpie thanks Maddy

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  2. Hi Maddy - at this time, I'm not selling my dolls. Perhaps one day I will run out of room for my collection and will sell some of them. I hope you can find what you're looking for, and thanks so much for visiting.

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