Saturday, 15 June 2013

Material Culture: Family History through Heirlooms, German Character Dolls and Great-Granny

'George', 20-inch Kammer & Reinhardt mold 100 Baby doll
German character doll

1909 market the 'most significant event' in the history of the German doll industry in the 20th century. It was the year that Kammer and Reinhardt launched their character dolls with bisque heads, and at around this time my paternal great-granny, born 25th February 1901, was given one. Hers was named George and is in the photos above. In April of that year, New York importing firm and distributor of German dolls Strobel and Wilken Co. ran its first adverts in Playthings magazine for the character dolls. The dolls were inspired by the Munich Art Dolls of Marion Kaulitz, which had hand-painted composition heads. Kammer and Reinhardt trademarked the term Charakterpuppe, which became used industry-wide. The Character Dolls were advertised as 'produced from life models' and were 'modeled from living subjects' by famous artists. With 'real child-like faces', in contrast to the traditional 'dolly faces' of the time. 

The time is also significant in the life of my great-granny, whose father left the country after her mum died of cancer in 1906. She was shipped between relatives and family friends with her two brothers for the rest of her childhood. She would later write a scathing memoir called 'Living With Aunts'. Heirlooms like this can bring to life genealogical research in a way that black and white records often cannot.

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