Antique Schoenhut Dolls History
Did You Know The First Schoenhut Dolls Were Completely Made Of Wood.
Article By Sharon Stajda
In 1911 the first Schoenhut doll was produced by "Albert Schoenhut', an immigrant from Germany that settled here in the city of Philadelphia. Albert came from a long line of wooden toy makers that date back to the early 1700's. When he first came to America, he made his living at making small wooden toys, such as circus animals, and small musical toys, selling these toys merely by word of mouth.
Albert, being schooled by his ancestors in the fine art of making wooden toys and dolls, opened his business in 1911. At first, he produces wooden toys of all kinds, and shortly after his business opened he began to also produce dolls. His dolls were made completely out of wood, and possessed lifelike features. The dolls heads were made of basswood, and after being carefully carved, they were fit into molds that were put under great pressure that contained a high temperature. This heat and pressure burned away all rough edges and gave the face a smooth almost bisque-like appearance. The eyes were so life like that they resembled glass eyes, that other manufacturers were using in their dolls.
Antique Wooden Schoenhut Character Doll With Moving Joints
The body of the doll was also wooden.
The bodies of the dolls were also composed totally of wood and had movable joints. Schoenhut not choosing to use the current method of other doll manufactures, which were using rubber cord to hold their dolls together at the joints, designed and patented his very own steel spring hinge tension technique. The steel spring flexibility enabled the doll to hold a given pose. The steel spring hinges also added great durability. This is one reason that many of this type of doll can still be found today, in very good condition. The first dolls produced by the Schoenhut company were 16 inches tall, and its head was designed and carved by an Italian artist by the name of Mr.Graziano. In 1912 a gentleman by the name of Mr. Leslie also was hired for his great skills in wood carving, he remained with the company until 1916. It was also in 1912 that Mr. Harry Schoenhut, Albert's brother, had finally finished his art training, and was hired as a head designer, and responsible for all new doll model design
1915 Brought The Schoenhut Company Great Expansion
1915 Schoenhut's Infant Dolls Were Made To Be More Realistic In Regards To Length
In 1915 his company expanded and purchased an attractive new infant doll line. These dolls were 14 and 17 inches tall and had a natural curve to their wooden arms. This was also the first time the Schoenhut brothers offered dolls with either molded hair or mohair hair. Two of the most popular infant dolls bore their own special names. Schcickel-Fritz, was a very mischievous looking baby doll, while Tootsie Wootsie wore a sober serious face. Both dolls had molded style hair and were 15 inches in length. These two models were widely sold across the United States, purchased through catalogs.
The year 1915 was a very busy year for the brothers. They expanded greatly, adding many wonderful new dolls to their line, one such doll resembling "Buster Brown". This lad of the doll was dressed in a white linen suit, red reefer, along with a floppy hat. He was also the tallest doll the company had produced as of yet. He stood a whopping 21 inches and sported hair of mohair.
1915 also being the year the Schoenhut's began to produce mannequins for art studio's as well as store from windows. These manikins are the rarest, and most sought after by collectors of Schoenhut dolls. There were actually only 1000 made. The manikins were 19 inches tall, and cost $42.00 per dozen without clothes, with cloths, they sold for $66.00 per dozen.
The Schoenhut Walkable Doll
1919 The Dolls Were Designed To Walk
The year 1919 the Schoenhut started to produce "Walk-able Doll". These dolls were not mechanical, but due to a special arrangement of wires, the doll walked along, with the help of its owner. These walking dolls came in several sizes 11 inches, 14 inches and 17 inches tall. The walking dolls were jointed at the hip, and shoulders, with other joints, left stiff. This was also the year that there were drastic changes made in the faces of the Schoenhut dolls. From the company's conception, the dolls bore characterized faces, as a rule resembling figures from the comic strips.
In 1919, bisque dolls were all the rage, with their soft features, and charming smiles. The Schoenhut's, like many other doll producers, adopted the new softer facial features and abandoned the facial designs they were so well known for. They continued to use the wonderful wooden heads but softened the features, the eyes were also still wood and painted to imitate glass eyes. The dolls of 1919 also varied greatly in size. Dolls being produced in this period were anywhere from 11 inches up to 22 inches.
The 1920s Brought Wonderful Dolls - Dolls with movable wooden eyes. However, the the great depression left many dolls on the toy store selves.
1921 Brought The Schoenhut Doll Movable Eyes Made Of Wood
In 1921 Harry Schoenhut patented his invention for movable wooden eyes in a solid wooden head. The new movable eyes were used in many of the dolls produced that year.
With the great depression looming, and consumers spending less money on frivolous items, the Schoenhut business began to falter badly. Sales began to fall dramatically, partly due to the dolls being imported by the droves from Germany. In Germany labor was cheap. The German dolls were being sold at half the cost of an American manufactured doll. At the same time, many consumers appeared to take a sudden disliking to the all wood doll, possibly due to its weight. Many American doll companies began producing dolls of very lightweight materials, and these lighter weight dolls also had a less expensive price tag. The Schoenhut brothers continued to produce the wooden dolls. Perhaps feeling that it was the tradition of fine carved craftsmanship that had always kept the Schoenhut dolls one of the most desirable dolls in America, the brothers made the mistake of not adopting a new business outlook.
With the harder financial times, the Schoenhut's seem to make one poor business decisions after another. One such poor decision was to increase prices on many of their dolls, instead of possibly lower prices to ride out the sales slump.
Toward the latter part of 1924 Schoenhut produced a stuffed doll with a hollow wooden head. This new doll was said to be very inferior to any of the other well known Schoenhut dolls and gathered dust on the store shelves.
A note of interest: Grace Story Putnam introduced her wonderful Bi-Lo Baby in 1924, which became the doll that every little girl desired, for years to come.
No other dolls were made after 1924. The Schoenhut Company was liquidated in 1935.