My blog post that continues to receive the most views is Beautiful Pet Name and Lowbrow Chinas. Though I personally find the older china dolls to be more alluring, I realize that many people searching for information on china dolls are looking specifically for information about a lowbrow doll that they inherited. My grandmother’s doll, who was from 1900, the year she was born, was a lowbrow with black hair, like Dorothy, though hers was not a Pet Name.
Fancy hair china dolls, manufactured primarily in the 1870’s would have to be passed down through at least five generations to still be heirlooms within a family. Even the child china dolls of the 1880’s would be about four or five generations away now. That means that one of these dolls may have belonged to your great-great-grandmother. Hertwig lowbrow china dolls were produced primarily from 1890 to 1937, which means that your mother, aunt, or grandmother could be the original owner of one (or more) of these dolls, and now you may find yourself as the doll’s new mistress. Another reason why we are more likely to find ourselves as the caretaker of a Hertwig heirloom doll is the fact that these dolls were mass produced in the millions, while porcelain was more rare and expensive when most of the older dolls were manufactured.
Mary Krombholz tells us in A Pictorial Reference Guide for German Chinas that the Hertwig Porcelain Factory, located in the Thuringian town of Katzhuette, made porcelain products from 1864 until the factory closed around 1950. Doll parts were made from 1865 on.The earliest shoulder heads may have been made of unglazed porcelain. As far as dolls, Hertwig is most noted for their Nanking-Puppen, or lowbrow dolls with nanking (brown cotton) bodies, stuffed with cotton, with bisque or china limbs, and for Snowbabies, which are little figurines with a blown-on suit of white crushed porcelain. As with the other German porcelain factories, Hertwig also produced an array of porcelain products such as bade-puppen (bathing dolls or Frozen Charlottes), animal figurines, figurines of saints, and the china half dolls which were popular in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Krombholz visited the Hertwig factory site in 1999. One of the rooms she viewed had been a sewing room for making the nanking bodies, though the sewing machines were no longer there. This is evidence that at this factory, the doll bodies were made on site at the factory, and not at a separate location or in workers’ homes, as was the case for some of the other factories that manufactured porcelain doll parts.
Krombholz references another book, Florence Theriault’s Hertwig & Co. Archives, 1890-1937. This book should prove to be an excellent source for anyone wanting to know more about the Hertwig factory and dolls–if you can obtain it. I researched it at the two major online booksellers, and it is available for around $100.
Here is a description of the factory’s demise, written by Denise Van Patten in 2001:
Hertwig & Co. was a porcelain factory located in Katzhutte in the Thuringian region of Germany. The factory produced children’s dolls, decorative objects, and porcelain novelties. The factory began production in 1865, and continued in some form until the 1950s. When the factory was taken over by the East German government, few people knew that inside the factory was an archive of historic showroom samples boxes, with original inventory tags. In the 1980s, a government-owned company looted the archives and sold many of the sample boxes to unknown private buyers in Berlin and London to raise some hard, Western Currency for the government–presumably, these boxes reside unrecognized in private collections.
However, before the looting occurred, the Sonneberg Toy Museum was allowed to choose select objects for the museum collection. Additionally, the Hertwig family had removed some of the choicest objects to a well-hidden location. The saved items were brought together by the Hertwig family, photographed in the Hertwig & Co Archives catalog (which is available from Theriaults as a hard-bound book, through their Gold Horse Publishing division). Thanks to these archives being made public in this book and auction, there are many, many unidentified china dolls, kewpies and all-bisque dolls residing in private collections that can now be identified as made by Hertwig & Co. I highly recommend the hard-bound book for all collectors of all-bisque and china dolls, as well as collectors of Kewpies, half dolls, or bisque figures and novelties.
By the 1900’s, Hertwig was making their standard 100 series of lowbrow china shoulder head in 13 sizes, with the finished nanking doll available in 25 sizes ranging from 3 1/2″ to 13″. The Pet Name dolls, a popular and desirable variation of the lowbrow, were made exclusively for the American market.
Another variation was the printed cotton body, often with ABC’s or flags,which was advertised as “educational.” Many of these dolls have unglazed porcelain, or bisque, limbs. Some lowbrow dolls have bulbous, ribbed legs. The smaller dolls usually have arms that appear too short. My grandmother’s doll, which was re-dressed in a peach victorian style dress by a professional doll costumer in the 1970’s when I first saw her, had ribbed legs. she wore black leather boots that were glued on because one foot was broken off.
As with the variety in size for Hertwig dolls, quality varied widely as well. It was inevitable that quality would drop with mass production rising into the millions. Many of the smaller dolls made in the 1920’s and 30’s are of poor quality porcelain, and have poor face painting. Apparently, these dolls sold well despite their lesser quality, especially in the 200 Woolworth stores that were in business in 1910.
However, many of the larger dolls are well made and beautifully painted. Some lowbrows have a white center part in their hair and some have solid hair color. Before the 1880’s blonde haired china dolls were rare, but by the time the lowbrows were established in 1900, about a third of the china dolls had blonde hair rather than black hair.
Although lowbrow and Pet Name chinas are the signature shoulder head dolls of the Hertwig company, the factory made a wide variety of china shoulder heads, including flat tops, Highland Marys, the curl-on-the-top child, and a wide variety of molded bonnet dolls.
Is your doll a Hertwig? Here are the distinguishing features of the face painting: The eyebrows are single stroke and wrap around the eyes. The irises are not highlighted (no white dot beside the pupil) or outlined (no darker blue circle). The upper lip is painted in a heart shape with a thin line extending on either side to define the mouth, and the lower lip is an oval that completes the heart shape, and touches the upper lip with no white space between them. Additionally, a large size number, such as “4” or “8,” is usually incised into the back of the shoulder plate.
Even though Hertwig lowbrows are still quite plentiful, your heirloom doll is a treasure to be cherished. If she has her original clothing, keep her intact! If she needs an outfit, keep it period appropriate with cotton, linen, wool, or silk fabrics.
I do not presume to offer doll values. Some variables are condition, provenance, all original state, and quality of the china, face painting, body and limbs, and costume. For an estimated value, I recommend searching online sites that sell antique dolls, such as eBay and Ruby Lane, to search for a doll similar to yours, and see what prices they are bringing.
Ultimately, I do hope that you plan to hold onto your heirloom doll. She brings much insight into the history of your ancestors who cherished her these many years, or perhaps she slumbered, long forgotten in an attic or closet. My grandmother’s doll lived in her cedar chest if she wasn’t adorning the guest bed, until she went to live with my cousin’s wife. Your china doll has the potential to carry along her history to your descendants. Perhaps one day she will be waiting for a great-great granddaughter.
Krombholz, Mary Gorham. A Pictorial Reference Guide for German Chinas, 2009.