Artist Rose O’Neill had her illustrations of the first Kewpie printed in the Ladies Home Journal in 1909. Soon after this, the dolls popularity exploded. It was 3 years later, in Ohrdurf, Germany, that the dolls were first made out of bisque. The material bisque first gained acceptance around the 1860’s among French and German toy makers. So, after Rose O’Neill finished meeting with the Borgfeldt Company regarding production of the Kewpie doll, Borgfeldt’s German affiliates began creating the very first Kewpie bisque dolls.
Since Germany was not able to meet the supply and demand of manufacturing after World War I, the US did not import the German dolls any longer. Americans, including Joseph Kallus with his Cameo Doll Company, then began making the Kewpie dolls themselves.
There was an extreme shift in the materials use to construct the Kewpie dolls. The Americans went with vinyl and composition instead of Bisque. Bisque is an expensive, problematic substance that is too easily broken. One more reason relates to the emergence of composition as a material to make dolls from. For these reasons, the composition Kewpie doll is among the most popular offerings made by the Cameo Company.
The composition Kewpie dolls were molded from a mix of glue and wood dust. Bisque provided a natural skin tone, so composition dolls were painted with flesh-colored paint to obtain the same affect. Features such as eyebrows, eyelashes, lips, and cheeks were painted onto the doll’s faces after this step. After the dolls were painted, they were covered with a protective varnish that sealed the composion and helped the paint.
Composition Kewpies took the place of Bisque Kewpies because composition is a more durable, long-lived material. The composition Kewpie dolls really took off with children after this change was made. The dolls made from composition are more durable as they can tolerate the wear that occurs from playing with them. After years of use, the dolls begin to show cracks in the paint and composition, which all Antique Kewpie dolls show these days. Also, don’t keep Kewpies in places that are too hot or cold or where the humidity is too high because these dolls may crack in these conditions.
In the 1940’s with the advancements of new and harder plastics, doll manufactures stopped using composition. Hard plastic was established to be more long-lasting than composition and manufacturers all turned to it for the use in their dolls.