Q: I bought this doll at an antique store. The bisque head is marked only “979.” The seller had no information about the doll, and no one in my doll club could help either. Could you tell me what company made it? Is it French or German? Also, the body looks different from those on my other bisque-head dolls. Can you comment on that as well?
A: Yes, I can help you. Your doll’s head was made in Grafenhain, Germany, in the Simon & Halbig porcelain factory. This factory was established in 1869 and fast became known for producing high-quality products with superior designs. S&H was a porcelain factory only, so did not make complete dolls except for all-bisque models. It produced bisque doll heads, bisque lower arms and legs, and all-bisque dolls.
S&H sold their products to doll factories that made the bodies and completed the dolls or to verlagers, who bought both heads and bodies from different sources and merely assembled, wigged, and dressed the dolls. Some heads were produced exclusively for certain factories, and some heads were regular line products that could be purchased by any doll factory.
Although your doll’s head does not carry the usual S&H trademark, it is doubtless an S&H product for several reasons. First, the mold number 979 fits right in with other known S&H series. The factory used a three- or four-digit mold number, beginning with 7 or 9 for three digits and 10 to 15 for four digits. Mold numbers usually ended in 9 for socket-head dolls, though a few ended in 8. Shoulder-head mold numbers ended in 0. The 0 molds had the same faces as the 9 molds. For instance, 1079 is a socket-head; 1080 is the same face as a shoulder head. This system was used from 1887 until the early 1900s.
Secondly, the quality, modeling, and painting are consistent with techniques of the S&H factory. Your doll has almond-shaped eyes with molded upper eyelids, and her long thick eyebrows, with nearly flat bottoms and feathered tops, are positioned closer to the eyes. The quality of the bisque is excellent, and the painting is very carefully done, as would be expected on a Simon & Halbig head.
The 979 mold is very desirable and quite hard to find. Collectors like the earlier open-mouth dolls with the square-cut teeth like the 979 has, partly because they give the face more personality. This mold also comes with a closed mouth, as do many S&H dolls of this transition period, dating around 1887-1888, just about the time when dolls with open mouths became a popular novelty feature. The first open-mouth dolls usually had square cut teeth.
As for her body, this is the correct style for an early German closed- or open-mouth doll. These bodies have less anatomical detail than the later bodies. The composition torso has some molding to indicate breasts and stomach, but the upper arms and legs are simply turned wood with little shaping. The lower arms and legs are composition, but again with little modeling. Wrists are unjointed and molded knees are barely indicated.
Many collectors confuse this body style with a French one. Actually, it is copied from a French doll by the German makers, as the whole concept of the child doll was a French invention. However, within a few years, the Germans were designing doll bodies that were much more detailed than this one.
Well, you have found a real treasure, and you can share this information with your doll club when they have a show and tell. If you want to learn more about Simon & Halbig dolls, you can consult my book “Simon & Halbig Dolls.” It is out of print, but usually available at online auctions.
Jan Foulke is an authority on antique and vintage dolls, with over 40 years of experience in the field. She’s the author of the full-color reference book “Jan Foulke’s Guide to Dolls” and writes the Antique Q&A column in each issue of DOLLS magazine. Send your antique doll questions to Jan Foulke.