Postcard Image

Postcard Image
As the Victorian era passed into the Edwardian and Roaring Twenties, a market developed for bisque and china bawdy novelties and figurines of women in revealing outfits. Although now most of these figurines seem more coy and cute than ribald and risque, in their time they symbolized the casting off of the perceived restraints of the Victorian era.

These little lovelies included bathing beauties, who came clad in swimsuits of real lace or in stylish painted beach wear, as well as mermaids, harem ladies, and nudies, who were meant to wear nothing more than an engaging smile. Also produced were flippers, innocent appearing figurines who reveal a bawdy secret when flipped over, and squirters, figurines that were meant to squirt water out of an appropriate orifice.

Most were manufactured in Germany from the late 1800s through the 1930s, often showing remarkable artistry and imagination, with Japan entering the market during World War I.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

The Sensation of the Doll World

This little scamp is "The Vamp" . . . 

. . . according to the label on the bottom of her base. The label further declares that she was manufactured by the Blue Bird Doll Company and patents for her design and "Ear Ring" (sic) were pending. 

This advertisement by the Blue Bird Doll Company from the February 1920 edition of "Toys and Novelties," a publication for the toy and carnival trade, introduces "The Vamp" as "the sensation of the doll world" who is currently "vamping the buyers," but in the "Near Future" will be "vamping the public." Buyers were urged to place their orders early because of "limited production." The ad described the figure as being 13 inches tall and shows two versions of the vivacious Vamp, one with a wig and the other with a molded bathing cap, although both are clad in a form-fitting painted bathing suit and sport hoop earrings.

This June 1920 ad from the same publication assures potential buyers that Vamp is selling like "Hot Cakes," and describes the "up-to-the-hour" doll as being made of "unbreakable wood-fibre composition" and 13 inches high.

Dated June 26, 1920, this ad from "The Billboard," a publication for the carnival and concession trade,  is not by Blue Bird, but Rudolph Toy and Novelty Company, which billed itself as the sole distributors for Blue Bird. The Vamp in the bathing cap was $12.50 a dozen, while the one with a wig was $16.50 a dozen. She has now grown to 13.5 inches (my model is just very slightly taller than 13 inches, so "13.5 inches" is literally and figuratively a stretch). 

A March 19, 2021, ad from "The Billboard," shows Ms. Vamp wearing earrings with round pendants similar to the ones adorning my model. She is advertised as coming in "three (3) different colors, assorted colored earrings and wigs." No price was given, but a sample assortment of five dolls could be requested for $5.50.  Vamp's reign as the sensation of the doll world was apparently a short one, as this is the last ad I was able to locate. Although the ad also declares Ms. Vamp to be "patented," I was unable to locate the actual patent applications through various patent search engines. 

Although my Vamp has retained what appears to be her original mohair wig, she has been extensively repainted. If the thick cracking and yellowed paint on the bottom of her base is an example of her original finish, restoration may have been justified. I will say that the restorer did a very nice job, although I suspect that the painting is a lot more detailed than the original work. She still flaunts her original earrings, although only one retains is original pink pendant.

The modeling is simple, but evocative of a rather well-rounded Vamp flirting her way down the beach or boardwalk.


Friday, January 26, 2024

Mystery Maiden

This large and lovely languorous lass harks back to a time when voluptuous curves were in vogue, and not filled with silicone or saline solution. I have come across several similar nubile nudes, but have never been able to attribute them to a particular company. They all exhibit the same excellent bisque with an odd slightly porous feel and are modeled with ample curves and molded tresses.

The faces tend to be rounded with pointed chins and the painted blue eyes have mauve shading. The rounded limbs are generally molded away from the body and the hands are small, delicate, and plump. Although the quality is surely one any company would be proud to claim, they are unmarked. They also tend to be on the larger size, as this luscious lady is 6.5 inches long.


Thursday, January 4, 2024

Trapped in Amber. . .

. . . which is certainly what any man might be if he gazed into smoky golden eyes such as these. This sultry siren is a half doll attributed to the German firm of Fasold and Stauch. A number of their luscious ladies have been featured on this blog in various forms, including nudes, bathing beauties, and half dolls. The elongated almond amber eyes shadowed by smoky grey shading and slender, gracefully gesturing hands are signatures of Fasold. Of excellent china and beautifully molded and decorated, this wholly beautiful half doll is 4 inches tall and incised with an obscured number on the back of her base.  

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Gorgeous Goebel

This large and lovely bathing beauty is an unusual example from the German firm of William Goebel. Her excellent china was made with precolored pink slip and her orange-red tank suit is cold-painted. 

Her exquisite face is framed by her glossy black bobbed hair and her slender hands gesture gracefully.

Underneath she is incised with Goebel's crowned intertwined "G" and "W," as well as "F.N. 757." This use of capital letters is also typical of Goebel. This big beautiful bathing belle is 6.5 inches long and 3 inches high.


Friday, December 8, 2023

William Goebel's Wonderful Water-Folk

I have an article on the online Museum of Aquarium and Pet History discussing the lovely loreleis and whimsical water creatures created by the German firm of William Goebel.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Impudent Imposter

This flirtatious and flamboyant flapper is from chalkware and was probably originally a carnival prize. Unmarked, she is 6.5 inches tall. At first glance, she appears to be a knock-off of Genevieve Pfeffer's Splashme dolls, but there are subtle differences, as the Splashme character has her folded hands tucked under their chin and has molded slippers (this seated bright-eyed bathing belle's bare toes are visible under her painted slippers). 

The position of her hands, the bare feet, and the small molded, but unpainted, wings behind her shoulders instead indicate that the underlying figurine is a direct copy of Rose O'Neill's pensive Kewpie or "The Thinker." The picture below is from my July 2008 article in "Antique Doll Collector" entitled "Genevieve Pfeffer and Her Alluring Girlies," which sets out the history of the Splashme bathing beauty dolls. The photograph contrasts O'Neill's thoughtful Kewp with Pfeffer's flirty girlie. So this round-eyed sea siren is apparently the illegitimate offspring of both the Kewpie and Splashme, with the Kewpie's form and the Splashme's face and ensemble.

Ironically, Pfeffer herself was once accused of copying the pensive Kewpie for her Splashme dolls. The defendants in a 1920 patent infringement suit brought by Pfeffer against Western Doll Manufacturing Company had argued that Pfeffer based her Splashme on the pensive Kewpie. In fact, the 1917 patent is for an "ornamental design for a doll" submitted by Pfeffer shows the original doll with the position of her hands and bare feet matching those of the Kewpie. In that case, the federal district court ruled Pfeffer's patent was invalid, finding that she had merely painted "baby doll" eyes, a flapper bob, and a one-piece bathing suit on a plaster copy of a Kewpie figurine and had not created anything new or novel. However, Pfeffer appealed and in 1922, the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the lower court and held that Pfeffer's patent was valid. The Splashme's eyes with their star-burst of long lashes, full red lips parted to expose white teeth, bobbed hair, and colorful swimwear would prevent any causal consumer from mistaking the sultry Splashme for O'Neill's innocent imp. 



Thursday, November 16, 2023

And This Little Piggy. . .

 . . . hit the beach. This glamorous gilt is another example of a pink pig fairing, popular from the late 1800s through the turn of the last century. She is part of an entire genre of bisque and china figurines  featuring pink pigs engaged in typically human activities, often with a comical or satirical theme. This pulchritudinous porker has decided to bake her hams at the seaside, daintily descending from a bathing machine in her pink bathing suit bedecked with bows. Of excellent sharp bisque, this piece is five inches high and incised "4673" on the back. The top of the bathing machine is open to serve as a vase. 

Monday, November 6, 2023

Who Made These Mermaids?

On November 3, 2023, my article tracing the makers of certain mermaid and related aquarium adornments appeared on the online Museum of Aquarium and Pet History. The article includes pictures of mermaids from my collection, as well as images from catalogs of Weiss, Kühnert, and Company and Hertwig and Company.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Casting a Wide Net

This laughing lass has her net at ready, perhaps hoping to bag herself some handsome beach beau. She is actually made to perch on the edge of an aquarium, a variation on the fish bowl fancies with fishing poles. Although by the 1920s the form-fitting wool knit swimsuit was becoming popular, many women still wore bathing suits like this one, consisting of a long shift-like tunic top over shorts. 


Although unmarked, I attribute her to the German firm of Hertwig and Company. Not only are her sharp realistic modeling and lively expression similar to this company's bathing beauties and lithe lady figurines, there is a hole on the bottom that would have accommodated a metal loop to clip the piece to the rim of an aquarium. Hertwig used such clips for its fishing figures, but these metal clips are often missing, having fallen out or rusted away over the decades. This lass is 6 inches tall, quite large for this sort of aquarium ornament.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Pleased as Punch!

This bathing beauty lamp has appeared previously on this blog. A similar lamp had once been offered as a prize on a punch board, a picture of which appeared in that post.

I have finally found an original of that punch board (sometimes referred to as punchboard) to add to my collection. Early punch boards were a homemade affair, a tavern owner or innkeeper drilling multiple holes in a wooden board, inserting a small roll of paper with a number written on it in each hole, then sealing the holes. Patrons could purchase a chance to punch out one or more holes and if they drew out a winning number, won cash or some other prize. In 1905, the first cardboard version of this game was patented. These inexpensive mass-produced games became popular in bars, drugstores, barbershops, and other venues as a trade stimulator and they were produced in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and themes (such as sports or pin-up girls). For a low price, typically anywhere from a nickel to a quarter, the patron was given a metal stylus (or, as in this example, simply used a pencil) and allowed punch out one or more holes to reveal a number. If the number matched the winning number on the punchboard (here secured behind the gold foil seal), the lucky patron won cash or another prize. Punch boards were popular games through WWII, but states began cracking down on them as illegal gambling devices. Criminal gangs also controlled much of the punch board trade. One common scam was for the maker of the punch board to create a key or map of the winning holes, allowing a confederate or the venue owner to make off with the top prizes. 

On this card, each punch is labeled with a female name. There are some wonderful "old-fashioned" monikers rarely heard today.

The back of the card includes a table with the same list of names. In some punch boards, there was a slip of paper behind the hole which the patron pulled out to reveal his or her number. I suspect that with this game, the table served as a key, with a number written down next to each name.


Thursday, September 14, 2023

Gone Fishing!

On May 4, 2023,  my article about fishing figures, the little aquarium novelties that perched on the edge of a fishtanks, tiny fishing poles in hand, appeared on the on the online Museum of Aquarium and Pet History. The article includes pictures of these fish tank fancies from my collection, as well as images from  manufacturer and aquarium catalogs.

Friday, August 18, 2023

At Last. . . a Man!*

Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I need a man, most specifically a beach beau by Galluba and Hofmann, but considering how rare the male of the bathing beauty species is, I am on the lookout for any handsome seaside studmuffin. This gorgeous guy has recently joined my collection, much to the delight of my bounteous bevy of bisque bathing belles. Of sharp precolored bisque with loop jointed arms, he is 6.5 inches tall. He has a slim, well-toned male body. . . 

including a nice tight tush.

There are holes in the soles of his feet for the supporting rods of a stand. The only mark is "Foreign" stamped in black on the sole of his left foot. In 1890, the United States Congress enacted the McKinley Tariff Act, which included the requirement that items imported to the United States be marked with their country of origin. The use of "Foreign" was initiated as a way to comply with the Act, as well as subsequent laws enacted by other countries. The "Foreign" mark not only indicated that an item was manufactured for export, it could be used to avoid marking the originating country's name on a product when there might be some tension between it and receiving country. For example, goods from Western Germany imported behind the Iron Curtain and some Japanese goods manufactured for import to the United Kingdom through the 1940s might carry the "Foreign" mark. 

In this case, I think this gent can be safely attributed to the German firm of Hertwig and Company, dating from the 1920s through the 30s. On January 7, 2001, Theriault's auctioned off samples from the Hertwig archives, which included this bisque bride and groom. The modeling and facial decoration on the groom is nearly identical to that of my guy.

A similar Hertwig bride and groom from my own collection also establish the strong family resemblance.

I suspect with the jointed arms and the holes in the feet for a supporting stand, my new guy was intended to be dressed (the jointed arms would have made costuming easier) and displayed, most likely as a groom. However, he certainly nicely sets off his new swim attire, created from a scrap from an antique wool bathing suit.

* The title is a line from a 1937 Warner Brothers cartoon entitled "I Only Have Eyes for You." In the cartoon, all the characters are anthropomorphized birds. The homely ice man is wooed by the lonely spinster, but he has a crush on the pretty Katie Canary, who longs to marry a radio crooner. Early in the cartoon, the iceman delivers ice to the spinster, who tries to woo him with all sorts of food. When he hides under her bed, she shouts, "At last. . . a man!" (around 2:09 minutes) and dives in after him (it's a sexist joke that Warner Brothers used over and over through the years).

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Pony Boy

Pony Boy, Pony Boy, won't you be my Tony Boy?
Don't say no. Here we go off across the plains.
Marry me, carry me right away with you.
Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, whoa! My Pony Boy.

Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, whooooooa! My Pony Boy

Bobby Heath and Charley O'Donnell, 1909

This Pierrot and his paramour are engaged in a little high-spirited horseplay. Of excellent china, they are  actually a powder dish. The flirtatious flapper is a half doll and her feathery skirt, which originally would have been a swansdown puff, rests in a shallow dish for holding powder (I have created a substitute for the missing puff).  Pierrot is 5 inches long and incised “6150” on his right hip. This playful pair appear ready to ride off into the sunset, perhaps taking the "bridal" path.

His elongated amber eyes are surrounded by grey shadowing, a technique typical of the German firm of Fasold and Stauch, renown for its unusual and stylish powder dishes and boxes.

Underneath, the piece carries its original paper label from The Neiman Marcus Company. Founded in 1907 by Herbert Marcus Sr., his sister Carrie Marcus Neiman and her husband, Abraham Lincoln Neiman, the first store offered high-end clothing and luxury goods, providing nouveau riche Texas oil barons and their families with new ways to flaunt their wealth. The company is still considered synonymous with luxury goods.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Automaton Odalisque (Updated June 16, 2023)

This hoochie coochie cutie is a bit of a mystery. Just 4.5 inches tall, the sultry sultana, who represents a Middle Eastern belly dancer, has a metal body and a bisque head. The head is German and no later than the early 1900s. The remains of her outfit are silk, now fragile and deteriorating with age. 

Her lower abdomen is a domed metal piece, separate from the rest of the body, which is molded in one piece, and when the screw projecting from the back is moved in a circular motion, she does a belly roll that would make Little Egypt jealous!  

Further, moving the metal loops behind her neck causes her head to turn slightly side to side. I have checked and other than the typical mold mark on the back of the head, there are no other marks. 


She certainly was once part of some mechanism that made her perform. Perhaps some sort of coin-operated amusement or vending machine? An automated peepshow?

I think that may have found the original automaton, or something certainly very like it. This coin operated countertop automation was sold by Donley Auctions on May 16, 2020. The auction listing described the piece as "Wood case with glass front. Features three bare breasted dancing belly dancers. When coin is deposited the center one shimmies and shakes." The listing stated that the belly dancers measure about 6 inches tall each, but in the pictures they appear to be standing on circular bases, which would increase their height. Unfortunately, the listing saying nothing about the maker or the possible date of manufacture. The pictures sadly are not very clear and I could not enlarge them enough to get a better look at the little belly dancers, but the one in the center does appear to have a head that is of a different material from her body. If anyone has more information on this marvelous mechanized harem, I would most appreciate it if you would share it with me!

Friday, June 2, 2023

Someone Needs a Hug. . . .

Known aptly as "The Hugger," this erotic ivory miniature is one of the best known, and most controversial, works by Bruno Zach. Her enthusiastic embrace of a gigantic male member certainly suggests that for her, size really does matter.

Born in the Ukraine in 1891, as a young man Zach migrated to Austria to study sculpture at the Vienna Academy. A skilled artist with a wicked sense of humor, Zach specialized in depicting lithe young sexually liberated women, often in various states of undress, as they danced, posed, engaged in sports (of all kinds), and sometimes indulged in some rather kinky antics. His works appear in bronze, chryselephantine, and, far less commonly, ivory.  A mere two inches tall, this very naughty little nymph and the oversized object of her affection is beautifully carved, from the details of her face to the bows on her stocking garters. Although there are no marks, fine crosshatching, known as Schreger lines, is visible underneath, identifying this as elephant ivory. 

Zach apparently decided that his creation was not quite naughty enough, so he depicted the enamored miss with the back of her chemise open, baring her bottom. "The Hugger" has been widely reproduced in bronze, the more modern castings lacking the fine details and cold-painted patina of Zach's original works.  This may be one of Zach's most copied works, along with "The Riding Crop," a sculpture depicting a partially nude woman standing with her legs spread in a pose that is both inviting and imperious, as she holds the eponymous riding crop behind her back. 


Thursday, May 11, 2023

Gayly Sounds the Castanet,

Beating time to bounding feet, 
When, after daylight's golden set, 
Maids and youths by moonlight meet.

Maltese Air, Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

A collector would be happy to meet such a maiden as this by moonlight or daylight. Of excellent china, this 9-inch tall dancing damsel is by the German firm of Galluba and Hofmann. She is beautifully modeled, from her slender arms curving out from her slim, yet shapely, body to the whirling swirl of her skirts. Although this figurine is only incised inside base with "5603," I have seen other examples with Gallup's crowned shield mark.  


Thursday, April 27, 2023

Age of Bronze, Finale

This bronze bathing beauty is the last, but not least, of the trio of cast coquettes from the previous postings. She is clad in a bathing outfit consisting short-sleeved nifty nautical blouse and swim shorts to her mid-thigh. Ballet-style bathing slippers adorn her slender ankles and feet. Resting by her knees is wide-brim sun hat nearly identical that lying by the side of the statuesque siren from the previous posting, so they are almost certainly from the same foundry. Her smooth skin has a golden patina, while the bow in her chignon and sun hat are pale red, the blouse silvery, and shorts and shoes have a soft greenish patina. Just 3.5 inches long, she is delicately modeled with fine details. Like the prior bronze beauties, she is unmarked, but mostly likely was made in Austria around the early 1900s.


Friday, March 31, 2023

Age of Bronze II

Another bronze bathing beauty, a bigger sister to the metal miss in the last posting. Reclining in a form-fitting tank swimsuit that clings to very ample curve, this beach belle is 4.5 inches long and 1.5 inches high. Her skin has a golden patina (no doubt from all that seaside sunbathing), with a very pale green patina to her swimsuit and touches of red on bow in her hair and the sun hat lying next to her. The sculpting and casting are excellent, with even tiny details like the waves in her luxurious hair and the texture of her knit bathing suit captured in bronze. Like the prior bronze beauty, she is unmarked, but mostly likely was made in Austria around the early 1900s.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Age of Bronze

This lissome miss is cast in bronze. Although only 2.5 inches tall and high, she is superbly sculpted, from the waves in her thick tresses to the tiny bows on the toes of her ballet-style bathing slippers. Her skin has a soft glowing golden patina, while the nautical blouse of her bathing suit is subtly silvered and her skirt and shoes have a greenish patina. A touch of red tints the bows in her hair and around her slender ankles. Although unmarked, this bronze beach belle is most likely Austrian. Beginning in the mid-19th century, Vienna became the center of many foundries and ateliers producing a wide array of finely crafted artistic bronzes to adorn the homes of those wishing to subtly display their taste and wealth. Although pretty and petite, she is surprisingly heavy for her small size and perhaps could have served as a paperweight for a gentleman's desk. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

Passing Muster(schutz)

Just 2.5 inches tall, this itty bitty bathing belle adjusts her bonnet to protect her fair complexion from the sun. Her bare feet and legs indicate that she is a little girl, as this was a freedom granted only to young children at the seaside.

Underneath she is stamped "Musterschutz" with a number. Musterschutz is not her maker, but indicates that her design was registered through the German patent system.  First offered in 1876, the party seeking to register a design had to file an application at the patent office and provide a sample (muster), either as an actual object or a picture. Items registered through this system might be marked Geschmacksmusterschutz, Geschmacksmuster, gesetzlich geschützt,  or simply Musterschutz. The number is most likely the registration number.