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.

Fakes, Fantasies, Reproductions, and Reissues

After the unification of Germany, original molds from a number of German manufacturers were discovered in the old porcelain factories in East Germany, reworked, and used to make a variety of reproductions. The old skills were not forgotten, and many of these reproductions rival, or often surpass, the originals in quality. Bevies of these reborn bathers and their kin are showing up at antique shows and on-line auctions, often the same figurines being offered over and over again by the same dealers. Granted sometimes a lucky dealer or collector might chance upon an old display of samples or a forgotten box or two of antique inventory, but the vast numbers of these new "finds" suggest a very large and steady supply. It has been over 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. During this time, all old warehouses have been thoroughly searched and the old factory sample rooms long plundered. The claims of suddenly discovered stashes of long-hidden bathing beauties simply no long ring true.

Fantasy items are also appearing. In the antique field, a fantasy item is a new item that is presented as an authentic old rarity, but was never actually produced in past times. Antique molds from different makers are being married together to create new "antiques." The old German companies would often take an existing bathing beauty model and remake her as a flower frog or powder dish. She might be mounted any number of seashore-related items, such as shells, fish, turtles, or other aquatic creatures. But frankly, I am suspicious of these sudden discoveries of bevies of bathers incongruously lying on the backs of such unlikely mounts as polar bears. I also have my doubts about the sudden appearance of sets of napkin rings, each adorned with a little bathing beauty, as well as related calendar holders. Sometimes a dealer's inventory will offer the same identical lady, but molded to variety of objects, from fish to powder dish. To me, this suggests a new marriage of old molds.

Another problem is that old blanks or half-painted pieces salvaged from factories or factory dumps can be cleaned, painted, refired, and passed off as authentic. One German dealer claims that he bought hundreds of figurines from old German factory stock made from the 1930s to 1960s that were unpainted or partially painted. This dealer stated that he has had these figurines painted and fired in Germany, and claimed that because the salvaged pieces were old, he was entitled to sell them as original antiques. A vintage figurine with a new paint job might be of interest to collectors, but it is not an authentic antique and should not be sold as one!

Other things to watch out for are fraudulent marks. Old company marks are being reproduced and stamped on new products. These fake marks literally look sometimes as if they were rubber stamped and are often blurred or unclear. Many German companies, such as Bruno Schmidt, Carl Schneider Erban, Sitzendorf Porcelain Factory, and Schafer and Vater, incised their marks. Some companies, such as William Goebel, Hertwig and Company, Gebruder Heubach, and A.W. Fr. Kister, did use both incised and fired marks (blue seems to have been the favored color). A few, such as Dressel, Kister and Company and Ernst Bohne Söhne, seem to have used mainly fired marks. Every collector must educate him or herself on the makers and their marks. Also, these bogus belles sometimes appear smeared with dirt and dust to give them the appearance of age they otherwise lack.

Not all the reproductions are from Germany and Belgium. Doll making is a popular hobby and many artists are recreating beautiful dolls and figurines with no intent to deceive. However, unfortunately as molds have become available to artists here in the United States, more "home grown" new bathers are being passed off as old by devious dealers.

The collecting world, especially the on-line auctions, has been overrun with reproduction bathing beauties and related novelties being wrongly represented as old. As more collectors and dealers become familiar with these reproductions and reissues, it will be harder to pass off the reproductions as originals. However, collectors must be aware that there are now very good reproductions on the market, educate themselves as to what is available, and exercise a little more caution before making a purchase. Read all on-line descriptions carefully. If the seller gushes about a figurine's beauty, collectibility, or desirability, but never mentions age, be wary. Calling a piece "museum quality" does not mean it is old!   "Art Deco style" does not necessariliy mean it is from the Art Deco period!  And if the ad says resellers are welcome, then that is a good indication the seller has plenty to unload. For on-line auctions, look at the seller's past auctions and see just how many other similar sirens he or she has sold; if the same belle has been sold before, or there is too much of a family resemblance among the seller's wares, be very wary!

Mundial Company out of Belgium offers many models of reproduction baigneuses (bathing beauties and naughties), poupees (all-bisque dolls) and demi-figurines (half dolls), all copies of German originals. Many of these reproductions are made to look worn and dirty, to give these new items the look of authentic age (and also to disguise the often poor quality of most of these repros). Mundial does not put its own mark on any of its items, but many pieces it produces, because they were made from molds taken from the antique originals, carry old numbers and marks, and some even have spurious marks. These new "old" items are appearing in antiques markets throughout Europe, on online auctions such as eBay, and even in antique shops and at antique shows, where they are often offered as antique. Mundial continues to churn out new lines of reproductions and the quality is improving. All dealers and collectors are urged to check out the Mundial Company website regularly to learn about Mundial's newest "antiques."

Mundial Company has even begun producing copies of pieces originally reproduced by the German Doll Company (GDC)! After the unification of Germany, Susan Bickert and Roland Schlegel purchased the abandoned Weiss, Kühnert, and Company (WKC). GDC reproduced bathing beauties and mermaids from the old WKC molds found in the German factory, as well as antique molds from other German companies. The quality of the bisque and decoration of these GDC repros is very good; good enough, in fact, to fool many collectors. There are a number of rare and desirable items, including a mermaid on an alligator and a merman mounted on a seahorse. The GDC's reissues can be differentiated from the originals because, frankly, the GDC's products are often much finer than the old pieces. The bisque is smoother, the complexion coats rosy and evenly applied, and the faces beautifully painted. Many of the originals, such as the little mermaids and bathing beauties, were mass-produced inexpensive novelty items; the bisque did not have the satiny smoothness of the GDC's products and far less attention was paid to the painting, especially the facial features. In some cases, the GDC has produced the item in different material and colors from the originals. The GDC originally marked its products with a fired-in blue roly-poly clown symbol. However, not only did unscrupulous dealers remove the mark and resell these reissues as antiques, copies of pieces made from GDC molds soon appeared without any marks. These figurines are showing up frequently at antique shows and on-line auctions, sans any GDC mark, and new versions seem to be appearing in Germany and Belgium. Also, the GDC, in addition to its reproductions, began offering what it claimed were thousands of pieces of "forgotten old stocks" dating from the 1900s through the 1950s. GDC now appears to be kaput, but reproductions made from its molds are still appearing on the market.

Weiss, Kühnert, and Company

Molds from WKC have been the source of the vast majority of the fakes on the market.  This is an original catalogue page from WKC, probably dating from the late 1920s or early 1930s. Many of these items are being reproduced by the GDC and others in Germany and by Mundial Company of Belgium. WKC products varied from mediocre to average quality; the GDC and German reproductions are made in superior bisque or china with very fine painting, especially the faces (the faces on the larger reproduction bathing beauties tend to be exceptionally pretty). The original WKC bathing beauties I have seen have solid colored swimsuits. The new bathers seem to have swimsuits either in a solid color trimmed in a darker tone or white suits with pale pastel shadowing. The old Weiss products often have mold debris or other factory flaws, while the German reproductions are nearly perfect. The Belgium reproductions are not of as high quality, but what they lack in workmanship, they make up in variety, with many models being offered in different color combinations.  Pretty much everything on the top three rows is being reproduced in bisque and/or china, including the men in the top hats on the first row. On the second row from the top, the mermaid model #6923 is being made in china. The only items I have not seen reproductions of as yet are the mermaid model #7242 and the fish models #6921,#6922, and #7185. The dwarves or gnomes on the second row from the bottom are also being reproduced. I have not yet seen a reproduction of flower frog models #6337 or #6338, but all the other flower frogs are appearing again in both bisque and china. Unlike the bathing beauties, the painting on the flower frogs often closely resembles that of the originals.

This is an original WKC bather. She is of china, and while charming, is of merely average quality. Incised "Germany 6779" and 5.5 inches long, she appears on the above catalogue page in the second row from the top. A German version is reappearing in fine bisque in sizes up to 6 inches with far more delicate and detailed painting.  Mundial is also producing a version, but of inferior quality.

Another original WKC belle, also in china. Five inches long, she is incised "Germany 6781," and appears on the third row from the top. She is also being reissued in Germany in high-quality bisque with superior decoration and finishing.  Mudial is producing far inferior versions in a variety of different colored swimsuits.

Below is another picture from an original Weiss catalogue. Models #8657, #8656, #8869, and #8870 are currently being reproduced.

The bathers pictured in this old catalogue photo below began showing up in Germany, attached to other items, like dolphins and polar bears.  The quality of these fantasy items was very good.  Mundial Company is currently producing poor quality verisions of the polar bear and dolphin fantasies, as well as offering these ladies in china as separate figurines in a variety of painted swimsuits.

The three limber lasses below in Models #6230, #6231, and #6232 are showing up as separate figurines, without their ashtray bases. Their swimsuits are a light solid color with a darker trim, they have tinted stockings, and the ball in Model #6230 is often striped.

Below are two actual WKC ashtrays. The piece on the left is incised "Germany" and "6231," the same number as shown in the catalogue, and her sister carries the incised number "6232," also matching her catalogue number.  Like most WKC products, the china, modeling, and decoration are of average quality.  The lady in red  is 3.75 inches long and 3 inches long, and her pink counterpart is 4 inches long and 3.25 inches high.

Painted Bathing Suits

There are so many reproduction bathing beauties in painted swimsuits out on the market right now, it is not possible to picture them all.  These are just samples of the most widely distributed.  As noted before, dealers and collectors are urged to regularly check the Mundial Company website, as this firm is a prolific producer of these repros.  These china sisters from Germany have become ubiquitous in the on-line auctions. I bought this pair to check them out, and they are to my mind (and the minds of other experienced collectors) new. On close inspection the facial painting does not appear to be quite "right," the bisque or china just a little too white and bright, and the color combinations used are not found on authentic antiques. Also, the seashell is just plain white; in old German pieces, shells were usually decorated with luster glazes. The vast numbers of these ladies and their relations also argue against them being antiques (they appear to have an extended family, but the familial resemblance is unmistakable). I heard from one dealer who has sold a number of these figurines. He claims that he bought hundreds of figurines from old German factory stock made from the 1930s to 1960s; most of this stock was unpainted or partially painted. This dealer stated that he has had these figurines painted in Germany. Even if what he is claiming is true, a vintage figurine with a new paint job might be of interest to collectors, but it is not an authentic antique and should not be sold as one!  Mundial is also currently producing the reclining lady in a variety of color combinations, but of lower quality.  

This a picture from an old catalogue of Heinz and Company. These china ladies often appear in solid red or green swimsuits and their decoration is at best adequate. I have seen such swimmers glued to souvenirs made of seashells and plaster. She appears to have been reborn in Germany in both bisque and china, with a solid colored swimsuit outlined in a darker color, superior facial painting, and often red hair; sometimes she is seen with a little dog molded at her side.

A half doll pictured in the Heinz catalogue. A new bisque version from Germany appears in a light green swimsuit with a white sash, trimmed in darker green, and with delicate facial painting.  Mundial is producing a china version of lower quality.

This powder box by Carl Scheidig is being reproduced in Europe. The painting on the copy is pallid and smeared-looking and the shell lacks the iridescent pearly luster of the original.

More reproduction powder boxes, marked marked "D.P.E. Germany."  Although the painting is rather nice, the material and modeling are somewhat rough.

This bathing beauty by Schafer and Vater is being reproduced by Mundial Company. The bisque of the knock-off lacks the clean, sharp quality of the original. In the original, the swimsuit (here bright orange, but also came in blue) is cold painted, has a matte finish, and often shows some wear. The reproductions are also offered in an orange or blue suit.  The color in the repros appears to fired in, and the orange is dingy and often shiny. The crisply molded details of the original, such as her combmaked curls, are lost in the reproduction.


This is the genuine Schafer mark, a three-pointed crown over an "R" in a sunburst, as it is incised beneath the bather (I shaded it with pencil to make it easier to photograph). Some of the Mundial repros carry a crudely incised outline of the three-point crown. Because of Schafer's eccentric marking system, many of its pieces do not carry the Schafer mark, or may have only a faint or partial mark, but Schafer never used only an outline of the crown.

Reproductions of this rare pair of pretty beach goers were first produced by  the GDC from the original mold and the modern reissues carried its blue roly-poly clown mark. Afterwards, different copies began appearing, either made from another old mold or from molds taken off of the GDC product.  it is currently being reproduced by Mundial Company.  This original, made of good china, is 4 inches long and 3 inches high. The faces are nicely, although simply painted, and the painting on the suits shows the rather hasty application common on these little early novelties. The orange trim is cold painted, not fired in, and does show some minor wear. Cold painting is a decorative technique widely used by German companies in the 1920s and 1930s. On the lower back of the flapper in the green beach pajamas is incised "3683 Foreign."

Just for comparison, here is an example of the reissue by the GDC, which is clearly marked underneath with the company's logo. This model is in bisque and the painting is far superior to that of the antique item. Subsequently, reproductions began appearing in Germany made of both bisque and china.  Although these German repros are very well done, the quality of the slip, the coloring, and the facial painting are not quite "right" for an old piece. The reproductions also began copying the colors of the antique original , although the colors on the new figurines are a little richer and the painting more skilled.  Mundial Company is currently offering a reproduction in china that copies the colors of the original, but is of far lower quality.


This slender sylph by William Goebel is being reproduced widely, both in bisque and china, by Mundial Company.  The bisque version has her as a brunette with her dark hair in a chignon or as a blonde. In the reproductions, the coloring is rather chalky, the blush somewhat orange, and the molding coarser. The facial painting is harsher, with heavy black elongated lid lines. The ribbon in the blonde version may be pale purple or lavender, instead of pink.  She is also being produced in china in a variety of different colored swimsuits or as a nude with colored stockings.  Like the bisque copies, the quality of the china reproductions is poor.

Another nubile nude by William Goebel,  part of a series of luscious ladies with their blonde hair molded in Grecian-influenced chignons. Mundial Company is now reproducing a sister in this series. The model that Mundial is copying has her legs folded to the other side, her left hand flat on the ground and her right arm tucked behind her, with the hand cupped, palm up. Her head is tilted up and she is smiling. The original model, like this one, is of the flawless fine bisque typical of Goebel, with a blooming rosy complexion and subtly blushed shading. The copy by Mundial is of a poor quality, rough, chalky-looking bisque and the colors are washed out and faded-looking. The copies are poorly finished, with mold debris and harsh uneven blushing.  Mundial is also making poor quality versions in china with a variety of painted bathing suits. 

Goebel faces, like this one, are finely painted with sweet expressions and soft smiles. The face of the Mundial reproduction is extremely crude by comparison, with heavy lid lines and hastily painted features.

These ladies, pictured in a 1930 Hertwig and Company catalogue, are being reproduced by the Mundial Company and in the United States by various artists. The ones being produced in the U.S. are generally very well done, in pink bisque with molded hair and good facial painting. Mundial Company's copies are of a pale, chalky-looking bisque or a poor quality china and have rather harshly painted faces with elongated lid lines.  They are available both nude or with a variety of painted bathing suits. 

This flirtacious flapper by Hertwig is also being reproduced by Mundial Company. Of precolored bisque, the original is sharply modeled and nicely painted for her small size. As is typical of Hertwig, often the features on these flappers were cold painted and not fired in, so the paint often wore away over time. The Mundial repros are of an inferior bisque and decoration, have artificially worn features, and are deliberately dirtied to give the look of age. The originals were made of pink slip, so have an overall rosy tone, even inside. She is incised "Germany 4375" on her back and is 3.5 inches long.

This kneeling nude is by the German firm of Wallendorf and was produced beginning in the 1960s. She is made both in white and painted versions. This figurine, or one very much like it, was used to create a fantasy figurine featuring this bare belle in china, cradling a tiny early-style Mickey Mouse in her hands.  These new pieces were showing up quite frequently (the frequency alone brought her authenticity and age into question) on Internet auctions for some time and were being passed off as old and rare. Walt Disney was very protective of his creations and their family-oriented all-American images; I cannot imagine that he would have granted permission to allow Mickey Mouse to appear in such compromising circumstances! (Thanks to the generous collector who gave me permission to use this image!).

Wigged Bathing Belles

This buxom bisque belle is by the German firm of Galluba and Hofmann. Incised "405T" underneath, she is 6" long, and, like all Galluba gals, is of the highest quality and workmanship, with fine, pale tinted bisque and sharp, detailed modeling. The ballet-type bathing slippers are molded, not merely painted, and are found in white, pink, or light blue.

There is no mistaking the standard Galluba face, with arched one stroke brows, intaglio blue eyes outlined in black (although a few smaller dolls may just have black lid lines, usually even on the smallest models the eyes are entirely outlined), deep black pupils (each often highlighted with a white dot), red lid lines, and a full coral lips. The blush is soft rose, never harsh or orange. This beauty is currently being reproduced by various doll artists. Apparently the mold was made off of an existing bathing beauty, which has resulted in blurring of the crisp modeling found on the original. The reproduction's pink bisque tends to be higher colored, the raised molding of the bathing slippers has been largely lost and the slippers look merely painted on, the color of the slippers do not match those found on the old originals, and the facial features are more simply painted, lacking the fine detailed decoration of the original. The wig of the original is of fine mohair, sewn to a mesh wig cap, with a stitched center part in the front and rolled up in the back. The wigs on the repros are usually a hank of wavy mohair or synthetic floss, often harshly colored, fastened across the top of the head and left long and loose. This reproduction is also appearing with painted sheer stockings and sometimes even a black half mask.

Harem Ladies

A version of this harem lady by William Goebel is appearing in antiques marketplaces, including online. Goebel products are known for their smooth rosy bisque, long slim limbs, graceful hands, and slender feet. The fake version has the parrot on her shoulder and extended thick arms and clumsy hands. The bisque is somewhat rough and chalky and while the painting closely follows that of the original, it is not of the same delicate quality.

These two china sultanas are by the German company of Schafer and Vater. Mundial is making a version of the reclining lady. Often, the original Schafers are simply white with gold costume and features, like this example. Sometimes they are tinted, like her kneeling sister, who has a very pale pink-toned complexion with soft blushing and very nicely done features, especially the shapely lips. The gold on both figurines is cold painted and generally shows some wear. Both figurines feature the clean, sharp modeling and high quality material typical of Schafer. The lounging lady is 5 inches long and incised "1631." The Mundial Company is producing a crude bisque version with a mottled pink complexion, rather harshly painted features, and is poorly finished. The modeling is not as crisp and the gold appears to have been done with a spray gun.


Yet another harem lady being copied by Mundial. This original is done in reddish terra cotta and the paint was not fired in, so it often shows some flaking and wear. She is unmarked and is 6 inches long. The fake by Mundial has a very dark, shiny complexion and the colors are fired in, but the real giveaway is that it is made in bisque, not red earthenware, so if you flip her over and look inside through the sizable airhole underneath, it is WHITE inside.


This turtle lady is an old piece by Weiss, Kühnert, and Company. She was first reproduced in Germany, appearing in two different versions. On one suspect item, the bow is red and white, the facial painting much finer, and the inside of the shell is painted tan. Another version closely matches the colors of the original., but still with finer bisque and decoration. Mundial Company of Belgium offers reproductions of this naughty, a blonde and a brunette, but of rougher bisque and cruder decoration.

This Monna Vanna flipper (flip her over to expose her bare body) by Schafer and Vater is being reproduced in a pink glazed china, no doubt trying to imitate the pink precolored bisque this company often used. There are no painted features on the fake and the modeling is blurred. Copies are also appearing in bisque with coloring similar to this authenic example. However, in the copies, the colors are brighter and hasher and the modeling is not as sharp. Except when it used cold painting, generally Schafer has a very light touch when it came to decorating, with many colors appearing closer to a wash.

These naughty squirter boys and lady are now being reproduced. The reproductions are very good and hard to tell from the originals. The quality of the bisque and decoration appears to be better on the repros and the squirting holes larger. The squirter lady repros I have seen have solid dark blonde hair and a green top, but I have been told they are available in other colors too. The colors are often brighter and deeper on the repros. Paint cost money and the old German companies were very cost-conscious, so in the old pieces, the color is often very delicate, sometimes closer to a wash.

This beautiful belle hides a secret under her hinged bustle. . .

which, when lifted, reveals a beetle crawling up her bare bottom. The beetle is actually molded, not merely painted on. The painting on this high-quality porcelain piece is of the finest, with delicately handpainted floral designs alternating with decorative designs and gilt touches. Not visible in the first picture is the dangling garter ribbon at her raised left knee.

The quality of the decoration is evident in her hair, with its elaborate tiers of curls striated with individually painted gray lines, and her finely painted aristocratic features. This china lady is 7.25 inches tall. She carries the mark of Carl Thieme, but she has also been found unmarked or with the spurious beehive mark seen on so many antique porcelains. There may be slight decorative differences in the painting of the dress, but the decoration is always handpainted and of the highest workmanship. Whoever really made this lovely lady, she is an uncommon and hard to find figurine. However, she is also being reproduced. The new piece has lost the many fine painted details of the old, especially the hair, which lacks the delicate striations, and the facial features, which are very simply and blandly painted. The elaborate handpainted designs on the dress are reduced to alternating stripes in the new version, which often carries a mark with cyrillic (Russian) lettering. The repro also does not have the garter ribbon. But perhaps the most important detail missing from the reproduction is the bug on her buttocks!

Mermaids and Sea Sirens

From Weiss, Kühnert, and Company, this 5 inch long bisque mermaid is incised "Germany." The quality of the bisque and decoration, like most original WKC products, is just average. After she was reissued by the GDC, unmarked versions began appearing out of Germany, both in bisque and china, but of superior material and decoration.  Mundial Company is currently offering this finny female both as a redhead and a brunette, but inferior in quality to the original, with blurred details, such as her fingers and fins, and poor  material and decoration. 

This undulating lorelei is by Limbach Porzellanfabrik.  She is 5 inches long and incised "Germany" and "Sp 1274."  She is of good sharp precolored bisque and is finely decorated.  Limbach made another version, more or less her mirror image, and Mundial Company is reproducing this version in china, with a choice of tail and hair colors.  The details on these reproductions are blurred and the decoration is inferior.

Incised "Relpaw" and "445," this cutie on her coral couch is 3.75 inches tall. She has blue hair and her coral is airbrushed vivid orange. The bisque and painting are fair. GDC made a reproduction of a blonde seated on pink coral, with much finer bisque and decoration.  Afterwards, high-quality bisque reproductions began appearing  in Germany without the GDC mark, with either pink or blue coral. 

For more fakes, check out the following blog pages:

Fakes in France, reproductions in a Parisian flea market, including copies of black-stocking ladies by Schafer and Vater.