Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How Antique Ball Jointed Bodies have Influenced Modern Ball Jointed Dolls: Dolls “Strung Out!”

Belinda,  Doll with Metal and Wooden Body, Including Steel Joints
, She may be French. 





I’ve always thought stringing doll bodies was like stringing beads, except the “threads” or elastics don’t seem to work the way you want them to. Yet, the innovations that allowed jointed doll bodies and ball-jointed doll bodies revolutionized the 19th century doll industry around the world.  In fact, that technology affected dolls in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The new interest in BJD or ball jointed dolls, and jointed dolls in general,  is an example in how antique dolls influence the creation of modern dolls.

Jumeau Reclame Body with jointed elbows.  Tsagaris collection.

While this humble post is not meant to be the last word on doll bodies, it is meant to make antique doll collectors aware of why their treasures are relevant even in the modern doll world.  This post is also meant to inspire new collectors and modern doll collectors to take another look at antique dolls’ bodies so they understand the artistry, history, and  cultural impact of their own dolls.

Overview:  Jointed dolls, and of course, puppets and marionettes with joints, date to ancient times.  The shadow puppets prominent in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” from The Republic are clay figures with jointed arms. Early Greek and Roman dolls were jointed, sometimes at the elbow and knee.  Jointed dolls of clay have been found in pre-Columbian American archeological sites.  Some of the dolls found from Peru are made of gold and silver, yet are still jointed.


The Colemans write in The Collectors’ Encyclopedia of Dolls, Vol, I, that in the early 19th century “peg wooden” doll bodies were among types used.  I note that peg wooden dolls are jointed at the elbow and knee.

While many doll makers took out patents for all kinds of bodies (81), the Colemans observe that jointed composition bodies gained momentum during the 1880s (81).  It is with these types of jointed bodies that I am concerned; I think that they are the ancestors of the modern dolls with jointed bodies.  Interestingly enough, rivet joints on doll bodies, the type found on teddies some stuffed dolls and animals even today, became competition for the ball jointed composition bodies (81).  Allegedly, some makers combined the techniques involved to create a new type of body for a toddler doll (81). Take out your copy of Volume I to read an intriguing anecdote about how a doll came to have several replaced parts during her “lifetime.”

Arm of Figure A Steiner showing joint. Tsagaris collection.



Soon ball jointed bodies were created; they soon gained popularity because dolls could be posed realistically.  The Colemans’ explanation of what a ball joint is serves very nicely as a definition for our purposes: “A ball joint was composed of a ball (usually wooden) and two adjacent sockets strung with elastic or a metal spring to permit the doll joint to move in all directions” (46).

What I find interesting is the observation that wooden dolls ball joints, even ball jointed waists,  were made “at least as early as the 18th century” (Coleman 46).

According to the Colemans, American doll makers took an initial interest in how to make doll joints with patents by Charles Louis Parent, Joel Ellis and others obtaining patents for doll bodies (327).

Then, during the 1870s, Bru and Charles Parent began “experimenting with ball jointed composition bodies” and by the 1880s, dolls with such bodies were sold as “Bebe Incassable) (46). Soon, German doll competitors began creating similar bodies.

An untinted bisque head with lovely glass eyes, ill. 894 in Coleman, Vol. I, has a”ball and socket”neck joint, which allows her head to turn in any directions (327).  Variations of this type of joint were used on many of my childhood dolls from the 60sand 50s, and earlier dolls than that had them as well.

American manufacturers followed suit when World War interrupted the doll making industry.  They often made improvements to the dolls’ hip joints; doll bodies of this type were the make of wood, metal, bisque, stiffened fabric, and celluloid, but the list is not inclusive (46).

The Colemans illustrate a doll by Vve. [widow] Clement on p. 157 of Volume I that has jointed elbows and knees. The body bears her stamp. One Pierre Clement, perhaps related to the Widow, claimed he made “fine jointed dolls in natural leather” (156).


Joel Ellis:  I wrote about Ellis in my book on metal dolls because he used metal hands and feet on his dolls.   His dolls area also jointed at the elbows, hips, and knees.  I have seen modern Barbie dolls jointed in a similar fashion, as well as miniature wooden dolls by the Silvestri Company, famous for holiday décor.  (I am partial to Silvestri; my husband’s grandfather created Christmas décor for them).


Courtesy, Theriault’s



Joints of Joel Ellis Doll. Tsagaris collection.  Photo courtesy paintmiata54.


The Jointed Doll Co. under Dexter and Frank D. Martin made wooden dolls similar to those by Ellis between 1874-75.  For more on Ellis and these types of dolls, see Miriam Formanek-Brunell’s book, Made to Play House.

12 inch Martin dolls were jointed at the neck, shoulders, hips, elbows, and knees (Coleman 325). They are similar to Mason & Taylor dolls.


                                            Joel Ellis Doll,  Tsagaris collection.  Photo courtesy paintmiata54.

Schoenhut:  I wrote about Schoenhut dolls in my book With Love from Tin Lizzie because they often have metal spring joints.  Ills. 1473A & B in Coleman, Vol. I who a Schoenhut male “Manikin” doll that is completely jointed and poseable.   A bent limb all wooden baby by Schoenhut has jointed elbows and knees.  See Ill. 1478 at p. 557. Albert Schoenhut was granted his patent for “swivel, spring-jointed” dolls in1911. 


Schoenhut Ad, Piano, and other metal toys and dolls  on Display at German American Heritage Center. Tsagaris Collection.

There are many great books on Schoenhut dolls, and good websites, for those who want to know more.

Bucherer & Cie of  Switzerland also made metal dolls with ball jointed bodies, some in regional costumes, from 1921-1935.  They made dolls in sizes 6 to 9.5 inches in 160 different characters.  They remind me of the modern Mego character action figures of the


Bucherer Man , displayed with other Metal dolls, photo by Jerry Lowe.
Tsagaris Collection

1970s and 80s that often were jointed at the knees. They were marked “Made in Switzerland Patents Applied for (Doll Reference).

  Interesting Old Wooden Doll showing joints.  Tsagaris collection.

Jill by Vogue:

She was one of several 50s dolls, some by other makers, too, with jointed knees and complete wardrobes.

Cissy, Cissette, 8inch Alexanders: I have a small fortune invested in the tiny rubber bands used in orthodontists’ offices.  I use them to put my 8 inch Alexanders back together.  Once, before my Beth could be repaired, I sketched her and won honorable mention a high school art contest.  I entered her in the Exploded View category.

Cissy and Cissette are, of course, also jointed dolls that can be posed and that have many costume changes.

Dollikin:  Uneeda made this fully articulated, 19-20 inch hard plastic doll with a vinyl head in the 1950s.  These dolls made between 1958-62 had 16 joints and were marked “UNEEDA 2s” on the back of the head.  In 1958, a 14 inch version called “The Squirt” by collectors appeared, marked “Uneeda” with the copyright symbol. A smaller version in hard plastic and vinyl wearing a colorful jumpsuit and boots was introduced during the 1970s.  This doll is around 12 inches high.   22 inch Baby Dollikin arrived in 1958-59. 
Little Miss Dollikin was made during the 1980s, and was only 6.5 inches tall.

These are not the only jointed dolls made during the 50s and 60s.  The Capezio Ballerina was jointed at the knees, as were other ballerina dolls with hard plastic bodies and vinyl heads.  NIADA artist Judith Condon made dolls in different sizes of porcelain that were fully jointed, even at their swivel waists.



 Metal Dolls and parts showing joints.  Dolls are all metal.  Tsagaris collection.


Modern BJD Companies:

The history of modern ball jointed dolls [BJD],aka, Asian Ball Jointed Dolls [ABJD] is rooted in both Japanese and European doll making tradition.  Other Asian countries also have produced articulated and ball jointed dolls and puppets. Here is a brief history:

The history of commercially produced Asian resin BJDs began in 1999 when the Japanese company Volks created the Super Dollfie line of dolls. The first Super Dollfie were 57 cm tall, strung with elastic, ball-jointed, and made of polyurethane resin; similar to garage kits, which were Volks main product at the time. Super Dollfie were made to be highly customizable and to find a female market for Volks products.[6][7][8] See further: Super Dollfie History.
The earliest Asian BJDs were influenced by the anime aesthetic.[1][4] The early, prominent BJD companies Volks, Cerberus Project[9] with the Delf line, as well as the Japanese artist Gentaro Araki with the U-noa line,[6] all have backgrounds in anime-style resin figure kits.
Around 2002–2003, South Korean companies started creating and producing BJDs. Customhouse[10] and Cerberus Project were among the first Korean BJDs companies, and since then the Korean market has expanded with many more.
The earliest Chinese produced BJDs were knockoffs. Some were direct recasts, while others were slight modifications of Super Dollfie or Korean BJDs. These knockoffs were made of plaster, low quality resin or polystone — a mix of resin and a filler material like sand. They were low in price, but not very durable.[11] The first Chinese company to release their own original BJD sculpts in high quality polyurethane resin was Dollzone. Their dolls hit the market in 2006.[12] Since then, several other Chinese companies followed suit, putting their own BJD creations on the international market. (Wikipedia)
The first American company to produce a BJD with more of an American aesthetic influence was Goodreau Doll[13] in 2007.[14]

Modern BJDs are influenced by Anime and Manga art, and some resemble Sailor Moon or Takara Barbie dolls.  They are often meant to be customized and can be used for role play and for photography. An 11 inch Dollfie example in my collection is made of pink polyurethane resin and is fully articulated.  The face is unpainted, and the doll has no wig. 

Many groups and conventions exist that feature them.   Most sources indicate that these dolls are aimed at an adult collector’s market.  Some are anatomically correct; they range from around $35.00 for mini varieties to over $100 for 24 inch examples. 

Dream of Doll is just one site dedicated to these dolls, and features amazing shoes, jewelry, heads, wigs, and clothing.

Other jointed dolls:   Pullip, Marie Osmond, Monster High, Ever After:

Eco Warriors are made of recycled plastics, and are ball jointed dolls, around 12 inches high.  They are part of trend that makes these dolls more accessible, with some, like Monster High, Ever After High and certain Barbies available for children, too. Earlier Barbies from the 60s and 70s had “twist n turn waists” that allowed the doll to swivel Marie Osmond has created some ball jointed dolls with large, anime style heads and big eyes.

Jointed dolls have been popular with doll lovers throughout the centuries because they can be posed and dressed in so many ways.  The spark the collector’s imagination, and make the itself more interesting.  While modern BJDs and jointed dolls will continue to be popular, let’s not forget their origins lie with antique dolls.

Monster High Doll posed to show articulation.  Courtesy, Mikki Brantley.


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