On the dresser were boudoir lamps made from half-dolls covering a wire frame which held a light bulb which was in turn covered by her skirt forming the shade. Wire bedlamps were also fashioned and made in somewhat the same way. Not too safe, I assume, since most of them have burned material left on them. Perfume bottles had tops of porcelain figures representing the upper portion of the human (usually female) body. Most everyone has seen the ornate and not so ornate pin-cushion dolls which used to abound but are now becoming a rarity.
There are several steps we take in collecting these precious figures. We usually start with a pincushion doll molded all in one piece. Later we find one with an arm on the hip and a small opening between the hip and elbow. Next we realize some of these figurines are exquisite and some are just ho-hum.
Somewhere along this collecting line we learn they came from different places, Germany, Japan, and once in a while France. By now we are solidly hooked and avidly looking. German figurines are by far the best ones to collect, in my opinion, the French being just too rare to make it any fun collecting and the Japanese being poorly done.
The Japanese dolls were copies of the German figures and not very good ones at that. There are a few good ones, namely a 1.5in male full figure that I had once sold before I realized how rare he really was. Male figures and animals are rare and scarce, no matter where they were made. There are a very few tin (1-1.5in) full figures so hand on to them if you luck onto one.
If you are really hooked on collecting these figures buy what you like of course, but get the book. You can't find current prices except for a few in the price guide that are either way too high or too low (if you find any at these prices, grab them.)
Several figures have numbers incised on the back of the base or inside the base. Some can be quickly identified by going to the back of the book, looking up the number then flipping to the page noted. Most numbered figures are German or French but I have had a few Japanese figures with numbers and also marked foreign.
Personally, I find the German figures have such good detail, especially the fingers and fingernails, that I just check the hands and if they don't look right I don't want the figure. Even if it were German its got to have good detail to be one of the better collectables. When the molds were worn down from the slip being poured in, they were usually discarded, but once in a while one got through when it should have been discarded along with the doll.
Probably the most favorite half doll is "La Belle Chocolatier" (Beautiful Chocolate Girl). Unfortunately, I don't have one yet. She is dressed in a Viennese serving girl costume and is holding a tray with cups on it.
To this day "La Belle Chocolatier" is the logo on Baker's chocolate boxes and wrappers (the oldest grocery trademark used). I wrote the Baker Company and got the following story of romance, intrigue, and commercialism.
"One winter's day in 1745, a handsome Austrian nobleman, Prince Ditrichstein, stopped at a quaint chocolate shop in Vienna to see if this new drink was as wonderful as people claimed. There he discovered that his waitress was a comely young lady, Anna Baltauf, the daughter of an impoverished knight.
Despite stern objections, Anna Baltauf soon became Princess Ditrichstein. As a wedding gift, the Prince had her portrait painted by a famous Swiss portrait painter, Jeane Etienne Liotard, who was then visiting Vienna.
Instead of posing her in the usual formal dress, he drew her in a 17th century costume, serving chocolate. For more than 100 years, the painting was displayed in the Dresden Art Gallery in Germany. In 1862, the president of Walter Baker visited Europe and was captured by the painting of La Belle Chocolatiere. He realized that it would be an appropriate trademark for Baker's Chocolates. In 1872, the Chocolate Girl was used to advertise Baker's products and still is."
I was lucky enough to pick up a KPM porcelain plaque at auction with La Belle Chocolatier on it, dating back to approximately 1840. This is definitely one of my prized possessions.
Related half doll items abound. A minute number of chalk, wooden or wax figures are seen. These are full figured lamps. Goebel made some gorgeous figural lamps. Some brushes have heads for knobs. Powder boxes have attached legs and body or separate legs which can be attached.
Nut dishes, perfume stoppers and/or whole figures which are perfume bottles themselves. Powder boxes have figures painted on or stenciled. Trinket boxes appear with the upper half of the figure being the lid and the bottom half the box to hold items.
Be aware that there are a few reproductions out. One is large trinket box with a bouffant skirt (pink, yellow, or blue). The second is a 4in pink and blue half doll. Both are poorly done and heavy in weight and features.
Any time I see three of one item in a couple of months I immediately suspect a reproduction. There are just not that many of one kind out there in one town. Better to be cautious than throw money away on a $10 reproduction.
Go get Frieda Marion and Norma Werner's book called The Collector's Encyclopedia of Half Dolls, cost around $30, and happy collecting to you.
May Santa place one delicately on your Christmas tree top this December.
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