Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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Erna Meyer, Doll Manufacturer - a Chronology by diePuppenstubensammlerin

2/2/1924: Erna Meyer was born in Peissenberg, a small town in Upper Bavaria, in the south of Germany. The family soon moved 50 km northeast to Gauting, near the city of Munich. There she attended primary school, a secondary school for girls, a women’s technical college, and the vocational college for kindergarten teachers, which she completed in March 1943 with a “qualification to be employed as a kindergarten teacher”. During the war, however, she did not obtain work.

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

In 1943, Erna Meyer handcrafted a pair of dolls for her parents’ 20th wedding anniversary. Other doll children followed, which were intended for children of relatives and acquaintances.

 

September 1945 – American armed forces were in Munich, following the end of WWII and the division of Germany into zones occupied by the Allied forces. Erna Meyer’s aunt worked as an interpreter for the occupying power. She managed to sell costume dolls to the soldiers, and in this way the dolls arrived in America early on. Erna Meyer, together with friends, handcrafted her little dolls in the three storeys of 3, Roman Street.

 

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

4/10/1945: The establishment of the firm of “Fräulein” [Miss] Erna Meyer as the “Liliput” doll workshop in the parental home: “Handcrafted production of cloth dolls.”

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend 

 

Christmas was approaching, and Erna Meyer was able to show her dolls in the display cases of the pharmacy opposite.  A Santa Claus and a couple of children were set up in a scene, and on one of the following days, they were offered for sale in her apartment. That day, many people gathered in the stairwell and wanted to exchange provisions for the dolls.

 

The bodies were made of wire with crepe paper wrapped around them, with stockinette or stretch-knit fabric over the top. Initially simple materials were used,  like flower wire, wool, paper, flax, a flokati rug for the wigs, and discarded clothing for the dolls’ little clothes.

 

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

The first dolls had unshaped oval papier-mache heads with just the suggestion of facial contours, which were covered with fabric, ears stuck on, and minimalistic painting: 2 small dots for the eyes, 2 for the nose, and one larger one for the mouth. Hair made of flax was added next. The legs were wrapped around with thread in the colours of stockings, or for children, up to sock height. Hair was styled according to the fashions, girls with plaits, bird swings (plaits with the end tied to the tops to form a loop), buns, pony tails, bobs. The middle parting in the hair was sewn.

1948 – after the currency reforms, demand dropped.

 

 Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

1949 – the dolls’ heads now had contours. The dolls’ feet were still without cardboard soles.

 

 Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend
 

In October 1949, an ad appeared in the trade journal Das Spielzeug for “Liliput Dolls House Dolls. Flexible in all positions. Cute clothes for the dolls house and dolls’ school. Ask for a sample shipment of 5 dolls for 8.50 DM including postage.”

 

1949 ad in Das Spielzeug

In 1949, Erna Meyer met her future husband at the Oktoberfest.

In 1950, Erna Meyer participated in the first Nuremberg toy fair, with encouragement from Käthe Kruse, leading to further success for the small firm. Two years later, Käthe Kruse dedicated her biography “The great doll show” to Erna Meyer, with the words “to the great little competitor”.

1950s

Dolls of 1950. Photo courtesy Puppenmanufaktur Erna Meyer.

The dolls’ papier-mache heads were now pressed in moulds, dried, the front and back parts of the head were joined together on a cotton wool ball, then covered with fabric for the face, painted and lacquered. Hair was made of mohair.

 

Photos from the collection  www.puppenhausmuseum.de

 

The shoes changed: up until then, a loop for the foot had been wrapped with cotton wool and cloth, so that the shoe rather resembled a clubfoot. From 1950, the dolls were supplied with fabric shoes with cardboard soles, so that they could stand. The cardboard soles were produced with a die cutter. Arms and legs were covered with stockinette in a nylon/cotton mix, which was sewn together by hand at the back with the finest stitches. This was usually skin-coloured, but occasionally other colours, or striped fabric, was used to represent long socks or stockings.

 

Katharina's collection

 

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

 

From 1950 until about 1960, the dolls legs had knee caps.

The scale was 1:10 until 1957.

 

Ad from 1954, in Das Spielzeug

 

During the 1950s to 1960s, many mascot dolls were sold as gift items. On the first surviving price list (undated, but with the address 3 Roman St, so between 1945-1954) there were sailors, Dutch dolls and cowboys.

A witch, sailor and clown in an ad from 1954, in Das Spielzeug.

 

 

Later there were also clowns, carnival dolls, vagabonds:

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

cleaning ladies:

mountaineers, woodcutters, devils, gardeners, students in academic gowns, convicts with iron balls, the Three Kings, Struwwelpeter (Shock-headed Peter), the Sandman, Olympic dolls; also regional German characters such as Nusch’s Master Draught from Rothenburg ob der Tauber (in the Franconia region of Bavaria), the Munich Child (the symbol on the Munich coat of arms), the water carrier of Hamburg, Baron Münchhausen, Till Eulenspiegel, the Pied Piper of Hamelin:

 

 

fairy tale and story book dolls such as Max and Maurice, Hansel and Gretel and the witch, dwarves, Heidi and Peter:

 

Heidi and Peter, from the Spielzeugmuseum Nürnberg, with permission

Das Spielzeug, 1952 - dolls in a street scene. Photo courtesy Puppenmanufaktur Erna Meyer.

Dolls from everyday life included servants, grandparents, sick nurses and children’s nurses, bridal pairs, painters, chimney sweeps, tennis players, skiers, children with sleds.

Das Spielzeug, 1952 - dolls at home. Photo courtesy Puppenmanufaktur Erna Meyer.

Tennis player courtesy anonymous ebay seller

Grotesque animal figures were also on the first price list, but were not offered later.

 

In 1951, school furniture was offered, which was not manufactured by Erna Meyer.

Photo of a dolls’ school in Das Spielzeug, 1951.

 

1952: an ad in Das Spielzeug

 

There was also a write-up in Das Spielzeug in 1952, which described “flexible little dolls in lifelike artistic execution, fashionably and versatilely dressed, sometimes for dressing and undressing. Sizes 9 to 16 cm.”

 

1953: an ad in Das Spielzeug: “Liliput flexible miniature dolls are more than dolls! Lifelike expressions. Tasteful presentation. First class workmanship. Dolls house dolls, costume dolls, dolls schools.”

 

1954 – the first “Spielgut” (good play) award.

 

1954 – another write-up in Das Spielzeug noted that the dolls were also for use as car mascots. The address of the firm was still 3 Roman Street.

 

Sometime in 1954 or 1955, the firm moved within Munich, to premises at 46 Nördliche Auffahrtsallee, Munich 38.

In 1955 Erna Meyer married Friedrich Bernhard Bethge, and was henceforth called Erna Bethge.

Das Spielzeug announced: "In October 1955, Erna Meyer, owner of the doll factory at 46 Nördl. Auffahrtsallee, Munich 38, married Herr Bethge. We offer them our congratulations and wish the company, which will continue under its previous name, Puppen-Manufaktur Erna Meyer (Erna Meyer Doll Manufacture) at the existing business premises, every success for the future."

1955 - a photo in Das Spielzeug showed: "Costume dolls from various regions of Germany, completely out of cloth, handmade, also as car mascots. Dolls can be made in any costume on request."

 

 

Erna Meyer stand at the Doll Market at Ratingen, 2014.

 

In 1956, Erna Meyer’s son Michael was born.

 

Dolls like those on the cover photo of the picture book ‘In the Dolls House’ (below).

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

 

 

In 1957, dolls were made in 1:12 scale, in four sizes: adults 15 cm, children 8.5 and 11 cm, and babies 6 cm.

 

In 1957 (above) and 1959 (below) Erna Meyer dolls appeared in Das Spielzeug in ads for Bodo Hennig swing seats and other outdoor furniture.

The product range included “scenes”, for example a tent with a sleeping bag:

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

Also, a game of Indians with feather headdress and cowboy clothes; sports, such as tennis players with racquet and ball, skiers with skis and poles, sleds; also dolls in underclothes with trunks/suitcases full of clothes. The clothes had white press studs, so they could be done up and taken off.

 

1959: doll's trousseau, as shown in Das Spielzeug

 

According to the 1957 price list, 20 cm (8") tall dolls were also available, in 7 costumes from Upper Bavaria, Franconia, the Black Forest, Hesse, Lower Saxony, and Brandenburg. Until 1967, 12 cm high dolls were also made in the costumes of Switzerland, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Sweden, and Russia.

From 1957 until 2000, there were also dolls in approximately 1:14 scale, Series O, with adults of 12 cm and children of 8 cm.

In about 1957, the brand name changed from Liliput (to which a model train manufacturer in Vienna had an earlier right) to Ermey-Biege-Puppen (Ermey Flexible Dolls).

 

Coach with Erna Meyer driver and riders.  Photos: Horst van Moers.

 

 

In 1958, Erna Meyer’s daughter Gabriele was born.

 

A 1959 photo in Das Spielzeug shows that the company had moved to 24 Hirtenstrasse. They remained there until late 1976 or early 1977.  

Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend

1960s

From about 1960, skin-coloured cotton stockinette was sewn into a tube by sewing machine, and pulled over arms and legs which were not covered by clothes. The padding underneath was still paper.

 

Anna Setz collection.

 

Nurses from different periods.

 

 

On 01/09/1961 a patent application, no. 551 792, was made for a head of porous swellable polystyrene which inflates in boiling water. For this purpose the crude polystyrene was introduced into special moulds, a wire loop is inserted, the mould is closed and attached to a bracket passed through a boiling hot water bath, in which the polystyrene then swelled. This invention was based on the ideas of Erna's father, but he died in 1962 and could not continue working on it.

Bodo Hennig dolls house and dolls house furniture with Erna Meyer dolls, in a toy catalogue.

 

Until the 1960s, eyebrows were delineated with two lines for adults, and eyes had large round pupils and white irises.

 

1962: The Doll Family, a photo picture book with Erna Meyer dolls.

 

Mother from The Doll Family

 

Father from The Doll Family

 

From the beginning of the 1960s until the 1980s, the heads were polystyrene, for which no expensive machines were needed. The heads of this second period have modelled ears and noses – earlier somewhat angular, later somewhat less. The painting was still done by hand.

 

1960s – dolls were exported to the USA.


Pre 1965: a girl in underclothes with her wardrobe of clothes, on original card. From the Spielzeugmuseum Nürnberg, with permission.
 
1965: ad from Das Spielzeug for Erna Meyer's stand at the 16th International Toy Fair at Nuremberg.
 
 1964: a doll family in their original box.
 
1965: a skier in original packaging. From the Spielzeugmuseum Nürnberg, with permission.
 
Firefighters. Collection of Anna Setz.
 
 
The Beatles! Photo: Gabriele John von Freyend
 
Bruchsal collection.
 
A few dolls are known which have their limbs wrapped with cotton tape. The dates during which this type of covering was used are uncertain - probably the late 1960s, as some are believed to have been purchased ca 1966. This may have been a short-lived experiment between the stockinette tubes and the foam wrapping introduced in the 1970s.
 
 
Rebecca's childhood dolls, bought ca 1966. Photo © Rebecca Green.
 
 
 

1970s and '80s

 

From 1971-1985, a range of dolls in 1:17 scale, possibly for Lundby dolls houses, had plastic heads with moulded hair and plastic hands. Large numbers were exported to the USA. Without their packaging, they are often not recognised as Erna Meyer dolls.

Ermey (Erna Meyer) dolls with plastic heads, hands and feet, in original packaging. Photo © Marcie Tubbs.

 

1973: an ad in Das Spielzeug for Happy Families in the Dolls House, 24 Hirtenstrasse, 8 Munich 2. The dolls had cloth shoes.

1973: ABC of German Business: Doll Manufacturer Erna Meyer, 24 Hirtenstrasse, 8000 Munich 2.

Borbeck collection.

 

 

In about 1975, cotton wrapping around the dolls' legs and arms was replaced by skin-coloured foam.

 

1978 - at least 1983: this photo showing dolls dressed in modern and historical clothing appeared in ads for Erna Meyer dolls.

 

During the mid 1970s, plastic shoes replaced cloth shoes. The transition took place 'fluently', that is, the remaining cloth was slowly used before gradually all models were equipped with the injection-moulded shoes. Another change took place then at the beginning of the 1980s, from internally produced styrofoam heads to injection moulding.

In the late 1970s, Erna Meyer’s children Gabriele (in 1977) and Michael joined the company.

By early 1977, the company had moved again, to new premises at Marsstrasse 21, D-8000 Munich 2. They remained there until at least 1999.  

1980s dolls.

 

 

1982-1994: a range of the usual Erna Meyer dolls was produced in 1:17 scale (probably overlapping the 1:17 dolls with plastic heads and hands by a few years).

 

Erna Meyer dolls in 1:12 and 1:17 scales. The two dolls on the far right date from the 1980s; the date of the small scale dolls to their left, with thread-wrapped legs, is uncertain. Photo © Rebecca Green

 

 

In 1983, the first designs by Erna Meyer’s daughter Gabriele John von Freyend were included in the range.

 

 Above and below: dolls from the 1985 range. Photo courtesy Puppenmanufaktur Erna Meyer.

 

 

1988: collaboration with the firm of Bodo Hennig, who was an old friend of the Bethges. Dolls were produced which were only sold by Hennig. This was the largest single order for the doll manufacturer.

 

Daughter Gabriele von Freyend developed the models for a special range for the Bodo Hennig dolls houses “Classic Villa” and “Country House”, in 1:10 or large 1:12 scales.

 

1989: Black Erna Meyer dolls appear in Dee's Delights, a US dollhouse miniatures catalogue, although it is not certain when they were first produced. They are still part of the range today.

 

Late 1980s or 1990s dolls. Photos © Rebecca Green. 

1990s - 2000s

Bodo Hennig ads from 1990, with Erna Meyer dolls

 

 

Erna Meyer historical dolls from the late 1980s - 1990s

 

 

1991 Bodo Hennig ad with Erna Meyer doll

 

1992 Bodo Hennig ad with Erna Meyer doll 

 

 

In 1995, the firm celebrated its 50th anniversary with a historical range, in 1:12 scale suitable for collectors’ dolls house furniture, for example Mini Mundus.

 

Erna Meyer died the following year, on 23 November 1996.

 

1997 Bodo Hennig ad with Erna Meyer doll

 

 

Her husband Friedrich Bethge died in 1998.

1999 Bodo Hennig ad with Erna Meyer doll: "Makes grown-ups 10 times younger"

 

In 1999, flexible dolls with porcelain heads, hands and shoes were introduced as "collectors' dolls for historical dolls houses". 

1999 ad for Erna Meyer dolls with porcelain heads, hands and feet

 

 

In 2000, Erna Meyer dolls were included in Bodo Hennig’s Jubilee roombox.

 

2000: Bodo Hennig's Jubilee roombox, with an Erna Meyer doll.

 

2001: Erna Meyer dolls in an ad for Bodo Hennig's Puppenvilla Jugendstil (Art Nouveau Dolls Villa)

 

 

2003: handfelted miniature teddies were introduced for the dolls house dolls

 

 

2005: A range of dolls was introduced in 1:24 scale. The 2005 catalogue shows the firm's location as Dachau, a town about 20km from their previous address in Mars Street, Munich.

 


2007 ad for Erna Meyer historical dolls

 

 

In July 2013 the firm moved to its current address in Sulzemoos, a town less than 20km further out from Dachau.

 

2014: The Erna Meyer firm participated in a travelling exhibition of 150 German manufacturers, which went around the world for 3 years, organized by the Berlin museum “The Director’s House”.

 

2014: Erna Meyer stand at the Ratingen doll fair.

 

 

In 2015, porcelain dolls with modern clothing were produced.

 

Erna Meyer's current (2016) range includes dolls with the distinctive stockinette-covered faces in 1:12 and 1:24 scales, in both historical and contemporary clothing, as well as 1:12 scale dolls with porcelain heads in historical costumes, and miniature teddy bears.

 

Erna Meyer doll body construction, 1940s - 2000s. Photo © Marcie Tubbs.

 

Erna Meyer dolls, 1950s - 1960s, in three scales. Photo © Rebecca Green.

 

 

 

Gabriele John von Freyend  -  Puppenmanufaktur erna meyer im Gut Schloss Sulzemoos

Hirschbergstrasse 10               85254 Sulzemoos

Tel.: 08135/9947575  Fax: 08135/9947576  Mobile: 0171 4521365

Email: info@erna-meyer.com   Web: www.erna-meyer.com

 

Literature (in chronological order):

  • Jubiläum – 50 Jahre.   In: Cieslik’s Puppenmagazin 9.1995, Volume 3, pp. 102-105
  • Schrey, Karin: Puppen, die aus dem Rahmen fallen : 60 Jahre Puppenmanufaktur Erna Meyer
  • Die Geschäftsidee : 60 Jahre Puppenmanufaktur Erna Meyer. In: 1 zu 12 2006, 27, pp. 13-17
  • Tubbs, Marcie and Bob: Dollhouse and Miniature Dolls 1840-1990. Atglen: Schiffer 2009
  • Köhler, Swantje: Kleine Konkurrentin: Puppenstuben-Puppen aus der Erna-Meyer-Manufaktur.  In: Puppenmagazin 2012,2  pp. 68-73
  • Freyend, Gabriele John von: 70 Jahre Puppenmanufaktur erna meyer. Lecture notes from 21. 10. 2015, in the Stadtmuseum Ratingen, Ratinger Puppen- und Spielzeugfreunde e.V.

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