Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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German Post War History through the example of the firm Hertwig & Co by Swantje Köhler


The history of the Hertwig & Co dolls factory is typical of many German companies in the early 1950s. After the war was lost, Germany was divided into four zones: English, French, American, and Soviet. Most toy factories were situated in East Germany, and so found themselves under Russian occupation. They were forced to specialise in the production of other “essential” goods. In the Soviet Occupation Zone, which in 1949 became the newly founded German Democratic Republic, difficult times began for a large number of businesses, the occupying power denounced many big industrialists as capitalists, detained them and confiscated their entire assets. The smaller firms were at first allowed to continue operating normally, but the growing state control over production rendered this more and more unviable. To escape from it, some owners of companies packed up their belongings and fled with their families and their collective knowledge to the western zones.



In 1952, the GDR government extended the possibilities of state appropriation. It was now also possible to confiscate the assets of GDR citizens who had left the country or who were caught (allegedly) preparing to do so. It had been found at this turning point that the authorities were exercising this “right” to companies which, through provocation and intimidation, they had selectively driven to so-called “Republic flight”. Despite this, several toy producers took the risk of flight with its uncertain outcome. The manufacturer Walter Hennig fled together with his son Bodo to Allgäu. Richard Dietrich, co-founder and later sole proprietor of the Crailsheimer wood and toy factory, also tried his luck in the West - two examples of the smaller exiled companies which built up successful new businesses. Others, like perhaps Herbert Leonhardt, whose father Paul was once one of the most important wooden toy manufacturers in Eppendorf, Saxony, did not succeed in this. Despite Herbert Leonhardt’s years of experience as a partner in his father’s company, after only a few years he was forced to close the wooden toy factory he built in Wallenfels (in Bavaria, West Germany, close to the East German border), under the name Herbert Leonhardt KG,. For a long time he fought fiercely but unsuccessfully for his expropriated property in East Germany. His father Paul Leonhardt had been thrown into jail immediately after the war by the Russian occupiers, because he had manufactured SS barracks and other military toys during the Third Reich. He died shortly afterwards in prison.


A 1951 ad for Bisculoid Little Dolls by Hertwig & Co, Katzhütte, Thuringia, from toy trade journal Das Spielzeug




Hertwig & Co, porcelain factory, was founded in 1864 by Christoph Hertwig and his brothers-in-law Benjamin Beyermann und Carl Birkner, when they bought a disused industrial site with some rundown buildings in Katzhütte, in the Thuringian forest. As Christoph Hertwig had also owned a porcelain painting business in Breitenbach since the middle of the 19th century, his then 18-year-old son Ernst Hertwig mainly ran the Katzhütte business. In 1866, Carl Birkner, for whom the technical management of the company had always caused problems, sold his shares. When Benjamin Beyermann lost everything personal in a devastating fire, he committed suicide. Christoph Hertwig agreed with the bereaved relatives that he would carry on the company alone. There they produced above all “Nanking dolls”, in which the body was made of a cotton fabric called Nanking (or Nankeen in English). The heads and limbs were made of porcelain. Many were made by outworkers, as was usual in the region.


A sample card of Nanking dolls from Hertwig & Co. ©  Florence Theriault


Up until the 1870s and the war against France, the company experienced a huge boom, mainly because business with America prospered.  Later, as neither son was able to continue working in the business – Ernst stayed in Egypt due to illness, and soon died there, and Friedrich was in the military – August Fischach from Memmingen was appointed as a capable associate.

Christoph Hertwig died on 15 November 1886, and his sons Carl and Friedrich, who had luckily survived the war with France, took over the company, and brought fresh impetus to it, with the construction of new buildings as well as new types of dolls. According to Jürgen and Marianne Cieslik’s article on the company (in Cieslik’s Puppenmagazin 1998/3), in 1888 600 people were at times working from home, with 45 sewing machines engaged. Thus up to 24,000 dolls a day were produced, an unbelievable number. In 1920, Fritz, Ernst and Hans Hertwig (the grandsons of the founder of the firm) were named as owners. When Ernst died in 1930, the company still had five kilns and employed 500 workers.


A view of the Hertwig & Co factory in Katzhütte in the 1920s   ©  Florence Theriault


  A 1930s sample card of Hertwig & Co babies made of Bisculoid. (“Bisculoid” is a mixed composition which is often called “false biscuit”. ) Photo ©  Florence Theriault


1930s Hertwig & Co dolls in uniform  © Marcie and Bob Tubbs


 Boxed costume dolls, shown in Hertwig’s catalogue in 1937, and also sold post-war (eg advertised in House & Garden in 1949). Back row – Bulgarian; Middle: Early American boy, Welsh girl, Early American girl; front: North Irish boy, French Royal couple, Scots girl. Photo © Marcie and Bob Tubbs


  The Hertwig mark shows a house, symbolising a cottage, as the company headquarters was in Katzhütte, = cat-cottage


1930s sample card of Herwig & Co children ©  Florence Theriault


A 1930s Hertwig & Co girl doll  © diepuppenstubensammlerin


A 1930s Hertwig & Co maid doll  © diepuppenstubensammlerin


Following World War II, Hertwig & Co, now run by Hans Hertwig and his nephew Ernst Friedrich, resumed production in Katzhütte.

Above, below and bottom: Bisculoid Small Dolls, Costume Dolls -  again available in all models. Hertwig & Co, Katzhütte, Thuringia. 3 ads in Das Spielzeug, 1951-1953.





In 1953, Hans Hertwig learned in time of planned reprisals by the GDR government, and fled with his wife and three children to Worms (on the River Rhine, in the Rhineland-Palatinate). There he founded under his own name a company making small dolls. He followed the new, modern trend and produced his small dolls in plastic, rather than the porcelain of his grandfather’s factory in Thuringia. His earliest advertisements recalled the connection with the former company in the East with the words “previously Hertwig & Co, Katzhütte”.


1955 ad in Das Spielzeug for Hans Hertwig, Worms-Horchheim:

"Small plastic dolls with the cloverleaf".


The three clover leaves

Hans Hertwig had to give up the traditional trademarks with the little house or the little house (or cottage) and the black cat (for Katzhütte, = cat-cottage). This eventually continued to be used by the business he left behind in East Germany. His new emblem, the three-leaf clover, could be a reminder of the three company founders, his grandfather Christoph Hertwig and his (Christoph’s) two brothers-in-law.


A small plastic baby with the Hans Hertwig clover leaf logo on its back. Photos © diepuppenstubensammlerin


Hans Hertwig’s nephew Ernst Friedrich continued producing small dolls from “Bisculoid” there until his own escape to the west in 1958.


Here we see compared two little dolls from East Germany (on the left) and West Germany (on the right). The different materials help us to recognise the basically similar products. Photo © diepuppenstubensammlerin


When Ernst Friedrich Hertwig had left the GDR, the firm was converted into a state-owned company called “VEB Zierkeramik” (VEB Decorative Ceramics). Thus doll production at this historic site ceased completely.

Patented Packaging

The new company in Worms was excellent in the early years. Many ads appeared in the toy trade journals, and each year the firm attended the Nuremberg Toy Fair. It is interesting that the new little dolls made of plastic are very similar to those made from Bisculoid.

Already in Katzhütte, the factory made a point of selling the dolls in boxes designed specifically for them. Hans Hertwig followed this tradition when in 1956 he filed a patent for packaging for small dolls. The special features of the packaging were that the dolls were held in cut-outs which formed a kind of collar.


The drawing for the patent application from 1956, with the packaging specially developed by Hans Hertwig to protect the dolls.  


An ad for boxed dolls at the 1957 toy fair.


An ad from Das Spielzeug, 1958: "Hans Hertwig, Worms-Horchheim, Manufacturers of Small Plastic Dolls and Flexible Dolls dressed, undressed, trimmed and Dolls Clothing."


The final years

However, despite the successful restart of his business, Hans Hertwig's personal happiness was denied to him in his new home. He died in 1959, as his daughter said, “of a broken heart”.  His family valiantly continued to lead the business. In 1960, in line with modern trends, dolls with rubber heads were produced. However, the wire which enabled the dolls to bend was not wrapped with plastic or fabric tape, like Canzler [Caco] or Erna Meyer dolls, but was encased in a kind of foam tube, which unfortunately hardened and became brittle over the years. That led to the dolls having to be thrown away. That is probably the reason why the little flexible dolls of the Hertwig company are so hard to find today.


Detail from an ad in Das Spielzeug, 1959: ca 8cm tall flexible dolls with wigs.


A pair of the very rarely found little dolls. Photo © diepuppenstubensammlerin


This little flexible doll is an example of how brittle the material becomes with time. Photo © diepuppenstubensammlerin


However, competition in the Federal Republic was intense, and soon, in addition to the domestic firms, dolls house dolls manufactured in other European businesses crowded onto the scene, for example, from France and Italy. Finally, they were joined by Japanese companies with affordable imitations, which significantly impacted the sale prices of plastic dolls. The result was that in 1964, the Hertwig Company was dissolved after almost 100 years of existence.


An ad for Hans Hertwig flexible dolls at the 11th International Toy Fair at Nuremberg. Das Spielzeug, 1960.

Details of ad for Hertwig flexible dolls in Das Spielzeug, 1962 

Details of ad for Hertwig dolls of all kinds, flexible & jointed, between 5 and 11 cm tall, in Das Spielzeug, 1962


 Catalogue illustration from 1964 of a Baugigant Prestofix constructional dolls house room, showing a Hertwig flexible doll. Photo © diepuppenstubensammlerin


Acknowledgements:  thanks to Florence Theriault for the picture of the factory and photos of Hertwig & Co sample cards, from the book Hertwig & Co Archives 1890-1937; to Marcie and Bob Tubbs, who took new photos of some of the dolls shown in their book Dollhouse and Miniature Dolls 1840-1990, and to diePuppenstubensammlerin for sharing photos of her dolls and additional ads. All other illustrations are © Swantje-Köhler-Verlag. Thanks to Rebecca Green for translating and adapting this article, which originally appeared in German in Cieslik's Puppenmagazin.

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