Chip in Kewpie doll drops its value by at least half

Treasures in your attic

  • This Kewpie is called "The Traveler." It is old and cute, but not in mint condition.

    This Kewpie is called "The Traveler." It is old and cute, but not in mint condition.

 
By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson
Posted1/23/2010 12:01 AM

Q. I am sending pictures of a Kewpie doll that I have had for some years. About 3 inches high, he is made of bisque porcelain. I have not been able to find out anything about him and would like your assessment. He has a chip on the back of his head - I have enclosed a photo of that, too.

A. The beloved character with the impish topknot and the small blue wings sprang from the mind of illustrator Rose O'Neill. The name derived from Cupid, the Roman god of beauty and non-platonic love, and it is reported that O'Neill based the image on drawings of her little brother that she made when she was just a child herself.

 

According to O'Neill, "Cupid gets you into trouble, and the Kewpies get you out." Kewpies were supposed to embody O'Neill's philosophy of "Do good deeds in a funny way. The world needs to laugh or at least smile more than it does."

Most sources say that Kewpies first appeared in the Ladies' Home Journal in 1909. The Kewpies were an instant success, and before long, merchandising began to spring up around them. At first, there were paper dolls that could be cut out of the magazine. But O'Neill kept getting requests for a doll that children could hold, so one was sculpted as a model and the J.D. Kestner Co. of Waltershausen, Germany, began producing them in bisque porcelain in 1913.

Other German companies made all-bisque Kewpies, but they can also be found with bisque heads and composition bodies. Bisque, incidentally, is unglazed porcelain that has been fired only once, which leaves the surface with a sort of grainy texture that some say feels a bit like human skin (yes, some people find that to be creepy).

Over the years, Kewpies have been made in celluloid, composition, hard plastic and vinyl. Most of the Kewpie figures are standing with their legs together, arms jointed, their eyes to the side - and naked as a proverbial blue jay. However, a class of Kewpies, called Action Kewpies, depicts the character doing various things.

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There is a Kewpie "thinker," a Kewpie fireman, farmer, governor, mayor and soldier. There is a Kewpie with a cat, a Kewpie with a character called Doodle Dog (valuable), a Kewpie at a tea table and a Kewpie in a bisque swing (also valuable), among many others.

The example in today's question is called Kewpie "traveler" and shows the character - which should be 31/2 inches tall - carrying a valise-style suitcase and an umbrella. These are beyond charming, and in perfect condition, they have an insurance-replacement value in the $300 to $400 range.

Unfortunately, the damage on this piece may seem small and even trifling, but to a collector, it is a serious defect that will decrease the value significantly. In the photograph, it appears that this can be easily repaired, but still, the value has probably dropped by half, or perhaps even a bit more.

•Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 27540, Knoxville, TN 37927 or via e-mail at treasures@knology.net.