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The Schoenhut wooden dolls made in Philadelphia from 1911 to 1924 are, like the Springfield dolls, an American contribution, although the maker was a German emigrant, the descendant of German wood carvers and toymakers. The Schoenhut is also distinguished by an unusual joint, not of wood but of metal, and so strong as to be virtually unbreakable and so pliable as to let the doll assume any position. A small metal stand made to fit into a hole in the foot enabled the doll to stand alone while assuming unusual positions. Mrs. Clear considers the Schoenhut wooden doll "the finest play doll ever brought out."
The first Schoenhuts were sixteen inches tall and had either carved wooden "hair" or wigs. They were charmingly dressed as boys or girls. Later, other sizes were made. The method was similar to that of the early Ellis doll, bodies being turned out on a lathe, heads shaped and then molded under pressure and heat. Finally the whole doll was given several coats of oil paint, which did not come off when washed by a small owner.
About 1915 the Schoenhut firm brought out an attractive standard line of infant dolls from nineteen to twenty-one inches long with "Nature arms and legs," and also the "Schoenhut manikin for Artists and Window Displays." Only about a thousand manikins were made and many were destroyed when the company dissolved, so these are by far the rarest of the Schoenhut dolls. In 1919 came four models with doll faces instead of the former character faces. The same year the "Walkable Doll" was made in various sizes and two years later, dolls with imitation bisque heads and "Movable Unbreakable Wooden Eyes, Imitation Glass Eyes"a real innovation for wooden models as the catalogue stated.
The depression of the 1920s led to the cheapening of the Schoenhut dolls. Steel joints were replaced by rubber cord for stringing and later dolls had cloth not wooden bodies, but in the end the company went into bankruptcy and the business was discontinued.
Perhaps the most interesting work of the Sc.hoenhuts was the wooden Bye-lo Baby head. Why they undertook this is hard to understand, for it was an infringement of the Putnam paten. At any rate, few were made and these are a real prize for collectors.
For centuries the Germans carved wooden dolls, and so did the English. In colonial times, homemade wooden dolls were almost the only ones the children had and these still turn up occasionally. Some are so-called "penny dolls," one or two inches tall, pegged and jointed; others are nine or ten inches tall, sometimes jointed, sometimes not. Since they were handmade in the home, wooden dolls are individual, depending on the skill and ingenuity of the maker. In themselves they make an interesting collection.