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Simon & Halbig - Master Craftsmen
By Genevieve Angione
( Article orginally published March 1963 )
AS with many other German doll firms, mystery surrounds the early days of S&H. Records that might pinpoint the beginnings of this busy factory have succumbed to wars, and to time itself. Collectors, to determine the firm's production, must turn to the study and comparison of available dolls. Too often they think only in terms of its later Simon & Halbig days. The older S&H dolls with the delicately incised script initials are unimpeachable witnesses, with or without time specifications. Some, like Melany, show close relationship to dolls of later date or different size.
Melany is 13 inches tall, with a 3 1/2 inch shoulder head, lightly incised S&H, in the usual position on the lower front edge of the plate. The ears are exposed and pierced through the head. The painted blue eyes are convex; the eyebrows a single stroke of medium brown. The old red eyeline is very fine; in place of lashes, the top lids are outlined in jet black. The yellow hair, drawn back from the brow without a part, falls into nicely molded locks at the shoulders in back. A black "Alice" band crosses the center skull to the ear tops. There are four sew holes.
The bisque is pale, peachy pink, dry and dull in texture, not at all like the pale smooth bisque of the later Melissa (SW, Dec. '62). Their bodies, however, prove Melany and Melissa are sisters beyond doubt.
These two dolls are the same size; both have cloth bodies and above elbow bisque arms which are rouged at knuckles and elbows. The arms are attached from the inside to the cloth arm tops, and the hands are cupped. (Melissa's fingernails are outlined, Melany's are not.)
This early sawdust-stuffed body, made of sized cotton instead of the later tough drill, is also center-seamed back and front to provide a smooth, shaped waist at the sides. The legs are seamed in back, attached by hand at the base of the body and sewn by hand at the knees. Besides the type of material used in their manufacture, the bodies show another unusual feature - the use of kid scraps. Melissa's arms are kid capped; Melany has kid feet. Seamed only in the back, the kid is machine-sewn to the leg ends; the soles are overcast to the feet without any toes indicated.
Recently a miniature shoulder head in the author's collection was discovered to be a Melany infinitely reduced. The head is only 7/8 inch; the entire factory-made doll, 3 1/2 inches tall. The "Alice" band, the hair-do, and coloring are alike; only the sew holes and pierced ears are missing in the tiny one.
For those who only vaguely understand bisque casting, a word of explanation. The model for a new doll head is generally made in a large size; not only is it easier to work in these proportions, but molds can decrease the head to any desired size, but cannot be used to increase the size. Every mold produces a smaller head than the head from which it was made. Surprisingly few successive molds are required to bring a head of human proportions down to doll size; from doll size to miniature is an even shorter process. Shrinkage of all materials in each state of the work makes the difference.
This process accounts for several things collectors notice in dolls; it is also responsible for noticeable differences in beautifully made reproductions when they are compared with the originals. An old miniature may bear a haunting resemblance to a large doll, but features such as comb marks, manufacturers' incised marks, and convex eyes disappear in the smaller editions. This cannot be helped. Every cook knows that a greased and floured pan will deliver a perfect cake. It takes a smooth mold to deliver a good head. Plaster of Paris forms a silken smooth surface next to the object being molded. To re-etch comb marks or to touch up trademarks would break the required smooth surface and the heads would not release freely from such molds. Inasmuch as the bisque slip is only "set," not hardened, when it leaves the mold, additional handling outside the mold is not practical.
Who made the tiny Melany? Nobody knows, but the economy and fantastic drive against waste in German factories points directly at S&H. The cloth in her body is excellent and far superior to the crude, sized, pink cotton used in so many later small dolls. Undoubtedly this is scrap material which was either purchased for a song or, more likely, left over from some other S&H doll operation.
Another slightly larger china head miniature in the author's collection, of a known pre-1850 date, has a body of similar material.