Nippon Dolls
by Linda Lau
During the Nippon era (1891-1921) the Japanese produced a wide variety of bisque dolls.  The majority of these dolls were produced from 1915 through 1921; many were produced to supply the vast American market with dolls during the World War I when France and Germany couldn’t supply dolls.   Dolls produced by Japanese manufacturers include:
  • All-bisque dolls - There are literally hundreds of different shapes and designs of Nippon-marked all-bisque dolls.  The Japanese copied all of the popular German dolls - Kewpie, Baby Bud, Chubby, Happifats, Wide-Awake, and the Kewpie soldier.  Additionally, they came out with many new designs.  Morimura Brothers produced a number of original designs including Queue San Baby and Dolly, both of which were patented in the United States.   Dolls with molded clothes, figurals (including bathtub babies), dolls with jointed arms and legs, and unusual dolls such as piano babies are just a few of the different types of Nippon all-bisque dolls that were made. 
  • Small bisque head dolls - Around 1915 the Japanese also started producing small bisque head dolls with cloth or composition bodies.  Those dolls with the cloth bodies usually have a bisque shoulderplate and bisque arms and legs and most are made of ‘stone’ bisque.  These dolls are usually found with red or white muslin bodies but occasionally it's possible to find one with a "ABC" cloth body.   More popular with collectors are those small Nippon dolls with bisque heads and bodies made of composition or papier-mache.  These Nippon bisque-head dolls are generally small in size with most being less than 10 inches tall. 
  • Large bisque head dolls -  The Japanese copied many of the most popular German dolls. The Kestner Hilda (mold no. 245) introduced in 1914, the Heubach pouty mold no. 6969 (circa 1912), and the Hertel Schwab mold no. 151 are just three examples. The Japanese produced many different character and dolly-faced dolls with a variety of bisque finishes including some rare 'oily' bisque finishes.  They also made both open and closed mouth dolls, dolls with wobble tongues, dolls with glass or painted eyes, dolls with pierced nostrils, and dolls with a crying mechanism in their heads.  If the Germans made a certain type of doll then it’s likely the Japanese made a similar type.   The Nippon character dolls have wonderful expressions ranging from flirty to serious, impish to sweet.  The most sought after characters are the pouty and the googly molds and these dolls are a rare find today.
  • China glazed dolls - These dolls fall into two categories: china heads that were used on cloth bodies and half-dolls which are sometimes referred to as 'pincushion dolls'.