Cutie Kewpie

joujou
‘Ne brisez pas vos joujoux’ by Laurent Hallet & Telly, published by Telly et Halet (Paris, 1921) and illustrated by Gaston Girbal.

‘Do not break your toys!’ cries the cute one-armed doll. A warning to children. Or is it a moral advice to adults, as in the 1944 Mills Brothers’ hit ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love’ ?
In fact I have been chasing this particular cover in our dolls collection of sheet music. I was intrigued, and wanted to know if the doll’s peculiar hairstyle would match that of Radja Nainggolan. He is a Belgian football international currently playing for AS Roma. Let me set his portrait side by side to a photograph of such a doll.

Nainggolan and Kewpie doll
Left: portrait of Radja Nainggolan. Right: a kewpie doll (© picture: The Mel Birnkrant Collection).

These dolls typically have big eyes, a tuft of blonde hair, a pot belly and splayed hands. They are called Kewpies and are inspired on the 1909 creations of writer and illustrator Rose O’Neill. She brought into being the little comic characters for her cartoons. The tiny creatures were always helping people out of trouble, battling injustice and making the readers laugh.

loves doll
‘Love’s Doll’ by William Romsberg, published by Edouard Andrieu (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Georges Desains.

The dolls were uber cute and resembled cupids, hence their phonetic name ‘Kewpie’. A few years later a German company manufactured them in porcelain, which made them very fragile as toys. Dressed in a wide satin ribbon with a large bow in the back, the dolls became very successful in America. Soon the popularity of the Kewpie Doll also spread over Europe.

my kewpie
‘My “Kewpie” Doll’ by Nat Goldstein & M.J. Gunsky, published by Nat Goldstein (San Francisco, 1914) and illustrated by Morgan. (not in our collection)

From the mid 1920’s on they were mass produced in celluloid and chalk. The small playthings were often given as a cheap present at fairs. This use continued even until 1958, as can be seen in the ‘Kewpie Doll’ song by the American crooning baritone, Perry Como.

The dolls also featured in advertising and were in 1925 the inspiration for a –still existing– brand of Japanese mayonnaise.

jello kewpies EN MAYONAISE

Rose O’Neill made a fortune from these first mass-produced dolls. She nearly sacrificed all of it in order to help out her family and friends. She was also an activist for women’s suffrage.

oneill_votes copy

To end our little post, and since you have been humming that tune from the beginning, here they are: The Mills Brothers !

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