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Kewpies - Rosie O'Neill's Novelty Dolls

Updated: May 4, 2021

I have had the pleasure of restoring a few Kewpie dolls now. The first one I restored was a rescue doll that I found at a thrift store. This doll came to me with a huge hole in her head and her arms were badly damaged and peeling. She was cleaned, repaired, and redressed. Her repair was done with oil-based paint. Her romper was a copy of an original Kewpie romper and was made from antique cotton dimity and organdy. I also made her oilcloth shoes.

An interesting distinguishing feature on this doll - her wings are BLUE. Blue wings are an indication that she is an original Kewpie. Her hair and blush are yellow, another Rosie O'Neill design trait.

Great care was taken to protect her heart decal on her chest and her original facial features on her head. I used rubber cement. A light coat carefully painted over the areas I need to preserve works very well.

My next Kewpie project was sent to me by a client. The doll had been left by an open window and got wet. Kewpie's person wanted a full restore and redress.

She was in pretty rough shape. I removed all her paint and glue composition layer.

I repaired her wood composition with a 2-part epoxy. Then I sanded her and airbrushed an oil-based primer. There are a few times of sand - prime - repeat! When I am happy with the primer coat, I airbrush the entire doll with oil-based paint. I then use ANOTHER airbrush to do the hair and blush.

The final step is to paint the facial features - eyes, lashes, and lips. I use acrylic paint for the facial features. The fun part is always redressing the doll. She is redressed in a blue dimity romper, oil cloth shoes and rayon socks. This little girl is all dressed up and heading home!

These cute quirky little dolls have always piqued my interest and I have gathered info about them over the years... I thought others may want to know a little more about them.

Kewpie dolls have been made by many different companies over the years. As with some of the more popular dolls, they have been made out of a variety of materials including all bisque dolls, plastic, celluloid, cloth, vinyl, and of course composition.

There is a lot of Kewpie merch out there: figurines, books, plates, and other paper products. They have been sold by several companies including Amsco, George Borgfeldt, Cameo, Effanbee, Japan, Jesco, Kestner, Knickerbocker, Kruger, Lefton, Strombecker, Shackman and others.

Rosie O'Neill got her inspiration for the Kewpies from a dream! However, her inspiration dates farther back than that. She used to doodle drawings of her baby brother and the Kewpie totally captures that cuteness associated with a baby/toddler body.

The top knot is reminiscent of a baby's hair on a pillow. The wings came from the baby character being half elf, half angel. The name Kewpie is baby talk for cupid, but Rosie chose to spell it Kew because it looked funnier.

Rosie had been publishing her Kewpie art for about a year and she began to get letters from all over the world from children asking for a Kewpie they could hold in their hands. About the same time toy factories also began to approach her to manufacture her Kewpies. Rosie modelled her Kewpie dolls. Her dolls were made of hard materials like bisque, rubber, celluloid, and composition. However, she was not satisfied. She wanted a soft doll that would "melt in your arms". Rosie began to design a huggable Kewpie. After a lot of criticism and numerous design attempts Jack Cohen of King Innovation, Inc bought her design.

It was Rosie's vision that Kewpies should not only be smiling, round and ridiculous but also loving and wise. The Kewpie philosophy was to do kind deeds in funny ways. She wrote this Kewpie verse:

Philanthropists need

A spice of wit

Or they make

Dull work of it.

But Kewy's idea,

If understood,

Is to make you laugh

While they do good.

It was Rosie's desire that "these roguish little round huggable elves are going forth to cuddle the hearts of the uncuddled world."

I think we can all use a Kewy in our lives!

1921 Toy Catalog Add for Kewpie

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