Dolls of value

Two beloved dolls from the first Kaethe Kruse production run, now the worse for wear, in an exhibition at Mainau, Germany. (File photo, 13.11.2014. Please credit: "Patrick Seeger / dpa".)


Donauwoerth / DPA

For generations of little girls, the name Kaethe Kruse has been synonymous with a childhood dream — about one day possessing a genuine Kruse doll from Germany, perhaps the most famous doll in the world. It was a dream that always had some major obstacle.
For example, that the dolls were too expensive for the girls’ parents to afford. Or that exports of the dolls ceased in World War II.
The original Kruse doll factory in Bad Koesen, in eastern Germany, ended up in an area under postwar Soviet occupation. So a new factory was built in western Germany, in the town of Donauwoerth, about an hour’s drive northwest of Munich.
The Kruse doll became part of West Germany’s post-war economic miracle success story, and over time, it would become, worldwide, a much sought-after collector’s item. The dolls still exert a fascination for many people. A search of doll collector sites on the internet shows that they can fetch hundreds, if not thousands of dollars at auction or by private sale. At the Wendl auction house, Kruse doll expert Anke Wendl explains why the dolls are so valuable and so unique: “They have recognition value, and are holistic works of art from a single source from A to Z.”
At an auction in 2014, a “Type V” doll sold for 2,600 euros (2,900 dollars), and this was not exceptional, Wendl says. It is not seldom that bids even go beyond 8,000 euros. Because the brand has never been watered down, the value of Kaethe Kruse dolls seems set to hold.
Tobias Meints of the German doll magazine Puppen und Spielzeug would not however advise people to buy the dolls in the hope of gain. “I don’t really see it as a money investment. In the foreground is a collector’s personal connection to the doll,” he says. The Kruse dolls’ popularity derives from a combination of art aesthetics and the emotions linked to childhood memories.
This would certainly explain the case of Kathrin Finn, a Kruse doll collector from Hamburg. “You see them and you love them,” Finn simply says. She so badly wanted a Kaethe Kruse doll when she was a young girl, but they were so expensive that her parents for the longest time could not afford one. Kathrin and her sisters had to make do by cutting out the pictures of Kruse dolls from catalogues. Then came Christmas of 1960. Under
the Christmas tree was waiting for her a doll called “Thumbelina” — from
a Hans Christian Andersen fairy
tale of the same name. And this
tiny one became the start of a large collection that still thrills her like it did on day one.
Kathrin Finn even possesses an ensemble she calls her Thumbelina orchestra consisting of 55 Kruse dolls. “There has not been a day in my life that I can recall not being fascinated by Kaethe Kruse,” Finn says.
In Donauwoerth, the Kaethe Kruse Doll Museum stages various exhibitions exploring the question of why Kruse dolls are so beloved. “Kaethe Kruse just simply grabs you,” says museum director Thomas Heitele. “The dolls say to the children ‘I can be for you whatever you want me to be.’“
Kaethe Kruse (1883-1968) wanted to become an actress, then married a sculptor, Max Kruse, and gave birth to a daughter in 1902. A few years later, she gave birth to a second daughter, but the first girl, Maria, said that she, too, wanted a “baby.”
Father Max went out to buy a doll, but couldn’t find one he liked and is said to have told Kaethe to make one herself. Which mother Kaethe did, carefully hand-crafting the very first ur-Kruse doll.
This was the start of what would eventually become the serial production of dolls in Bad Koesen. Kaethe’s son Michael would go on to establish the post-war production plant in an old shoe factory in Donauwoerth, where the Kruse dolls are produced to this very day.
In Bad Koesen, a roughly two-hour drive southwest of Berlin, there is another museum, this one devoted to Kaethe Kruse’s remarkable life. “Kaethe Kruse has always been a model to the Germans of innovation,” says museum director Siegfried

Six beloved Kaethe Kruse dolls at the company's factory in Donauwoerth, Germany. (File photo, 15.04.2009. Please credit: "Karl-Josef Hildenbrand / dpa".)

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