I have always loved Grecon dolls ever since I first came across them in a tiny folksy shop called “The Spindle” – a place which also sold the attractive sturdy dark stained wood furniture (probably German), which was so superior to the Dol-Toi and Bartons available at that time. The shop was run by a lady who seemed to know Margarete Cohn. Perhaps Miss Cohn delivered the dolls to her personally.
Mrs Norman and Norman, 1940s
I saved up all my pocket money carefully to create my first family – Norman, Mrs Norman and rather a lot of children. They had staff, a chef, two maids and a nanny and they all dwelt in a simple 5 roomed house made by my father. Polly, the naughtiest Grecon child with gangly legs was the result of a swap at my nursery school- for an interesting piece of old fabric. What sophisticated little girls we were.
Dickie, Polly (1940s) and friend
My brothers and I made the dolls act and tap dance from the end of pieces of string. Their curled toes are signs of this. We had enormous fun with them and the family of Grecons slowly grew and flourished despite their cramped conditions. The teenagers were sturdy and of a good height – their father Norman stands at nearly 4” and the girls with their braided hair and plaid dresses with matching knickers are nearly as tall with big heavy feet. (Many years later my husband’s Toe-tector boots were always known as his “Grecons”.)
The 40s girls with their matching knickers
The shortage of accommodation was solved in due course with a two roomed Tri-Ang Ultra Modern with useful Suntrap and covered balcony, and Butter House, a four roomed terrace style house of 1922. They lived there undisturbed for many years as I grew up, married and had children. Not completely undisturbed because dolls house carpets were hard to come by in those days and I had covered the floors in felt. So the moths moved in and nibbled Mrs Norman’s costume - she had already suffered a setback when she caught alight from a birthday cake candle lighting the dolls’ house – my parents having a very liberal attitude to health and safety - this being shortly after the war had ended and bigger hazards had been recently faced.
Years later, I saw a small advertisement in IDHN stating that Grecons were still available. I sent off to Brighton for some and received some minuscule creatures, tartily dressed in bright synthetics and with tiny feet. THESE were Grecons – you must be joking! But they were and I returned some to Miss Cohn saying that I needed Mothers not tarts. She did her best with the replacements but I’m afraid that the “best” ended up in bed with naughty Henry at the last Christmas bash the family had at “Goddards.” She was destined for such a fate with those looks.
The Tart 1980s.
Until I found the DHPP site I was not very knowledgeable about these funny little dolls but since then I have learnt more. I know that the really early ones were big, bigger than my first ones. They were only a tad taller than Norman but fatter and sturdier with bigger heads and melon shaped feet. The ladies nearly always had knickers, not always matching the dress. I assume that these were from the 1930s.
Early Grecons, 1930s
Henry & cook,-pre-war?
There is the question of the armature. Henry, who is slightly smaller with melon feet and an “early” face (those lecherous eyes) has a floppy body, no wire in him. Neither has Vladimir who is tall and thin, or his brother, The Count but both of these have the moulded small feet. All three are wireless but from different times. Did Miss Cohn run out of wire sometimes and just bound the wadding very tightly to try to make them firm?
Vladimir and the count – no wire inside. No date known.
Over the years the males grew smaller and less aggressive. Trilby hats gave way to tiny chaps wearing glasses and crimplene trousers. Mrs Mills, a sturdy woman with well-formed feet, tried dating on eBay and time after time, a teenage man came through the letterbox. She was not a happy Grecon. Finally she found Bill, a 1940s chap who sadly has a weakness for the bottle. This is an on-going situation, still not resolved.
Mrs Mills and Bill 1940s
I then found the 50s teen-agers with their duffle coats and real hair! I couldn’t believe it but no embroidered hair for them. Just small heads with paint where hair should be then the hair stuck on top. Jane in New Zealand has ownership of the first of these dolls that I came across, with luxuriant reddish hair, all windblown.
L: Red-haired teen-ager © Jane Hurley
R: My blonde teen-ager
Above are photos of my blonde, purchased instead of the redhead. She has a blonde ponytail. I'm quite interested in the hairy ones - there don't seem to be many about and they are so different in appearance just because of the fluffy hair as compared to the usual embroidered hair. My other teen-ager (with the windswept replacement hair) was bald on arrival and her construction of head and painting was very different to the usual, the head smaller and not so rounded as others, all very interesting to me, a Grecon addict.
More teen-agers - with embroidered hair
I know that there were Royals, footmen, policemen, soldiers, brides and grooms, bridesmaids, clowns but I have never added any of these to my group. They do cost a lot! The Grandpas never seemed to change, apart from growing smaller and sometimes donning a dressing gown but the Grannies were very adventurous in their dress and no two seem to be dressed alike, but they always have glasses.
How Grandpas changed over the years.
There is a very informative article by Marion Osborne on Grecon Dolls in her Barton’s Model Homes book (currently not available, as Marion will be working on an update soon). In the introductory paragraph, Marion wrote:
"Miss Margarete Cohn made her first dolls whilst at Art and Craft school in Berlin in 1917. Miniature dolls followed in 1919 and proved so successful, that on the 27th February 1920 she registered the trademark Grecon, which is derived from her own name GRE(te) CO(h)N. In 1936 Miss Cohn came to England and after registering the name, exhibited her dolls at the British Industries Fair of that year. For the next 50 years her little people would bring life to dollshouses."
Miss Cohn continued to advertise in the toy trade journal Games and Toys throughout the Second World War. Perhaps some of the wireless dolls date from these years.
I have learned a great deal about the construction of these dolls and know how to make them. I was pleased when Trevor Cain (Dolls House Restoration) made replacement feet available - Capt. Ahab gained a new foot and was able to leave his bath chair. Sadly, the foot is the same size as young Dickie’s, who is seen here posing next to Captn. Ahab. Compared with Mrs Mills' feet in the photo below, you can see how small they are. Grecons need big feet to go about their daily fun without toppling over. They older dolls with bigger feet have lasted longer because their limbs are not constantly being moved to give them balance.
Capt. Ahab and Dickie
Capt. Ahab's new foot next to Mrs Mills' feet
(Editor's note: If you have not yet discovered Rosemary's tales of life in Greconville, with Mrs Mills' computer dating, Norman and Mrs Norman, the lascivious Henry, the burglar known as The Geek, Vladimir and his secret, do check out Rosemary's photo albums on this site!)