Let's Make Dolls: Hilde Bartel and Baps Flexible Dolls
You can read about the history of Baps flexible dolls on page 195 to 199 in Marcie Tubbs' fantastic book "Dollhouse and Miniature Dolls", illustrated with many beautiful photos. Tubbs presents Edith von Arps as the creator of the dolls - but this is only one half of the story.
The brand name "Baps" gives us a hint to the second woman of the firm:
the "BA" stands for Hilde Bartel, the "PS" for Edith v. Arps.
Last year I bought many Baps dolls and the kind seller also sent me two old and very interesting newspaper articles.
Arnold Vals and Edith von Arps visiting Florence, South Carolina, in 1980
The first one, "German Baroness Makes First Visit to South", published on 17 April 1980 in the Florence Morning News (South Carolina), deals with the beginning of the firm. Women's Editor Frances Ellis interviewed Baroness Edith von Arps, then 86, who explained:
“My mother and father had a lot of estates near Berlin when I grew up. I had a French governess and an English nurse. One of my sisters also had a couple of estates. She gave a huge party, and there she introduced me to Hilde Bartel, an artist. She and her mother were making dolls.”
Edith von Arps had met Hilde Bartel during the days of World War II.
“Hilde lost her mother,” the Baroness said, “and was very despondent. I offered to be her ‘mother’ and to help her. We were afraid of the Russians and I told her: ‘We must not forget that the Russians may come to Berlin, so we’d better fly westward where the Americans will come.’ I thought maybe I could open a language school there, but Hilde said: “Let’s make dolls.’ “
“The Baroness spoke of going to an office of Special Service in Munich, where the receptionist thought she was a peddlar; where the colonel in charge, when he saw them [the dolls], called them art, and commended the Baroness for her idea in helping produce the small gems.
“He invited her to a coffee soon after their meeting and bought 400 marks worth of dolls, while his guests bought an additional 700. So the business was launched.”
The journalist described the dolls as follows:
“They are no more than two or three inches tall, made of wire with faces of linen and cotton and have lead feet so that they can stand. Their costumes, are all hand made, too, and include such favorites as Little Miss Muppet with the Spider, Chimney Sweep, Goldilocks with the Three Little Bears, Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, Winnie the Pooh, and Pinocchio.”
At the time of this interview, the Baroness’ adopted son, Arnold Vals, painted the doll faces. He said,
“We are exporting all over the world – Austria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and some European countries.”
In this ad in 1958, flexible dolls for dolls houses were referred to as novelties.
That means that flexible dolls for dolls houses first formed part of the range of the Baps firm in 1958. Prior to that, similar dolls were produced for the Baps puppet theatre.
In this catalogue entry for the 1959 Nuremberg Toy Fair, Baps is listed under Edith von Arps, but Hilde Bartel was also present at the fair. The last sentence states “Sole producer of the former Hilde Bartel Theatre, now Baps Plays.”
The second newspaper article comes from 1993, when Edith von Arps had already been dead for two years. The local newspaper reported on the occasion of an exhibition of Baps dolls in the Burgkunstadt Town Hall:
Obermain Tagblatt, 14 May 1993, Local Area
Baps Dolls Known Worldwide
Older Burgkunstadt residents still remember the two dissimilar women, Edith von Arps (1894-1991) and Hilde Bartel (1890-1972), who built up a shared livelihood in the post-war period, on an estate on a side road at Ebneth [a village near Burgkunstadt in northern Bavaria]. The trademark “Baps Dolls” arose through a happy amalgamation of the two names. These small artworks were being produced in Burgkunstadt 30 years ago, and shipped all over the world.
Hilde Bartel, who as an artist in Berlin had already sold the forerunners of the later Baps dolls, launched an exemplary career together with Edith von Arps in Burgkunstadt in the post war years. The artist, who with great industry continually devised new dolls, left behind a large range of dolls. They tell of the joys and sorrows of the economic miracle, of wanderlust and other dreams, which have the same appeal to both poor and rich.
Hilde Bartel, the artist, who with great industry continually devised new dolls.
Dolls, which could be real as never before, where the witch from Hansel and Gretel and the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood were intended to be handled and not feared. Dolls, including Cinderella and her Prince, were redeemed from being merely illustrations in books of fairy tales. Finally, costume dolls, which acted as ambassadors all over the world, told of changes which postwar Germany was able to experience.
Speaking of Baps, and thinking of the charm of this small world, one must not forget Edith von Arps, on whose shoulders the responsibility for the large business rested. Hilde Bartel would undoubtedly have died of hunger without her enterprising partner, as she much preferred volumes of poetry to business ledgers. Through a happy chance, Edith von Arps managed to salvage a railway wagon full of belongings amidst the confusion of war and flight, which made it possible for them to establish a new household and get the Baps Dolls off the ground.
Those dolls testify in a fairytale manner to the pioneer spirit of two women who were able to make something out of nothing. Dolls which were broadcast from the New York TV studio of the American Broadcasting Company over the whole continent for a full half hour. Several museums are proud of the dolls from Burgkunstadt. Baps Dolls are spread over the whole world, and as heirlooms of yesterday, outlast fading memories.
In 1964, the then 70 year old Edith von Arps announced the closure of her business, and retired to Munich. Until, full of pep in her old age, in 1976 she succeeded in finding Arnold Vals as successor for her doll production. Arnold Vals worked completely in the style of Hilde Bartel, and it is almost impossible for non-initiates to distinguish which of the two designed the “Little Mermaid”, the “Struwwelpeter”, or “Pinocchio”.
This hopeful new beginning came to an abrupt end when the artist became seriously ill. Arnold Vals felt compelled to cease production again in 1986. However, he still hopes to find a successor, because “although the economic miracle may be over, its most beautiful flower, the Baps World of Dolls, might continue to bloom.”
Here are photos of Hilde Bartel’s dolls from the time in Berlin before she fled to the West with Edith von Arps. Materials: thread-wrapped wire bodies, fabric clothing, yarn hair, painted cloth faces, and metal shoes.
Girls in a nightie (?), pyjamas (?) and a bathing suit.
Gardener and cook.
Girls in dresses of the late 19th, early 20th centuries.
Puppets (?) or fairy tale dolls
These dolls are somewhat bigger and even have projecting noses.
A widow, or the Queen of the Night?
Fairies, elves or also puppets?
Are the boys dressed in school uniforms?
In my collection of old, private photos I found this image. In this photo from 1949, the young boy Ralf wears a similar suit.
Little girl with a satchel
A newspaper seller, typical of pre-war Berlin