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Past & Present

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Issue 31 (October 2019)

Grecon Dolls - Labels

by Zoe Handy

In this article I take a look at the various labels I've found on Grecon dolls over the years and attempt to date them based on what we know about these little characters.

Pre-1936 (when Miss Cohn lived in and traded from Germany)

Miss Cohn stated in a letter to a retailer, that she started producing dolls in about 1925. However, I’ve seen no evidence of the cheeky little wool and wire style of doll that we know and love as Grecon dolls existing pre-1936. Certainly, P. Rippingale’s extensive and largely pre-1936 Greta Cohn archive contains no evidence of them. 

The earliest labelled example of 'our' Grecon dolls that I’ve seen is stamped “Made in England” and was, therefore, certainly made post-1936 when Miss Cohn left Germany and came to England. It's likely that Miss Cohn was referring to dolls in general in her letter, as the archive referred to above certainly contains many of those, just not of the type that she has become most well-known for. On the otherhand, perhaps there are some earier examples of 'our' Grecon dolls out there somewhere, still waiting to be discovered!

There were, however, markings/stamps on some of the items she produced pre-1936 and here are some examples:

Pre-war Grecon mark

Photo © P. Rippingale, Grete Cohn Archive.

This mark is on the wooden base of an artistic wool and wire figure. The fact that it is hand-written, has a low number on it and does not refer to the trademark as being registered, suggests that it could be a very early piece, probably from the 1920s.

[The pedantic side of my brain forces me to mention the possibility that Miss Cohn might also have re-started her numbering when she came to England and that this could be an early piece from the late 1930s as we know that, initially at least, she produced a variety of “artistic toys and artistic novelties” in England too and there is nothing to pin this down to Germany with absolute certainty.]

Pre-war Grecon Stamp

Photo © P. Rippingale, Grete Cohn Archive.

This stamp is on the wooden base of a little pipe-cleaner animal (a bear, I seem to recall). The acronym D.R.G.M. stands for Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster, meaning that the design was officially registered inside all of the states within Germany.

Pre-war Grecon Stamp

Photo © P. Rippingale, Grete Cohn Archive.

This oval stamp is on the sole of the shoe belonging to a large (approx. 30 cm or 1′ tall) doll made from leather and fabric. It says GRECON BERLIN in the outer oval and “Ges. gesch.” on the inside – an abbreviation of “Gesetzlich Geschutzt” which translates literally as ‘legally protected’.

The P. Rippingale archive also contains a little cloth doll with the initials ‘G.S.’ carefully stitched onto her under-skirt.

I have never seen any of these marks outside of the archive mentioned above and I would love to hear from anyone who has any items bearing them.

Post-1936 (when Miss Cohn lived in and traded from England)

The vast majority of Melon feet Grecons seem to have been produced without labels.

In my own collection, only four of my early dolls have a label of some sort and they are not of the type generally associated with Grecons.

Late-1930s ‘Made in England’ Ink Stamp on Grecon Doll.

Late-1930s ‘Made in England’ Ink Stamp.

I have this late-1930s Melon feet boy who has ‘Made in England’ stamped directly onto the back of his little play suit in ink.

Late-1930s ‘Made in England’ Ink Stamp on a Grecon Doll

Late-1930s ‘Made in England’ Ink Stamp.

I also have this late-1930s Melon feet maid/nursemaid with the same ink stamp on the underside of her felt apron. These are the only two examples of this stamp that I’ve seen.

Late 1930s ‘Made in England’ label on Grecon Doll

Late 1930s ‘Made in England’ label.

Then, I have this 1930s Melon feet pair where the boy has a ‘Made in England’, in upper and lower case, stamped onto a label in ink and sewn onto the back of his jacket. Again, I haven’t seen any other examples of this label.

It’s possible that these dolls are from a period when Miss Cohn was experimenting with the idea of labelling: firstly trying a stamp directly onto the doll’s clothing – perhaps not deemed to be very satisfactory since stamping onto the soft surface of the doll wouldn’t produce a good print; then trying with a stamp onto fabric to be attached to the doll – much more satisfactory since the fabric could be placed onto a hard surface for printing which would be much more sucessful.

Another theory, since all three of the above dolls were bought from the USA and the label focuses on the ‘Made in England’ aspect rather than the Gecon brand, is that it was because the dolls were destined for the export market that Miss Cohn was keen to label as being made in England.

Early Melon-feet Grecon Policeman with an interesting label

Early Melon-feet Grecon Policeman with an interesting label. This chap stands 11 cm (4 1/2″) tall, including his hat.

This British Bobby (policeman) was repatriated to the UK from the USA and arrived to reveal an unexpected label. I can only assume that Ms. Cohen decided to give him the name Willard. I’m told that this is a Cash’s label (machine sewn) and that it’s therefore likely that there were several produced with the same name. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has, or who has seen, a Grecon doll with the same label, or similar.

Early Melon-feet Grecon with name tag.

Early Melon-feet Grecon with name tag. Elizabeth is 8.5 cm (3 1/2″) tall.

The melon-feet girl above (with very chunky legs!) doesn’t have a Grecon label (and, as mentioned above, most characters of this age don’t) but she does have a tag around her wrist which names her as “Elizabeth from England”. Again, I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has, or who has seen, a Grecon doll with the same label, or similar.

I am inclined to believe that this wrist tag is original to the doll because it does appear to have some age, and I have seen another, slightly later doll with the same tag but with a different inscription on it (see under ‘Feet’ above).

Early-1940s paper label on a Grecon Doll.

Early-1940s paper label.

Next I have an early-1940s, character with Melon feet who has a paper label stitched to his jacket that reads ‘Made in England Grecon London’.

1940s paper label on a Grecon Doll.

1940s paper label.

The label can be seen more clearly on this 1:12 scale 1940s granny who has Oxford feet.

1940s paper label on a Grecon Doll

1940s paper label.

This is the reverse of the paper label. Both of the Grecon dolls I have with this paper label were bought by me from the USA and, given the very patriotic look of the label, I again wonder if it was produced specifically for dolls destined for export, perhaps just after WWII.

My friend and fellow-collector, Rosemary Myers, has a theory about these paper labels which I think makes perfect sense. She suggests that Harrods or Hamleys might have had them printed because of the colour-work involved in the union jack which would have been quite costly. It seems unlikely that Miss Cohn would have gone to this expense herself and so Rosemary suggests that one of the larger retailers, possibly Harrods, would have had them printed as part of a promotion. This also applies to the silver effect on the labels which, again, would have been an expensive cost for Miss Cohn’s small business to bear, especially since she was selling them at trade price.

1940s label on a Grecon doll.

1940s label – used from the mid-1940s until roughly the late1970s/early 198os.

Now we get into more familiar territory. This is upper case ‘Grecon Made in England’ label most commonly seen. Following the introduction of this label it would seem that all Grecons were produced with a label and where they’re found without one, it’s likely that it has been subsequently removed.

The lettering is printed onto fabric and here it is stitched to a mid-to late 1940s maid with Oxford feet. This label seems to have been used, with only very slight changes in the fabric used, for several decades from the mid-1940s right up until the early 1980s.

1949 Label on a Grecon Doll

(Photo © Anita)

The label was either sewn into a seam in the dolls’ outfit or attached with a few stitches (or both), usually in plain view on the back, though I have see one example of a man with his label situated underneath his jacket.

Here it is (above) stitched to the back of a chap who can probably be dated fairly specifically to 1949 because of a leaflet, rolled up in his pocket to look like he’s carrying a newspaper, advertising the British Industries Fair held in May of that year.

Grecon ‘Little-People’ label – used throughout the 1950s.

Slightly less common is this label which seems to have been used contemporaneously, for a while at least, with the previous label. It is still printed on fabric in upper case but this time it reads ‘Grecon Little-People Made in England’.

This label is not to be confused with the later ‘Little People’ label which has the same wording, but the typeface used was different: on the later version, the font size of the upper case letters reduces with each line of the label. Also, whereas the words ‘Little-People’ are hyphenated on this label, this is not the case on the later version.

From what I’ve seen, this label seems to have first appeared in the 1950s, a little later than the previous one shown. I have examples of it on dolls with Peanut feet (early 1950s), Flat Peanut feet (early-mid/late 1950s) and on one character with Tiny feet but dating to the late 1950s.

I don’t have this label on any characters that I would date to later than the 1950s, though that’s not to say that they don’t exist and I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who might have one.

It’s logical that the ‘Little-People’ label was used for some particular purpose – maybe export, maybe for a particular outlet or distributer – but I haven’t [yet!] been able to determine what it was.

Early 1950s Grecon Dolls

In terms of dating when these labels were first introduced, these two ladies were clearly made around the same time – probably in the early 1950s – but the lady in pink (with refurbished legs) has a standard ‘Grecon Made in England’ label and the lady in blue has a ‘Grecon Little-People Made in England’ label, which could indicate that this is when these ‘Little People’ labels were first introduced.

Stamp on the original box of Grecon Queen Elizabeth II doll.

Also, the stamp seen above is on the original box of my Grecon Queen Elizabeth II doll, which was produced in 1952/3 to commemorate the Queen’s coronation in 1952. The presence of the ‘Little People’ reference on this is an indication that the label bearing the same words was probably used from at least this date.

Interestingly, the stamp on my Queen’s coronation character box is exactly the same as the printing on the later ‘Little People’ label in both size and style (see photo below), even down to the missing hyphen, and I wonder, therefore, whether the same stamp was brought into operation again to make the final, more home-made/amateur-looking label seen in the 1980s.

Later Grecon ‘Little People’ label.

Later Grecon ‘Little People’ label (Early 1980s – 1986)

The final label, as far as I’m aware, seems to have been used from the early 1980s up until Grecon production ceased in 1986, and saw a return to the use of the term ‘Little People’.

This label is not to be confused with the earlier ‘Little-People’ label, which had the same wording. They are easily told apart, however, as this later ‘Little People’ label, while still printed on fabric, is not as clear as the labels it replaced and it is slightly larger in size. The wording is the same as on the earlier version but the typeface used is different: the font size of the upper case letters reduces with each line of the label [see photo above]. Also, whereas the words ‘Little-People’ were hyphenated on the earlier labels, this is not the case on the later version.

Another noticeable difference is that the top and bottom edges of the later labels are cut/unfinished, whereas the visible edges on earlier labels (at least from the 1940s onward) had finished edges/selvedges. In fact, the whole label has an altogether more home-made or amateur look than any of the earlier labels from the 1940s onward.

A selection of 1980s characters. (Photo © Rosemary Myers.)

The characters in the photo above were purchased brand new, directly from Miss Cohn. Two of them, the Grandpa and Granny, have the later ‘Little People’ label and all of them have 1980s Casting-line feet.

Unless otherwise stated, all photos are © Zoe Handy.

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