Kewpie dolls are dolls which are characterized by having fat cheeks, very wide eyes, and a twist of curled hair on the top of their heads. When these dolls were first released in 1912, they were immensely popular, and while Kewpie dolls are not as abundant and popular as they once were, Kewpie collectors do exist, ensuring a strong continued market for the dolls. Replicas and modern dolls can be found at many toystores, while vintage Kewpie dolls can sell for very large sums, especially if their provenance can be verified.
Kewpies started out in print, appearing in a cartoon series by Rose O'Neill which appeared in the Ladies' Home Journal in the early 1900s. O'Neill claimed that the Kewpies came to her in a dream, and that they were supposed to be like benevolent spirits who would help get people out of trouble; they were often depicted in humorous little scenes which were meant to appeal to young women and girls. When the cartoon series became a success, O'Neill started making paper Kewpie dolls to satisfy a demand for more of the product, but fans demanded a doll which they could actually hold, and the first Kewpie doll was born.
Early Kewpie dolls were made out of ceramic bisque, and many of them came with fanciful outfits. Later, versions in celluloid and hard plastic were produced, along with soft “cuddle Kewpies.” The dollars proved to be such a big hit that a variety of Kewpie-branded merchandise was released, ranging from pins to decorative plates. The distinctive dolls were quite easy for consumers to recognize, making the brand extremely successful.
Many people consider Kewpie dolls to be cute, with their exaggerated features and small size. “Kewpie” is actually short for “Cupid,” and like the Cupids on Valentine's Day cards, Kewpie dolls tend to be pink, chubby, and childlike. Many are also equipped with wings, reinforcing the connection with Cupid, and their arms are often wide open, as though the doll is about to hug someone.
As with other collector's items, some care should be taken when buying Kewpie dolls. Vintage versions are very expensive, as a general rule, and it is a good idea to verify such dolls to confirm that they are authentic, to ensure that one does not end up with a replica. Modern dolls are less costly, with a number of manufacturers making various versions. As of 2008, the official manufacturer of Kewpie dolls is Charisma Brands.