The Kewpie doll owed its beginnings to Rose O'Neill in which the character was based on the illustrations of her comic strip character which initially appeared in 1909 in the Ladies' Home Journal. The first Kewpie dolls were handcrafted in Germany in the small town of Ohrdruf under the company JD Kestner. The dolls were made of bisque materials and then shifted to celluloid.
These dolls were designed by the famous doll designer Joseph Kallas who have worked with several doll manufacturers such as Cameo and Effanbee. In 1913, the Kewpie design was patented. However, after World War I which occurred in 1914, the dolls were eventually manufactured in France and Belgium.
The first hard plastic batch of dolls was manufactured by Effanbee in 1949. The name "Kewpie" was derived from the Roman god of beauty and love, Cupid. Thus, occasionally the name is spelled Cupie and its baby image makes it adorable. The original dolls which were signed and made of bisque are the most sought after pieces as their value can reach over a thousand. During the New York World's Fair in 1939, a time capsule at that time even contained a Kewpie.
The Cameo Doll Company also got a license to produce these dolls and most of the Kewpie doll designs were created by the company until it was purchased by Strombecker Corporation in the 1970's. The Kewpie series even came with Kewpie Pals which were made of vinyl and stand 8 to 14 inches tall. Other doll companies who also obtained the license to produce them were the German Doll Company, Charisma, and R. John Wright.
Due to the popularity of the dolls, there were also Japanese companies that created knock-offs of the Kewpie dolls. So for serious collectors, they should look for the label with the markings "Kewpie / Red. US / Pat. Off., Or Kewpie / Design Pat. No. 43680 Reg. US / Pat. Off, or Kewpie / Des. by Rosie O'Neill. Usually these are on a red and gold heart paper label on the chest of the doll or some dolls bear the signature "O'Neill" on one of the doll's foot.
The most valuable Kewpie dolls are still those that were made of bisque and the same mark by O'Neill can be found on them. Some can find them on the internet for sale with prices that can reach to more than a thousand. Others may also be able to find them in fairs and conventions as there are a lot of Kewpie doll enthusiasts who are into the hobby of collecting these cherub masterpieces.