In 1889, a German company had found a way to improve celluloid so it could be used for toys. The required machinery was developed, and soon Schildkröt dolls with the turtle trademark were sent out into the shops. The company was the 'Rheinische Gummi- und Celluloidwarenfabrik' (Rhenish Rubber and Celluloid Works), founded in 1873, but before long it was better known as Schildkrötwerke (Turtle Works)-Schildkröt, of course, meaning turtle in German.
Over time the trademark symbol saw several changes, all minor, but nevertheless important for you as a collector to know, because they give clues as to the age of the doll in question... The turtle without the rhombus, marked 'SkoR1' (Schildkröte ohne Raute) with the words 'Germany Schutz-Marke,' was used until approximately 1910.
Very early dolls were made of pale, relatively thick celluloid, and they were rigid. After 1900, they received moveable legs and arms. Eyes were painted, hair was modeled in great detail, and faces and expressions were unique. There was also a noticeable gleam to the material of the early dolls. Schildkröt dolls were always expensive when compared to other contemporary dolls, whether they were made of composition, bisque, or wax.
Between 1900 and 1910, 'SKoR' was gradually replaced by 'SkiR' (Schildkröte in Raute, or rhombus). The sequence of words now read 'Schutz-Marke / Germany.' The so-called old sign shows a noticeably slender turtle whose feet are curiously oriented to the front, making it look more like a salamander. In 1930, the trademark was changed again, for the last time. The turtle was drawn more compactly, with a rounded shell like a semicircle, and the rhombus fit snugly around it.
Collectors' literature thus differentiates between 'SKoR' and 'SKiR,' and between the 'new' trademark and the 'old,' meaning the old and new shapes of the turtle.
In 1903, Schildkröt offered the first celluloid socket heads with sleeping eyes. The heads were mounted on jointed bodies of wood, leather, or composition, and these dolls became very desirable worldwide, especially in North America and England.
Over time, Schildkröt grew into a serious competitor for other doll makers. In the Black Forest region of Germany, the cradle of porcelain manufacturers, several makers of bisque heads even feared for their very existence. Schildkröt was now firmly established in the worldwide doll market.
Perhaps the surest sign of their acceptance and success came when some of the traditional and famous bisque-head makers began buying Schildkröt celluloid heads for their own models. Among these were Kämmer & Reinhardt, Koenig & Wernicke, and J. D. Kestner Jr. All three had their main manufacturing sites in Waltershausen, Thuringia.
After 1909, a new doll idea gave fresh impetus to the industry: Kämmer & Reinhardt patented its first 'character doll.' Collectors know about this famous series that began with Baby, Peter and Mary, and Sweet Darling. Many of them were marketed with the 'new and unbreakable' celluloid heads produced in cooperation with Schildkröt.
Serial numbers that had been used on porcelain heads, such as 100, 101, 114, and 117, were changed to 700, 701, 714, and 717 for the celluloid heads. In addition to the incisions 'K * R,' these heads also bore the sign of the turtle. The same bodies of either wood or composition mass were used for both celluloid and porcelain heads. The Kämmer & Reinhardt dolls of the 700 series were extremely popular and are valuable collectors' items today.
The World War I and II years were difficult for the company, and it nearly went under more than once. In the 1950s, Schildkröt replaced the still somewhat flammable celluloid with a new polymer called tortulon (Latin: tortula = the turtle) and launched a new and successful family of doll models. Among them, Annette, Yvonne, and Manuela are slim and capricious, and made very mobile with ball-jointed arms and legs. The hair was often no longer modeled but made of new materials such as nylon, perlon, and saran.
The year 1955 even saw a cooperation between Käthe Kruse and Schildkröt. These tortulon dolls were incised with the trademark turtle, the words 'Modell Käthe Kruse,' and the letter 'T.' But the very name Käthe Kruse had been synonymous with soft, huggable dolls and heads, and so these dolls were not successful. After a few years, they were discontinued.
In the late 1960s, Schildkröt began having difficulties again. Increasingly fickle consumer tastes, financial losses, and changes of ownership marked the beginning of the end of a famous name. In the early 1970s, the factory in Mannheim was closed, and for a few more years Schildkröt dolls were made by Bella in Perpignan, France. By now, additional new materials were being used, such as Demiflex and Tortuflex. Then that factory closed. It was the end.
During the company's heyday, however, the great success of Schildkröt dolls caused many other doll manufacturers to launch their own celluloid lines. Among the Europeans, some other names are Cellba in Germany, Toco (Tondl & Co.) in Austria, and Petitcollin and Convert in France. However, no other maker of celluloid dolls was anywhere near as successful as Schildkröt.
The turtle triumphed for nearly 100 years, and in the eyes of collectors, it does so to this day.
In the aftermath, a year or so after the bankruptcy, German toy merchants Hubert and Hannelore Biemann bought bankruptcy remains, among them molds and manufacturing tools. With that came the famous turtle trademark. They began to make dolls again, in Rauenstein near Sonneberg (now called Schildkröt Puppen und Spielwaren GmbH), using original molds. These dolls are, of course, no longer made from celluloid or its derivatives, but from modern synthetics. Along with the SKiR marking (the turtle within the rhomboid) and the size, they are also inscribed 'R' meaning 'Replik,' or replica in English. For example, the marking on a neck may be 'R 49.'
If you are a schildkrot collector, and you want to search in Germany, don't forget the 'ö' in 'Schildkröt'. Usually in English it's written without 'ö'.
What's your 'Schildkrot' worth? Here are some recently sold items (USA):