1950'S And 1960'S Doll Collections

Yesterday's toys can be today's hottest collectibles. If you own or would like to own dolls from the 1950's and 1960's, here are the most important things to know.

Imagine how you would feel if you knew the dolls children play with today could someday be worth hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. It's not impossible; the dolls manufactured in the 1950's and 1960's for little girls' toys are now bought and sold for astonishing amounts of money. Perhaps you have inherited your mother's childhood dolls; perhaps you can remember when Ginny was the hottest thing going. Perhaps you have been amassing a collection of dolls you know next to nothing about, or perhaps you would like to start a collection. Whether reminiscing about the past or researching it, whether an amateur collector or a wannabe, there are certain basics about 1950's and 1960's dolls that every prospective buyer or seller must know.

MATERIALS

The Early Years: Porcelain and Composition

The decades of the 1950's and 1960's brought with them a new concept: beautiful dolls that didn't break easily. In the past, the "nice" dolls had been made of relatively fragile materials, especially when entrusted to a child's hands. Early dolls had one-piece porcelain head-and-shoulders attached to a soft body made of fabric and stuffing, with porcelain forearms and lower legs. Although beautiful, with their painted features, elaborate molded hairdos, and intricate costumes, one can only imagine the fragility of such dolls - and as a result, the number of girls forbidden to play with their toys.

Dolls of the 1930's and 1940's had made the leap from porcelain to composition. Composition was a mixture of wood pulp and glue, poured into molds to make dolls. The doll's body was then sealed with a flesh-colored paint, and facial features - lips, eyelashes, eyebrows, and blushed cheeks, knees, and backs of the hands - were painted on. Although many dolls still had molded hair, often dolls had wigs of mohair or human hair, sewn to cheesecloth-like fabric and glued to the doll's head. And although eyes were still sometimes painted on, moving "sleep eyes" of tin or glass, sporting "real" eyelashes, were often set in the doll's head, weighted so that when the doll was laid on its back, the eyes would close. However, despite the advantages of the new dolls, they had their drawbacks as well. Because of the consistency of composition, the doll's features were less detailed than the fine porcelain. And composition, although less fragile than porcelain, could still be cracked or broken through rough treatment. Composition dolls are also vulnerable to the passage of time; the old oil-based paint tends to dry out, especially in dry climates, creating a spiderwebbing of fine cracks, called crazing, across the surface of the doll's body.

The Rise of Plastic

In the late 1940's and early 1950's, however, new technology afforded dolls the resiliency they needed to survive playtime. Hard plastic became the material of choice for dolls, from the tiniest five-inch dolls to the gigantic thirty-inch dolls. Hard plastic was made in molds, as composition, and the early plastic dolls were also painted a "suntan" flesh color over the pale plastic. Wigs were made from floss (soft embroidery-like thread), then saran (stiffer hair made from plastic, so that it could be washed, combed and curled). In the mid-fifties, doll manufactures began experimenting with rooted soft vinyl "skull caps" attached to hard plastic heads. In the late fifties and early sixties, hard plastic gave way to softer plastics and vinyl; instead of wigs or skull caps, saran hair was rooted directly into the dolls' heads.

TYPES OF DOLLS

Dolls in the 1950's and 1960's came in many shapes and sizes. Each type of doll had its own unique appeal to the children of the era. Today, some collectors may specialize in one type, while others collect dolls by a specific manufacturer. Still others find it difficult to choose between all the beautiful varieties, instead displaying a varied collection of babies, pleasantly plump toddlers, slim pre-teens, and sweet-figured little ladies.

Baby Dolls

Young children love having a baby to care for. Just like today, baby dolls of the 1950's and 1960's attempted to mimic reality as much as possible, in order to give little girls the special feeling of having a real baby to nurture. Baby doll manufacturers of the era experimented with different materials to get that "real" feeling, with results such as "magic skin" baby dolls: dolls with hard plastic heads and soft one-piece rubber bodies that generally do not stand the test of time. "Drink-and-wet" baby dolls drank water from a bottle, and then wet their diapers through a little hole in their bottoms. American Character's Tiny Tears cried tears after being fed its bottle. Baby dolls with "criers," internal mechanisms that mimicked crying sounds, also originated in this era. Some baby dolls were made of two basic pieces - head and body - although many had six-piece bodies with poseable arms and legs.



Toddler Dolls

These eight-inch dolls were made to look like small children: hence the name "toddler dolls." Although the first toddler dolls of the early fifties were strung - their arms, legs, and head attached to the body by a rubber band strung through the torso - toddler dolls were soon made as walkers. The arms of a walker doll were strung across the inside of the torso, while the legs were attached to an internal mechanism located in the hips of the torso; a long post protruded from the mechanism, reaching to the neck, where the head was mounted on the top. Once the doll was assembled, when the legs were moved alternately back and forth, as in the motions of walking, the head also turned side to side, and vice versa. Toddler dolls of this sort were made by all the major doll manufacturers: Vogue made Ginny, Cosmopolitan (started by an ex-employee of Vogue) made Ginger, Nancy Ann Storybook made Muffie, and Madame Alexander made Wendy, later known as Alexander-kins. As with today's cheap grocery-store Barbie knock-offs, many cheap toddler dolls were available as well, recognizable by sparse wigs, cheap outfits, and shoes molded and painted onto their feet instead of toes. Virga is only one example of many manufactures of toddler doll knock-offs.

Pre-teen Dolls

Slim-bodied pre-teen dolls were also popular in the 1950's. These dolls came in many different sizes. In the early 1950's, they were available as strung dolls in 14-inch, 17-inch, and 20-inch sizes; once they were made as walkers, the bodies were made slightly larger to house the walking mechanisms, making them 15 inches, 18 inches, and 21 inches tall. New, larger sizes were also introduced: the large 24-inch walker, and the jumbo 30- or 31-inch walkers. One of the few exceptions to these standard sizes was the Effanbee company's Honey, which came in 14-inch, 16-inch, and 19-inch sizes. Although these dolls lacked the fad following of the small toddler dolls, they were quite popular in their own rights, and most doll manufactures made pre-teen dolls. The Madame Alexander Doll Company's early basic pre-teen dolls were named Margaret O'Brien, and later, Maggie; although these began as character dolls, the molds of the faces and bodies were used for many different characters throughout the years: the Little Women dolls, Polly Pigtails, various bride dolls, and many others. Although the Maggie and Margaret molds were used for both strung and walker dolls, Madame Alexander also made certain dolls only as walkers, such as Winnie Walker, Binnie Walker, and the jumbo Mary Ellen. Other doll manufacturers made similar dolls, though none so varied: Arranbee made Nancy Lee and Nanette, Effanbee made Honey, American Character made Sweet Sue, and Nancy Ann Storybook made Nancy Ann Style Show dolls.

Fashion Dolls

Even before Barbie, there was fashion! In the early- to mid-fifties, Madame Alexander debuted "Cissy," a luxurious 21-inch fashion doll with sweet curves, delicately arched high-heeled feet, elaborate costumes, and stylish hairdos. During the late fifties and sixties, other companies began to manufacture similar dolls, and fashion dolls proceeded to take the world by storm. Fashion dolls came in a greater variety of sizes than their predecessors: these dolls with the figures of young women were made as small as 8 inches and as large as 21 inches. The most popular of the early fashion dolls are the hard plastic dolls: Vogue's Jill, a 10 ½-inch fashion doll, Madame Alexander's Cissette, a 9-inch (and more affordable) version of the glorious Cissy, and of course Cissy herself. Also popular were Cissy's competitors: American Character redesigned Sweet Sue (and her twin, Toni) as a vinyl-headed, hourglass-figured, high-heeled doll with the large eyes and heart-shaped face characteristic of many fashion dolls, and Horsman did a similar makeover to Cindy, while Ideal presented consumers with Miss Revlon. Fashion dolls of the smaller size enjoyed similar popularity: other 10 ½-inch dolls joined the competition, such as American Character's Toni, Cosmopolitan's Miss Ginger, Nancy Ann Storybook's Miss Nancy Ann, and Ideal's Little Miss Revlon, while Cosmopolitan's tiny 8-inch Little Miss Ginger remains among the smallest of the fashion dolls made. The outfits displayed by such fashion dolls were reminiscent of a Miss America beauty pageant: fashion dolls sport period outfits such as bathing suits and sun suits, fifties-style street dresses, swing coats and matching hats, and elaborate formals.

IDENTIFYING YOUR DOLL

A doll's markings are usually molded into the nape of the neck or on the doll's upper back. This is the surest way to identify a doll, although further identification may be necessary in order to estimate a value, as many manufacturers made many different characters with the same mold. Unfortunately, in the early fifties many dolls were unmarked. There are still many surefire ways to identify a doll, however. One of the best indicators is the face; although most of the manufacturers used similar (if not identical) body molds, the faces of their different dolls prove, upon close inspection, to be very different. Another indicator is the style of wig; certain characters were given a specific style of wig, which helps to easily recognize the doll. Other features, such as the location of dimples, the style of mold seams, and the style of walking mechanism used, can also help to identify a doll. The best way to familiarize oneself with the unique appearances of different manufacturers' dolls is to study the pictures in doll value or doll information books, available in local bookstores or libraries.

ESTIMATING A DOLL'S VALUE

Manufacturer

The manufacturer of a doll is one of the most important factors in determining value. The top manufacturers of the day - most notably Madame Alexander, but also Arranbee, Effanbee, American Character, Vogue, and Nancy Ann Storybook - produced better quality dolls and more detailed outfits, and therefore their dolls are now worth much more than the cheaper knock-offs, sometimes double, triple, or more. Bookstores and libraries may carry doll value books specializing in specific manufacturers, such as Madame Alexander or American Character, but generic doll value books can give a ballpark figure for most dolls.

Condition

The condition of a doll heavily affects the value. Every little detail must be as close to perfect as possible for a doll to be considered mint: the cheeks must be brightly brushed, the wig's original set untouched, the clothing still slightly crispy with the original factory "sizing," and absolutely no piece of the ensemble missing or damaged. Having the original box is a big plus, sometimes almost priceless, but often very hard to find with the older dolls. Above all, dolls must be kept as original as possible - although repainting the cheeks, altering the clothes, or restyling the hair may seem like "fixing up" a doll, in reality these intrusions can ruin the originality of the doll, and therefore destroy the value. Any "fixing" should only be done if it is absolutely necessary to the preservation of the doll. Keep in mind that the values found in doll value books are meant to represent MINT, ALL-ORIGINAL dolls only. Even minor flaws in a doll can reduce the value dramatically; missing or dirty clothing, mussed hair, and other obvious play wear will drop the doll to a half or a third of the listed value. On the other hand, a pristine example of a sought-after doll can often command far more than the value listed in the current books.

CARING FOR YOUR DOLLS

Storage

With collectibles as valuable and as easily mussed as 1950's and 1960's dolls, it is important to preserve the current condition as carefully as possible. Although keeping dolls packed safely away may seem like the best solution, a carelessly packed doll can quickly be ruined. It is important to stay away from mothballs, as the dolls will absorb the odor into their clothing and hair; the stronger a doll's odor, the more it will detract from the value. Store dolls at room temperature, as extreme heat or extreme cold can damage them. Also, it is advisable to avoid tight packaging, as it will crush and crease the clothing, and may place damaging pressure on the doll's body. It may be desirable to "stuff" the skirt of a doll's gown before packing her away, so that the skirt does not lose its shape. Dolls can also be stored upright or in sitting positions, and should be gently moved on occasion, to ensure that the sleep eyes and walking mechanisms do not stiffen over time.

Display

For obvious reasons, it is far more enjoyable to display a beautiful collection of dolls, than to store them in the back of a dark closet. However, displaying dolls can be damaging, as well. Dolls must be completely enclosed, either in a glass-fronted case or under a glass display dome, to prevent dust from gathering permanently in the texture of the hair and the smells of the house (particularly cigarette smoke) from permeating the clothing. As the dyes in the old fabrics tend to fade easily, and blush and flesh tones can be bleached out, exposure to sunlight must also be avoided. This can be easily remedied by ensuring that the dolls are placed so that direct sunlight never touches them; better yet, UV resistant glass or plastic display cases or domes can be purchased for the protection of your dolls.

COMPANIONS FOR LIFE

Whether held onto since childhood, handed down between generations, or purchased for your own enjoyment, dolls are special reminders of the past. Once beloved toys, now cherished collectibles, each 1950's or 1960's doll brings into our homes and our hearts a piece of the decade from which it came. In order to preserve the monetary and sentimental values of your collection, be sure to treat every unique doll with plenty of tender loving care.

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