Small Talk Tag: Doll

Don’t Cry, Tiny Tears

Tiny Tears

Introduced by the American Character Doll Company in 1950, Tiny Tears hit toy store shelves at the beginning of the Baby Boom. In the years to follow, Tiny Tears became one of America’s most popular dolls. Aside from her cute looks and features, the doll owed much of her success to the power of marketing. New York-based American Character Doll Company was quick to adapt to new television technology and advertised on popular shows like Ding Dong School and The Shari Lewis Show. A young Patty Duke was even a Tiny Tears spokesman (spokes-kid?) for a short time.

Of course the doll’s popularity also had a lot to do with how fun she was! Equipped with a rubber body and plastic head, Tiny Tears could drink from a bottle, wet her diaper, and, of course, cry liquid tears. The baby doll’s durability was popular with kids and parents alike and gave many little girls their practice shot at motherhood.

Ann’s Tiny Tears

Tiny Tears

The personal playtime accounts from childhoods gone by are part of what makes our permanent exhibit Toys from the Attic: Stories of American Childhood so special. While each and every plaything in the collection must have some sort of story to tell, they often get lost in the shuffle of adulthood. You can probably imagine how many times we hear visitors say they wished they’d held onto that one special toy!

Local historian and longtime T/m volunteer docent Ann Smiley luckily held onto one of her most cherished toys, a small Tiny Tears doll. In the exhibit, Ann recounts playing with Tiny Tears in the early 1950s. Since she didn’t ever babysit or have children as an adult, she fondly thinks of her playtime with the doll as her sole motherhood experience. We’ll take a look at Tiny Tear’s unique features next time.

Barbie Goes to Paris

Barbie Exhibit

Who would have imagined a small town girl from Willows, Wisconsin would one day have her own feature exhibit in Paris? Ok, so maybe she’s not a real person (and her hometown doesn’t really exist), but the recent Barbie exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs was anything but fictional. Earlier this year, 700 versions of the iconic doll were featured along with contemporary artworks and other historical objects that tell Barbie’s multi-faceted story.

Why feature an American toy in a French museum? Like many other toys, Barbie mirrors the cultural climates of the last 57 years, not only in America but in much of the Western world. The exhibit also came during a banner year for Barbie and her maker, Mattel, who announced several new body types and skin tones in an effort to reflect a more diverse market. On top of that fact, Barbie was created as a “teenage fashion model doll,” and where better to feature her wide array of couture than in Paris? Whether she’s moonwalking in her pink astronaut suit or walking the runway in a Christian Louboutin catsuit, Barbie sparks the imaginations of children and adults—and looks great doing it!

Photo: Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

The Birth of Bye-Lo Baby

Bye-Lo Baby

With baby dolls going on adventures to the playground, being lovingly squeezed through scary, dark nights, and transported in backpacks, strollers, and tricycle baskets, it’s hard to imagine that they were ever anything but newborn look-a-likes made out of plastic. But they were! The first truly realistic baby doll, the Bye-Lo Baby, was produced in 1920. Before then, dolls were mainly little girls and stylish women made of stiff, hard materials.

Creator Grace Storey Putnam modeled the Bye-Lo Baby after a three-day-old sleeping infant at the Salvation Army Day Nursery in Los Angeles. And her doll couldn’t have come at a better time; plummeting birthrates after World War I meant children had fewer siblings, so parents sought out realistic dolls that could encourage nurturing skills. The cuddly doll had a hand-painted bisque head, a cloth body (the cuddly part), and glass sleep eyes, and was dressed in a white christening dress. Bye-Lo Babies were a commercial success, produced until 1952 in various materials: bisque, composition, celluloid, and rubber.

Nettie’s Dollhouse Dolls

dollhouse doll

The contents stored inside the Nettie Wells dollhouse give us a special look at the playtime of a Victorian girl. Among them is a small bisque porcelain doll, who is unfortunately missing a few of her appendages. We learned from Nettie’s writings kept within the house that this doll’s name was Gracie and that Nettie considered herself Gracie’s mama.

It’s still unclear how Gracie may have suffered some bodily losses (we’ve ruled out the possibility of an older brother!), but we can tell from evidence on her muslin underwear that someone tried to repair her with glue. Gracie even had a smaller doll of her own. Nettie and Gracie must have had many imaginative adventures (or misadventures) together, judging from her many accessories, which we’ll peek into next time.

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