Small Talk Tag: Doll

Raggedy Ann Turns 100

raggedy ann

With her button eyes, triangle nose, candy-striped pantaloons and orange yarn hair, Raggedy Ann is one of the most recognizable dolls around. You might be surprised to learn that the raggedy redhead has gone through a only few updates in her 100 years as play icon. Ann’s 1915 patent shows her with very long thumbs, a teardrop-shaped nose, a puffy dress, and a floral bonnet with her namesake on a ribbon.

While much folklore surrounds her creation, we know that Raggedy Ann’s creator Johnny Gruelle created Raggedy Ann (and later Raggedy Andy) for the pages of children’s books. Set in his daughter Marcella’s nursery, Gruelle’s first book, The Raggedy Ann Stories, introduced the doll who embarked on a series of adventures: raiding the pantry, rescuing the family dog, and teaching tolerance to the other dolls in the nursery. You might say the secret to Raggedy Ann’s longevity lies in her softness—both literally and figuratively.

Lovely Lilli

Bild Lilli Doll

You might recognize this blonde bombshell from somewhere … could it be one of Barbie’s distant relatives (remember Francie?) or maybe one of her many friends? Well, sort of. This 11 ½ inch tall beauty is (unofficially) the inspiration for the first Barbie doll, released in 1959.

Bild Lilli doll is based on a 1950s comic strip character that appeared in the Hamburg, Germany tabloid Bild-Zeitung. In the comic, Lilli is a sassy secretary who uses her … uh … charm to get what she wants. In 1955, Lilli’s creator, cartoonist Reinhard Beuthien decided to market Lilli as a doll. She was sold in a few toy stores and cigar shops in Europe, but was likely more of a novelty. Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, stumbled across Bild Lilli on a trip to Germany in 1956, and brought a few dolls back with her. After Barbie’s huge success in the early 1960s, Mattel purchased the rights to Bild Lilli and the rest is history!

Stitches of the Past

Black dolls

For some toys it can be somewhat easy to uncover their history. Consulting old catalogs, collector books, company histories, and even personal anecdotes from their owners help historians like us at T/m to tell the story of a special toy. For some toys, however, their past is harder to uncover because they were not mass produced and may have been “loved to death.”

An exhibit at the Mingei International Museum explores the storied past of some of America’s most fascinating and mysterious playthings: black dolls. The exhibit showcases over 100 unique handmade African American dolls from the collection of Deborah Neff. The dolls represent a rich handcrafting tradition spanning from 1860 to 1930. Some dolls in the exhibit are also paired with an antique photograph depicting them with their young owners. The dolls on display depict a variety of emotions and give viewers a rare glimpse into the lives of their creators and owners.
Photo: Courtesy Mingei International Museum.

I’m So Fancy

Victorian Fancies

We’ve got to hand it to the Victorians: they were recycling and reusing a century before the country had heard of Al Gore or Earth Day! Everyday objects like wishbones, spools and nut shells were all given a new life as fanciful, yet functional art objects. All the rage in the 19th century, this crafty trend of turning trash into tiny treasures resulted in Victorian fancies.

While T/m’s  Victorian fancy doll isn’t exactly winning the beauty contest amongst the dolls in our collection, she certainly gets high marks for functionality and being “green.” Her body consists of a wishbone wrapped in muslin and plaid fabric scraps; and her head is painted cork. Her dress is actually intended to be used as a pen wipe, a desktop necessity in the days of the dip or nib ink pens. The tag pinned to her reads, “Once I was a wishbone, And grew upon a hen. Now I am a ‘Spinster,’ Made to wipe your pen.”

Papier Mâché Child’s Play

Papier Mache Doll

Izannah Walker wasn’t the only 19th century doll maker experimenting with new materials to create lighter, more durable dolls. In Europe, German manufacturers experimented with an abundance of inexpensive leftover materials. Local bookmaking factories made paper pulp an accessible alternative for doll manufacturing. The pulp was recycled and evenly pressed into greased molds to create a papier mâché doll.

With this papier mâché method, German doll makers could create intricately detailed, fashionable hairstyles like the one this doll from T/m’s collection is modeling. Molds were used for many years after their creation, even if the hairstyle went out of fashion. Today, we can actually study a doll’s hairstyle and determine when its mold was created.

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