Sunday, February 7, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Alexander Dolls

I would be remiss if I omitted dolls by Madame Alexander, another forerunner in including black dolls in its doll lines.  Founded in 1923 by Beatrice "Madame" Alexander Behrman, the earliest black Alexander dolls that I have encountered were made of composition.  The Topsy-Turvy doll pictured above is attributed to Madame Alexander as it is well documented that Alexander made a doll like this, but it does not bear manufacturer's marks.  This was a common practice with companies who sometimes used molds sculpted by others. 


As illustrated, one side is a black doll whose head is jointed; the other side is a white doll with an unjointed neck.  The black doll has three tufts of hair and molded hair; the white doll has molded hair.  They share the same body, which measures 7 inches. 

Topsy-Turvy dolls originated as cloth dolls and have a very interesting story that I shared in chapter 1, page 46 of Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion.


Topsy Turvy, also known as Double Doll, Two-in-One, and Upside Down dolls first appeared in the South in the 1800s. These dolls share one body. Each doll’s dress or skirt, when flipped, hides the other doll underneath. It is widely believed that servants made these dolls for their children using dress scraps. The slave child would play with the white side in the absence of the slave master. Upon the slave master’s approach, the child would flip the doll over to the black side to hide the forbidden-to-play-with white doll. Others postulate the dolls were made by slaves for their masters’ children, who were forbidden to play with black dolls. In the absence of their parents, the white child would play with the black doll and flip the doll to the white side upon their parents’ or other disapproving person’s approach.


Another historically significant doll by Madame Alexander is Cynthia, a hard plastic doll made in three sizes (15, 18, and 21 inches -- some doll historians document the sizes as 14, 18, and 22 inches).  Cynthia was made for one year only, 1952-1953 and uses the Margaret face mold.  Above is the 15-inch version with custom-made clothing (two dresses that replicate her original dress) and other fashions professionally made for her.
Leslie, from 1965, an all-vinyl, 17-inch fashion doll, is another doll by Madame Alexander that has maintained popularity among vintage doll collectors.  The above doll uses the Polly face.  Another version uses the Elise head sculpt.  Rumored to have been named for the actress, Leslie Uggams, Leslie was produced until the early 1970s wearing an array of fashions, including the popular bridal gown.  Her counterpart is Elise

These and other dolls by Madame Alexander continue to enhance the collections of doll enthusiasts.
Baby Ellen (1972), Victoria (2002), Pussy Cat (1992), and an earlier Baby Ellen (1965)

Friends From Foreign Lands and International 8-inch dolls by Alexander
Jamaica (1987), Africa (1991), Africa (1988), and Mali (1996)

Click here for the history (through 2001) of the Alexander Doll Company.

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4 comments:

  1. I am just loving your month of black doll history. Thanks so much for sharing. :0)

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  2. You're welcome. I am glad you're enjoying the information.

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  3. thank you so much for the picture of Leslie! This was my mother's favorite doll, though hers came in a blue satin dress apparently. (she even learned to sew so they could have things like jeans that matched) and I'm hoping to eventually get another for her, but had no idea what she even looked like until this photo. I verified it by showing her and her happy tears have motivated me. I can already tell I'm in for an expensive fight, but I'm hopeful I can find one. is there any place you know of that has any sort of pricing guide?

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  4. I am pleased the image of Alexander's Leslie was helpful to you and that it motivated you to replace your mother's beloved childhood doll. Is it a coincidence that I saw this exact same doll this morning on eBay with a beginning bid of $1...? If you're interested in acquiring one, look here. There may be a battle for it toward the end of the auction, however. Brace yourself! (As of now, the current bid has escalated to $13 and some change!)

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