Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Early Cloth Dolls

1870s Black Cloth Couple

Black cloth dolls are among the first original one-of-a-kind dolls.  This is particularly true of those crafted in the homes of the young and old, usually handsewn with love, using recycled fabrics and other textiles. 

The above pair of dolls was given to me in 2005 by Elizabeth S. Darrah, having been made by her great grandmother, Frances "Fanny" Skinner Henry, who was born in 1849.  According to Ms. Darrah, "Members of the Skinner Henry family were active abolistionists."    The male has looped yarn hair.  Both have button eyes, noses made of rectangular pieces of silk fabric,  embroidered mouths, and silk used for their cloth exteriors.  The male's clothing is all original.  The female wears newer clothing (circa 1950s) over her original flannel undergarment.

Along with the multitude of handmade black dolls, manufactured dolls were also made during the 19th Century.  These include dolls printed on cloth that were later handsewn in homes.

Aunt Jemima Doll Family, 1949, photograph courtesy of eBay seller, terryfromin

The Aunt Jemima Mills Co. offered the Aunt Jemima doll family as a product premium as early as 1910 and as late as 1949.  Consumers could send in box tops from Aunt Jemima pancake mix along with a few cents or stamps in exchange for the Jemima family dolls that were ready to be stuffed and sewn closed.  This family of four originated as dolls printed on oil cloth and include Mose, Aunt Jemima, Wade and Diana (referred to as pickaninnies in an Aunt Jemima doll ad).  The 1949 version was made of plastic.


"Pickaninny" Boy, Spring Hill Child, and "Pickaninny" Girl

Other early manufactured black cloth dolls and doll patterns were often stereotypical caricatures with exaggerated facial features.  Examples include Black Mammy and Child by Spring Hill (1940s), dolls made from Simplicity Pattern #7329 "Pickaninny Dolls," and  Little Brown Koko (1950s) depicting the character from the book of the same name.


Handmade 30-in Mammy Vacuum Cleaner Cover, photograph courtesy of Margaret Mitchell

An abundance of cloth mammies, both manufactured and handmade, are among the initial American-made black cloth dolls.  These also included mammy appliance covers. 

No longer pickaninnies, in today's doll market, black cloth dolls have evolved from mammies to elegant goodesses and divas.  Modern cloth dolls will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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10 comments:

  1. I just love cloth dolls and soft sculpture. These are the type of dolls that I enjoy sewing.

    I am fond of today's cloth dolls as well as the picaninnies. Although the mammies, golliwogs and picaninnies could be viewed today as unsavory, I think that they are still a part of the history of black dolls that cannot be overlooked. I posted a few pics of some mammies & picaninnies that I saw displayed in New Orleans. I didn't purchase any this time because I have a few of them already in my collection.

    Thanks for sharing! :0)

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  2. Hi Hugs,

    Yes, the early black cloth dolls are definitely part of black-doll history and cannot be overlooked. While I do not actively collect derogatory pieces, I do own samples of a few unsavory dolls with the exception of golliwogs. There is no place for a golliwog in my collection. The other pieces I own are reminders of what was. They allow me to embrace the present with expectation for greater things in the future.

    dbg

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  3. I have one or two gollies. I view them as educational pieces of what "once was". I also know that they do not appeal to everyone. I am saving my collection to pass on to my grandchildren and nieces. I also have Black Americana items that truly irritate me, but I still bought them for the education of the younger generation. I put them away in a drawer and when I come across them, I cringe.

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  4. I have a black doll that looks a lot like the vacuum cleaner cover above only it's small, no clothing, and sits on a rectangle. It's only the head, arms, and torso. I do not feel it's appropriate for me to keep it (I found it in a relative's house after she passed away) but I don't think it should be thrown out, either. Should it be donated to an African American museum? Or maybe it should be thrown out since it is a derogatory depiction? I'm not sure what to do with it and would appreciate any advice.

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  5. Hi Kim - No, no, no, no, no! Please do not throw out or otherwise discard the black doll/appliance cover. While many dolls, other playthings, household items, advertisements, etc. from the past did not depict AAs in a positive light, they are part of American history. Our history cannot and should not be erased. These relics serve as a reminder of how things were and how far we have progressed (even though we still have a way to go with reference to seeing and treating everyone as our equal). By all means, if there is an African American museum in your area, donate the piece to them. I am sure they will be happy to receive it.

    dbg

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  6. Thank you for the advice; I will donate it. :)

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  7. Early Black American Cloth Dolls Enthusiast said:
    I just received a Black American Cloth Doll-type. It is a doll on top and a broom handle underneath. anyone know about where I can find info on her?
    Thanks Ms. Elle

    ReplyDelete
  8. Early Black American Cloth Dolls Enthusiast said:
    I just received a Black American Cloth Doll-type. It is a doll on top and a broom handle underneath. anyone know about where I can find info on her?
    Thanks Ms. Elle

    ReplyDelete
  9. I just came across a rag doll hold it one way and it's a black rag doll turn it up side down and push the dress down and you have a white doll. Anybody know anything about when and stories. I was told it was my great grandmothers so that would be back in the late 1800's.

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    Replies
    1. Your doll is a topsy-turvy. Read more about the history of the dolls here or do a Google search for "topsy turvy" for additional sources of information.

      dbg

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Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!