Sunday, February 21, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History: RH Boyd's National Negro Doll Company

Image courtesy of "The Internet"

Richard Henry Boyd, born Dick Gray on March 5, 1843, the former slave renamed himself Richard Henry Boyd after the Civil War. Boyd eventually became an entrepreneur and wore many hats throughout his life—preacher, missionary, publisher, banker, educator, writer, and Black Nationalist. (African American Registry)

Of importance to the doll collecting community, Boyd founded the National Negro Doll Company in 1911. According to page 65 of Portraits of African American Life Since 1865, edited by Nina Mjagkij, “Funded with money from the [National Baptist] Publishing Board profits, Boyd’s company manufactured and distributed black dolls. Although Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association are often credited with popularizing black dolls in the years following World War I, Boyd was in fact the first to market mass-produced black dolls to African American consumers. He initiated the National Negro Doll Company after he tried to purchase dolls for his children but could find none that were not gross caricatures of African Americans. Beginning in 1908, Boyd distributed black dolls that he had purchased from a European manufacturer, until he launched his own company. An advertisement for the dolls, which ran in the Nashville Globe, other newspapers, and Boyd’s Sunday-school publications, illustrates how Boyd marketed them to instill racial pride and self-respect. ‘These Toys,’ the advertisement proclaimed, ‘are not made of that disgraceful and humiliating type that we have been accustomed to seeing. . . . They represent the intelligent and refined Negro of today, rather than that type of toy that is usually given to the children, and as a rule used as a scarecrow.’ The dolls, Boyd explained, were to ‘teach the people that they may teach their children how to look upon their people.’ ”

Two National Negro Doll Company ads appear in Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II by Myla Perkins (Collector Books, 1995) on pages 35 and 36.  The ads were run in The Crisis, July 1911 and August and September of the same year.  According to Perkins, "Dolls sold by the National Negro Doll Company during this period were bisque."  The dolls ranged in price from $1 for a 12-inch doll to $8.50 for a 36-inch doll. 

Boyd died in Nashville, TN on August 22, 1922.  No longer manufacturing dolls, the publishing company he founded in 1897, RH Boyd Publishing Corporation, is still operational.

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