Friday, June 14, 2013

Speaking of Madame Alexander Dolls... Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Who is speaking of Madame Alexander dolls?  I did in my previous post and I am now.  I have a few unanswered questions about their product lines.

Circa 1930s Madame Alexander composition baby with crier is featured on page 49 in Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion.

Founded by Beatrice Alexander, the Madame Alexander Doll Company or Alexander Dolls is one of America's oldest doll manufacturers still in business.   The company began making dolls in 1923 and is noted as one of few early American doll companies to produce Black dolls.  As early as the 1930s, the company made Black composition dolls.  In the 1930s, however, it is doubtful that the average doll owner possessed Alexander dolls of any color. 

Dolls by Madame Alexander have always been synonymous with high-quality and were once referred to in the media as the "Cadillacs of dolldom."   Because of the quality and great attention to detail, even at higher prices than the average doll, the demand for Alexander dolls has remained constant throughout the years with most dolls maintaining their value if not appreciating.

Celebrity doll collectors have been connoisseurs of this upscale doll line.  In November 2011, after years of collecting, Candy Spelling auctioned off a collection of vintage Madame Alexander dolls.  Click the previous link at your leisure to view the catalog of Spelling's auctioned dolls and to see the realized prices.

From my personal collection:  Friends From Foreign Lands and International 8-inch dolls by Alexander
Jamaica (1987), Africa (1991), Africa (1988), and Mali (1996) represent a sample of Wendys dressed in African and  Caribbean-inspired attire.
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From the photo archives are five holiday themed Wendys; more have been added to the collection since this photograph was taken a few years ago.  The doll on the far left has the original Wendy head sculpt.  All others share the new Wendy face.  (The background doll is a 10-inch Kwanzaa Cissette by Madame Alexander.)
I began collecting Madame Alexander dolls during the 1990s because of the variety of themes 8-inch Wendy has portrayed.  The international dolls and the holiday dolls rank high among my favorites.  I also enjoy my Easter Wendys.   The 1-2-3- Sesame Street Trunk Set that I purchased as a gift for my niece a few years back is wonderful.  Wendy's trunk is a replica of the Sesame Street brownstone (too cute!).  Throughout the years Wendy has been both male and female.  One of my favorite males is Boys Choir of Harlem and the quite elusive Buffalo Soldier.  One day I will own him/her as well as Wendy as Sally Heming (Heming is the company's spelling).

Alexander makes dolls in other sizes and categories (10- to 21-inch fashion dolls, baby and play dolls, and others), but 8-inch Wendy remains my favorite because of her diminutive size and the toddler-child she portrays.  Wendy can be and do anything.  She has been Mammy and Prissy from Gone with the Wind.  She has dressed like mommy and run away to Grandma's on more than one occasion.  Royalty has been bestowed upon Wendy in her role as Princess Tiana.  You name it, and Wendy can do or be it!

While Alexander has created inclusive lines to represent African Americans and other people of color, new offerings of dolls with deeper complexions can wax and wane.  In some productions, dolls of color (DOC) were scarce or not present at all.    Perhaps internal factors played a role in the ultimate decision not to produce as many Black dolls in a particular year than were produced in others, but the demand for these dolls has continued, even in their absence. 

Based in Harlem for half a century, Alexander Dolls closed its headquarters there in December 2012.  This was six months after the new owners, Kahn Lucas Lancaster, Inc. acquired the company (June 2012).

New to doll manufacture, KLL, Inc. has been a designer and wholesaler of girls clothing for several years.  Maybe Wendy will remain the best dressed 8-inch doll on the market.  Only time will tell.

A year prior to new ownership, a record-breaking product line of over a dozen African American Alexander dolls appeared in 2011 with additional new dark complected faces included in the 2012 catalog.  News of the company's sale and the later closing of the New York headquarters caused many collectors to wonder, "What will happen to Madame Alexander dolls now?"

This question may have been repeated by many who noticed a drastic plummeting of DOC offerings, from 12+ to 2, in the 2013 catalogue:  one Hispanic and one African American Wendy.  Only two dolls of color?  That's hardly enough to appease the serious Madame Alexander DOC collector. 

I have several questions.  


Will a company with expertise in girls' clothing maintain the doll quality that Madame Alexander doll collectors have cherished in the past?  Will inclusive lines continue with a sufficient amount of dolls produced for everyone, or is the decline from over a dozen to two dolls of color a sign that we will never see another Alexander line as colorful as 2011?  What will happen to my favorite toddler, AA Wendy?   I wonder. 

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4 comments:

  1. Thanks for a most informative post about Madame Alexander dolls. My one and only Madame Alexander doll is a Dutch doll that I got for Christmas when I was 5. At that time the Sears toy catalogue featured a variety of Madame Alexander international dolls. I don't remember all the nationalities that were represented but I hope the new owners will continue to produce dolls representing the full spectrum of humanity.

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    1. Paulette,

      You were a fortunate young lady to have received a Madame Alexander doll at such a young age. Throughout the years Wendy has represented several nationalities and ethnicities. I have focused on all the dolls of Africa and other dark skinned countries.

      I won't lose any sleep (and they won't get any of my money) if the new owners fail to produce dolls that reflect the world of inhabitants which is not theirs alone.

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  2. I've always loved Madame Alexander dolls. I have about 5, I think. It was always nice seeing so many DOC. From 12 to 2? What the ? That is so sad. Have you contacted the new company? You know ol' rebel me would be alerting them to my discontent.

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    1. I don't know, Vanessa, sometimes I think what's the use in contacting doll companies who produce dolls "they" want to produce or cater to people who reflect their image/culture/race. I probably won't ruffle any feathers, at least not right now. There are too many other alternatives in dolls that can soothe my collector's itch.

      I would hate to have been solely a Madame Alexander doll collector and have experienced such a drastic decline in in DOC offerings, however. So glad and I crave a variety of doll types.

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