Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Little Brown Toto by Handicraft Dolls

Circa 1940s cloth doll, Toto, made on the style of Little Brown Koko

The cloth doll shown above was found on eBay in August of this year.  He is fashioned after the 1940s character, Little Brown Koko, from the children's book of the same name.  The book was first published in 1940 by Blanche Seale Hunt.  

For Toto's entry into my Excel doll inventory spreadsheet, I used the seller’s description, which reads: 
MEASURES 16” TALL…RETAINS THE ORIGINAL LABEL….FROM A MOTHER & DAUGHTER COMPANY THAT RAN FROM THE 1920’S TO THE 1940’S….SOME ARE ON DISPLAY IN A MUSEUM IN NORTH PLATTE, NE….SOME STAINS ON THE LEGS.  

Toto's original leg tag reads:  HANDICRAFT DOLLS
North Platte, Nebr.
"Toto & Bum"

To the spreadsheet description, I added:  Leg tag reads:  Toto and Bum (Bum was probably his dog). Probably sewn from or fashioned after a Little Brown Koko pattern.  Has black yarn hair, embroidered facial features with red circle mouth.  Wears blue gingham shirt, blue short suspender pants, sewn-on blue and rust colored knit socks, black felt shoes.  Has a red gingham neck tie.



Over two decades ago, after acquiring a copy of the Little Brown Koko book and learning about the doll, the cloth character became part of my doll wish list.  These were either cost prohibitive or in undesirable states of  deterioration, like the one shown here.

The original dolls were sewn from patterns that could be purchased by mail order.  Advertisements for the patterns were included in The Household Magazine and possibly other 1940s magazines.   In my collection of Black memorabilia ephemera I vaguely recall seeing such an ad in one of the vintage magazines, which might in fact be The Household Magazine.  The magazine is stored, but I do have  access to my copy of Black Dolls Book II an Identification and Value Guide by Myla Perkins (Collector Books 1995), which includes a full page ad for a Little Brown Koko pattern that was originally published in 1940 in The Household Magazine.  The caption of the ad reads:  Give Your Kiddy a Brown Koko Doll.



Like the book, the ad was written in Koko’s broken southern dialect, a portion of which reads:

Dear Mammas, Aunties, and Grandmas everywhere:
Do you-all know you can surprise some Kiddy with a Little Brown Koko Doll that's jus' like me with my great big, round eyes and my black, woolly head? 
"Honest-ter-goodness" you can, because The Household Magazine people have made a nice, big transfer pattern for making a 16-inch Doll that looks 'xactly like little, ole me PLUS a transfer pattern for making a muslin dog that looks like my Shoog-pup, too!  Oh my!  Think how tickled every honey-chile will be who gets a "shore-nuf" Koko doll and Shoog-pup "ter" play with...
The ad continues with Koko describing the ease of making the pattern which would only require brown fabric, cotton, and scrap material.  The ad also informed readers about a naming contest the magazine sponsored. 

During the early 2000s, I purchased a reproduction of the Little Brown Koko pattern and commissioned a seamstress to make Little Brown Koko and his dog Shoog for me.  Instead of using brown fabric, the seamstress used tan fabric, which was rather disappointing.  I shared my disappointment with her.  She claimed she could not find suitable brown fabric for the doll.

Fast forward some 15 years later and Toto arrives with his authentic Brown Koko appearance.  The mother-daughter company who sold and/or made these dolls created separate legs for Toto.  The 1940 transfer pattern resulted in a stuffed cloth doll with one-piece body and legs only separated by a line imprinted from the transfer pattern. 


Toto’s dog Bum was not included in the auction, but I am happy Toto (an adequate Little Brown Koko substitute) is finally here.  My stored Little "Tan" Koko probably won’t mind sharing his dog, Shoog with him.

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