Sunday, February 28, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Finale

From a non-global perspective, Black history is American history.  While its observation in America begins on February 1 and ends at midnight on February 28 or 29 in leap years, it is a constant:  24/7/365 or 366.    Likewise, Black-doll history never ends... at least not for me.  It is impossible to cover all aspects of Black history in a month's time, particularly in the shortest month of the year.  This holds true for Black-doll history as well, which is why written documentation on black dolls and the people who create them remains important. 

Before concluding the Moments in Black Doll History series, knowing that so much information has not been shared, I wanted to extend several "hats off" to peope who play or have played an important role in black-doll history.

  • To doll artists and manufacturers who currently craft or mass produce black dolls -- keep doing what you are doing. You are creating Black-doll history -- hats off to you!
  • To doll museums and other places of exhibit where black dolls are showcased for the community -- hats off to you!
  • To those who share their dolls with the community in the aforementioned exhibits -- hats off to you!
  • To fellow collectors who share my passion for collecting dolls in general and to those who specifically, like me, are passionate about black dolls -- hats off to you (because I know you get it!).
  • To those who came before me in writing books devoted solely to black dolls and to those who have included information on black dolls in their works -- hats off to you (because fellow enthusiasts hunger for black-doll information almost as much as they desire black dolls).
  • To doll publications that include information about black dolls in their periodicals, and specifically to those who have published my articles (Doll-E-Gram, Doll Castle News, Dolls Magazine, Contemporary Doll Collector, UFDC Doll News, Doll Showcase Magazine) -- hats off to you.  Keep the articles coming! 
A special thanks to:
  • LaVerne E. Hall -- Former publisher of Doll-E-Gram, a publication designed chiefly to honor black-doll artists and their dolls 
  • Barbara Whiteman -- Founder and Executive Director of the Philadelphia Doll Museum and co-host of the International Doll Show and Sale (usually held during Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia, PA)
  • Myla Perkins -- whose first black-doll reference book was the most comprehensive book on black dolls ever published, which opened my eyes to the wonderful world of vintage black-doll collecting
  • WLBD -- Thanks for sharing the passion with me online since January 12, 2001.
  • To all the Leo Mosses of the world past and present (grannies, mothers, males, females, children, self-taught or trained artists) -- anyone who has made black dolls, taught the art of black-dollmaking, or otherwise contributed to this art -- thank you! 
You have all been vital contributors to Black-doll history.  Hats off to you!

A Link You Might Enjoy:
Myla Perkins in 1975 (former educator, collector, author) sharing her dolls with school children


Thursday, February 25, 2010

MIBDH: Hamilton's Candi

Hamilton Design Systéme Candi Couture ad, Doll Reader, August 1994

After seeing this colorful ad for a new black fashion doll and reading the caption: 

End Racism.
Collect the Multicultural Dolls of
Fashion Candi Couture,

I immediately dialed the 800 number and spoke directly with Helena Hamilton for a while about  her doll and doll fashions, before placing my order for Candi Couture.  Since the details of my 1994 phone conversation with Ms. Hamilton are foggy, I referred to the Black Doll-E-Zine, Vol. 1, Issue 3, Summer 2002, "Dolls in the Spotlight" article, which is shared here (revised only to bring readers up to date on Candi's current status).

The 11-1/2-inch fashion doll of the 90s: Candy Girl, Candi Girl, Candi Couture, Candi, has a name and appearance that are in constant evolution. However, the fact that she was also created by a BOO [black owned and operated] company remains constant. This 11-1/2-inch, fashion doll was brought to life by Helena Hamilton, president, founder and creative director of Hamilton Design Systéme. According to my Internet research and my memory of a telephone conversation held with Ms. Hamilton shortly after the original Candi Couture doll was advertised in a 1993/94 doll publication, "Helena's enterprising journey began in 1988 while she and her daughter, Nina, spent quality time together playing with Barbie dolls. She soon started to sew for her daughter's dolls and had a lot of fun doing it. However, being an artist, she soon wanted to do more. Her idea was an ethnic fashion doll with realistic features" to which her daughter could relate.

Candi Couture (pictured above) hit the doll scene in 1994 dressed in a black spandex cat suit, the bodice of which bore the name "Candi Couture" in pink lettering. Wearing pink high heel shoes; an upswept, dark brown, braided ponytail and a "serious-sister" facial expression, this doll had a look that was hers alone. Her fuller-than-the-Plastic-Princess's hips also distinguished her from any other 11-1/2 fashion doll. Pictured [below] is 1996s Candi Girl, aka Popular Price Candi. She wears a red spandex dress that has "Candi Couture" imprinted on the bodice and red heels. She has long, black rooted hair. The original black cat suit-wearing Candi evolved into a highly collectible, 11-1/2-inch fashion doll and was available in a variety of ethnicities as well as a variety of African American skin tones.


To appeal to women whose childhood doll play commenced in the 1960s, Retro Candi made her debut in 1998. Sporting a retro black and white swimsuit, black sunglasses, and black high-heel shoes, she arrived in a full cardboard box that contained illustrations of her various fashions. Her accessories and fashion-illustrated box enhanced Candi's retro appeal. There were several versions of Retro Candi available.
Pictured [above are two honey skin tone Retro Candi dolls, the bubble cut and ponytail versions, and a  darker skinned [bubblecut] version that was also available with a ponytail.

Honey skin Candi wearing the St. Tropez Separates outfit (pictured left), also from 1998, was another auburn haired version of the ever-evolving Candi.   Pictured to the right of Honey Candi is International Candi from 2001. Her caramel colored skin with contrasting short, platinum blonde afro wowed collectors. This doll was a huge success and sold out quickly.

AA Candi dolls wear "Candi Secrets" fashions by Mikelman; Hispanic Candi wears a Barbie fashion

Candi certainly carved a niche of her own with collectors. Before the last dolls were produced, Ms. Hamilton worked briefly with Paul David and Mikelman to produce several lines of dolls that wore Mikelman-designed fashions. [Retro Candi, Honey Candi in St. Tropez fashion, and Candi Secrets dolls resulted from a collaboration between Hamilton and Mikelman.]  In a 1997 Paul David Fashion Dolls catalogue, he writes:

Welcome to the world of Candi!  It has now been over a year since Mikelman and myself joined with Hamilton Design Systeme (Helena Hamilton CEO) to help create the ultimate fashion doll collection!...

Later and/or simultaneously, Ms. Hamilton teamed with Integrity Toys and Jason Wu. That teamwork produced several fashionably attired dolls one of which includes International Candi.

Inspired by fun-filled doll play between a mother and daughter, Candi developed a huge fashion-doll collector following.  While her doll life was short lived , she managed to make a mark on the doll-collecting community worldwide as one of the first, you-know-I'm-fierce-and-glamorous-and-you-want-to-be-me, black fashion dolls!  Candi most definitely set the pace that others wanted to follow.

Read More About Candi:
The Candi Story


Moments in Black Doll History: Chatty Cathy and Other Mattel Talkers

Chatty Cathy, original 1960s black pageboy version, and reproduced Ashton Drake 2004 version

Next to Barbie, Chatty Cathy remains one of Mattel's most popular dolls.  Chatty Cathy doll enthusiasts might argue that she is more popular. 

Only two black versions were made in limited quantities.  One has two side ponytails with bangs.  The other has a pageboy hairstyle.  The black versions command top dollar on the secondary market, but the one with the two side ponytails is the rarest and most desired. 

In 2004, Ashton Drake nicely reproduced a 19-inch, battery-operated, pullstring African American Chatty Cathy (shown on the right in the first image).  Their online price was $99.99 but advertised as $79.99 in print ads or if ordered by phone.  I believe the online price was eventually corrected to match that of the print ad and the white version.   

Other companies also reproduced this popular 1960s doll.

Danbury Mint's 2004 version (shown above on the cover of their flyer) is also a battery-operated, pullstring talker.  Their version, however, is porcelain, stands only 17-1/2-inches, and retailed for $129. 

Prior to that, in 2001, Mattel replicated an even smaller, 14-inch vinyl version (with decals for eyes!).  This one recites fewer phrases than the original 1960s doll. 

L-R Ashton-Drake's reproduced Chatty Cathy, three original Chatty Babies, 1960s Chatty Cathy with pageboy, and a dyed 1960s Chatty Cathy (wigged to look like the rare, two-ponytail, black version)

Three other popular talkers by Mattel include Chatty Baby (shown above), Drowsy, and the elusive black version of Baby Small-Talk, pictured below.  My Drowsy is stored away with other play line dolls as is the reproduction Chatty Cathy with decaled eyes (what was Mattel thinking?) 

Baby Small-Talk by Mattel, 1968-1969 says eight different phrases in an infant-like voice

Tip:  To keep vintage pull string talkers vocal, pull their strings from time to time.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Eason's Positive Toys for Our Children

"Our Children Need Positive Toys... that's why I made Sun-Man..." reads the above 1986 ad for Olmec's line of Superheros and Superheroines, (the Butterfly Woman collection).  Click the ad to enlarge. 

Yla Eason (pronounced Y-la) received inspiration from her 3-year-old son to create a line of black toys for boys and girls. It was her son’s declaration that he could not be a superhero because He-Man was white that prompted Ms. Eason to make a change in the toy market and in her son's mindset.

Olmec Toys was founded in May 1985. Their line of toys for boys and girls were geared toward the underserved African American demographics. As a parent herself, Eason knew there was a market for her toys because other African American parents also wanted playthings for their children that looked like them. The goal was to promote self-pride.

1992 Olmec Ad featuring Imani and the Hip Hop Kids

There were barriers to Eason's success.  But despite being told by a toy executive that black parents buy white dolls so there was no need to disrupt the “status quo,” Eason’s determination and dedication resulted in a several-year successful line of  dolls and action figures.

Olmec's first fashion doll, Naomi, 1988

The Sun-Man action figure was the company’s first toy. Naomi, an 11-1/2-inch fashion doll, was Olmec’s first doll (pictured above). Using the same head sculpt, the doll’s name was changed to Ellisse one year later and eventually finally changed to Imani.  Imani received a new face sculpt in the early 1990s.

Kente Fun Imani, 1991 with new face

 As an inclusive toy manufacturer, Olmec created action figures and dolls for African American, Hispanic, and Asian children from 1985 through approximately 1997.  A nice selection of baby dolls were manufactured as well as fashion dolls (see pages 5-7 in Yla Eason A-below).

In 1986 Eason joined forces with fellow black toy manufacturers to form the International Black Toy Manufacturers Association

No longer in the toy or doll-making business, Yla Eason, who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, is a professor at Medgar Evers College, CUNY.

View additional pictures here.

Related Online Links:
Making a Difference; A Christmas For Sun-Man
A Black Toy Company Called Olmec
Cool Breeze
Olmec Toys (Facebook)


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Beatrice Wright Dolls

Dolls by Beatrice Wright

(First published in Vol. 1, Issue 2, Spring 2002 of Black Doll-E-Zine, revised for this blog)

According to Black Dolls 1820-1991, an Identification and Value Guide, by Myla Perkins (Collector Books, 1993), The B. Wright Toy Company, Inc., circa late 1960s-?, was “the first 'Negro' toy company to manufacture dolls and stuffed toys.” Beatrice Wright was an African American female entrepreneur and educator who realized the need for natural-looking dolls for children of color. Her dolls were known as the “Ethnic People Dolls.”

The company manufactured several different Black dolls and dolls representing other ethnicities, too.  The most highly sought after Black B. Wright dolls are Christine and Christopher.

The dolls are 19 inches tall and constructed of Lyka skin, a type of rigid vinyl advertised as "the closest thing to nature's cover."  They have brown sleep eyes and black rooted hair.  Boys usually have straight hair with a side part. Essentially, the same mold was used for the dolls that are reported to have been named after Ms. Wright's family members.  The dolls are either marked B. Wright or Beatrice Wright/©1967 and can be found on the secondary market.

It is uncertain when the B. Wright Company closed its doors, but some of its molds were sold to Totsy. Manufacture of the dolls continued under Totsy throughout the late 1980s and possibly into the early 1990s.

B. Wright Doll Sightings on the Internet

(They do all look alike.)

Moments in Black Doll History - W. B. Abbott's Sun Tan Dolls

W. B. Abbott and his Sun Tan dolls, possibly during the 1950s (click image to enlarge)

Walter B. Abbott (?? – 1967) is another early pioneer in the manufacture of black dolls. A relative of the trailblazing Black publisher, Robert S. Abbott, founder of The Chicago Defender, W. B. Abbott was the paper’s business manager by day and eventual doll maker by night.

According to the newspaper article, “Sun Tan Dolls: Pioneering effort in positive images,” by Mel Tapley, NY Amsterdam News, Saturday, December 24, 1988, “Back in 1918, [W. B. Abbott] noted that the dolls sold in department stores were stereotypes… toys for boys were universal, but girl toys were confined to doll babies.” To Abbott, black dolls “were very degrading and made to look like mammies or picaninnies.”

According to Abbott’s son, Walter Abbott, [Jr.] who was a Johnson Publications executive at the time the NY Amsterdam News article was written, “Dad asked the help of a German friend in the development of a formula for a brownskin sun tan paint to be used on dolls which would appeal to all children of color. After several years of experimentation, he came up with several shades of black, brown and beige...”

“...On November 23, 1921, Abbott incorporated a business called Nutshell Variety Sales Company, better known as N. V. Sales Co…” After several white doll companies refused his request to use the brownskin paint formula on their dolls, Abbott eventually purchased 50 percent interest in a failing doll company and began “manufacturing his own line of Sun Tan dolls.

“With the use of The Chicago Defender, he began advertising his dolls in the widely circulated paper. He also started a mail order business and began getting orders from all over the country and from abroad.”

After The Chicago Defender concentrated business operations from its headquarters and closed “the New York Office [where Abbott was stationed, he] continued manufacturing dolls until post-World War II restrictions on the use of materials in paints “hampered expansion of” Abbott’s “promising doll manufacturing company.”  According to the article, "Abbott retired in 1953," which may be the year Sun Tan doll manufacture ended.

Thank you, Mr. Abbott, for being a pioneering trailblazer in the manufacture of positive black/Sun Tan dolls. 

An unmarked 23-inch composition boy and an unmarked 26-inch composition girl (Sun Tan dolls?)

As a curious collector, I would love to know where Boyd's, Garvey's, and Abbott's dolls are today.  I own the above two composition dolls that might possibly be attributed to Abbott.  The Amersterdam News article that prompted me to write this post was sent along with the dolls by the seller.  I do not know if they are Sun Tan dolls as they are unmarked and their seller was unsure.

This uncertainty leaves me wondering if any dolls by Boyd, Garvey, or Abbott survived. Other than being black, how did they look? Were they ethnically correct or mere brown versions of white dolls?


Monday, February 22, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Garvey's UNIA Doll Factory

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born in St Ann's Bay, Jamaica on August 17, 1887, and died in London, England on June 10, 1940. In 1914, Garvey organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston, Jamaica. His efforts were to uplift the condition of black people worldwide. Garvey promoted pride in the black race and economic empowerment. 

In 1919 the Negro Factories Corporation, a branch of the UNIA, generated income and provided jobs for blacks with its numerous enterprises.  These included a chain of grocery stores and restaurants, steam laundry, tailor shop, dress making shop, millinery store, publishing house, and a doll factory

...Mothers! [Garvey is quoted as urging] Give your children dolls that look like them to play with and cuddle.
Yes, Marcus Garvey, well known as a Black Nationalist and orchestrator of a "Back to Africa" movement in the United States during the early 1900s, made black dolls for black children. 

Where are Boyd's and Garvey's dolls today?  A curious collector wants to know.

ADDENDUM - February 7, 2015
After publishing this post some five years ago, I found a weblog dedicated to Henrietta Vinton Davis (August 15, 1860 – November 23, 1941), a woman who worked closely with Marcus Garvey in organizing and promoting the efforts of UNIA.  The weblog on Davis indicates during an address by Marcus Garvey at the Palace Casino in New York on June 15, 1919, Davis recited the poem, "Little Brown Baby" by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  During the recitation, she used a large black doll on loan from Berry & Ross, Inc.  The doll used might have been similar to the one held by the little girl in this image.  Davis's speech ended with an appeal to the audience to support the factory in its efforts to promote a spirit of pride in black people. 

In addition to her work with the UNIA, Davis was an actor, elocutionist, dramatic reader, playwright, and vice president of UNIA's Black Star Line Steamship Corporation.

The weblog source of the image links and information about Davis can be read in its entirety here.


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. 

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.

The following Vimeo video pays homage to R. H. Boyd's National Negro Doll Company; however, the featured dolls appear to have been made by various other manufacturers.

National Negro Doll Company from Genuine Human Productions on Vimeo.

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


Friday, February 19, 2010

MIBDH: Shindana's Disco Wanda and Other 70's Dolls

My first waking thoughts about her today and D7ana's comment about Disco Wanda forced this blog.  She's pictured above in a scan from page 1 of the 1978 Shindana catalogue along with Shindana's 15-inch Marla Gibbs depicting her role as Florence from The Jefferson's sit-com.  There were three versions of Disco Wanda, as shown.  Each came with an extra outfit. At 11-1/2 inches, Disco Wanda is taller than Shindana's first fashion doll, Career Girl Wanda.

Click on the image to enlarge for a better view of Disco Wanda's pretty face. 


Soul is from the World of Love doll series by Hasbro, 1971, another doll mentioned as a favorite by D7ana in another comment.  This one was purchased for $6 after having been preloved and redressed.  Like Career Girl Wanda, Soul is 9 inches tall.  


Skye is an 11-1/2-inch fashion-action doll by Kenner, 1975, friend of white counterpart, DustySkye is all vinyl, poseable, and has fully articulated spring-loaded arms and torso with jointed wrists.  She wears a pink swimsuit.  Additional boxed fashions were sold separately.  The 1976 version is poseable but does not have the jointed wrists or spring-loaded arms and torso.  That version wears a yellow swimsuit.


Finally, the original Happy Family by Mattel, 1974, includes father Hal, mother Hattie, and baby Hon.  Mom and Dad are dressed in colorful outfits.  Sold separately and not pictured (and not part of my collection... at least I don't recall owning them) are the Happy Family Grandparents from 1976.  Grandfather is 9-1/2 inches, has gray, rooted hair, a full beard and mustache.  Grandmother is 9 inches and has white, rooted hair.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

MIBDH: The Shindana Story and One of Its Main Characters

The Shindana Story
Originally printed in the March/April 1990 issue of
Doll-E-Gram, published by Lavern E. Hall

Louis S. Smith the original president and founder of Shindana Toys - Photograph courtesy of his son, Louis S. Smith, Jr.

"Shindana Toys, a division of Operation Bootstrap, Inc., stands alone as the largest black-owned and operated toy company in the world. It had its genesis in the rubble of the 1965 Watts revolt and it emerged in 1968 with a will to compete in the face of discouraging odds. A practical recognition of this spirit is reflected in the selection of the name “Shindana” – it means competitor in Swahili.

"Shindana was founded by Lou Smith and Robert Hall without government subsidy or aid. Substantial working capital, technical assistance and equipment were provided initially by Mattel, Inc., with no strings attached, as an expression of that company’s commitment to its social responsibility in the Los Angeles community.

"Once the operation got underway, Mattel began turning more and more responsibility over to Shindana personnel, under whose directions it would either succeed or fail. From the beginning, Shindana’s development bore the unmistakable imprint of Lou Smith’s leadership and insight, coupled with the hard work and determination of hundreds of people. It was this spirit of dedication that enabled Shindana to survive as a business whose goal was to help build the base of financial support for Operation Bootstrap.
Baby Nancy, Shindana's first doll

"In its first year, Shindana produced a single product – a Black doll named Baby Nancy, the first ethnically correct Black doll made in America*. Baby Nancy was designed with truly “Negroid” features which were in contrast with the typical pattern of Caucasian dolls simply painted Black, and she was a success in the marketplace. Production of Baby Nancy dolls began in November 1968, and the combined efforts of Shindana and Mattel made it possible to manufacture and ship 8,000 dolls in time for the first Christmas season.

"In 1971, sales reached $1.5 million and the young company began to repay some of its financial obligation. Despite the loss of some of its key personnel, the company continued to produce products under the steadfast leadership of Lou Smith.

Shindana's First Fashion Doll, 9-1/2-inch, Career Girl Wanda is shown in their 1975 catalog.

Shindana's first Wanda (1972) wears a lime green micro-mini dress and matching shoes... check out the "shag" hairstyle.  Wanda also resembles Mattel's first Black Christie (friend of Barbie).

"The company marketed a line of 32 Black dolls and 6 Black-oriented games. Mr. Lou Smith is to be remembered, for his vision helped make the difference between success and failure. He never wavered from Shindana’s objectives of providing jobs with pride in the ghetto and showing people that they can help themselves, and that in the process they can learn to love those who may be different from themselves. He believed that “the only plan is the commitment.” Today, Shindana dolls are collector items.

"Mr. Smith and his young daughter were killed in an automobile accident in 1976 in California."

Doll-E-Gram’s Holiday Festival of Black Dolls’ “Shindana Award” [was] given annually in honor of Mr. Lou Smith. Doll-E-Gram is no longer in publication.

While Shindana is well known for being the first US company to mass-produce ethnically correct Black dolls, the company incorporated Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Native American dolls into its product lines before operations ceased in the early 1980s.

*Ms. Hall's article indicates Baby Nancy was the first ethnically correct black doll to be made in America; however, Ideal's Saralee Negro doll, manufactured from 1951-1953, holds this title. 

Links to Shindana Dolls and Articles:
9-1/2 inch Action Figure:  O J Simpson, Dr. J., Slade, Talking J.J.
1975 Toys R Us Ad featuring Jimmy "JJ" Walker Doll
Black Doll-E-Zine Article on Black Owned-Operated Toy Companies
Better Image of Slade
Ebony, December 1969 Article, "Black Dolls are Now Big Business"
Ebony, September 1971, Shindana ad
Ebony, November 1975 Article, "Toys That Build Pride"
Current eBay Shindana Doll Auctions
Completed eBay Shindana Doll Auctions

MIBDH: Early Black Fashion Dolls

It is common knowledge that black Francie (whose marketed name was Colored Francie) was the first dark-skinned doll introduced in Mattel's Barbie line in 1965.  White Francie had been marketed a year prior as Barbie's MODern cousin.  This familial relationship was not used on the black doll's box; however, it stands to reason that if white Francie was her cousin; black Francie had to be as well.  The black doll was followed by friend-of-Barbie, Christie in 1968 (people often mistake Christie as Barbie's first black friend; well I guess technically she is if black Francie was her cousin). Two versions of black Francie were made:  one with red hair and one with dark brown hair.  1965 is the box date for both versions.  Francie continues to command rather exorbitant prices on the secondary market.  As a result, I do not own an original black Francie. 

Dyed/painted 30th Anniversary Francie, and reproduction Wild Bunch Francie

After the release of the 30th Anniversary reproduction Francie (the white doll) in 1996, I dyed/painted one brown (shown above).  This was one of my first attempts at colorizing a doll.  A manufactured black version entered my collection later that same year when Wild Bunch Francie was released. 

Live Action Christie remains one of my favorite vintage friends of Barbie followed by the ebony-complexioned Malibu Christie. 

1975 Malibu Christie and 1960s Midge

Because of the notable similarities and very slight differences, I am of the opinion that vintage Christie uses the same mold as original Midge, or perhaps a tweaked version of Midge's mold. 

American Character's 1963 Tressy, colorized wears the Tressy-tagged Summer Holiday white sundress.

Many companies attempted to ride the coattails of Mattel by producing teen fashion dolls.  American Character produced a limited edition of black Tressy dolls after first producing the white version.  Tressy is not only a fashion doll, but she has hair that grows with the aid of her grow-hair mechanism.  She is essentially America's first grow-hair doll.  Later, Ideal Toys obtained the rights to the Tressy name and grow-hair patent from American Character.  Ideal extended the grown-hair family to incorporate Crissy, Velvet, Cinnamon, et. al. 

Similar to black Francie, black Tressy is not an easy doll to acquire when considering "the find" and the price, or vice versa.  Since the price is the precluding factor for me, I again utilized my amateur colorizing skills to make a black one (as pictured above).

Grown Up Tammy

Tammy was Ideal's answer to Barbie.  The rare, black version, Grown Up Tammy, entered the line in 1963.  I was blessed with my version (not colorized!) in approximately 2003.  While not as popular as Barbie, all versions of Tammy remain favorites for collectors.  The black Grown Up version remains rather elusive.

Sindy's friend Gayle by Marx Toys
Sindy, a doll native of Britain, first manufactured in 1963 by Pedigree, is a Tammy-type doll (or Tammy is a Sindy-type doll).  Sindy, later manufactured by Marx, acquired a black friend, Gayle in the 1970s.

This Barbie Clone by Peggy-Ann Doll Clothes, Inc. no box date, circa 1960s-1970s, was probably originally sold through K-Mart (based on the price tag).

Other less well-known manufacturers produced their versions of teen fashion dolls in the 1960s, but they were no competition for Barbie doll sales. These companies include Hasbro, Kenner, Mego, Shillman, Totsy, and others. 

Peggy-Ann Barbie clone, two fashion dolls by Mego, and fashion dolls by Shillman and Totsy, respectively

Maxi Mod Dolls by M. & S. Shillman, Inc. circa 1970s

Note:  The Barbie clone may actually be a tan white doll.  If so, she's very tan.  She was sold to me as African American and I've always considered her a black doll.

Other than Barbie and friends, what are your favorite early black fashion dolls?


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Patty-Jo/Terri Lee Blog (MIBDH)

On Tuesday, February 16, 2010, I received the following email regarding Monday's blog on Jackie Ormes' Patty-Jo and other Black Terri Lee Dolls.  The writer gave me permission to share the email here:


Very much enjoyed reading your entry yesterday on Jackie Ormes. I'm actually Violet's great-neice, and we've recently moved the Terri Lee headquarters to Chicago (from California) and will be featuring a new website, as well as a new line of dolls due out this summer.

I'll be sure to get in touch closer to our launch and let you know more about the new line, and if you're interested can send you a sample for review, but I just wanted to introduce myself and thank you for the press.


I thought it was very nice of Lindsey to take the time to comment (and I'm glad she enjoyed the blog).  I will post updates on their new line as additional information is shared with me.


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.

"Piccaninny"* Boy, Spring Mills Co. Child, and "Piccaninny" 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 Mills Co. (1940s) printed on cloth to cut and sew, "Piccaninny" girl and boy dolls made from Simplicity Pattern #7329, and  Little Brown Koko (1940s) 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 piccaninnies, in today's doll market, black cloth dolls have evolved from mammies to elegant goddesses and divas.  Modern cloth dolls will be discussed in a subsequent post.

*Pickaninny (also picaninnypiccaninny or pickinniny) is a racial slur which refers to a depiction of dark-skinned children of African descent. It is a racist and derogatory caricature, whose meaning and usage grew to fruition in the antebellum American south, where slavery was legal. []  It is a term that should have never been used to describe a person, let alone an innocent child.


Monday, February 15, 2010

MIBDH: Jackie Ormes' Patty-Jo and Other Black Terri Lee Dolls

Portions of the following text and some images are from my article, "Jackie Ormes' Patty-Jo and Other Black Terri Lee Dolls," originally published in Doll Castle News, March/April 2008.

Jackie Ormes - photograph courtesy of Tim Jackson, illustrator, cartoonist, graphic artist

In the late 1940s, Zelda “Jackie” Ormes, the first syndicated African American female cartoonist, presented her concept for a black doll to the creator and founder of the newly formed Terri Lee® doll company. The concept for the doll was fashioned after Ms. Ormes’ comic strip character, Patty-Jo. Bonnie Lou and Benjie were already part of the black Terri Lee® doll family prior to the late 1940s Lincoln, Nebraska meeting between Ms. Ormes and Violet Vivian “Vi” Gradwohl. It is apparent, however, that Jackie believed her doll concept… her vision needed to be shared with Vi.

On August 23, 1947, Patty-Jo, the doll, came to life with a signed contract between Ms. Ormes and the Terri Lee® doll company. The contract extended through January 1, 1950, with the possibility of renewal for an additional five-year period by written notice on or before November 1, 1949. Patty-Jo was on the market just in time for Christmas 1947; she arrived to happy owners complete with a wrist tag describing her significance to the doll world. Credited to Ms. Ormes’ vision, for at least three Christmases, the black female doll in the Terri Lee® doll line, formerly named Bonnie Lou, was renamed Patty-Jo.

1940s Patty-Jo designed by Jackie Ormes for Terri Lee
Patty-Jo’s distinct facial screening, her two black ponytails of Celanese fiber (mannequin hair), and PATENT PENDING, which marks her back, distinguishes the doll from Bonnie Lou whose reddish brown, pageboy almost matches her complexion. Unfortunately, black female dolls manufactured after the company moved operations from Nebraska to California in 1951, resumed their original name, Bonnie Lou. Inexplicably, Patty-Jo was put to rest. Despite Patty-Jo’s untimely demise, collector’s continued to cherish her and Terri Lee® continued to produce other dolls until 1962.

Patty-Jo Holiday Party
In 1997, Terri Lee® Associates was founded and doll production resumed. In 2002, veteran and novice Terri Lee® collectors celebrated the black doll’s comeback as Patty-Jo Holiday Party, produced in a limited edition of 300.

Sunday Best Benji and Bonnie Lou
To further delight collectors, in 2003, Benjie and Bonnie Lou Sunday’s Best were added to the collectible doll line and produced in a limited edition of 350. They wear matching light blue woolen outfits with Bonnie Lou wearing signature wrist daisies like those held by the original dolls...

2007 First Play Line Patty-Jo
To introduce today’s girls to their dolls, Terri Lee® Associates... created a play line. Patty-Jo was reintroduced in August 2007.
In 1947, Patty-Jo’s original wholesale price was $7 with a retail price of $11.95. Today, the original version usually commands four-figures, greatly exceeding the original selling price and soundly proving Ms. Ormes’ 20/20 doll vision.

Click here for Internet images of Jackie Ormes, her comic strips, dolls, and other related information.  Click here to see Internet images of Patty-Jo and other black Terri Lee dolls.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Vogue Ginny and Ginny Types

My Kinder Crowd Ginny, Ginger, and Party Fashion Ginny, 2006 reproductions of vintage Ginny

Black Ginny dolls by Vogue date back to the early 1950s, first appearing as a hard plastic, 7-1/2 inch, toddler.  A beautiful version of the 1954 My First Corsage #62 Ginny can be seen at Kaylee's Corner.  An image of this doll is also featured in Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion, page 65, courtesy of Kaylee's Corner.  My First Corsage #62 Ginny is described as follows:

This Ginny is an outstanding example of a very rare black Ginny produced for only a few years, 1953 as a strung, and 1954 as a walker, and, in a very limited supply.  The Corsage series was a high quality, popular one.  Each fancy outfit came with its own corsage in a plastic cylinder container.  The dress also has a pretty lace petticoat with satin trim as part of the outfit.  The trim on her hat matches the corsage in box.  She wears plastic side-snap, flat-heeled shoes.

1950s hard plastic, head-turning walker, Pam, by Fortune

During the 1950s, Fortune Dolls, Plated Molded Arts (PMA), Virga, and other companies produced their versions of hard plastic, Ginny-type dolls, but Ginny has remained "America's Sweetheart."


Mini Ginnys from 2007 (Party Time, Yummy Bears and Happy Days) gather as 2009 Dress Me Ginny shares a secret.

Throughout her existence, Ginny has ranged in size from 7-1/2 inches to 8 inches. Her body styles have changed from chubby, to slim, and back to chubby again. There are now 5-inch mini Ginnys as well. Reportedly, a new AA male will enter the line this year along with the first African American Crib Crowd doll.


MIBDH: Early Ideal Dolls

Similar to Horsman, Alexander, and Effanbee, Ideal Toys/Ideal Dolls incorporated black dolls into their doll lines as early as the 1930s.  Below are a few early dolls by Ideal.

Illustration 72 - Ideal Toy Corporation – Black Snow White, 1938

Material: All composition

Height: 16-1/2in/41.91cm

Hair/Eyes/Mouth: Molded black hair with front center part, molded red bow/painted black with brown irises/open-closed with molded painted teeth

Clothing: Redressed in 16in/40.64cm Shirley Temple “Little Princess” dress and cape outfit

Illustration 73 - Ideal Toy Corporation – Saralee, 1951

Material: Vinyl head, arms, legs; brown cloth body with crier voice box

Height: 18in/45.72cm

Marks: Ideal Dolls (on head)

Hair/Eyes/Mouth: Molded black/brown sleep/open-closed mouth with molded tongue

Clothing: Light blue organdy Ideal-tagged dress, white socks, off-white shoes, replaced blue bonnet

Other: See “Spotlight on a Vintage Doll” in Chapter 9. (An excerpt from a February 2002 BDE article)

Photograph courtesy of Gerald Corbin

Illustration 74 - Ideal Toy Corporation – “Saralee’s Brother,” ca. 1951

Material: Vinyl

Height: (approximately) 14in/35.56cm

Hair/Eyes/Mouth: Molded black curly/brown sleep/open-closed mouth

Clothing: Redressed in a red shirt and blue pants

Other: According to Collector’s Guide to Ideal Dolls Identification and Value Guide by Judith Izen, Ideal manufactured head molds for Saralee’s big brother, big sister, and little brother but the dolls were never made.


Images and text are from chapter 1, Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion by Debbie Behan Garrett copyright 2008