Friday, February 25, 2011

BDHT: 1944 Wards Christmas Catalogue ... Colored Dolls, Ad Ploy?

Dainty, Lovable Colored Baby Dolls is the caption for the dolls shown on page 68 of the 1944 Wards Christmas Catalogue with a statement regarding their demand as follows:

In response to many requests for well-made, well-designed colored dolls, we offer these appealing baby dolls of well-known Horsman quality. They’re exquisitely tinted a warm brown, with sparkling brown Glammene sleeping eyes, real lashes. Lips are shaded a delicate rose. Soft cotton-filled bodies, realistically modeled heads, arms and legs of hard-to-break composition. Dainty baby clothing is carefully made and finished.
Scroll up (if necessary) and look at the picture again.  If the ad’s caption and above description are not read, these dolls could easily be mistaken for white dolls by looking at the image only. I wonder if the dolls that customers received in 1944 were as as pale in color as the dolls in the image or if they were in fact a deeper brown in person.  Perhaps Wards featured white dolls in the ad and described the black version.  It was a common practice for many manufacturers to exclude photos of black dolls from the black doll's box, electing instead to use an image of the white version and include a caption on the box that read:  This box contains the Black version.   This practice extended well into the 1980s and possibly later.

I took the liberty of typing the 1944 Wards Christmas Catalogue dolls’ descriptions, but omitted duplicating the complete description of the smaller or larger version of the same doll.

[1] 20-IN. COLORED BABY DOLL cries and goes to sleep. Glammene eyes, real lashes. Soft cotton stuffed body; brown tinted composition head, arms and legs. Hair molded on; head turns. White permanent-finish organdy dress and cap, net trimmed. White slip, knit panties, socks and shoes. 48 T 2457—20 in. tall. Ship. wt. 3 lbs. 12 oz… $5.25

[4] 16-IN COLORED BABY DOLL (smaller version of doll #1) $3.49

[2] 17-IN. COLORED BABY DOLL IN PINAFORE. Black mohair ringlets; Glammene sleeping eyes, real lashes. Soft cotton-stuffed body; composition head, arms, and legs tinted brown. Head turns. Flocked-dot cotton dress, matching bonnet; organdy pinafore. White slip, panties, socks, shoes. 48 T 2459—17 in. tall. Ship. wt. 2 lbs. 8 oz… $4.69

[5] 23-IN COLORED BABY DOLL (larger version of #2). $6.95

[3] 20-IN. COLORED BABY DOLL. Cries like a real baby. Long-lashed Glammene eyes go-to-sleep. Black mohair curls. Soft cotton-stuffed body; head, arms, legs of brown-tinted composition. Head turns. Net-trimmed white organdy dress; ruffled bonnet. White slip, panties, socks and shoes. 48 T 2454 – 20 in. tall. Ship. wt. 4 lbs… $5.95

[6] 18-IN. COLORED BABY DOLL IN COAT. Glammene sleeping eyes, real lashes, cotton-stuffed body; composition arms, legs, turning head, tinted brown, hair molded. Pink rayon coat with net-trimmed cape, collar; matching bonnet; white flock-dot cotton dress. White slip, panty, socks, and shoes. 48 T 2458—18 in. tall. Ship. wt. 2 lbs. 12 oz… $5.79

I checked my composition baby doll collection.  None of my dolls appear to be identical to these and certainly none can be mistaken for white dolls. 


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  1. Dear Debbie,

    I have been lurking on your blog for about two months and I greatly appreciate how thoroughly researched your posts are and how clean and professional your prose is.

    This page from the Ward's catalogue reminds me of my response to viewing a Christmas episode of the "Amos and Andy Show" in which Amos takes a job as a department store Santa so that he can earn enough money to buy a doll for his god daughter.

    I was surprised that the department store window was full of black dolls, the floorwalker was black, and even the store manager was black. Growing up after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, we might get excited seeing a black Salvation Army Santa Claus on the street, but I never sat on a black Santa’s lap and my parents had to go out of their way to find black dolls for me to play with. They were certainly never displayed front and center in the windows of stores where we shopped.

    Still, in the 1960s and 70s Sears was pretty good about offering black versions of most of the white dolls they sold in their toy catalogues. So I got the black Baby Grow a Tooth for Christmas in 1968. Dancerina apparently didn't come in a black version so I had the blonde one although I think there was a brunette one as well.

    It would be interesting to know the source of the black dolls in that episode of "Amos and Andy." Were there actually that many black dolls on the market in the 1950s or did the production crew have to color them as you have suggested was the case in another movie in which a black doll is central to the plot?

    Once again as an academic researcher in African Diasporan cultural studies, I appreciate your impressive contributions as an independent scholar. Please keep up the good work!

  2. Dear Paulette,

    Thank you so much for your very kind comment. It is readers like you for whom I gladly share my doll research.

    Because I wanted to see the Amos ‘N Andy show you described, I Googled “Amos ‘N Andy Christmas” and found it in three parts on Youtube. Black dolls, Black Santas, and Black store personnel were something that was unheard of in the 1950s and well into the 1970s and 1980s in America. I certainly never saw an AA Santa as a child and remember being quite terrified by my one encounter with the white Santa on whose lap I sat at age four or five. It was not his color that frightened me; it was his beard! To my four-year-old eyes, it appeared to have been sewn to his lips! All I could think of while I sat on his lap and during the ride home in the backseat of our car was how painful that must have been.

    You are blessed to have had parents able to locate Black dolls for you as a child. I am less fortunate in that regard. While Black dolls were available here, most were derogatory in my mother’s opinion and she refused to buy them, settling for white dolls for me instead. Thus, my adult passion for dolls that look like me resulted.

    It was not until a year or so after I began collecting that I realized there were in fact beautiful, Black dolls made during my childhood. They were just not available in my area; or if they were, they were the first ones to sell out. It’s a known and continuous fact that when Black dolls are made and there is a white counterpart, the white doll outnumbers the black version. Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991 by Myla Perkins became my Black-doll bible for several years and I still refer to it often. It confirms the existence of beautiful Black dolls during my childhood and prior.

    Perkins’s book identifies and values the Black version of Mattel’s Dancerina, too, which was made from 1969-1971.

    By the way, the store scene with Black dolls of the Andy ‘N Amos Christmas Show is in part 1 and picks up in part 2 on Youtube. The dolls in the scene appear authentic. Part 3 is very, very touching. I am so glad you shared this information with me.

    Thank you again for confirming that others possess a healthy desire for continuous Black-doll information.


  3. Dear Debbie,

    Thanks for the information about the black Dancerina. Sorry I missed out on her.

    Here is a funny but sad story about black dolls selling out. In the late eighties my mother tried to order two anatomically correct black baby dolls. I don't know the name of the company she was ordering from. It was a mail order company that sold all kinds of novelties. She wanted a boy and a girl but the first time they company sent two black girls. She sent one back and demanded her black male, the company sent -- a white girl doll. Finally on the third go 'round she got the anatomically correct black male.

    Thanks once again for the important cultural work you are doing.

  4. Are there some existing 1944 dolls in store? My best friend is a doll collector and I would like to gift her something like this and have some American girl dolls clothes for her favorite doll.

  5. Paulette - I admire your mother's persistence!

    Chris Jeffrey - The Montgomery Wards dolls from 1944 cannot be found in stores today. If any survived, the secondary doll market is where they will show up for sale. Perhaps one might show up on eBay eventually.



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