Monday, April 29, 2013

Simon & Halbig #1358 – Not Just a White Doll Colored

Reproduction Simon & Halbig #1358 character doll with antique teddy bear

German doll makers, Wilhelm Simon and Carl Halbig, produced high-quality bisque doll head molds, all-bisque dolls, and bisque lower arms and legs for dolls from 1869 through 1920.  Many of their molds were used by other doll companies.  [Antique Trader] Some of these other companies included: Adolf Wislizenus, S.F.B.J., Roullet & DeCamp, Jumeau, Fleischmann & Bloedel (Blödel), Schindel & Kallenberg Wiesenthal, Welsch & Co., Carl Trautmann, Schoenau & Hoffmeister, Franz Schmidt, Louis Linder & Sohne, Kammer & Reinhardt, Dr. Paul Hunaeus, Adolf Hülss, Heinrich Handwerck, Hamburger & Company, Cuno & Otto Dressel, Carl Berger, and C.M. Bergman.  Arranbee, George Borgfeldt, Edison, and John Wannamaker are American companies that used S&H molds.  []. 

Several months before finding my reproduction Simon & Halbig (S&H) #1358, 17-inch character doll, I purchased a set of eight doll note cards.  The front of four of the cards contains an image of an original S&H #1358 doll which is described on the back of the card as:  Bisque Doll Made in Germany; circa 1900 by Simon & Halbig; glass eyes, glass teeth, pierced ears, Negroid features, human hair wig. ©Sugar 'n Spice Doll Museum*.

Doll note card from Sugar 'N Spice Doll Museum

After these note cards arrived, I considered the cover image of the S&H doll the next best thing to owning an original.  Now that I have my beautifully reproduced version, I can say that she is the next best thing to owning an original. 

Circa 1900-1910, the approximate decade my doll's mold was sculpted, character dolls like this may have been labeled mulatto.  This dated term was widely used at that time when referring to a child with one black parent and one white parent.  Because of the lighter shade of brown used to paint her bisque head, mulatto, as a descriptive term, seemed appropriate to these European doll makers.  She is described as a character doll because she was molded to look like a real child as opposed to the typical dolly face widely used for dolls.

Patricia Smith’s Doll Values Antique to Modern Tenth Edition categorizes dark-skinned antique dolls as “Black or Brown Dolls.”  On page 33 Smith describes the deeper complexioned dolls that her book references and values:

Black or brown dolls can have fired-in color or be painted bisque, composition, cloth, papier mache and other materials.  They can range from very black to light tan and also be a “dolly” face or have Negroid features… Both the French and Germans made these dolls.

My doll's artist described her as follows:
This is a wonderful 17” reproduction of Simon and Halbig mold #1358. This mold is hard to find in a real antique, which would sell for $11,000.   So she is the next best thing.  She comes with her antique jointed mohair bear… She is made from white bisque tinted with many firings to get the soft brown color that has depth and shading to make it look old. You can see for instance how I shaded around the nose and under the lip. She has feather stroked black eyebrows painted using many pictures of antique dolls. We carved her 6 teeth out of the clay itself! She has full lips very well shaded to give them depth [and] German glass brown eyes.  She is very appealing. I made her wig from thick soft black mohair, which I had left to fade a bit on a window sill to get the aged appearance. She is on a brown Seeley jointed German body appropriate for her. She has on antique turquoise earrings, [a] beautifully made cotton dress with lace apron, also a tea-dyed pantaloon onsie undergarment that is very sweet and buttons above the bottom!  She wears antique stockings and great leather black shoes with buckles.  She is signed by my teacher who helped me clean and fire the bisque.  Also marked 1358/German/Simon and Halbig/S&H/8.

Close-up of S&H 1358 illustrates her six carved teeth, full lips, aged mohair wig, and antique earrings.

Because the seller indicated she made the doll, I wanted to know more about the doll-making experience and sent her the following inquiry:
I am looking forward to receiving this lovely [Simon &] Halbig, which appears to have been made with loving care and expertise.  Would you share with me your history as a doll-maker?  How long have you been making dolls and was this your first brown [S&H]?   What inspired you to make this particular doll?

The artist-seller replied:
I started making dolls 20 years ago. I haven't made any the past few years as I have gone back to painting. I was a professional painter large oils and prints. I found dolls and started repairing them and painting them with a great teacher friend. They helped me with my restoration skills and I enjoyed so much creating them. I made this black Halbig for many reasons. I loved the mold and was very challenged by cutting the teeth out of the clay as opposed to other dolls I saw that inset them behind the lips. I also liked making her from white bisque with many layers of tinting to create the skintone as you will see. So often brown bisque is used, which is not how the originals were created and leads to a flat appearance.  Hope this gives you a little insight.

A 20-inch example of an original S&H #1358 is illustrated, described, and given a value of $8,000 in Myla Perkins' Black Dolls An Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991, page 46.  While that price seems steep, due to their rarity, original dolls, based on condition, can command as much or more in today's market.

While the images remain online, an original brown S&H #1358 can be seen here.

Again, while images remain available, an example of an original black S&H 1358 doll can be seen here.

I love my little girl.  After she arrived, I examined her from head to toe.  I then placed her in a chair and sat across from her where I gazed at her for several minutes.  She reminds me of a childhood neighbor, a younger girl who would probably be labeled a special needs child.  One side of Debra's body was visibly larger than the other.  She had full lips and usually kept them parted.  Possibly due to complications from her congenital anomalies, Debra died before she was 20. 

Debra, my S&H 1358 is shown with a replica of an early baby carriage; Teddy is inside.

I can fantasize that Debra, my doll, was made specifically for me; it just took a few years for me to find her without even attempting to do so.

In reality, I appreciate the extra efforts S&H and other early European doll makers used to sculpt authentic features for their black and brown dolls.  The features are so distinct that it is safe to assume the molds were used exclusively for black dolls.  Major American doll companies did not catch up with this much-needed process until 1951 when Ideal mass-produced the first “anthropologically-correct” black doll, Saralee.  Before then, unless the doll was a racially insulting stereotype, most other American-made, commercially-produced black dolls had been white dolls “colored” brown.

*An online search for information about Sugar 'n Spice Doll Museum was unfruitful.  I, however, believe the museum was owned by Myla Perkins, doll collector, historian, and author of Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820 - 1991 and Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II.  Perkins, a former educator, previously owned a daycare of the same name.  Many of the dolls in the note card set are included in one or both of her books.


Friday, April 26, 2013

UFDC's Topsy Turvy Doll Presentation on DVD

I have been a member of United Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc (UFDC) for several years.   I agree with their statement:  The study of dolls is truly the study of humankind. Few artifacts reflect our history as accurately as do dolls. 

My previous post on the Topsy Turvy doll was an attempt to explore several aspects of the doll's creation:  origin, original maker, and to understand the two-dolls-in-one concept with one hidden while the other is exposed.

In 2007, I purchased UFDC's slideshow presentation of the Topsy Turvy Doll, viewed it at that time, and had forgotten that I owned it when I began my recent Topsy Turvy research.

I stole 20 minutes from my day and reviewed the DVD to refresh my memory of The Land O' Sky Doll Club's UFDC presentation of this doll's rich history and unique origin that can be traced back to American slaves, whether verbally documented or written. 

The photography, research, and Topsy Turvy script were prepared by Land O' Sky Doll Club member, Suzi Smith.  The DVD is described by UFDC as follows:

This DVD program features numerous variations of the Topsy Turvy dolls ranging from home made to commercially produced. It includes 80 images featuring dolls from the late 19th century through the 20th century.

To conclude my research on my previous post about the Topsy Turvy doll, I have transcribed most  of the narration of the DVD and used bold print for the pertinent areas that address the posed questions and/or restate the theories regarding the design concept.  The transcription is as follows:

Topsy Turvy was a play doll with a double layered skirt and a head on either end.  The lower body and the legs appeared to be covered by a skirt.  Actually, they don’t even exist.  Instead of these, another head appears when turning the doll topsy turvy or inside out.  Very often these dolls had one head as a Caucasian and the other as African American.

Topsy started as a home made rag doll on through papier mache, porcelain, celluloid, hard plastic, and composition to modern times.  Most of the older dolls were sewn from fabric remnants such as silk or velvet. 

For many years flour was packaged in floral-print cotton sacks.  [Both sides of a flour sack doll are shown and described].  Thought to have originated in the antebellum South where they were made by black women who cared for white children of the plantation.  [Another view of the flour sack doll is shown.]

The Pennsylvania hex doll had heads of kid leather.  The pig’s head cures warts and other human ailments.  The human head casts spells on a neighbor’s horse or crops.  Dewitt Burton[sp] patented a multihead doll in 1899.  Some of these dolls were intended to be magical objects.  [One is shown].

[Another early Topsy Turvy image is shown.]  This very old, fragile, 7-inch doll was probably home made.  She has been much loved and played with over the years.  The white doll has an elegant black silk dress and mock cap trimmed with lace.  The silk costume has started to melt.  The foot side [perhaps she said “flip”] of the previous doll has the same embroidered features, but costumed with a lesser quality fabric.  

During the 1800s, slavery was a part of many southern little girls’ lives.  Playing with the Topsy Turvy doll gave them a chance to identify with another culture and choose either color of doll.  [An example is shown.]  A front full view of this old, 11-inch doll with hand embroidered facial features.   Slave children would flip the Topsy doll to the black side when an overseer or plantation owner was in sight.  At other times, the little black girl would imitate her mother caring for the white child.   Most early black and white Topsy Turvy dolls were racial stereotypes.

[Another doll is illustrated.]  The back of the head showing the unique treatment of hair for this side of the doll.  Sometimes crying/smiling; awake/asleep; happy/sad; or screaming/smiling faces were used.  The black head also has hand-embroidered facial features.  Various face styles were displayed on the dolls by embroidered red or various types of paint.  A small piece of animal skin [fur] was attached to the black head.  The wig is sewn to the head in a very crude manner. 

In 1894 Douglas [?] received a patent #19850 for an upside-down doll.  Spurred by the popularity of these imaginative figures, mail-order firms, and cloth manufacturers began producing their own version about 1900.

Albert Bruckner created an early patented lithographed doll in 1901 representing an 18-inch white child and a black mammy… Bruckner dolls were distributed by Horsman.  A Playtime 1905 patent described the face of the rag doll as designed with finely textured cotton or silk so the photograph could be printed on it.  The rest of the body, back of the head, and limbs were made of a coarser material.  The 18-inch doll could be stuffed with rags, cotton batting, sawdust, or excelsior.

[The narrator describes the following dolls:]

Teddy Turnover from 1907 with Goldilocks on one end and mohair teddy bear on the other

Porcelain papier mache 6-1/2 inch antique German registration in 1894 shoulder head doll

[Describes an early German Topsy Turvy] …The black child has molded hair and painted eyes with exaggerated lips.  The black side often had character-like facial features.  Her costume was not as fine as the white child's. 

[The narrator tells a story of a German Dream Baby Topsy Turvy that was separated by a doll shop owner because she felt she could make more money if they were sold separately.  The dolls were sold to a customer who put the dolls back together.]
[Several other Topsy Turvy dolls are described including Eva and Topsy constructed from a commercial Vogart pattern.]

[Shown] This circa 1926 Mary Had a Little Lamb is 12-1/2 inches from lamb head to Mary head… The company that made Mary also made Red Riding Hood and Wolf with a music box.  What a sweetie pie!   Hasbro Industries, Inc. produced a Topsy Turvy kit to make the entire doll in 1974.  [The inside contents of the kit are shown… everything included in making a finished doll.]
[Simplicity pattern and McCall’s pattern (copyright 1942) are shown.]

[The finished doll from a Simplicity Pattern #8210 is shown.] 

Fabric companies made cutout Topsy dolls during the 1990s.  [A finished doll is shown.]

The Madame Alexander Company has made Topsy Turvy dolls since 1926.  [An 8-inch hard plastic, circa 1990s, Cinderella in fancy ball gown is shown.  Poor Cinderella, the doll’s other head and dress are not shown.]

One of the most frequently found Topsies nowadays is the ATC 123 doll.  This is Red looking out through the box.  The many ways the doll can be turned to show a different character [illustrated].  Red, Grandma, and Wolf are found in various sizes.

Many dolls were made for souvenir dolls to different trade markets.  This 12-inch doll [the doll is shown] was made by a famous artist in New Orleans.  She used the stamp method to make the lips.  [A different doll is shown.]  This doll artist also used a stamp to create the mouth.  Note the difference in the lip stamp from the previous doll [the black doll’s lips are quite exaggerated].  This mammy has a bandanna and earrings. 

Souvenir Topsy dolls [shown] most likely from Jamaica or some other island or tourist visit… were produced in different fabrics and colors…

Some of the dolls made in the 1920s to 1930s were often crudely made.  These simply made 6-inch dolls have wild garish prints on their cheap fabric dresses [the dolls are shown].  These 10-1/2-inch ladies are also from the souvenir trade of various countries and were most likely designed by an island woman to subsidize her family’s income…

This home made Topsy [the doll is shown] has embroidery features different from any previously pictured [the doll has an embroidered circle-shaped red mouth to illustrate surprise].  The circle stitches forming the mouth are intriguing. 

These cloth ladies have been played with and dearly cherished by some little child and are not as cumbersome as a bisque doll so little girls could carry them everywhere.

[A mask-faced doll in calico dress is described, followed by a Raggedy Ann and Belindy, and one additional Topsy Turvy.]

The presentation concludes with the following question:
Whoever said the old saying, “Two heads are better than one?

This Topsy Turvy presentation and a host of other doll study DVDs are available online through the UFDC shop under the Audio Visual link. Here is the direct link to the Topsy Turvy buy page

Additional Topsy Turvy doll link: -- This is not solely about Topsy Turvy, but I found it an interesting read. 
Babyland Ragland Topsy Turvy


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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Topsy-Turvy a.k.a. Topsy-Turvey, Double Doll, Two-Sided Doll

What appears to be simple cloth dolls are Topsy-Turvy or double-headed dolls.  The dolls are joined at their torsos. They have no feet, and a long skirt hides the head and arms of the doll underneath (see next image).

L-R:  Circa 1980s souvenir Topsy-Turvys from Jamaica and Barbados, respectively;  one head of the Jamaica doll is asleep; the other is awake.  The Jamaica doll is featured on page 40 of my first black-doll reference, The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls (2003).
This lengthy post was promised but delayed because it involved extensive research and time to compile my findings.  The most recent research, beyond what I have done previously on the subject of Topsy-Turvy dolls, was inspired by the interest I share with blog reader, LatinLady, in exploring the mystery of the Topsy-Turvy doll's original concept.

First made by enslaved women, why was there a need for one head to be hidden underneath the shared skirt?  Was the doll made for enslaved children, for white children, or for both?

My interest in investigating the Topsy-Turvy history was piqued on 03/29/2013 by LatinLady, who wrote:


Do you have anything on your site outlining the history of the Topsy-Turvy Rag Doll? For the benefit of those who are unaware, this doll depicts a black doll with a full, long skirt and when you flip over the skirt, there's a completely different white doll underneath.

I'm not certain whether I have all my facts straight and would like to learn more about this doll. It is my understanding that these were originally hand-made at home by black families and specifically designed so little girls could play with their favorite doll without "offending" white folks...They could quickly flip over the skirt when someone white came into the room. What immediately (and sadly) comes to mind is the damage to a child's psyche and sense of self.

Later, doll & pattern companies cashed in on the idea and came out with additional versions of so-called Topsy Turvy Dolls: Smiling/Crying, Awake/Asleep, Red Riding Hood/Grandma/Wolf, 2 different white dolls, etc. These are not authentic Topsy Turvy Dolls and (I feel) represent and underhanded and dismissive attempt to erase history.

Please let me know if you know of any good reference material on this doll. I think this is a very important piece of historical black memorabilia.

All the very best! has published a very comprehensive history of the Topsy-Turvy doll, which interested parties are urged to read.  In 2008, in chapter 1, on page 46 of my book, Black Dolls A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion, I shared before and after images of a circa 1930s cloth Topsy-Turvy that arrived in disrepair.  The images and associated text are shared below.  Particular attention should focus on the text that follows the "Other" subheading where a condensed version of Topsy-Turvy's history is documented:

Illustrations 48a and 48b, Topsy Turvy (cloth), ca. 1940s (before and after restoration)
Material: Cloth
Height: 10in/25.4cm
Hair/Eyes/Mouth: Painted hair, eyes, and mouths
Clothing: Black doll’s red and white polka dot dress reverses to white doll’s pink, white and blue floral-print dress.
Value: $75
Other: Topsy Turvy, also known as Double Doll, Two-in-One, and Upside Down dolls first appeared in the South in the 1800s. These dolls share one body. Each doll’s dress or skirt, when flipped, hides the other doll underneath. It is widely believed that servants made these dolls for their children using
dress scraps. The slave child would play with the white side in the absence of the slave master. Upon the slave master’s approach, the child would flip the doll over to the black side to hide the forbidden-to-play-with white doll. Others postulate the dolls were made by slaves for their masters’ children, who were forbidden to play with black dolls. In the absence of their parents, the white child would play with the black doll and flip the doll to the white side upon their parents’ or other disapproving person’s approach. (The author re-painted the black doll’s face.)


In an effort to document one of the Topsy-Turvy theories, I checked several books from my doll- and black memorabilia/Americana reference libraries for information beyond images, description, and value.  Only a handful of authors whose books I own have documented the existence of Topsy-Turvy dolls.  None of the books mention the origin of the Topsy-Turvy concept.

Published in 1993 with updated values in 1995, Myla Perkins includes black and white images and a paragraph description of several Topsy-Turvy dolls on the following pages of Black Dolls An Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991:

  • Page 33 - Germany, 1890's, 11-inch, bisque double headed doll, one side black, one side white, both with open eyes.
  • Page 68 - Circa 1920's [handmade-appearing] 15-inch tall, cloth, one head black, one head white, both with open eyes.
  • Page 74 - 1990, 13-inch cloth, double doll, black on both sides, one side with open eyes, the other with closed eyes, mass produced, manufacturer unnamed.
  • Page 90 - Composition, 8-inch back/white double doll; black head has three tufts of black string inserted into holes in head for hair, circa mid-1930s.
  • Page 95 - W. D. Co., 11-1/2-inch, composition heads and arms, painted features, shared cloth body; one head black, one head white.
  • Page 99 - Unmarked composition heads with painted features, brown cloth body, 13 inches [circa 1930s].

Published in 1995 as a followup to her first book, Myla Perkins includes one color image and several black and white images along with paragraph descriptions of Topsy-Turvy dolls, and two brief statements regarding dolls by Butler Brothers on the following pages of Black Dolls An Identification and Value Guide Book II:

  • Page 9 - Armless, 11-inch, unmarked doll with black/white heads with embossed pressed paper faces, circa 1890s.
  • On page 34, Perkins writes:  " ... in 1895, Butler Brothers advertised double dolls under the category 'Miscellaneous Dolls' as follows:  'No. 718 Double Head Dolls -- Natural glass eyes, two styles of dress, one darkey head and the other a bisque head with pretty baby face and lace cap.  Appropriate dresses, 14 inches, one dozen in box.' Cost was $2.05 per dozen.'"
  • On page 44, Perkins continues:  "In 1914, Butler Brothers (wholesale distributor) advertised a 23" 'Mammy,' cut out and sew doll, and a 17" 'Topsy-turvy.'  The cost was $1.25 per dozen... [description of Mammy provided].  The topsy-turvy doll is not pictured in the ad."
  • Pages 76-81 illustrate a variety of hand-made and commercially-produced cloth Topsy-Turvy dolls with date origins ranging from 1890s-1990s.  The marked, mass-produced dolls are made by Gambina, Horsman, and Junel Novelty.
  • Page 126 - 7-1/2-inch composition black/white heads with painted features, similar to the doll featured on page 90 of Perkins' first book, except the black head does not have holes for hair tufts. 
  • Page 138 - Brazilian with wooden heads, one head is dark brown; the other is a lighter shade of brown.  Undated.
  • Page 350 - Another Topsy-Turvy doll from Brazil, hard plastic heads in one piece hard plastic body, 6 inches; one head is painted brown; the other head is painted black.  Marks (on back of both bodies):  TR (inside triangle) INC A.
Value references are also included in Perkins' books for each doll, but are omitted here as this article strives to explore the true meaning of the doll's concept, which Perkins' books omit.

Patricia Smith's Doll Value's Antique to Modern Tenth Edition (1994) briefly mentions Topsy-Turvy on page 59 as follows:

Topsy-Turvy:  Two-headed doll.  One black, other white. Oil painted:  $700.00.  Printed:  $500.

Dawn E. Reno's Encyclopedia of Black Collectibles A Value and Identification Guide (1996) includes two Topsy-Turvy passages on pages 105 and 110.

On page 105, Reno writes:
Topsy turvy dolls, which originated as early as the Civil War, represented the best of both worlds.  The doll, usually dressed in a long dress that covered her bottom half, would be black on one side and white on the other.  Topsy turvy dolls were commonly made into the 1940s and can be found in rubber, plastic, celluloid, and composition.  There are also some contemporary topsy turvy dolls.

On page 110, Reno continues and reiterates:
Topsy Turvy dolls were often black on one side and white on the other.  Sometimes they were made in the form of nursery rhyme characters, such as Little Red Riding Hood on one end and the grandmother on the other or the plain and fancy Cinderellas.  These dolls met the same need as rag dolls; they were economical toys that could be made out of scraps of material.  The unique feature of the topsy turvey doll was that it was two dolls in one.  Topsies were made before the Civil War and are still being made today.

(During the 1970s, my father would frequent thrift stores and with delight bring home his findings.  One such item was a Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf Topsy-Turvy, a gift for my younger sister.  The doll was tattered.  So without him knowing it, and with my sister's approval, my mother eventually discarded it.)

Don Jensen mentions and illustrates Topsy-Turvy dolls on page 27 and on pages 30-31 in his book, Collector's Guide to Horsman Dolls Identification and Values 1865-1950 (2002).

On page 27, Jensen writes:

Babyland Rag Dolls -- This series of cloth dolls probably was the first series of dolls popularly associated with the Horsman name.  The first Horsman cloth doll that we know of to bear the Baby Land name (later the two words would be joined to form the more familiar Babyland name) appeared in the company's 1893 catalog.  Babyland Rag dolls became a staple in Horsman's product line and remained there well into the 1920s...

...Topsy-Turvy, a two-headed cloth doll.  Turned one way, it was a white doll; turned upside down with its skirt covering that face, it became a black doll.  

On pages 30-31, Jensen illustrates a 12-inch Topsy-Turvy Babyland Rag doll that has two lithographed faces.  One represents Eva; the other is her maid/servant Topsy, characters from Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852).  A 14-inch Bruckner Topsy-Turvy with mask-type faces, also part of Horsman's Babyland Rag series, is illustrated on page 31.  Snapshots of pages 30-31 are shown below.

Topsy-Turvy by Horsman, Eva on one side and Topsy on other, circa 1890s as illustrated in Jensen's Collector's Guide to Horsman Dolls Identification and Values 1865-1950

Horsman's Babyland Rag Topsy-Turvy made by Bruckner circa 1800s, also from Jensen's book on Horsman dolls.

According to Stonegate Antiques' website,

From 1901-1924, Bruckner produced this original, 12" Topsy Turvy doll for Horsman's Babyland Rag Doll line that features Caucasian, "Betty", on one end and African American, "Topsy", on the other. The inspiration for this doll is based on the character of Topsy in Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic 1852 novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

The Bruckner Topsy Turvy doll was advertised in a 1907 Babyland Rag Doll catalog as follows:
"TOPSY-TURVY---What is this?
Looks like just a pretty miss.
But turn her over and you'll find,
She is quite another kind.
First she's White and then she's Black,
Turn her over and turn her back.
Topsy that side--Betty this--
Yet complete, each little Miss."

A brief description and value of Topsy-Turvy dolls is included on pages 67 and 136 of Doll Values Antique to Modern Eighth Edition by Barbara DeFeo and Carol Stover (2004) as follows:

  • Page 67 - Topsy-Turvy - Cloth dolls with two heads, some with black doll under one skirt, which when turned over reveals white doll under other skirt.  [Values are included, but will not be shown here.]
  • Page 136 - Under the category "Multi-Face, Multi-Head Dolls/Cloth" is entered, "Topsy-Turvy:  one black, one white head.  See Cloth section." 

Topsy-Turvy dolls are illustrated, briefly described, and assigned a book value on the noted pages in the following black memorabilia references:

Black Collectibles Mammy and Her Friends (1988), page 92 -- one doll is shown.
Black Collectibles Sold in America by P. J. Gibbs (1996), page 214 -- shows one doll.
Collecting Black Memorabilia A Picture Price Guide by J. P. Thompson (1996 ), pages 78-79 (see image below).
More Black Memorabilia A Handbook & Price Guide 2nd Edition, by Jan Lindenberg (1999), page 135 -- one doll.
Pages 78-79 of Collecting Black Memorabilia... illustrates commercially-produced and handmade early-to-mid 1900s cloth Topsy-Turvy dolls with painted or stitched features.  Two have painted mask faces.

While Topsy-Turvy dolls are referenced in several texts, the true original concept remains a mystery.  I continue to believe the first versions were handmade by enslaved African women, who were shipped across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, to North and South America, and to other parts of the world that participated in human bondage.   The first versions probably were made of cloth with one doll having a black face and the other a white face.  Early versions most likely had embroidered facial features and/or buttons to create eyes.  Whether these early handmade versions were for the children of slaves or for the children the makers were enslaved to care for is uncertain.  What is certain is the concept originated with ingenious African female slaves. 

Post-slavery, commercially-produced Topsy-Turvy's heads often share the same ethnicity, black.  Eyes can vary from open on both heads or one doll asleep and the other awake.  Modern Topsy-Turvy dolls, handmade or commercially produced for the tourist trade in the Caribbean and elsewhere, as illustrated by my two circa 1980s examples from Jamaica and Barbados in the first two images, are quite possibly spinoffs of those made by African slaves whose slave vessels docked in these regions.

Three additional Topsy-Turvy dolls from my collection are illustrated in the next two images.
One composition and two cloth Topsy-Turvy dolls, circa 1930s, 1980s, and 1940s, respectively; the 1930s doll is like the doll on page 90 of Perkins' 1st book.   (See her unclothed here.)  The smallest doll is featured on page 39 of The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls.  The cloth doll on the far right is the one illustrated previously in before and after images, shared from my book, Black Dolls A Comprehensive Guide...
Hidden underneath:
The same dolls, as shown in the previous image, are flipped over to display the white dolls.
Topsy-Turvy, an ordinary-appearing doll had a hidden agenda; it was cleverly and originally devised to serve an intended, yet, concealed purpose.

After publishing this post, I checked two additional black memorabilia publications:
  • The Art and History of Black Memorabilia by Larry Vincent Buster (2000).  According to his biography, Mr. Buster's master's thesis on black memorabilia was the groundwork for his book.  On pages 129 and 130, he writes, "The world of black dolls is steeped in history and lore, with roots that are long and deep.  Many of the most treasured dolls today have the humblest of origins, fashioned by the hands of anonymous black seamstresses, craftsmen, and other plain folk ...  Among the most unusual and prized folk dolls is the Topsy Turvy doll, which originated in the antebellum South."
  • Black Americana A Personal Collection by Darrell A. Smith (1988) contains two examples of  Topsy-Tuvy dolls circa 1930s and late-1800s, respectively.
Topsy-Turvy has been the subject of poems and doll advertisements.  In the book, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights by Robin Bernstein (New York University Press, 2011) the poem, “The Topsy Turvy Doll” glorifies the white doll and in 11 words projects inferiority onto the black doll.

The following screen snapshot of an unknown manufacturer's Topsy-Turvy doll ad is included in Bernstein's book:

Note the time frame of antebellum and postbellum as the original of Topsy-Turvy dolls has been used by more than one researcher.


On August 26, 2019, Mr. Bob Nerbovig shared photos of a Topsy-Turvy doll that his mother purchased during the 1960s.  With his permission, his photos are shared below along with his description of this family heirloom.

The black doll wears a red floral-print dress.

Knots of yarn create her hair.  Her facial features are embroidered.

The white doll wears a green floral-print dress.  She also has embroidered facial features.

Yellow yarn was used for this doll's hair.

Bob described his Topsy-Turvey as follows:  We have a very nice black/white topsy turvy doll. They have heart lips and the same pattern dress, red on one side, green on the other. 

Based on the pictures, Bob's Topsy-Turvy, while purchased during the 1960s, could date back to the 1950s or earlier.  This doll is a nice example of a handmade Topsy-Turvy.  Thank you again, Bob, for sharing the pictures and allowing me to share them here.


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