Thursday, January 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday: This Little Boy

Circa 1950s Martha Chase Doll
First seen in my post regarding dolls received for Christmas, this 14-inch lad arrived beautifully gift wrapped, accompanied by a note from Debra R. (the person who gave him to me) which stated, "I tried to find this little boy a better outfit and I know I have one but it is packed away.  I will try to find it and send it to you."

Initially, I did not know his history (name, when made and by whom, etc.).  I looked in doll reference books and could not find him, but I knew his face looked familiar.  In my "Thank you so much!" email to Debra, I wrote: 

"The little boy doll is very interesting.  I wish I knew who he was.  At first I thought he was Horsman’s Cotton Joe, but he is not marked and Cotton Joe had a composition head and cloth body.  This little boy is all Latex material.  I washed his face with vinegar to try to remove some of the stickiness.  It helped some.  He will display well with similar dolls from his circa 1940s time period.  His outfit is fine.  I will pin his hat on the inside to make it fit better or I might sew it to fit." 

Debra replied:

"...The little boy doll is the Martha Chase stockinette doll that is on page 25 of your second book."

Oh-my-goodness, I thought.  Had it been a snake, he would have certainly bitten me.  I flipped to page 25 of my second book, Black Dolls A Comprehensive Guide... and there he was, courtesy of Janice Larsen-Tyre.   I had to laugh at myself.  I looked in every book except my own.

As very little has been documented about dark-skinned dolls made by Martha Chase, the exact decade of my doll's manufacture and others like him is uncertain.  Based on the information Larson-Tyre provided me in 2008 when I wrote my second book, I recorded the date of manufacture as circa 1950s, which is probably correct.  However, dolls that use the head and body molds used on my doll were used well into the 70s.  A 1977 Chase doll made expressly for the United Federation of Doll Clubs is proof of this, images of which can be seen here and here.

Additional research gleaned from online documentation on Martha Chase dolls indicates she began making dolls in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1889. The dolls are made of stuffed stockinette/stockinet, a stretch-cotton fabric used for socks and stockings at the time.  This material was coated with glue-like sizing and painted heavily with oil paint, resulting in a stuffed latex, water-resistant material.  The heads have raised features (stockinette stretched over a mold) with painted eyes and applied ears.  They were originally marked with a paper label on the back or underneath the arm, identifying them as a Chase Stockinet doll.  Some had a hangtag.  When found today, these identifiers are usually missing.  The aforementioned UFDC-exclusive 1970s doll had both a hangtag and underarm label
The early stockinette dolls were articulated at the shoulders, elbows, and hips while later ones exclude elbow articulation, like my doll.  I took several photos of him in the buff to illustrate his construct. 

This little boy has raised facial features with painted eyes and an unusual style of articulating the shoulders and hips with a flatter piece of stockinette that creates a hinge of sorts, as illustrated above and below.
A close-up better illustrates his face and articulation.
Note his raised ear and flat upper arm joint.
Full view in profile

About Chase Dolls
While play doll manufacture continued, Chase began making hospital mannequin dolls in 1911.  In the later years, the focus turned away from play dolls to the mannequins used for training nurses.  Mrs. Chase died in 1925 but her family continued making dolls well into the late 1970s (as evidenced by the UFDC-exclusive doll).  According to Dollmakers and Their Stories, Women Who Changed the World of Play by Krystyna Poray Goddu, in 1978 the Chase doll company was "sold to a medical supply company in Chicago, which stopped making the play dolls altogether." 

Martha Chase set up her doll-making operation at her home in a backyard building called the Dolls’ House. Chase’s small cottage industry employed a number of women as molders, painters, and seamstresses. By 1913 the workers of the Dolls’ House produced play dolls, dressed or undressed, in six sizes ranging from 12 to 30 inches and retailing for $2.50 to $7.50. The dolls, though not cheap by early 20th-century standards, reached customers nationwide and sold well in department stores like Macy’s, Best & Co., Gimbel Brothers, and Wanamaker’s, as well as toy stores such as F. A. O. Schwarz.

Writers frequently refer to the "later years" of Chase doll manufacture when referencing the elimination of elbow joints and the focus on hospital mannequins, but this time frame is difficult to pinpoint.   I for now will conclude that my little boy was made, as Larsen-Tyre indicated in the1950s, several years after Chase's death and before the focus shifted to hospital mannequin doll manufacture.  While my doll appears identical to the 1970s UFDC-exclusive doll, its visible aging indicates it is much older.

What I know for sure is:  Early nineteenth century examples of black Chase dolls have broad facial features while black dolls from the "later years" are often white molds painted brown.  Additionally, finding black versions of Chase dolls from any era is like finding a needle in a haystack because fewer were made.  Finally, what I know for certain is:  I am thrilled Debra thought about me when she found this little boy (and I am even more thrilled that the temporarily lost package in which he was shipped was returned to me by an honest neighbor!) 

More Martha Chase Links:
200 Years of Dolls:  Identification and Price Guide
Dollmakers and Their Stories
Early nineteenth century mammy types with broad facial features can be seen here and here
Beautiful example of early black Chase male doll
Martha Jenks Chase, Simple Dolls for Simple Play


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  1. This is such a great gift from your friend, Debbie! I always love seeing the gifts that Debra R. and others give to you. Even though I do not collect this type of doll, I love looking at the photos and reading the histories. Thanks for sharing this information.

  2. It is good to know that you enjoy my Throwback Thursday posts, Roxanne. There are more to come when and where the Spirit moves me to write about dolls from the past. Their stories are still relevant and I am happy to share them with an interested audience of readers.

    Debra is the best!



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