Wednesday, August 31, 2016

She Needed a Home

Lil' Liza Jane, a 16-inch, circa 1980s doll with bisque head on an articulated composition body

Near the end of July, a member of my doll group shared the Etsy sale page for Lil' Liza Jane. I commented, "She's adorable.  Someone needs to grab her at this price!" A couple of weeks later, while on Etsy for something else, Lil' Liza Jane's photo appeared as one of my last viewed items. I decided to read her description and view all photos. Doing this, and her low price of only $20, reeled me in!  (Dolls and prices that can't be refused have a way of doing that, you know.)

Described by the seller as follows:
Lil' Liza Jane has a bisque head and jointed composition body. She measures approximately 16" tall and has pierced ears. Her eyes are fixed in a sideways glancing position. Her body has some scuff marks and one of her hair bows has come off, but is still with her. There is some discoloration on her outfit due to age and storage, but otherwise Lil' Liza Jane is in good shape.
I wanted to know more about the scuff marks to her body and requested additional photos, which the seller provided.
Lil' Liza Jane's body articulation and separate toes are illustrated in the above photo.  Minor wrist joint paint loss is also visible.
Faint scuff marks can be seen on the side of her torso where a doll stand had been used.

Other paint loss was simply from her joint movement and parts rubbing together, nothing major. I also asked the seller if she knew anything about the artist and if Lil' Liza Jane had any identifying marks.  She replied:

Liza Jane is marked on the back of her neck with I believe a "J" and "M".  She is tightly jointed at her neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, and knees with probably some sort of elastic from the feel of it. I was not able to move her hands at this time and believe that the high humidity here may be the problem... There are what looks to be pin holes at the base of her seat, maybe from a mold, not sure. The base of the left forearm where it connects to the wrist is rough. Even though she is wearing shoes, I think she was purposely made with individual toes that make her look like she would be more comfortable barefoot.

Because it is important for me to know as much about my dolls' past "lives" as possible, I sent the seller one final message requesting any added information beyond what was noted in the description and in our separate Etsy conversations.  The seller shared the following:

I do love a good story myself and I wish I had a good one for you, but I just have some basic information. My mother was a doll collector and was a member of the Austin Doll Club for several decades. Sometimes she would purchase dolls and hide them so that my father did not know how much she was spending. Lil' Liza Jane and the KAYO Kid... were found together in her house after she passed away. My sister and I believe she purchased them together from either another doll dealer or the person who made them. The Kid has already sold so I can't check to see if he had the same mark on the back of his neck. My mother did not have one specific doll type that she collected to her collection [which] was varied and very eclectic. I hope this helps a little.

The supplementary information suggests that Lil' Liza Jane had been loved and possibly cherished by her former owner.  I appreciate the manner by which the seller provided the extra details, writing about the doll with as much care as her mother had probably provided.  I might have never known Lil' Liza Jane's toes are separate or thought they were made that way so "she" (the doll) would be more comfortable with bare feet.  A photo of the KAYO Kid that had been the doll's companion when found revealed him to be a white male doll of the same size with similar body but different head sculpt. Clearly Lil' Liza Jane has a face all her own.

I love her distinctly Africanoid facial features which set her apart from other dolls:  broad, flat nose and full lips.

After arriving to her new home, I reglued the loose hair bow to her hair and noticed that the crown of her head (underneath her handmade wig) was loose.  Epoxy glue was used to reseal this.

Lil' Liza Jane takes a seated photo before moving to the doll room.
Lil' Liza Jane asks, "Where am I?  Can you find me?"

"How about now?" she asks.

With the loose hair ribbon and crown of her head reglued in place, Lil' Liza Jane is now as good as new.  I know she will be happy here in the company of many new friends where she has found a temporary place to squeeze herself into until she is placed on another doll stand and moved to an area with dolls of similar medium and era.

Check out my eBay listings here.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Three Specially-Priced Melody Ellison Packages through 08/29/2016

Everyone who had been waiting to order American Girl's newest BeForever modern African American doll, Melody Ellison, has probably done so by now.  For those of you who are unaware that ordering officially commenced on 08/25/2016 with three special package offerings for Melody and her accessories, this blog post is written to serve you. If you plan to purchase a substantial amount of Melody Ellison items from the American Girl website and have not already joined the AG Rewards program, do so before you purchase in order to earn 1 point for every $1 spent and receive $10 in Rewards for 200 points.  Details are provided at the website.

Please note that sale prices for these packages ends 08/29/2016 at 11:59 p.m. Central time.

Performance Package

Block Party Package
Bedroom Package
The above three items are the special packages being offered through 08/29/2016.  These and other Melody Ellison items are also sold separately.  Some of the separately sold, regularly priced items that are on my radar are shown below:

If you are just interested in purchasing the doll and book, you will receive this for $115 + shipping.

Not currently discounted is the doll, book, and accessories set which includes Melody (dressed as shown), her pill box hat, cat-eye sunglasses, handbag, "Equal Rights in '63" pin back button, and her book series:

Big spender, are you?  Then go for the gusto and purchase Melody's recording studio for $250:

How about her hair piece and accessories for only $22?

She'll be ready for the holidays and dressed so well in this Christmas Travel Set.  Each item is sold separately or bundled together as shown below, but the bundle is not discounted at this time.

Of course Melody will need her dog Bo, which is short for Bojangles.  Isn't he adorable?

There are a few more Melody Ellison items available at the American Girl website.  See all items here and have fun salivating over them as I have done.

Check out my eBay listings here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hitty and the Surprise

Good things were tucked inside this cute little carrying case.

Gloria Rhone of Massa's Servants Collectibles presented another doll for sale in a Facebook post that I simply could not refuse.  The initial photo was of the undressed doll.  Without even knowing how she would be dressed, I claimed her as mine.

Gloria's initial photo of my new Hitty doll (photo courtesy of Gloria Y. Rone)

Shown in Gloria's first photo above, Hitty* is a 6-1/2 inch doll made from polymer clay using a twist of colors to look like wood/marble.  A white version was offered at the same time.

Before taking this photo, Gloria dressed Hitty in a peach/white/brown plaid dress with matching bonnet, white eyelet apron and white underpants.  Her back is incised:  

Hitty arrived in perfect condition in the perfect little carrying case, which is shown above and in the first photo. She was neatly wrapped in white tissue paper with a white tissue paper-wrapped gift for me underneath!

I took the following photos:

On left, Hitty wears her bonnet. In this photo, it has been removed.

Hitty's black molded hair has a double row of curls.

In a profile photo, Hitty's curls are seen better, including the spit curl on this side of her face.  On the other side of her face, is another spit curl.

Hitty shows off her shapely legs and painted-on black boots.
As usual, I am thoroughly impressed with Gloria's work and I am in love with my newest Hitty. I own others, but by far, this Hitty is the best one yet!

Mini painting of woman/girl with child/doll
As a surprise, Gloria sent a mini painting with separate black easel stand.  The painting and easel were enclosed in a mesh drawstring gift bag, as shown above.

The wooden easel is painted black.

The mini 4 x 4-inch, brightly colored painting of a woman/girl with a girl/doll is signed GYR.
I love the painting and easel and truly appreciate Gloria's generosity and her artistic talent.


*Hitty dolls, which are usually handmade and carved of wood, are based on the ash wood character in the 1929 children’s novel, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, written by Rachel Field.  The doll in the book was carved by an old peddler for a little girl named Phoebe Preble.  The book “won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1930…  It details Hitty's adventures, [in her own voice], as she becomes separated from the Prebles and travels… over the course of a century [by way of several different owners]. She ends up living in locations as far-flung as New Orleans, India, and the South Pacific.  At various times, she is lost deep under the sea and also under cushions, abandoned in a hayloft, serves as part of a snake-charmer's act, and meets the famous writer Charles Dickens, before finally ending up in an antique shop in New York City among other, fancier dolls of porcelain and wax. There Hitty is purchased and taken to her new owner's summer home in Maine, which turns out to be the original Preble residence where she first lived.” [,_Her_First_Hundred_Years]

While writing this post, I located a 132-page PDF of Hitty, Her First Hundred Years.  Read it if you'd like and enjoy the original Hitty's travels.

Check out my eBay listings here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Black Crissy Grow-Hair Family

Black Ideal Crissy Family, L-R:  Beautiful Crissy, Tressy, Velvet, Tara, Cinnamon

In 2009, I wrote an article, entitled "Ideal's Black Crissy Family," which was published in the December 2009, Issue 22 of Doll Showcase Magazine.  Recently, after rephotographing some of my Crissy and family dolls, I realized I had not blogged much about them.  This post serves to rectify this and will include excerpts from the aforementioned article (actually almost all of it) with a few minor additions.

The Crissy grow-hair family is one of my favorite mod-era doll collections.  They include Beautiful Crissy, Tressy, Velvet, Tara and Cinnamon (shown above in the first photo).  Crissy and Tressy are 18in/46cm while Velvet and Tara are 15-1/2in/39cm.  Cinnamon, the cutest (in my opinion) and smallest family member, is 12in/30.5cm.  Each doll has a center grow-hair mechanism, which is activated by twisting a knob or pulling a string in its back to shorten its center ponytail and depressing a button on its stomach to lengthen it.  A few years after my adult doll search commenced, I was fortunate to find mint or near mint Crissy family dolls dressed in their original or authentic extra fashions.  

Ideal made several versions of the Crissy doll.  These include:

  • 1969 Beautiful Crissy with hair that grows to the floor, also referred to as “Hair-to-Floor” Crissy, wears an apple green lace dress with matching panties and apple green shoes.
  • 1970 Beautiful Crissy wears the 1969 outfit but her hair only grows to just below her bottom.
  • 1971 Movin' Groovin' Crissy has a swivel waist and wears an orange midi-length dress with brown and orange rope belt, orange panties made of the same fabric as the dress, orange boots with mock laces.
  • 1972 Look Around Crissy wears a long green plaid taffeta dress, matching panties, and green shoes.  Appropriately named, when her pull string is extended, she turns from side to side and “looks around.”
  • 1973 Swirla Curla Crissy is dressed in an orange and white plaid dress, white panties, and orange Mary Jane shoes.
  • 1974 Twirly Beads Crissy wears a pink gingham, full-length dress, white panties, and white Mary Jane shoes.
  • 1977 Magic Hair Crissy has Velcro hair attachments instead of a grow-hair mechanism.  Her original outfit is a white camisole, pink sateen skirt, and white mules.
  • 1982 Country Fashion Crissy, at 15 inches tall, shrank 3 inches and her face changed!  Perhaps in an attempt to exhaust remaining quantities, Ideal used the Velvet face mold and body for this Crissy. The doll wears a pink gingham dress, white socks and shoes, and straw hat.  Instead of a tummy button and knob, the grow hair operates with a pull string.
  • 1982-1983 Beautiful Crissy returned with the Velvet face and body dressed in a white, lace-trimmed dress and white shoes.  Unlike Velvet, this Crissy has brown eyes with pupils.
  • 1983 Country Fashion Crissy reappeared wearing a lavender gingham dress, straw hat, white socks and shoes.  The Velvet face and body molds were used once again, but the brown vinyl complexion noticeably darkened.
1969 Beautiful Crissy with hair that extends to her bottom (this one is not the hair-to-floor version.)
1971 Movin' Groovin' Crissy is shown with another Crissy doll that wears the White doll's orange lace dress and orange shoes.
These are two preloved Crissy dolls purchased prior to finding the NRFB Beautiful Crissy.  The one on the left wears a Look-Around Crissy dress with blue Crissy shoes.  The doll on the right wears a handmade off-white dress with attached lace apron.

Magic Hair Crissy is not a true grow-hair doll; as indicated previously, she has hair pieces that attach with Velcro.

Magic Hair Crissy in original box is for sale on Etsy, in case anyone is interested.

Tressy, on left, wears Swirla Curla Crissy's dress with white shoes.  Tressy, on right, wears her original dress, a replica of her original headband, and black shoes.
Black Tressy was added to the Crissy family in 1971 having been preceded by her White counterpart a year earlier.  Black Tressy was a 1971 Sears Wish Book exclusive.  Black Tressy wears an orange and white geometric-print dress and headband and black shoes.  Because she was a catalogue-exclusive, Black Tressy is much harder to find today than Black Crissy and usually commands a higher price.

While Crissy has black pupil-less eyes, Tressy's eyes are brown with visible black pupils as illustrated in the next head shot photo of Crissy and Tressy.

Crissy and Tressy eye comparison

Black Velvet, Crissy's cousin, debuted in 1970 wearing a lavender dress and lavender shoes.  The doll is often found wearing the White version’s purple corduroy dress.

Velvet wears a replica of her original lavender corduroy dress with original white lace-up mules.  Velvet on the right wears the Ideal tagged fashion, Ruffled Up.

There were several versions of Black Velvet.  The first two dolls mentioned below, have the same functionality as the Crissy dolls of the same name.

  • 1971 Movin' Groovin’ Velvet wears a pink party dress, matching panties and purple shoes.
  • 1972 Look Around Velvet is dressed in a plaid taffeta dress similar to Look Around Crissy’s dress, matching panties, and white shoes.
  • 1973 Beauty Braider Velvet wears a pale lavender dress with matching velvet sash, matching panties, and lavender shoes.
  • 1974 Swirly Daisies Velvet’s attire consists of a purple/lavender/pink/white plaid dress with white bodice, matching panties, and lavender shoes. 
  • 1981 Velvet, the final issue, wears a white lace-trimmed dress with pink ribbon at waist and white shoes.  This doll has a pull string instead of a belly button and knob.
I featured the 1981 reissue of Velvet in my first book along with the Magic Hair Crissy I am selling. A scan of that entry is shown next.
Scan of page 148, Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls

In 1976 Tara, promoted as “The Authentic Black Doll with Hair That Grows!” made her debut.  Tara is the only doll in the Ideal grow-hair family that did not share a face mold with any other member, Black or White.  Her facial features were described as “authentic” or ethnically correct.

1976 Tara with original box
Tara wears a yellow gingham pants set and yellow shoes.  One side of her colorful box features a beautiful African-American girl holding a Tara doll.   It is reported that some collectors do not consider Tara an “authentic” Ideal Crissy family member, while others feel her grow-hair mechanism and size give her Crissy family rights.  Family member or not, Tara ranks as one of the most difficult Black grow-hair dolls to find.  Because of her rarity, a mint condition doll usually commands top dollar, even in a sluggish economy.

1973 Cinnamon, Velvet's little sister

Cinnamon, Velvet's little sister, debuted in 1973, a year after the White doll’s debut.   Her original outfit is an orange polka-dot short set with a white lace-trimmed collar and orange shoes.  In 1974, Curly Ribbons Cinnamon joined the family.  This doll wears the same outfit from the prior year and has an extra denim short coverall with yellow gingham blouse.  Black Cinnamon is also an elusive Crissy family member, which inflates her value.

My all-original Cinnamon is redressed in this photo in peach overalls, peach headband with orange knit top and orange knit shoulder bag with chain shoulder strap.  She wears her original shoes.  The doll on the right wears a cute homemade overall fashion with yellow shoes.  Cinnamon has painted eyes whereas all other Black Crissy family members have stationary, acrylic eyes.

Baby Crissy, the original 1973 doll and the reissued 1981 version

Baby Crissy, while not as popular as the other girls, is also a member of the Crissy grow-hair family.  She made her debut in 1973 and resurfaced in 1981.  Except for the clothing and slight difference in vinyl color and texture, it is difficult to tell the two versions apart.  They are both 24in/61cm.   The original doll wears a mauve, two-piece, baby-doll outfit; the latter version wears a white romper trimmed in either green or yellow gingham.   The 1973 version has reddish brown vinyl which has a rubber-type consistency.   The 1981 doll’s firmer vinyl does not have the red tinge. 

While I own both versions of Baby Crissy, my favorites remain the core family members:  Black Crissy, Tressy, Velvet, Tara, and Cinnamon.  These mod dolls and their psychedelic colored fashions mimic fashions from my youth (dresses and skirts with lengths from one extreme to the other, bell-bottom pants, lace-up clogs, mules, floral and bold patterned fabrics, and other hippie-style attire).  They are reminiscent of a period in my life when dolls and doll play were a long forgotten pastime… when happiness, independence, and entering adulthood were my main objectives.  Now that I am a rather happy, independent, adult, dolls are my favorite diversion from adult responsibilities.

Check out my eBay listings here.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Melody Ellison at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Nine-year-old Melody is growing up in Detroit in the mid-1960s, a time of great energy, optimism, and change for the African American community. She is a singer and loves to perform in church, with her family, and in her community. Her stories are set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement... and the music scene, including the success and popularity of Motown Records and its artists.

Melody Ellison is American Girl’s new BeForever character, whose story reflects the changing face and history of the nation during the Civil Rights Era... [From the American Girl website, Introducing Melody]

While others eagerly wait to purchase the third, 18-inch African American doll in American Girl's BeForever collection (formerly known as the Historical collection), American Girl Rewards members, who chose to preorder the special Melody Ellison package, have been first to receive their dolls.  Public sales for Melody launch online at the American Girl website and in American Girl stores on August 25, 2016.

Mini Melody Ellison is 6-1/2 inches tall

Others have taken advantage of ordering the mini version of Melody Ellison, which includes the mini doll and her mini abridged book, No Ordinary Sound.  My mini Melody was purchased from for $10.09 (a savings of $14.90 off retail).

Beginning today, Saturday, August 20, 2016, at 8 p.m., Melody will go on sale in the museum store of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.   The sale will extend through September 4, 2016, while quantities last.

As announced in a Charles H. Wright Museum Facebook post, Melody was given a personal tour of her hometown museum by Mama Jatu in the museum's rotunda on the Ring of Genealogy.  The tour was captured on video, which may take a few seconds to load, depending on your device.    Yesterday at the Wright, Melody visited the museum's exhibit, In the Paint:  Art, Athletics & the Spirit of the Games.  What a lucky girl!

Encouraging people to visit Detroit, Terry Crawford, President of Motor City Doll Club (MCDC) made the following comments regarding Melody's availability at the museum and other upcoming events in the "Motor City":

The museum shop will be offering Melody until the supply runs out so she may be available later. I don't know how many they have in supply! Perhaps a trip to the museum for the new exhibit, "I See ME: Reflections in Black Dolls" (September 20, 2016-April 30, 2017)? Come the weekend of November 12th and you could also attend the Detroit Doll Show put on by MCDC member Sandy Epps, ALSO at the museum!!
Oh.....and since Melody is an aspiring singer, why not visit The Motown Museum. It's the actual location where Motown had its first offices and recorded its early stars like The Temptations, Supremes, Smokey Robinson, etc!

The following adorable photo is from American Girl on Instagram:
Additional details about Melody's availability at the Wright are outlined here.

Check out my eBay listings here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Topsy-Turvy: The History of Racial Inequity Through the Eyes of Dolls

The United States’ beginnings marked an exploration into new dimensions of race.  The resultant years of white dominance meant that our society encountered inequity in the idealization of beauty.  After decades of progress, old Eurocentric definitions of what the ideal American looks like have been exchanged for new.  This cultural evolution is exemplified by our nation’s history of racial representation in dolls.  Phoebe Fisher, from her study of the history of racial inequity of dolls, past and present

While undertaking research on racial representation of dolls (or the lack thereof) for her entry in the 2016 National History Day competition, the then high school sophomore, Phoebe Fisher, requested an interview.  The questions she asked in December 2015 and my answers are shared below:

In your educated opinion, why have dolls stayed popular after so many years? What makes them a common thread through generations and cultures?   Dolls have remained popular for centuries through generations and cultures because they serve as inanimate representations of people that allow children to imagine themselves as nurturers and caregivers.  Children enjoy mimicking the roles of their parents.  More specifically, most girls enjoy caring for dolls as they have been cared for by their mothers.   
Do you believe it is important to have black women creating black dolls in order to avoid stereotyping and unrealistic body/facial molds? Based on their knowledge, inspiration, and affection for their own culture, it is without question that black doll artists, women and men, can create accurate portrayals of black people in doll form.  Speaking from an artist-doll collector’s perspective, the sculpting expertise of black doll artists needs to be supported by doll collectors and utilized more consistently by doll manufacturers to ensure the continued design and inclusion of dolls with ethnically correct facial features and body types.
How much has America advanced in terms of racial representation in dolls? How far do we have to go?  In comparing present-day dolls with dolls of the past, black-doll manufacture has been on the rise.  However, the production of sufficient quantities of black dolls and making them available in local markets has not yet been realized. Black dolls are still produced in fewer numbers than white dolls and are often not stocked in all stores.  This makes it challenging for consumers to purchase black versions and particularly difficult for people with shopping limited to local establishments when Internet shopping is not an option.  In the absence of the desired black doll and not knowing where else to turn, some parents unfortunately purchase white dolls for their children as stand-ins.   
Does doll representation go beyond aesthetics? Should dolls reflect African American, Asian American, Native American, etc. culture as well as looks?  Doll representation is more than aesthetics.  Dolls as playthings for all children that accurately reflect their image and culture are very important for the development and continuation of self-love.  Black dolls and dolls that represent other people of color when provided to white children can also be used as tools to promote cultural diversity and an awareness of the value of others. 
Is it more important for a child to have dolls of a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, or dolls that look like them? In a white media-controlled society where one standard of beauty is force fed to all, where the greatest achievers are always illustrated as white, it is of the utmost importance for black children and other children of color to be imprinted upon dolls that look like them first before any other doll forms are introduced.  A child must be able to develop a strong sense of self-appreciation in an environment where blackness is often falsely demonized, vilified, and looked upon as less than everything else.  Other doll varieties are acceptable later, but owning dolls that are adequate portrayals of a child’s own image is more important in their impressionable years.

After submitting her entry, I was kept abreast of the progress of the project.  On March 13, 2016, Phoebe notified me she won first place in the National History Day regional competition and would be moving on to the state level. 

Then on April 25, 2016, Phoebe shared that her entry won first place in the New York State competition and would enter the national competition in June.   Even though she did not win at the national level, this remarkable young lady is to be applauded for her extensive research and first place wins at the regional and New York State levels.  Her shared photos and portions of text are proof of her dedicated research and well-deserved wins.


Photos of the dollhouse-shaped presentation taken from different angles are shown above and below.

The display included actual black Barbie dolls and illustrations of black Barbie and friends with relevant text.  Topsy-Turvy dolls and illustrations, doll advertisements, images of antique white dolls, Golliwogs, a white child with a black doll, Shindana dolls, a modern Doll Test, and American Girl dolls with notes and/or quotes about each were also included.  

Some of the text is outlined with the next three photos.

Topsy-Turvy dolls spread beyond early 19th century plantations and became a phenomenon.  (Theories regarding the doll’s black doll/white doll concept are included in the Topsy-Turvy section.)  With reference to pickaninny dolls and Golliwogs, she notes: During the post-Civil War period, black-face ideology was popularized.  Although some dolls of color arose, they were primarily racist satirical images of black people, referred to as blackamore or “black Americana.”  

Far left in the center section is an Antique Cabinet Photo, [white] Child and Black Child Doll, 1900.

Shindana Toys, a Division of Operation Bootstrap, Inc.: “Mattel was alarmed by the Watts race riots of August 1965…uncomfortably close to Mattel headquarters… To extend an olive branch to the nearby black community, Mattel contributed to a project known as Operation Bootstrap, Inc., which sponsored the founding of several new black-owned companies in the neighborhood.” –Lisa Hix, journalist

“Mattel was afraid people were actually going to come up into their business and burn it down… Mattel sat down at the table with the people of the community and [asked], 'What can we do to help alleviate some of the problems in the community?' and the people said, “We need jobs and we want our own business...  Shindana was one of the first toy companies that regularly came out with dolls that actually had black features.  The complexions were darker than most dolls that people had seen.  It was also the first time an American doll company had ever used African names…  –Debra Britt, founder of the National Black Doll Museum of History and Culture 

Black is Beautiful

“A Movement That Went Viral Before Digital Technology,” Edye-Deloch Hughes, author of the Parenting Guide, "Raising Hell or Raise Them Well."

“The black-is-beautiful movements of the 1960s, acknowledged by many to have been as important a part of black liberation as the political and economic gains initiated by the Civil Rights Movement.”  David Milner, Children and Racism:  Beyond the Value of Dolls

1964 black-doll ad caption reads:  Negroes Gain Ground

Does the New Law Affect Dolls, is the title of a newspaper article that references the civil rights law, published in the Vicksburg Post on July 13, 1964.

The first African American Ken (Sunsational Malibu Ken, a.k.a. Afro Ken, 1982) and the first black doll given the name Barbie (1979, copyright year) are the center images on the shelf next to the last.  The bottom section of the project display included photographs and information on vintage-to-modern black dolls and doll makers from 1911 through 2016.

An angled view illustrates the detail of the display.

At the conclusion of the competition, I asked Phoebe the following questions:

Why did you choose to explore cultural inequity through racial representation in dolls for the National History Day Project?  I believe that history should not simply be something read in a textbook and thrown away, but something applicable to today and used to shape our future. After the recent uproar surrounding the Target controversy over gendering their toy sections, I was suddenly shocked into the reality that bigotry can be expressed in all forms, including toys. At around the same time, I was shopping for a birthday present for my biracial cousin—a baby doll was my first thought—and found that there were no mainstream dolls available that had her beautiful natural hair and darker skin tone. In researching the topic of toys in a historical context, I was exposed to an underground culture of black doll collecting and personal articles about the racial significance of dolls. I realized that one of the first ways that children explore the complex nuances of race in our culture is when they go to the toy store. I found that there is an entire history behind this cultural element in America that is not very well known, but quite significant in reflecting America’s struggle for racial equality.
How did my interview help you with this topic? My interview with Debbie Behan Garrett was an important part of my research as she offered a highly educated perspective as a published doll historian. Ms. Garrett was able to offer me clear and reliable insight into the doll collecting world, and provide unique opinions based on her personal experience that I believe is always necessary for good historical research.
What did you learn about cultural inequity through your exploration of racial representation in dolls?  Through my exploration of this topic through research and creation, I learned that “progress” for equality isn’t simple nor easy, as not all representation is accurate representation. The first black dolls openly sold on the market were extremely racist caricatures created for white amusement and cruelty. One of these dolls, the Golliwog, continues to be sold and distributed to this day. When black dolls were finally manufactured and introduced into the mainstream market, they lacked black features and culture; even the first black Barbie doll used a white mold. Just as we see our history textbooks whitewashed and the struggles of people of color erased, the struggle for doll representation is the same. I saw slave dolls sell on eBay with captions “cute doll for your kid to play with,” and Golliwogs sold in stores as “fun playthings” with no one batting an eye. The doll industry is another institution with deeply embedded racism that perpetuates a vicious cycle between what is deemed beautiful or acceptable to consumers and what companies are willing to manufacture. We now see dolls of most shapes and colors and cultures on the shelves, but there’s still progress to be made and history to be preserved.
Which category and what topic won the National History Day Project at the national level?   In my category—Senior Individual Exhibit—a  project entitled, “The Transcontinental Railroad: Exploring the West, Encountering Pitfalls, and Exchanging Culture” won. If you want to check out the other winners, you can find it on the National History Day website.

National History Day (NHD) is a non-profit education organization in College Park, MD. Established in 1974, NHD offers year-long academic programs that engage over half a million middle- and high-school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. These research-based projects are entered into contests at the local and affiliate levels, where the top student projects have the opportunity to advance to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park. NHD also seeks to improve the quality of history education by providing professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators.

Once again, I congratulate Ms. Fisher on her hard work and dedication and for her two, first place wins at the regional and New York State levels.  She is truly a remarkably insightful young lady.

Check out my eBay listings here.