Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

The Chad Valley Co., Ldt. was founded in 1849 by two brothers, Joseph and Alfred Johnson. Their father, Anthony Bunn Johnson had established a printing and book binding business in 1823 in Birmingham, England and taught his trade to his sons. The younger Johnsons originally called their printing company Johnson Brothers Limited. Among other products the brothers developed a line of various card games aimed at the rapidly growing “educational toy” market that was developing during the period.

Among the earliest of the products offered by the Johnson brother’s new company were card games with colorfully lithographed images. Card and board games would remain in the company’s line-up for years to come. Photos courtesy of Appletree Auctions and Morphy Auctions.

In 1897 the brothers built a new factory in Harbone near Birmingham, England and renamed their company Chad Valley due to its location near the Chad Brook. In the 1910s they began to expand their product line to include other toys such as plush animals. Latching on to the Teddy Bear craze they began to offer bears and other animals. With the advent of WWI Chad Valley was already in a good position to answer the British government’s call to provide toys for the children of England and its Commonwealth countries. The British Industries Fair was established in 1915 as a means of showcasing British products and stimulating war-time trade. Chad Valley would participate in these industry fairs right into the mid-20th century. Chad Valley Teddy bears gained in popularity as German-made bears were rejected by a patriotic English public.

In 1917 the company added dolls to their line.  In these early years they offered some dolls with heads made of what appears to have been a heavy composition material as well as offering stockinette dolls. These cloth dolls were available in a wide range of styles. Most were aimed at the wealthier WWI era consumers of the time. Some had painted eyes, some had “veined glass” eyes, the very best models had hand woven, combable, mohair wigs. About 1920 the company name was changed to Chad Valley Co., Ltd.

In 1924 Chad Valley began to produce dolls with pressed felt faces on velvet, velveteen, or cotton bodies. This same year they took out a British patent for a method of putting glass eyes into felt or fabric heads which were stiffened with shellac or starch. This was also the year they started using an hexagonal hang tag on their dolls which read: CHAD VALLEY // HYGIENIC // FABRIC TOYS. They exported their dolls to South Africa, Canada, and Australia and in the late 1920s Louis Wolf was their distributor in the U.S.A. 

Molded face dolls included glass-eyes models (photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Romancing The Doll) and painted-eyed models.
 In 1923 Chad Valley registered the trademark “Aerolite” for their dolls and animals stuffed with kapok. The 17″ Aerolite bear on the left retains his original Aerolite button as seen in the inset
( Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop All You Can Bear). Chad Valley’s 1931 acquisition of Peacock and Company led to the manufacture of the bears bearing the Chad Valley tag with a peacock on it as seen in the right inset (Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Daniel Agnew Antique Teddy Bears, Toys and Dolls).
In the first two decades of the 20th century Mabel Lucie Atwell was making a name for herself as an illustrator of children’s books. In the 1920s she was hired by Chad Valley to design a line of cloth dolls. These were called Bambina. These dolls have distinctively wide faces and smiling “watermelon” style mouths and had stationary, side-glancing, glass eyes. Atwell’s children would grace a wide range of products including cards, figurines and children’s china. The baby dish seen here was made by the firm of Shelley, photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop The Optimists.
In the 1920s Chad Valley began producing plush animals and dolls under licensing agreement with a number of popular artists of the time. They did a rendition of A.A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, as well as Sullivan & Messmer’s Felix the Cat. Seen here is their version of illustrator G.E. Studdy’s Bonzo the dog and Ooloo the cat. Photos courtesy of Ruby lane shop Sue Pearson Bears and Bygones.
Chad Valley’s felt dolls included many character dolls such as the Sultan (photo courtesy Ruby Lane shop Maria-V Dolls ‘n Smalls) and Long John Silver (photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Yellow Garage Antiques Market).

As the company’s business grew, the owners continued to bring in new toy items, often by buying other existing small companies and adding their products, expertise and manufacturing facilities to the Chad Valley family. Through the 1920s and ’30s plush animals, cloth dolls, celluloid toys, wooden puzzles and vehicles, and tin toys would be sold bearing the Chad valley label.

A 1930 photograph of the four-year old Princess Elizabeth was the inspiration for Chad Valley’s Toddler Princess Elizabeth doll. It has sometimes been reported that the Royal family required the company to sell the dolls at a price of One Guinea (approximately $15 in 2021 US dollars) to allow more homes to include the doll in their child’s playroom. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop The Antique Doll Room.
In 1938 the company received a royal warrant declaring them ‘Toymakers to H.M. The Queen” (later the Queen Mother) after producing a pair of dolls depicting the now 10-year-old Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret Rose.  These molded felt dolls are very good likenesses of the young princesses and stand 18″ and 16″ respectively.
Artist Louis Wain, born in London in 1860 would become well known for his depictions of large-eyed cats. He worked in illustration, painting and ceramics. Chad Valley produced this 10.5″ long velvet cat in the 1930s under license with the artist. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Daniel Agnew Antique Teddy Bears, Toys and Dolls.
With the release of Walt Disney’s animated film sensation, Snow White, Chad Valley entered into an agreement with Disney to make felt dolls of the film’s characters. Sets were made featuring dwarves in 6.5″ and 10″ sizes. Snow White was made in 15″ and 18″. (Note: these sizes vary a little when measuring examples found today due to the stretchable nature of fabric and the settling of stuffing. They serve as a general guideline.) Photo courtesy of Sailko, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
Tin toys offered by Chad Valley often had key-wind mechanisms. Photos courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.  A company ad from 1969 also includes a metal dollhouse.
Many styles of high-quality plush toys would be made by the company from the 1920s through the 1960s. Photos courtesy of Morphy Auctions, Frasher’s Doll Auctions and Ruby Lane shop The Lucky Black Cats Emporium.

During WWII the company turned to manufacturing goods to support the war effort but returned to toy making after the war. Through the next three decades Chad Valley continued to expand and to earn a well-deserved reputation for high quality toys. By the early 1970s the economy began to catch up with the company and little by little it began to close down or sell off segments of its operation. In 1978 the Chad Valley name was sold to Palitoy. In 1988 the name was sold on to Woolworth’s, who in turn sold it to Home Retail Group in 2009. Today dolls and toys are still offered under the Chad Valley name although they have little relation to the company established and built by the Johnson brothers in the waning years of the 19th century. What we do still have, are the wonderfully designed and well-made toys from the glory days of the company which are sure to continue to delight collectors for generations to come.

Author – Linda Edward

Bibliography

Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., Evelyn J. Coleman The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls Vol. II. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1986

Linda Edward Cloth Dolls From Ancient To Modern. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1997

Mary Hillier Dolls and Dollmakers. New York: G P Putnam’s Sons, 1968

Pollocks Toy Museum Pollock’s Dictionary of English Dolls. London: Robert Hale Ltd., 1982

The Woolworths Museum

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