Ever since the Brothers Grimm gathered their folk tales into storybook form, the tale of Snow White has been a favorite and its characters have often been made in doll form. These dolls were especially popular in the 1930s and 40s, based on the popularity Walt Disney’s animated feature film. Released during the Christmas season in 1937 Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length animated feature in color and with sound. The film was a huge commercial success despite the high cost of its production ($1.5 million which is equivalent to about $2.75 million today).
With the success of the movie, Disney, ever astute at marketing, quickly licensed the characters as portrayed in his film to various dollmaking companies. Production of the dolls seems to have begun in early 1939.
Among the makers of these dolls was the Knickerbocker Toy Company of New York City which was founded in 1925. Knickerbocker made both composition and cloth mask-faced versions of Snow White. Their composition dolls were available in wigged dolls of 15″ and 20″ and in a molded hair version made in 13″ and 15″ sizes. They made composition dwarfs which stood approximately 9″ tall. Knickerbocker’s cloth Snow White was 16″ tall and had 11″ cloth mask-faced dwarves to accompany her. These had velveteen bodies. Their clothing was integral to their body construction, with the shirt and pants portions made up of contrasting colors. The hat of each dwarf has its name painted onto the turned-up brim. The beards of the Knickerbocker dwarves are made of white mohair. Knickerbocker dwarfs are sometimes found with plastic lanterns and/or pick axes sewn to their hands.
Richard Kreuger of New York City, also made Snow White sets. Kreuger began his doll business in 1917 and made numerous cloth mask faced dolls over the years including the Cuddle Kewpies designed by Rose O’Neill. The Kreuger mask-faced Snow White was 18″ tall and had black yarn hair. Her dress had a blue velveteen top and white cotton sleeves and skirt. The Kreuger dwarfs are 11.5 inches tall and have the same general type of body construction as the Knickerbockers. The belts on the Kreuger dwarfs are made of velveteen fabric and have the shirt tales sewn onto them. The feet on the Kreuger dwarfs are pointed but are flatter and lack the upturned toe of the knickerbocker version.
The Ideal Novelty and Toy Co was another maker of Snow White dolls based on the Disney designs. Ideal Toy and Novelty was located in Brooklyn, New York and was founded in 1906. Ideal’s composition Snow White was made in sizes ranging from 11.5″ to 21″. Some of the composition dolls had mohair wigs and flirty eyes while others had molded hair and painted side-glancing eyes. Her original dress had a blue or red cotton top and the white cotton skirt had the dwarfs silk screened on the bottom of it. Their composition dwarfs had removable clothing. Additionally, Ideal offered a cloth mask-faced version of Snow White and the dwarfs. A 16″ cloth mask-faced Snow White was available as were a set of 10″ cloth dwarfs. The dwarfs had slim, flesh-colored, cotton bodies. The shirt of each dwarf has a black leatherette belt around it. The feet of the Ideal dwarves are simple in shape and made of black fabric. The Ideal dwarves have plush fabric beards.
Chad Valley of Harbonne, England, founded in 1897, began making dolls in 1917. To coincide with the movie, they too made a set of Disney licensed dolls. Their pressed felt dwarfs were available in a 6.5″ size or a set of 10″ dwarfs were made to go with their 16″ Snow White.
Many other models of Snow White dolls and sets were produced, These included those based on Disney’s designs and other more generic versions of the characters. Madame Alexander made many versions of Snow White in a wide range of sizes beginning with a composition doll in 1937 and making dolls of hard plastic and later in vinyl right into the early years of the 21st century. Some of her dolls were Disney licensed and others were her own imaginings of this beloved character.
Through the remainder of the 20th century other makers continued to offer their versions of this popular story’s characters whose longevity seems to be boundless.