Each generation of children from 1900 through 2000 has had a special doll or toy that thrilled the hearts of little girls and boys. These early life attachments remain deeply rooted in the consciousness, often making these dolls and toys the sought-after collector’s items of their adult lives.
Today’s marketplace is vibrant with these beloved characters of the past and following the trends in today’s toy marketplace could very well point the way to the collector items of the future.
1900s – 1920s
In the early years of the 20th century the Teddy bear was a new item. One hundred years later it remains a staple of the nursery and is the pinnacle of many a toy collector’s prizes.
At almost the same moment in time both the established German company of Steiff and a fledgling US company which would be called Ideal Novelty & Toy Co. hit upon the idea of manufacturing stuffed bears. The marketing of this toy was fueled by a popular news item in the press of the time. The 1902 story reported an incident in which President Theodore Roosevelt, while on a hunting trip, refused to shoot a bear which had been beaten and tied to a tree by his hunting scouts. The President felt this behavior was unsportsmanlike and the public raised a cheer for his action. Calling the new bears Teddy’s bears or Teddy Bear was an ideal tie-in (pun intended!) to this popular story.
During the 1910s another icon of the toy world was born, her name was Raggedy Ann. The story of Raggedy Ann was first told by Johnny B. Gruelle in 1914. Family lore held that the character of Ann was based on an old rag doll found in the attic by Gruelle’s young daughter, Marcella. The original publisher of the Raggedy Ann stories was the Volland Co. and it wasn’t long before they asked Gruelle for dolls to go along with his books. On September 7, 1915 Mr. Gruelle was granted design patent number 47,789 for Raggedy Ann and copyrighted her name. The first Raggedy Ann dolls were made by members of the Gruelle family. Before long the Volland Co. took over the production of both Raggedy Ann and her friend Andy.
The rights to produce Ann and Andy have been licensed by a number of companies over the years. In 1934 Molly-es International Doll Company began making Raggedy Ann dolls when it received requests from its wholesale customers for this doll which was no longer being made by Volland. What Molly-es did not realize was that Johnny Gruelle had already begun licensing negotiations with the Exposition Doll and Toy Co to make Authorized Raggedy Ann dolls. After a 3-year court battle Molly-es was ordered to stop production the dolls but by then Exposition Doll and Toy company had been put out of business. From 1938 to 1962 the Georgene Novelties Co. made their versions of the dolls. In 1962 the Knickerbocker Co. took over Raggedy Ann’s production. This company has been sold and reorganized and is now owned by Hasbro which still makes Raggedy Ann and her friends through both their Applause and Palyskool divisions.
Another famous and much-loved doll was brought to the public during this era when Grace Storey Putnam sculpted a realistically molded baby doll to represent a three-day old infant. Putnam called her doll the Bye-Lo Baby. After initial failed attempts to interest various doll companies in her design she finally struck a bargain with toy distributor George Borgfeldt & Co. Borgfeldt drawing on his connections in the industry had bisque heads made by German makers such as Hertel & Schwab, Kestner, Kling, others.
1930s – 1940s
Two stars of the cinema created public sensations in the decade of the 1930s. One was a curly-topped child actor named Shirley Temple and the other was a personality from the newly emerging genre of animated film with synchronized sound, his name was Mickey Mouse.
Morris Mitchom’s Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. (after 1938 known as Ideal Toy Co.) was quick to secure the rights to produce a doll in the likeness of Shirly Temple. Ideal turned to doll world sculptor Bernard Lipfert to create the models for this doll. First released as a composition doll with sleep eyes and a curly mohair wig, Shirley soon became their best seller. The clothing used for these dolls was made by another American company called The International Doll Co. of which Mollye Goldman was the founder. The Shirley dolls ranged in size from 11″ to 27″ and had costumes based on Shirley’s various movie roles as well as other outfits.
Walt Disney’s beloved character Mickey Mouse debuted in the film Steamboat Willie in 1928. By the early 30s he was gaining a wide fan base. Disney was astute enough to realize the merchandising potential of his creation. He hired a Los Angeles seamstress named Charlotte Clark to design and make cloth Mickey Mouse dolls. Disney then entered a licensing agreement with toy industry giant George Borgfeldt who was to find a manufacturer and handle the product distribution. Borgfeldt struggled to find a maker that could produce an item that lived up to Disney’s standards. While Disney waited for Borgfeldt to provide an acceptable product, he entered into an agreement with McCalls pattern company to produce patterns based on the Charlotte Clarke design. At the end of the contract term with Borgfeldt Disney enlisted the services of merchandising professional Kay Kamen to develop and promote Mickey related products of all types including dolls. Knickerbocker Toy Company was chosen to make Mickey dolls and these were heavily promoted and well received throughout the 1930s and into the succeeding decades.
During the 1940s wartime rationing and diversion of materials to essential war production impacted the toy industry greatly. Paperdolls which had a long history of popular use enjoyed a resurgence. Beautifully drawn and colored sets were widely available and offered hours of play value without straining the pocketbook.
1950s – 1960s
The decade of the 1950s saw big changes in most areas of American life as the post-war baby-boomer generation flourished in an era of economic prosperity. One of the big changes of this period was the growth of television. Television transmission began with experimentation with photoconductivity in the 1870s, continued to be developed in the early 20th century and saw a standardization of technology and equipment of the 1940s. By the 1950s televisions were becoming affordable to most middle-class Americans. The toy industry took note of this new forum for their products. On April 30, 1952 Mr. Potato Head made history by becoming the first toy advertised on television. Traditionally toy advertising was primarily aimed at the adult buying public and centered around the holiday season, now toys were offered year-round directly to a child audience.
Mr. Potato head got his start in the late 1940s when a toy inventor from Brooklyn, NY named George Lerner came up with an idea to make a toy by inserting pronged pieces simulating human features into vegetables to create what he called a “funny face man.” Lerner eventually sold his idea to the Hassenfeld Brothers. In 1952 Hasbro began production of its Mr. Potato Head toy. Mr. Potato Head has remained a playtime favorite and has gone on to movie fame as a key character in the Toy Story series of films.
In the early 1950s television situation comedies depicted idealized American families dealing with the trials and tribulations of everyday life, usually with uproarious results. Dolls such as the Vogue Doll company’s Ginny, Jill and friends represented this same image. By the end of the 1950s a new doll hit the scene. Many girls growing up in the 1960s acted out their dreams of being grown up through playing with their Barbie dolls. Barbie has endured as one of the best-selling toys of all time and has been loved, played with and collected by multiple generations.
1970s – 1980s
Adventure seemed to be the name of the game during this period. Hasbro’s G. I. Joe which debuted in 1966 became G.I. Joe, Man of Action in 1970 and then the G.I. Joe, Adventure Team in 1975. But adventure was about to take in the whole universe when a film called Star Wars was released in 1977. By 1978 Kenner was producing a line of 7.5″ to 13″ figures based on the characters from the films. They also produced a smaller scale set of figures that measured just under 4″ tall.
In 1978 Xavier Roberts began marketing a line of soft sculptured dolls that he called Little People (his company was called the Original Appalachian Artworks). His dolls were initially made on a small scale and sold through is Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, GA. Roberts soon entered into a licensing agreement with Coleco who called the dolls which now had vinyl heads, Cabbage Patch Kids. These dolls caused a sensation similar to that of the Bye-Lo baby in the 1920s. During the late 1970s and early 80s anxious shoppers flocked to stores in hopes of fulfilling many a boy’s and girl’s Christmas wish.
1990s – 2010
At the turn of the 21st century certain toys have led the pack. Concepts such as Tickle Me Elmo took the marketplace by storm and Pleasant Company’s American Girls series reinvigorated doll play while fostering an interest in history.
Since then we have seen dolls like Bratz, Monster High, LOL dolls and DC Universe action figures vie for a place in the hearts of children. Surely some of these will become the coveted treasures of tomorrow in the ever-trending world of collecting.
Author – Linda Edward
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