Who's That Doll?
As always, I have been fielding questions about people's dolls. Lots of people own dolls from childhood and the name is lost in the mists of time. Other people inherit dolls or find them in thrift stores or online and want to know who they are and how much they're worth. I'm currently putting together a "doll club" where like-minded people can join and talk at length about dolls. I will post and invite you all once I get it set up. In the meantime you can follow my Facebook page. The private group will be on my own website, not hosted by any social media platform.
I can understand why people get confused about their doll, especially the older dolls. Prior to the 1970s many companies illustrated their catalogs and advertisements rather than using photography. Doll companies shamelessly copied one another and even sold their molds to competitors. Madame Alexander was notorious for that. It was a nice gesture, really. Madame Alexander dolls were carried in upscale shops like FAO Schwartz as well as their flagship store in New York City. The dolls were very expensive. I remember one of the highlights of my childhood was our annual back-to-school shopping trip to the Hudson Belk department store in downtown Raleigh. We would spend the day shopping for new school clothes, taking a break for lunch in the Belk's cafe. At the end of the day my mother would take us down to the basement, which had a Madame Alexander doll shop. We would look at the floor to ceiling display and point out the dolls we liked best in hope of getting one for Christmas. However, Beatrice Alexander realized her dolls were out of reach for many less-affluent families, so when the Alexander company was finished producing a doll she would sell the molds to other manufacturers who then made cheaper "grocery store" dolls, so-called because they were sold at grocery stores, dime stores, even gas stations sometimes. Just to add to the confusion, Madame Alexander occasionally only tagged the doll's clothing and didn't put a visible mark on the doll itself, so nowadays it can be very difficult to identify a doll that lost its original outfit.
The prime example of this is the Kathy Crybaby doll. Madame Alexander made the Kathy Crybaby in the 1950s in various sizes. Although the doll had molded hair the Alexander company often rooted hair over it. The dolls were drink and wet dolls with a crying voice inside. After a few years Alexander moved on to the Kathy Toddler doll, who had a completely different face mold. The Kathy baby molds were sold to other manufacturers and that doll exploded in popularity. Based on my experience in my doll hospital I would say the Kathy face doll was by far the most-sold doll from the 1950s-1970s. I have seen her made in very squishy vinyl as well as hard plastic. People sometimes tell me their doll was sold as a boy instead of a girl. The quality of the dolls varies greatly, and sometimes they look very different from one another because of the way their faces are painted. I don't think I've ever seen one in person with a crying voice, which is often described as a squeaker rather than an actual crying box. I think I have only ever restored one actual Madame Alexander Kathy baby but I and my customers have restored hundreds of the cheaper dolls. Just as an aside, if you grew up in the 80s or 90s your baby doll is probably a Zapf Creation doll or knock-off. Zapf appears to have sold one particular baby doll mold to other manufacturers because pretty much everyone of a certain age had that one and it shows up in my hospital all the time needing either new eyes or a new body or both!
My mother illustrated this identification problem perfectly when I was growing up and she talked all the time about her Ginny doll and how she loved her. Well, my grandparents found the "Ginny" doll cleaning house and it turns out it wasn't Ginny at all, but Muffie. There were hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of Ginny lookalikes. One of the competing companies, Cosmopolitan, made a doll named Ginger. Ginger looks very much like the early Muffie rather than Ginny but in the illustrated catalogs and advertisements of the time you can't tell one from another. Cosmopolitan sold the Ginger molds to everyone, literally. They even allowed a craft company to use the molds in a "Make your own doll kit", which was just a blister pack of parts you had to assemble. Rather like the IKEA version of the doll! Madame Alexander already had a line of small composition dolls called Wendy Ann, named after Beatrice's granddaughter, but they were skinnier and looked like older children. With Ginny dolls reaching peak popularity, the Alexander company re-designed Wendy Ann as a toddler in hard plastic called "Wendy-Kins" and "Alexander-Kins". The real Wendy Ann was killed in a car crash around that time and the name was retired. Thereafter the dolls were just called "Wendy". The nice thing about Ginny is the Vogue doll company ALWAYS marked them, either with Vogue or Ginny or a combination. If you see a doll being sold as an "unmarked Ginny" be aware it is not an authentic Ginny doll. Madame Alexander marked most of her Wendy and Alexander-Kins dolls as well. Some are just marked "Alex".
My mother also talked a lot about her sister's Toni doll, who was named "Roberta". I know exactly what happened there. Toni dolls were vey expensive because they were licensed by the Toni hair company. For some reason, even though the dolls were essentially an advertising vehicle for Toni hair color and permanent waves, Ideal had to pay hefty fees to use the Toni name and branding. The dolls came with little packages of miniature curlers and perm "solution" or "hair color" with the Toni label and you could give them perms and then wash out the curls and perm the hair again. The real Toni dolls were very expensive and it didn't take long for other companies to make similar hard plastic walking dolls who came with curlers. Instead of Toni-branded perm solution they just had instructions to perm the hair using hot water, so they didn't have the licensing fees and were much cheaper. One of these knock-offs was the Roberta doll. Roberta had a different face mold from Toni but was otherwise the same: a hard plastic walker hairstyling doll who came with curlers. My guess is my aunt wanted a Toni doll but they were out of my grandparents' budget or were possibly not even available in their little town so they bought her a Roberta doll. She and my mom just thought she was a Toni doll named Roberta.
So, how do you figure out which doll you have? One of the ways I learned about dolls and still learn about dolls is to follow doll boards on Pinterest. You can also search online for your doll. Just put in the size, any markings you see, the approximate age, and any identifying features, like curly hair or big eyes. I always search first on dollreference.com, which is the most comprehensive list of dolls. Over the years I have amassed a large collection of doll books. I have a lot of Patricia Smith books on dolls. Her husband did the photography, which tends to be awful, but the information can usually send me in the right direction. These books are cheap on sites like eBay and often your local library will have a collection of them you can reference for free. The Stover Small Dolls of the 40s and 50s book is essential if you're interested in Ginny and her competitors. You can search for your doll on eBay and similar sites by just typing in the same search characteristics. Often one will come up with the actual name.
I also use eBay for valuation. The books I mentioned have values but those are out of date. The advent of the Internet revealed many "rare" dolls are not actually very rare at all and values dropped precipitously. To get the current value of a doll I search for it on eBay and filter the search by "Completed" and "Sold" results. This shows the sales in the past 90 days and you can see what they sold for. You will see there are always really low values because someone did an auction starting at 99 cents or something and only one person bid on it but I just throw those results out and average the rest. Searching on eBay is also a great way to gauge the rarity of a doll. Literally everything is on eBay so if there aren't any or there are just a couple you know the doll is very rare and you can basically set your own price if you're selling. If not you can use it to determine whether a doll should be insured. Some dolls are worth thousands of dollars so before you scoff at that you should be aware you might have an heirloom worthy of passing down through the family.
If you find you have a very valuable doll always inform you heirs so they don't sell it at a yard sale or give it to charity. Many valuable dolls don't look it at all. For example, in the late 90s or early 2000s Disney made The Little Mermaid 2 film. This film featured Melody, Ariel's daughter, and Tyco manufactured the merchandise for the film, including the Melody doll. As often happens, my son had this movie on video tape but wasn't really into it. Then my daughter came along and she was OBSESSED with the movie. She loved Melody, who had black hair like hers. So, I tried and tried to get one of the dolls for her, as well as a new video tape because she watched ours until it fell apart. I quickly found the used video tapes were selling for $65+ back in 2006 and used dolls were selling for around $800. New in the box dolls sold for well over $1000! Now, this is a cheaply-made doll, not produced by Disney, that doesn't look like it would be worth a thing. Its face looks a lot like a dollar store Barbie clone! Needless to say, my daughter never got one. I still see people in my social media find these at thrift stores or yard sales occasionally, priced at just a couple bucks. I dream it will someday happen to me! My daughter's college tuition is $500 a semester, so a new-in-box Melody would cover one full year!
Before you get your hopes up, remember that if you grew up in or after the 1970s your "collector" dolls are likely worthless. Around that time Madame Alexander and other doll companies started making dolls to collect and display rather than to play with. I remember the 8 inch Alexander-Kins cost like $80 each back in the 1980s; way too expensive for anyone to give a child as a toy! Mine were placed way up high on top of my dresser so I couldn't reach them. I had a friend with an entire collection but hers were kept in their boxes in the linen closet and we were allowed to look at them but never touch them or remove them from the boxes. The result of this is a glut of pristine dolls in thrift stores and online, so they aren't worth anything. They're actually worth more if you part them out, so a lot of sellers offer the doll, clothing, shoes, and box for sale separately. That trend will increase the scarcity so if you have a bunch of them just hang on to them and wait if you have the space. Dolls from the 70s and 80s that are valuable were all made as play dolls. Sasha dolls, Ghostbusters action figures, especially glow in the dark ones, certain Star Wars dolls, figures, and plush, and the Kenner Blythe with color changing eyes are all worth a lot because they were played with and got broken or sold at yard sales or lost so now they're rare. The Kenner Blythe is another dolls that's worth north of $1000 if she has her original dress and working eyes! Barbies aren't worth nearly what they were before the Internet and the special holiday ones and other collectible types are basically worthless as well unless you part them out, with the exception of some of the FAO Schwartz exclusives and designer collaborations.
I hope this helps you identify and value your doll. For the most part I no longer respond to inquiries asking me to do this. Random people contact me constantly wanting me to spend the time to value their doll but I only do it for my newsletter subscribers or Facebook or social media followers. Once I get my private group set up these requests will simply have an option to join the group, where I will occasionally provide information. I am trying to think of a way to offer this as a paid service so it's fair, because it does take up a lot of my time.
5/9/2023 03:34:47 pm
Thank you! I am going to research the Ginny Doll. I wonder if my 3 year old self heard Jeanie instead of Ginny.
5/9/2023 03:38:36 pm
Great idea! Vogue did make a Ginny Baby that was larger with rooted hair but I can’t remember if that was in the 60s or 70s.
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My name is Amanda, but my childhood nickname was "Mandaline". I am a mother of three turning my passion for creating into a full-time business.