K.K. sends me a tiny enameled tin suitcase in red with white trim, lined inside with beige and silver stars; a case for a toddler-shaped doll dressed in a plaid skirt, a white coat and matching hat. On the other side of the case hang a pink taffeta spring gown and big straw hat, a white pinafore and red hat, and other outfits from the 1950’s. A drawer opens to reveal clothing of light pink and baby blue.
This is a “Ginny” doll, named after creator Jennie Graves’ oldest daughter, Virginia. Graves created the Ginny line in the 1940’s from her storefront in Summerville, MA. K.K.’s doll dates from the 1950’s, as Graves’ dolls developed from composition (a blend of wood pulp and composite in the 30’s and 40’s) to hard plastic. The first plastic Ginny dolls were marked “Vogue” on their backs: I put K.K.’s in the mid 1950’s.
Readers of my column know I have “doll” trepidation: I dislike faces that seem life-like; I suffer from the ‘uncanny valley syndrome’ in which a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of revulsion or unease. Even more intently do I feel that unease with the “Ginny” line of dolls: Graves dressed her toddlers in very adult clothing, stylish, sexy; heels and handbags, undergarments (sometimes garter belts), jewelry and spectacles. The fabrics were lush: velvet, lace, brocade – with trim and flounces. The packages read “Fashion Leaders in Doll Society.” Every fashionable toddler-woman had a dog accessory; a little stuffed terrier made by the famous Steiff Company.
As the Ginny line grew, by 1953 Graves’ doll factory boasted sales of over $2 million and by 1957, $5 million. The line persisted until 1995, purchased in 1986 by the R. Dakin Company. Tonka Toys was the first purchaser outside the Graves family in 1972, and the dolls began to be made in China. In the 21st C, the line was re-acquired by the Vogue Doll Company; and collectors, who love a good doll convention, acquired at the United Federation of Doll Clubs’ convention a 2010 Souvenir Ginny, created by designer Alice Leverett.
I had the honor of viewing a collection of sculpted prototype doll heads created by a former Mattel doll designer in the 1960’s, truly fine, albeit macabre, sculptures. In 2012, designer Leverett created another convention souvenir Ginny doll “Just Me.” Grown women collectors at the convention purchased “Just Me’s” wardrobe, in which they delighted in various costumes, tiny tea tables and chairs with a tiny stuffed bear for the doll’s tea party. The doll collector never fails to astound me.
K.K.’s relative, who played with Ginny, might have also played with other members of Ginny’s “family.” Vogue designers in the 1950’s capitalized on the popularity of child representation in adult attire: Ginny had a twin brother and sister, Steve and Eve, who dressed in identical plaid outfits. Ginny’s older sister, doll Jill, hung out with doll Jeff; they dug rock and roll, as exhibited by their Beatnik outfits. Jill even had holes in her earlobes for pierced earrings, considered wild in 1958.
Further scary facts about the Ginny dolls: brows and lashes are apt to turn green in sunlight. A late model was the ‘bent knee walker’ as opposed to the ‘straight leg walker.’ The most valuable outfits date from 1951-1953 and were tagged; desirable means a complete ensemble of dress, hat, shoes, parasol, etc. The exception are two favorite 1954 outfits (note these names), “Tiny Miss Pineapple” and the “Whiz Kids Lounging Outfit.” KK should check: “sleep eyes” which roll back in the head might be the rare “root beer” color that over time leaked into the whites of the eye, creating a special (horrific) effect. In the mid-1960’s Ginny had costumes from two series: “Fairytale” (think a suggestive “Little Bo Peep”) and “Far Away Lands” (think a Belly Dancing costume on a four year old).
My mother has said that the 1950’s were an era in which females had a certain prescribed niche in the family, and presented a front in support of society’s niche, if they were to find husbands, rear families, decorate a house. Did little 1950’s era girls long to grow up fast, or did their elders, who purchased the Ginny doll for them, foist adult 1950’s values on little girls? Probably both: by 1957, Vogue Doll Company was the largest doll manufacturer in America. K.K.’s doll and trousseau is worth $250, lowish because the doll has been played with and there’s still plenty of Ginnys around.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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