M.M. of Santa Barbara tortured me this week by sending not just one, but a group of dolls, all well-loved. M.M. explained that as an only child she played with her dolls when she was alone; and took them with her if she had a play-date -- in a little doll suitcase decorated with flower-bedecked bears and duckies. She owned a Tiny Tears, which, although it has no maker’s mark (typically found on dolls on the back of the neck), she has judged it to be a “real” Tiny Tears, and precious. So as a young girl, she asked for and received what she calls a “wannabe” Tiny Tears doll, which she allowed her friends to touch. The “real” Tiny Tears was for M.M. alone.
M.M. also owned a collection of Story Book Dolls, made from the 1930’s to the 40’s by the Nancy Ann Storybook Doll Company. M.M. says she couldn’t wait for the next Storybook doll to be delivered by the US Post mailman. Storybook Dolls were “characters:” each doll was different, and the company’s brochures, included in the blue, pink or red presentation box with white polka dots, enticed young girls to beg for the next doll in the series. These dolls stand around 5” tall, with bisque or plastic bodies; some bisque bodies had plastic arms, some had eyes that closed (sleep eyes), or painted eyes. Nancy Ann created 125 doll designs in defined series, an early and successful marketing ploy. The series are “Flower Girl,” in which we see “Black Eyed Susan,” “Storybook,” with such beauties as “Little Betty Blue,” “Around the World,” and “American Girl” (which includes Quaker Maid, Colonial Dame, Southern Bell and Western Miss), “Masquerade” (Gypsy), “Sports,” “Nursery Rhymes,” “Seasons,” and “Family” (such as Margie Ann in School Dress). M.M. has a “Scotch” doll with red hair in a tartan dress.
Nancy Ann Abbott began making dolls from her San Francisco apartment in 1936; she took a businessman as a partner, and by 1942 was grossing $1 million in sales. Faces were hand-painted by artists, especially employable during the war years, when the company flourished. The US Navy felt the dolls were good for morale, and sent them by convoy to Hawaii, where soldiers bought the dolls to send home to their daughters. Nancy Ann remained in charge of her successful company until she died in 1964, changing each character doll’s costume yearly; not each doll was labeled or marked with her maker’s mark. The top years for sales were in the 1950’s when Nancy Ann Abbott oversaw 12,000 dolls per day.
M.M. loves her dolls (as I can tell by the meticulous way she photographed them for me), still in their ducky-bear doll box, yet her favorite perhaps was her Tiny Tears dolls, both the original and her wannabe Tiny Tears doll. Tiny Tears was introduced in the 1950’s by American Character Dolls, shortly after this company noticed the popularity of dolls that wet themselves, such as “Betsy Wetsy” and “Dy-Dee” baby GIRL dolls. You gave the doll water through its slightly horrific pouty red lipped mouth, squished its stomach, and she peed. Tiny Tears improved on the location of the waterworks, moving holes to along side the eyes, so the doll would cry tears, but the company also retained the pee-feature. The doll also came with a little pipe, inserted into an open mouth and filled with bubble solution; squeezing her stomach, she blew a huge bubble unless you pressed the wrong part of the doll, which induced pee. Because most of these dolls were rubber, the water works and bubble-chemical combination usually ate away faces and rear ends, so a good condition “Tiny Tears” is rare today. Sears catalogues featured Tiny Tears doll clothes, whole layettes with the logo: “Tiny Tears Cries, Wets, Blows Bubbles” -- the worst characteristics of any small thing.
Finally, M.M. is trying to kill me for sure with her photo of “Wanda the Walking Wonder” doll, hard plastic, blue closing eyes, blonde wig, with white shoes that hide her WHEELS. That key in the doll’s right hip made the doll move its arms, head, and (horrors) legs enabling a mechanical system in her body to simulate walking. M.M. writes: “she’s seen better days, but still walks: needs a little assistance so she doesn’t fall over – typical of an aging gal.” The value of M.M.’s dolls is minimal because of their well-loved condition, as condition is the determinate of doll value.
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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