These scans from the 1934 Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog show some of the rubber dolls they were offering. Toodles is an American Character doll that was also being offered in a larger size with composition head and rubber body.
Researching the history of rubber dolls is quite a challenge, since most of what we have to go by is advertising material and catalog illustrations. Rubber is a natural material that breaks down over time, so most of the early dolls have not survived. Non-jointed rubber dolls were offered at least as early as 1914, and probably earlier. These often had a whistle molded into the doll for added play value; some dolls had knitted-on clothing.
In the '20s, composition dolls began to be offered with soft rubber arms. Soon the dolls had rubber legs, then entire rubber bodies. The first all-rubber jointed baby doll appears in the Sears catalog in 1932. "No other doll like it!" exclaims the ad, but no name or manufacturer is listed. American Character, who in subsequent years took credit for introducing the rubber doll, may have been the manufacturer; but it's difficult to know for sure. They had introduced Toodles in 1931 with a composition head and interesting soft rubber "Flex-o-Flesh" body surrounding a steel frame, and subsequently Toodles was offered in an all-rubber version as well (see photo above).
The next year, (1933) Ideal's Honeysuckle, who previously had a composition head, was offered as an all-rubber doll. The two companies were in fierce competition with each other and with Effanbee, who was also developing rubber babies at the same time.
In 1934, Effanbee introduced Dy-Dee Baby with a hard rubber head and softer rubber body. American Character then offered a new Toodles with hard rubber head and limbs (which they called Paratex), and oil cloth body. The hard rubber parts seem to have survived better than the soft rubber, as they can occasionally be found today. They look a lot like composition parts, but can be identified by the sharper modeling of details like curls on the head and lines on the hands.
Dolls with rubber heads continued to be made until hard plastic replaced them after World War II. Rubber bodies were still being used until the '50s. Another company that is known for its rubber dolls is Sun Rubber of Ohio. They produced vinyl dolls as well as rubber. Important note: Collectors will often find soft vinyl dolls of all types for sale described as "rubber."
Sources for this page include:
- "American Character Dolls" by Judith Izen
- "Drink and Wet Babies: American Character's Toodles Takes on the Competition" by Ursula R. Mertz, June 2004 issue of Antique Doll Collector magazine
Copyright 2006 by Zendelle Bouchard.