Beatrice Alexander Behrman, or “Madame Alexander,” as she became known, grew up in the doll business. As the daughter of Maurice Alexander, a Russian immigrant who opened the first doll hospital in this country in 1895, she learned to appreciate the beauty of dolls from her early years. Her father’s teachings stayed with her into adulthood, and seeking a professional and artistic challenge, she founded the Alexander Doll Co., Inc., in the 1920’s. She went on to become the leading lady of the doll industry as she guided a company famous for the beauty and high quality of its dolls and their clothing.
Early Alexander dolls were cloth and composition. They had big hits in the 1930’s with their licensed Dionne Quintuplets and Sonja Henie composition dolls. During this period they also introduced characters from literature, including the Little Women series and McGuffey Ana. In the late ’40s, they turned to hard plastic and their Margaret and Maggie face dolls were the epitome of the well-dressed little girl.
From the very beginning, Madame Alexander focused on producing the highest quality, most beautiful doll clothing in the world. The same molds were used over and over again, with the costume and hairstyling creating the character of the doll.
The 8 inch Alexander-kins were introduced in 1953, and became the Alexander Doll Company’s most enduring product. Many were sold under the name Wendy or Wendy Ann. A year later a walking mechanism was introduced. From 1956 to 1965, the dolls were produced with jointed knees.
Alexander initiated the modern era of the fashion doll with the introduction of Cissy in 1955. In the company’s catalog for that year, Madame describes her as “A Child’s Dream Come True.” Elise, a doll with jointed ankles to enable her to wear low or high heels, was introduced in 1957, and in 1959, 10 inch Cissette joined her “big sisters” as Alexander’s newest fashionable lady. All of these dolls had extensive lines of extra clothing and accessories which could be purchased.
In addition to the high-heeled dolls, Alexander produced some of their most enduring child dolls in the 1950s. Babies Kathy and Little Genius were produced in several sizes, and little girl Kelly was dressed in beautiful, classic styles. The Little Women dolls that had always been big sellers for Alexander got an update with the introduction of pre-teen Lissy.
In the 1960s, Alexander introduced a number of new dolls with unique head molds, including Brenda Starr, a slim teen fashion doll to compete with Mattel’s Barbie, and Coco, a new 20 inch high fashion doll. While these dolls had a fairly short production run, the company also introduced some new faces which would become classics in their line. The 21 inch Jacqueline doll was one of these. Initially a representation of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the mold was later used for the Portrait Series of lady dolls which were produced for decades. 14 inch Mary Ann and 12 inch Janie, both little girl dolls, became mainstays of the company’s line as well.
Also in the 1960s, the International Series using the 8” Alexander-kin molds were introduced. They became Alexander’s most popular line, and are still being produced today.
The 1970s and ’80s saw Alexander staying the course, with few innovations, producing the beloved babies and children, characters from classic literature, and ladies in Portrait gowns that had always done well for them.
Beatrice Alexander sold the company in 1988, and passed away two years later.
In the 1990s, the company went through a challenging period. They were the last of the major doll manufacturers still located in the United States, and had difficulty competing for collectors’ dollars. In 1995 the company was sold to an international banking group and production began to be moved overseas.
In the 1990s and 2000s, many of Alexander’s classic dolls were reintroduced, some as reproductions of the original styles, and others with a new modern look.
Beatrice Alexander was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2000.
The company has changed hands a few more times in recent years, and is currently owned by Kahn Lucas, a girls’ clothing manufacturer.
Today the Madame Alexander Doll Company specializes in baby dolls for children, including Huggums and Pussy Cat, first introduced in the 1960s, and a line of Lee Middleton babies; and collectible 8 inch and 10 inch dolls using the Alexander-kin and Cissette molds.
Advertising dolls provide an interesting look at the history of consumer products in America. Who remembers Force cereal, Blatz beer or Fletcher’s Castoria? But through their advertising and trademark characters, these products will live forever.
Most advertising dolls are made of cloth, simple “pancake” dolls with one piece for the front and one for the back, stitched together and stuffed. Some, like Freckles the Frog pictured above, were printed on fabric and sold by the piece, to be stitched and stuffed at home. But there are advertising dolls of all materials, including vinyl, hard plastic, composition and even cast iron.
The Four Types of Advertising Dolls
The most popular and familiar type of advertising doll promotes the company’s trademark character. This might be Tony the Tiger for Frosted Flakes cereal; the Campbell Kids for Campbell’s Soup; or Aunt Jemima for the pancake mix made by Quaker Oats.
Another type of advertising doll is the licensed doll. This doll, like Ideal’s Little Miss Revlon or Toni by Ideal and American Character, incorporates the name and concept of the product without actually being used in the company’s own advertising.
A third type of advertising doll is the premium doll, which is used by the company to sell product (“Send in 3 boxtops and 25 cents”) but otherwise has no connection to the product. One example of this type is the Fun Fair clown offered by Kelloggs in 1973.
A fourth type of advertising doll, and the hardest to find, are the dolls that were not made available to the general public, but used solely as display pieces in stores. One example is the RCA Victor “Sellin’ Fool” doll made to be displayed in RCA dealerships in the ’20s. The doll was based on an illustration by Maxfield Parrish and is very hard to find today.
Advertising dolls are still being sold today, although they are far more likely to take the form of plush animals than dolls.
The World of Barbie Fashions by Mattel, Book 3 is dated 1966. It includes Color Magic and Twist ‘n Turn Barbie dolls; Casey; and Black and White Francie dolls. Several of Barbie’s 1600 series and 1400 series outfits are pictured, along with the 1700 series Color Magic outfits. Francie and Casey’s 1200 series outfits and Fashion Paks are illustrated. The back cover offers a subscription to Barbie magazine.
This booklet came with American Character’s Tressy, Mary Make-up and Cricket dolls in 1965. In this year, Cricket finally got her own growing hair feature, and was marketed as Tressy’s little sister (previously she was called her cousin.)
In November of 1967, Mattel rolled out a new promotion in magazines across the country. The Million Dollar Christmas Sweepstakes included a seven page ad with a cover page; five full color pages of dolls and toys; a list of participating stores; and a lucky number coupon to take the store to see if you were a winner. Each winning coupon, verified by a store employee, could then be mailed in to receive a $100 gift certificate for Mattel toys from the store.
My copy is from Family Circle magazine, so the print quality is not as good a some others I have seen. But what you see below are high resolution scans of the dolls that were included.
Magic Attic Club dolls were produced by four different companies between 1994 and 2004. They were the first competitors to the American Girl dolls but never realized their full potential. For more information on Magic Attic, visit the Just Magic site.
Mam’selle Gear Get-Ups were a separate line from Pedigree’s regular clothing for their Sindy, Paul and Patch fashion dolls. These six catalog pages from 1966 show illustrations of these hard to find outfits.
The Pedigree Toy Box catalog for 1966 shows a page of boxed “jewellery and nic-nacs” sets (what in the US would be called accessories) for dolls.
The jewelry includes a brooch which appears to be a deer, two pairs of earrings (one balls and one possibly cat heads), a tiara and three pendants (a ball, a heart and an abstract shape).
In the 1960s most little girls were expected to become housewives and mothers when they grew up. These sets helped teach the skills they would need. The Housework Set includes a broom, bucket, dishpan and scrub brush, dust pan and brush, and an apron. The Washing Line Set includes a clothesline, clothespins and box of laundry soap. The Baby Doll Feeding Set has a bottle, brush, spoon, pacifier and bib.
Washing Line Set
Baby Doll Feeding Set
Beauty was important, too. The Brush, Comb and Mirror Set helped keep dolly’s hair neat. The Toilet Set included toothpaste and toothbrush, Lux soap, wash cloth and an unidentified bar of something. (If you know what that is, please leave a comment.) The Accessory Set included a purse, belt, sunglasses, something with a floral pattern (scarf maybe?) and the same abstract pendant sold in the Pendants set. The Dolls Make Up Kit included a range of play cosmetics to try out on your doll. Hopefully no dolls were permanently scarred! It should be noted that this is the only set on the page that doesn’t have the Pedigree name on it – it was made by Leichner.
The Alexander Doll Company issued six series of 14” First Lady dolls beginning in 1976 and ending in 1990, depicting the wives of the US Presidents. The first series, available from 1976 through 1978, included Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Martha Randolph, Dolley Madison, Elizabeth Monroe and Louisa Adams. The dolls are not portraits of the actual women, and Madame Alexander used creative license in selecting the hair and eye colors of the dolls. They are made of rigid vinyl, with rooted hair and sleep eyes with brush lashes. They are jointed at the neck, shoulders and hips, and wear beautifully made outfits. In addition to the outfit pieces described, each doll wears white stockings.
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was the wife of George Washington, America’s first President. She was a young widow with two toddlers when she married Washington in 1759. Although the doll has light blonde hair, the real Martha was a brunette. She is remembered today as a warm and gracious hostess who treasured her privacy.
Martha Washington wears a silver and taupe brocade gown trimmed with champagne lace and ivory braid, with an attached lace stole and a lace mob cap. Her white cotton and net petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed with pink satin ribbon and white lace. She carries a brown velveteen bag adorned with an ivory lace motif. Pink satin shoes and a graduated “pearl” necklace complete her ensemble.
Martha Washington face
Martha Washington costume
Abigail Smith Adams, wife of John Adams, got her feet wet by being the Vice President’s wife (now sometimes called Second Lady) before becoming First Lady when her husband was elected President. In 1825 she also became the mother of a President when her son John Quincy Adams was elected. Her admonition to her husband to “remember the ladies” as he worked with the Continental Congress to build a new nation is still quoted today.
Abigail Adams wears a long sleeved royal blue satin gown with a delicate leaf print, with white lace at the cuffs. Her white lace shawl is attached at the neckline and held in place with a rhinestone pin at her bodice. Her white cotton and net petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed in white lace and pale blue satin ribbon. She wears a blue velvet ribbon in her hair and black velveteen shoes. A graduated “pearl” necklace provides a finishing touch.
Abigail Adams face
Abigail Adams costume
Martha Jefferson Randolph was the daughter of the third American President, Thomas Jefferson. She acted as his occasional hostess due to the death of her mother several years before. She and her husband had twelve children – her son, James, was the first child born in the White House, in 1806. Known as Patsy to her family, Martha took devoted care of her father in his declining years.
Martha Randolph wears a short sleeved pale pink taffeta gown with an ivory lace panel down the front. Her pink taffeta petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed with pink satin ribbon and white lace. She wears a pink organdy wrap around her head and a long black cape trimmed in fancy brocade ribbon. A graduated “pearl” necklace and pink satin shoes complete her outfit.
Martha Randolph face
Martha Randolph costume
Dolley Payne Todd Madison was the wife of America’s fourth President, James Madison. She was the first First Lady to embrace a public role, and helped to found a home for young orphaned girls. When the British burned Washington during the War of 1812, she refused to evacuate the White House until Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington was removed from the wall and secured.
Dolley Madison wears a sleeveless champagne satin dressed flocked with silver glitter in a floral pattern, and decorated with champagne and silver metallic braid. She wears a matching long coat and an ivory organdy head wrap. Her white cotton petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed with white lace and pink satin ribbon. Champagne satin shoes provide the finishing touch.
Dolley Madison face
Dolley Madison costume
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe was only seventeen years old when she married the future fifth President of the United States, James Monroe. Due to her frail health, her oldest daughter often assumed the duties of hostess at the White House.
Elizabeth Monroe wears a long sleeved gold and pink satin brocade gown, trimmed in satin ribbon and lace. Her white cotton and net petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed with white satin ribbon and lace. A lace shawl attached to a long brocade panel at her back is held in place with a goldtone bow pin at her waist. She wears a rhinestone tiara and a rhinestone pendant necklace on a goldtone chain. Champagne colored satin shoes complete her ensemble.
Elizabeth Monroe face
Elizabeth Monroe costume
Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in England, to a British mother and American father. She wrote music and poetry, and played the harp. She followed her husband in his diplomatic travels around the world, once crossing Europe by coach in the winter to join him. Louisa Adams wears a short sleeved white satin gown decorated with white and silver metallic braid, and ruched bands of tulle. Her white taffeta and net petticoat and pantalettes are decorated with gathered white lace. She wears graduated “pearl” necklace and a cluster of rosebuds in her hair.
Louisa Adams face
Louisa Adams costume
Each doll’s gown was tagged First Ladies, with her name. They also came with a little booklet wrist tag, with color photos and descriptions of all six dolls.
This series has been described as having two different face molds, the Mary Ann face, shown here on the Abigail Adams and Elizabeth Monroe dolls, and what’s sometimes called the Martha face mold, shown here on Louisa Adams and Martha Randolph. The Martha mold appears to be the 1960s Elise mold, but in a smaller size. Elise is a 17” doll. What looks to me like a third mold, is this one, shown on Martha Washington and Dolley Madison. This appears to be a slightly larger version of the Nancy Drew face that Alexander used a lot of in the 1970s. Nancy Drew is a 12” doll. Here I’ll show you the three different faces. What do you think? Are there three, or just two?