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American Character Dolls

American Character Dolls

American Character was founded in 1919 by brothers Jacob and Max Brock, with their partner Ed Schaefer. The company was one of the leading doll manufacturers in America for the next several decades. Collectors value the company’s composition dolls, but their hard plastic and vinyl dolls of the 50s and 60s, such as Sweet Sue, Toni, Tiny Tears, Tressy and Betsy McCall, are American Character’s enduring legacy.

The company’s early dolls were either all-composition, or had a composition head and limbs on a cloth body. The earliest dolls are marked “Aceedeecee” on the back of the head. Beginning in 1923, they began using the trade name “Petite,” and many of their compo dolls are marked and tagged with that name. Their popular baby dolls included Bottletot, with one hand molded to hold a bottle, and the smiling Happytot.

American Character composition dolls illustrated in the 1928 Sears catalog.

In 1929, American Character acquired the rights to make the Campbell Kid dolls, and produced an adorable version for a few years. Puggy was another all compo character made in the late 1920s. He is 13″ tall and has plenty of personality. Puggy’s Girlfriend (pictured below) was made from the same molds as the Campbell Kids.

During the Depression years of the 1930s, American Character remained successful, with little girl dolls including Sally Joy and Carol Ann Beery, a celebrity doll representing the daughter of Hollywood actor Wallace Beery. Sally was very similar to Effanbee’s popular Patsy family dolls. She could be purchased with either molded hair or a mohair wig, and in an all-composition version as well as one with a cloth body.

American Character also made rubber dolls during the 1930s and ’40s. Most of these dolls have not survived because rubber degrades over time. Rival dollmaker Effanbee won a lawsuit against American Character in 1935 over the company’s introduction of a rubber drink-and-wet doll. Ed Schaefer left the company in 1939 to start his own firm making rubber dolls, and a second generation of Brock family members joined the team.

Despite the lawsuit and the challenges of production during World War II, the company continued to develop drink-and-wet babies, and in 1950 they debuted their most successful doll to date, Tiny Tears. Not only could this doll drink and wet, she could cry too! She was made with a hard plastic head and rubber body from 1950 to ’58; and with a hard plastic head and vinyl body from 1959 to ’61, in several sizes. The earlier dolls had molded hair or a caracul (baby lambskin) wig, later on she had synthetic hair rooted into a vinyl skullcap inset into the top of her head. Various vinyl versions of Tiny Tears were made in the 1960s.

Vinyl Tiny Tears pictured in the 1961 Sears catalog.

Hard plastic Sweet Sue is another iconic doll made by American Character during the mid-twentieth century. She was produced in sizes ranging from 15 to 31 inches. Early dolls had mohair wigs but most dolls have synthetic hair. Some dolls have various American Character markings on the back of the head, but many are unmarked, which is a source of confusion and consternation for collectors. Vinyl head versions of Sweet Sue were made as well.

Sweet Sue Sophisticate was the grownup version of Sweet Sue. Made in 14, 20, and 25 inch sizes, she had a mature figure and feet shaped to wear high heeled shoes. American Character’s version of Toni is nearly identical to Sweet Sue Sophisticate. She was made in four sizes from 10 to 25 inches. The 10 inch version had many extra outfits which could be purchased separately. Toni was a tie-in to Gillette’s Toni Home Permanent and came with a Playwave kit to style her hair.

Betsy McCall started life as a paper doll in McCall’s Magazine. She became three dimensional with Ideal’s vinyl version in 1952. In 1957, American Character began producing Betsy in an 8 inch hard plastic version. She was hugely popular and had many extra outfits available. Following the success of the 8 inch Betsy McCall, American Character produced a 14 inch size with a vinyl head in 1958. This version was only available for two years. There was also a 20 inch Betsy with flirty eyes; 22 and 29 inch dolls with a different face sculpt; and a 34 inch companion-size Betsy. None of these larger dolls had extra outfits like the original tiny Betsy.

8″ and 14″ Betsy McCall dolls by American Character.

Toodles was a name that American Character used over and over for baby dolls. There was a rubber version in the ’30s and a hard plastic version in the ’40s; but the all vinyl Toodles, made in several different versions in the 1950s and ’60s, is the one most well known today.  She was a drink and wet baby, but lacked the crying feature of Tiny Tears. Later on there were infant, toddler and little girl versions of Toodles.

Infant Toodles

The company continued to innovate and experiment in the 1960s. Whimsies were all vinyl novelty dolls that were aimed at older kids and teenagers. They were produced in 1960 and ’61. A total of 17 different styles were made, including Annie the Astronut, Freddy the Friar, Trixie the Pixie and Wheeler the Dealer. Another doll, Hedda Get Bedda, is similar to the Whimsies, except that her head rotates with three different faces: a sick face, a sleeping face, and happy “all bedda” face.

American Character Whimsies – Dixie the Pixie and Tillie the Talker.

During this period American Character also produced Little Miss Echo, a 30-inch talking doll who worked by means of a tape recorder in her chest.  Sally Says, Babie Says and Babie Babbles were other talking dolls made by the company.

Tressy, introduced in 1963, was American Character’s answer to Mattel’s Barbie.  Tressy had a unique feature – “growing” hair that could be made longer or shorter by means of a T-shaped key inserted into her back. Like Barbie, Tressy had extra oufits and a little sister. Tressy’s friend Mary Makeup had very pale coloring that could be enhanced with colored pencils. Tressy was very popular and is commonly found today, although her extra outfits and playsets are harder to find.

In 1965, American Character introduced their line of Blue Ribbon dolls, which were not advertised on television, so could be offered at a lower price point. Pouting Penny and Butterballs were part of this line.

They also experimented with unusual types of dolls during this decade. Popi was a Barbie-sized doll with a “pop-apart” torso to make her easier to dress. Her molded vinyl wigs enabled her look to be changed quickly. A vinyl figure of Topo Gigio, a character mouse from the Ed Sullivan Show, was also introduced. A line of action figures from the tv show Bonanza were the last items produced by American Character.

The company name was changed to American Doll and Toy Corp. in 1960, although they continued to use the American Character trademark; they also did business under the name American Miniature Doll Corp. during this same era. By 1968, they were no longer in business. Some of the company’s molds and trademarks were sold to Mattel and Ideal.

For more information, read Judith Izen’s excellent book. Click the image below to view it on Amazon.

Composition in Competition: UFDC Region 14 Conference, 2008

Composition in Competition: UFDC Region 14 Conference, 2008

In May of 2008 I attended the United Federation of Doll Club’s Region 14 Conference hosted by the Shaker Doll Club in Albany, NY. One of the best things about being a member of UFDC is the opportunity to attend these regional events, where you get together with other collectors to learn about dolls in programs and seminars, attend special doll events, meet doll artists, eat too much, shop in a sales room with great dealers, take home wonderful souvenirs, and generally have a blast. My favorite part is always the Competitive Exhibit. Attendees enter their dolls in various categories (like the Effanbee dolls above) which are judged by accredited doll experts on criteria including age, rarity and condition. The photos in this post are of just the dolls entered in the categories for composition dolls at that event.

Effanbee composition dolls
A closer look at two of the Effanbee dolls. The girl in blue is Patricia.
Effanbee Hawaiian doll
Effanbee Hawaiian doll
Effanbee Little Lady doll
Another Effanbee doll – Little Lady, perhaps?
Madame Alexander composition dolls
These are the entrants in the Madame Alexander category.
Alexander Jeannie Walker
A stunning example of Alexander’s Jeannie Walker took home the blue ribbon in this category.
Horsman composition dolls
This is the Horsman group.
Averill Manufacturing dolls
This is the category for dolls made by Averill Manufacturing.
Averill Manufacturing doll
A better look at the blue ribbon winning doll in the Averill Mfg. category.
Composition dolls by various makers
This category included dolls made by other manufacturers.
Dewees Cochran boy doll
A stunning boy doll by Dewees Cochran.
Cameo Scootles doll
Adorable Scootles doll by Cameo in a rare small size.
Reference Books for Researching Vintage Dolls

Reference Books for Researching Vintage Dolls

Most of these books are out of print but can be found through online sources. This is a very partial list; there are many more good reference books on dolls.

General Books about Dolls both Antique & Vintage

200 Years of Dolls, Identification and Price Guide, 4th edition by Dawn Herlocher, 2009

Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls, Vol. 1 by Dorothy, Elizabeth and Evelyn Coleman, 1968

Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls, Vol. 2 by Dorothy, Elizabeth and Evelyn Coleman, 1986

Collector’s Encyclopedia of Half Dolls, by Frieda Marion & Norma Werner, 1979

Doll Makers & Marks by Dawn Herlocher, 1999

Doll Values, 12th Edition by Linda Edward, 2012

Twentieth Century Dolls by Johana Gast Anderton, 1979

More Twentieth Century Dolls by Johana Gast Anderton, 1979

Ultimate Doll Book by Caroline Goodfellow, 2001

Dolls by Era

Dolls and Accessories 1910-1930 by Dian Zillner, 2007

Dolls and Accessories of the 1930s and 1940s by Dian Zillner, 2002

Small Dolls of the 40s & 50s by Carol J. Stover, 2002

Dolls and Accessories of the 1950s by Dian Zillner, 2005

Baby Boomer Dolls, 2nd Edition by Michele Karl, 2003

Collector’s Guide to Dolls of the 1960s and 1970s: Identification & Values, Vol. 1 by Cindy Sabulis, 2000

Collector’s Guide to Dolls of the 1960s and 1970s: Identification & Values, Vol. 2 by Cindy Sabulis, 2004

Collectible Doll Fashions: 1970s by Carmen Varricchio, 2003. Includes Barbie, Maddie Mod, Cher, Tuesday Taylor, and Barbie-type dolls.

Dolls by Type

Encyclopedia of Celebrity Dolls by John Axe, 1983

Talking Toys of the 20th Century by Kathy and Don Lewis, 1999

Dolls by Manufacturer or Name

American Character Dolls Identification and Value Guide by Judith Izen, 2004

Barbie & Her Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World of Fashion by Joe Blitman, 1996. Covers 1967–1972.

Barbie Doll Structures and Furniture by Marl Davidson, 1997

Barbie Fashions Vol. I 1959–1967 by Sarah Sink Eames, 1990

Barbie Fashions Vol. II 1968-1974 by Sarah Sink Eames, 1997

Barbie Fashions Vol. III 1975-1979 by Sarah Sink Eames, 2003

Collector’s Encyclopedia of Barbie Dolls and Collectibles by Sibyl Dewein & Joan Ashabraner

Francie & Her Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World of Fashion by Joe Blitman, 1996

Skipper, Barbie Doll’s Little Sister, also featuring Tutti and Todd by Scott Arend, Karla Holzerland & Trina Kent, 1998

Ultimate Barbie Doll Book by Marcie Melillo, 1996 hardcover, 2004 softcover

Betsy McCall: A Collector’s Guide by Marci Van Ausdall, 1999

Encyclopedia of Cabbage Patch Kids: The 1980s by Jan Lindenberger & Judy D. Morris, 1999

Encyclopedia of Cabbage Patch Kids: The 1990s by Jan Lindenberger &a= Judy D. Morris, 1999

Disney Dolls: Identification & Price Guide, Featuring Mattel Dolls by Margo Rana, 1999

Collectors Guide to Ideal Dolls Identification and Values by Judith Izen, 2005

Liddle Kiddles by Paris Langford, 1995 Also includes Flatsy, Dolly Darlings, Flower Darlings, and Upsy Downsy

Collector’s Encyclopedia of Madame Alexander Dolls 1948–1965 by Linda Crowsey, 2005

Collector’s Encyclopedia of Madame Alexander Dolls 1965–1990 by Patricia R. Smith, 1991

Shirley Temple Dolls and Fashions: A Collector’s Guide to the World’s Darling by Edward R. Pardella, Rev. ed. 1999

Complete Guide to Shirley Temple Dolls and Collectibles by Tonya Bervaldi-Camaratta, 2006

Shirley Temple Collector’s Guide: An Unauthorized Reference and Price Guide by Edward R. Pardella, 2005

Arranbee Dolls, Identification & Value Guide by Suzanne L. DeMillar and Dennis J. Brevik, 2003, paperback

Barbie Closet by Patricia Long, 1999

Encyclopedia of Bisque Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls Volume I; Identification & Value Guide by Elaine M. Pardee, covers 1936-1947, 2003

Encyclopedia of Nancy Ann Storybook Doll book Volume II; Identification & Values Guide by Elaine M. Pardee, 2009

Horsman Dolls 1865-1950 by Don Jensen, 2002

Horsman Dolls 1950-1990s by Don Jensen, 2007

Horsman Dolls 1950-1970 by Patikii Gibbs, 1985

Effanbee Dolls, the Formative Years 1910-1929 by Patricia Schoonmaker, 1984

Effanbee: A Collector’s Encyclopedia 1949-83 by John Axe, 1983

Effanbee: The Dolls with the Golden Hearts by M. Kelly Ellenburg, 1973

Patsy Doll Family Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (1992) & Volume 2 (1998) by Patricia N. Schoonmaker

Schoenhut Dolls, a Collector’s Encyclopedia by Carol Corson, 1993

Thirty Years of Mattel Fashion Dolls by J. Michael Augustyniak, 1997

Chatty Cathy & Her Talking Friends by Sean Kettelkamp, 1998

Collector’s Encyclopedia of Vogue Dolls, 2nd Edition by Judith Izen & Carol Stover, 2004

Norah Wellings Cloth Dolls and Soft Toys by Gillian Trotter, 2003

Lenci: The History and the Dolls by Nancy Lazenby, 2007

Vintage Dolls by Country of Manufacture

British Dolls of the 1950s by Susan Brewer, 2009

British Dolls of the 1960s by Susan Brewer, 2009

Dolls of Canada: A Reference Guide by Evelyn Strahlendorf, 1986

Identifying German Chinas 1840s–1930s by Mary Krombholz, 2004

German Doll Encyclopedia 1800-1939 by Jürgen and Marianne Cieslik, 1985

German Doll Marks and Identification book by Jürgen and Marianne Cieslik, 2nd edition, 2001

Nippon Dolls & Playthings by Joan van Patten and Linda Lau, 2000

Dolls by Material

Collectors Encyclopedia of American Composition Dolls 1900-1950 Volume I by Ursula R. Mertz, 1st issue 1999, reissued 2006

Collectors Encyclopedia of American Composition Dolls 1900-1950 Volume II by Ursula R. Mertz, 2004

Compo Dolls 1928-1955 Volume I by Polly & Pam Judd, 1991

Compo Dolls 1909-1928 Volume II by Polly & Pam Judd, 1994

Hard Plastic Dolls Volume I, 2nd Revised edition by Polly & Pam Judd, 1985

Hard Plastic Dolls Volume II, Identification & Price Guide by Polly & Pam Judd, 1989

Celluloid Dolls, Toys & Playthings by Julie P. Robinson, 2005

Celluloid Dolls of the World by Marjory Fainges, 2000

A Century of Celluloid Dolls by Shirley Buchholz, 1983

Complete Book of All Bisque Dolls by Mildred Seeley, 1992

Cloth Dolls 1920s-1930s by Polly Judd, 1990

Collector’s Encyclopedia of Cloth Dolls by Johana Gast Anderton, 1984

Cloth Dolls From Ancient to Modern by Linda Edward, 1997

Playthings By The Yard by Frances Walker and Margaret Whitton, 1973