top of page

New York in the 1950s witnessed the Brooklyn Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the World Series, only to have the Brooklyn "Bums" depart for Los Angeles in 1957. Doll enthusiasts would also lose something wonderful as the Arranbee Doll Company, another New York institution, ended its reign as one of the most prolific doll manufacturers of the twentieth century.


Dolls and photos courtesy of Heather Wasserman

Arranbee dolls

Source: Summer 2018 • Doll News Pages, 98-106


Living in Brooklyn as a child, one would assume that Arranbee dolls were sold at the popular toy and department stores within the five boroughs of New York City. The company did advertise at times in the trade publication Playthings as well as store catalogs. Yet, Arranbee dolls never crossed our path. Fortunately, I have long since remedied that situation.

Arranbee doll
On the left, an all-original early 1930s composition 12-inch "Nancy" with molded hair and painted blue eyes, marked "Arranbee Doll Co." on her back; dress tag reads "NANCY An Arranbee Doll." Original pink-fringed dress and onesie is closed with safety pins. On the right, a rare 11-inch black "Nancy" variation in composition has molded hair, side-glancing painted black eyes, and a loop for hair ribbon, marked "Arranbee Doll Co." on back. ca 1930s

Within the first few years following WWI,

a 19-year-old Polish immigrant named William Rothstein and his associate,

Mr. Berman teamed up to form the Arranbee (R&B) Doll Company. The company would occupy a few different show rooms and manufacturing locations in Manhattan, New York, as it expanded and in later years there was a facility in Hicksville, Long Island, New York. In addition, there was a showroom in San Francisco, California. Partners had come and gone, and by 1947 Mr. Rothstein was the sole proprietor until his sudden death in 1957. The company had also been affiliated with the Vogue Doll Company from the 1920s; the early Vogue "Toddles" is believed to be an Arranbee doll. About a year after Rothstein' s death and a valiant attempt by the family to keep the company operating, Arranbee was sold to the Vogue Doll Company, which continued carrying their line. By the early 1960s, Arranbee dolls ceased to exist.

View Vintage Arranbee Dolls for Sale


As with many doll companies at the time of Arranbee' s inception, doll heads were imported from Germany, while the bodies, accessories, and wigs were typically made domestically. In this case, bisque heads were mostly made by Armand Marseille and to a lesser degree, Simon & Halbig. "My Dream Baby," produced in the 1920s, has Marseille markings and the numbers "341" and "351," depending on whether they had open or closed mouths. The dolls were produced as Caucasian and black, in various sizes, with composition or cloth bodies. As the company prospered through the 1920s, there was a need to produce their own dolls and apply for patents. With that feat accomplished, the next bisque-head baby dolls were then marked "Germany/ Arranbee." A version of "Dream Baby" would be on Arranbee' s roster for virtually their entire existence.

Arranbee doll Nancy
This 16-inch composition "Nancy" has her original mohair wig and open mouth with four teeth. She is marked "NANCY" on back of head.

With the "Roaring 20's" era coming to an end and the Great Depression rearing its ugly head, the company secured a manufacturing facility with the capability of creating well-made composition dolls at competitive prices. It was at this time that Arranbee's "Nancy" was first introduced. The company hired Ruby Hopf as their costume designer. As is evident, her ensembles were innovative and well made. Even the dolls' shoes were distinctive. She would remain with Arranbee for the duration. "Nancy" has had many faces, from the composition painted-eye, painted-hair little Effanbee "Patsy-type" with short, early-1930s dresses, to dolls with various face sculpts, sleep eyes that may have smoky eye shadow, and human hair or mohair wigs. The outfits ranged from everyday wear to gowns fit for a princess, somewhat reminiscent of Princess Elizabeth. They were available in sizes from 12-inches tall to 20-inches tall. The name "Nancy," for reasons unknown, would be a recurring name on the company's roster.

In 1938 when World War II was looming, and big bands were serenading, one of the most beautiful composition dolls made by an American company was introduced, Arranbee's "Debu'Teen." Ranging in size from 11-inches to 22-inches tall, this doll wore a young adolescent girl's dreamy facial expression, as if she were wondering what the future held.

Arranbee Doll company

The dolls were either full-body composition or a composition shoulder plate with a movable head, cloth torso, and composition limbs. There was also a less common variation that has the shoulder plate and 'swing' composition legs, usually seen in a "mama-type" doll. The wigs are human hair or mohair. Some of the dolls have tin eyes, which appear to last but as collectors agree, when a different consistency was utilized, over time the eyes can crack. It appears to be a very common occurrence with many composition dolls of varying companies. Interestingly, Arranbee seems to have produced more brown-eyed dolls than most, if not all, other companies of the time.

"Debu'Teen" was the doll that initially solidified my intense affection for the Arranbee Doll Company, whether it is partly because she reminds me of photos of my mother as a child or that she simply catches the eye with her pensive faraway expression, somewhat on the brink of adulthood. The doll's ensembles have withstood the test of time, ranging from school-appropriate skirts and dresses, to gowns with real fur jackets.

Arranbee Doll Nannette
An adorable all original unmarked composition 15-inch "Nancy" is dressed in the elusive blue 'petal' dress, which has attached onesie. She has a curly blonde mohair wig and blue tin eyes. As this doll demonstrates, many Arranbee dolls have ribbon or lace attached to wrists.

Another young Arranbee model that co-existed with "Debu'Teen" for a while was "Nannette," spelled with the extra 'n'. This doll has the body construction of a "mama-type" doll, with a composition head and extremities, as well as a "swing" cloth body. Her costume design is that of a younger child. The popular "Nancy Lee" made her debut in 1943 after Arranbee ceased to produce "Debu'Teen." An all composition delight, "Nancy Lee" had a younger appearance than her predecessor. She came in varying heights, with a mohair wig and a wardrobe that included school dresses, skating ensembles and gowns. Additionally, there was a Southern Series, perhaps a rival to Madame Alexander's "Scarlett O'Hara."

Arranbee Doll debu' teen
A 13-inch composition "Debu'Teen" with red mohair wig and light brown eyes and marked "R & B" on her head and back, wears a beautiful detailed yellow gown. Shown is an 18-inch original composition "Debu'Teen" in a felt dress and hat with a human hair wig, marked "R & B" on her head. Her pin reads "COMMUNITY CHEST " and in a heart "I GAVE," which may not be original.

Following World War II and the introduction of hard plastic dolls, Arranbee kept up with the times and introduced the hard plastic "Nanette," spelled without the extra 'n', and a hard plastic "Nancy Lee." These beautiful dolls were available from 14-inches to 21-inches tall, with mohair, floss, or synthetic wigs. Some had a walking mechanism, and their extensive wardrobe included school dresses to evening wear, some of which had real fur-trimmed gowns and muffs. Occasionally, it is difficult to differentiate between "Nanette" and "Nancy Lee" as many, but not all of the "Nanette" dolls have pointed chins. Sometimes the original hangtag is the only means of identification. By the mid-1950s, when vinyl dolls became the rage, Arranbee continued producing "Nanette," using a vinyl head and later, a fashion doll that closely resembled Ideal's "Miss Revlon."

Arranbee continued its success in the 1950s with the Little Angel Doll Series, with the original baby dolls of this series being introduced in the 1940s. There were babies

in all hard plastic, cloth bodies, then followed by 10-inch and 12-inch hard plastic young 'sisters,' "Little Angel" and "Littlest Angel." Some of the original outfits can be easily identified since hard plastic "Nanettes" had the same dress designs. The Little Angel Doll Series evolved through the 1950s as the dolls then had vinyl heads and bent knees, extensive wardrobes and even cases to carry around all the clothes and accessories to a child's 'play date'. In addition, Arranbee presented the successful "Coty Girl," a friend or rival to Ideal Toy Company's "Little Miss Revlon," to showcase Coty cosmetics. There were also several more baby and little girl dolls produced in the later 1950s, continuing after Mr. Rothstein's passing, then later by Vogue.

As with some of the dolls from the "Golden Age" era, there is evidence that doll companies shared molds; therefore, the similarities on certain faces and body types are no coincidence. Even after extensive research, companies that borrowed 'what from whom' becomes somewhat murky to discern in many cases.

Nancy lee an r & b

Arranbee Doll Nancy lee
Shown on the right are two adorable hard plastic Nancy Lee dolls, both marked "R & B" on their head, wearing mohair braids and dressed for school: On the left, is a 21- inch all original doll wearing an "alphabet" dress with a detachable pinafore and blue oilcloth matching shoes; on the right is a 14-inch all original doll with a detachable apron for her dress and a handbag assumed to be original as it was purchased as such and is fastened to dress.

Because some dolls are unmarked, or have faint marks hidden in their limbs, it is up to the enlightened collector to recognize how individual companies give their dolls their own distinct personality. Furthermore, in some instances, to pin down the exact dates of each doll's actual place in a given line has been a challenge.

The dates listed may not be exact, as different sources seem to vary by a year or two. Nevertheless, what is crystal clear is that Arranbee produced some of the most gorgeous, well­made and beautifully costumed dolls during the 40-plus years of their glorious existence. Many of Arranbee' s creations have maintained their original beauty and continue to bring immense joy to those of us lucky enough to possess them.

Nancy lee an r & b

nanette lee an r & b
This lucky 21-inch hard plastic "Nanette" walker has her original red dress with fruit on it and a wonderful handmade wardrobe including summer and winter pajamas!

The first half of the nineteenth century in Europe was a hotbed of social and economic upheaval culminating in the beginnings of the industrial revolution. It was also a period of extraordinary creativity and monumental change in the doll world. Over the course of this fifty-year time period the primary material for dolls heads changed from wood to papier-mache to porcelain and doll-making evolved from a cottage industry of killed artisans to a mechanized, factory ­based production model that could be operated by less skilled labor.

BY ROBYN KATZ. Photography by Stanley Kiyonaga unless otherwise noted

Effanbee Walk Talk Sleep
Fig. 18 - These three 3-5-inch ladies illustrate some of the differences in size, face painting style and hair modeling that can be found. Note their well-preserved condition and original clothing. Courtesy of Theriault's

Source: Winter 2015 • Doll News , Pages 46-57


Bubbles Effanbee Doll Co.
Fig. 1 -Typical jointed peg wooden bodies found on nineteenth century wooden dolls. Courtesy of Theriault's

The Industrial Revolution was focused on improving production methods through mechanization so that goods could be made more efficiently and les expensively. As a result of this process, the hand­carved wooden doll industry that had prevailed during the end of the eighteenth century and the first two decades of the nineteenth century was overtaken and exceeded by the papier-mache doll industry in the succeeding thirty years. Two of the primary advance made in papier-mache doll production during this time were the use of molds to produce doll heads and the tran ition from the traditional jointed wooden body (variation of which are found on most nineteenth century European wooden dolls) (Fig. I) to the "milliners model type" body with a stuffed kid torso and turned wooden arm (Fig. 2). These and other innovation allowed the growing papier-mache doll industry to mass produce cheaper, but highly detailed, dolls (Fig. 3). At the same time, the majority of wooden doll were becoming increasingly more simplified and stylized, a well a significantly smaller in size. to compete economically with the influx of their cheaper, mass-produced papier-mache rivals (Figs. 4-5).

Milliners model doll history
Fig. 2 - "Milliners model" type body with stuffed kid torso and turned wooden limbs, found on many nineteenth century papier-mache dolls. Courtesy of Theriault's

Peg doll history
Fig. 4 - Early nineteenth century grodner tal wooden with beautifully carved and painted head and body. Courtesy of Theriault's

Antique wooden peg jointed doll
Fig. 5 - Later nineteenth century wooden doll with greatly simplified and stylized carving and painting. Courtesy of Theriault's

Papier-mache doll history
Fig. 3 - Papier-mache dolls of the nineteenth century with a variety of hairstyles. Courtesy of Theriault's

What is an "Alien Head" Doll?

Within this same period, a mysterious group of dolls was produced that seems to exemplify the shifting dynamics of the doll industry during this time of dramatic and rapid change. These doils have peg-jointed wooden bodies, like their earlier peg wooden/tuck comb relatives, but with heads of material other than wood. Most often these heads are of papier­ mache or another composition material, but some are wax-coated or entirely of wax.

A term to describe this group of dolls -"alien head" - was coined by John Darcy Noble in the early 1960s. The first recorded use of the term that I have found was in the article "The Decline and Fall of the Wooden Doll" by Ruth and R.C. Mathes, published in the 1964 is ue of the Doll Collectors of America Manual. This article pictured and discussed a handful of examples of what were described as "very rare" doll .

Figs. 7-8 -The simple molding and painting of this 3½-inch gentleman's face and hair make him an example of the most commonly found type of alien head. Author's collection

Included in this group were dolls with

jointed wooden bodies and porcelain/china heads, but since the term "alien bead" is not generally applied to the e dolls today, they will not be covered in this article.

Although the term "alien head" is known to doll collectors, it is not widely used in the re earch literature. For example, there i no entry on 'alien head dolls" in the Coleman Encyclopedia. Present-day auction houses do not use the term either; they usually catalog these doils, sometime inaccurately, as wooden or papier-mache. In addition to the Mathes article, I have seen the term used in one book on miniature dolls. I also saw it for the first time about twenty years ago when it was used as an exclusionary criteria for the wooden and papier-mache categories at a UFDC doll competition. I remember reading the signs saying "No Alien Heads" and laughing while envisioning little dolls with green faces and antennae demanding "Take me to your leader."

Figs. 9-12 - These 4-inch alien head nuns have similar modeling and painting to the gentleman in Figs. 7 and 8. Courtesy of Carmel Doll Shop

The alien head dolls that I have seen vary significantly in appearance, but they have a number of characteristics in common. They are quite rare, most often small in size (3-to-8 inches), and date primarily from the 1820s through the 1850s, the height of papier-macbe doll production in Germany. The head of these doll are usually made of composition mixtures, and it is very difficult, if not imposible, to tell by inspection what the specific mix is for any particular doll.

Figs. 13-14 -This 3½-inch alien head lady's molded topknot makes her rarer. Author's collection

Early research literature uses the term "plaster" to describe these materials. More recently, these dolls are being classified as papier-mache, although it i not usually evident whether paper pulp was part of the material used in their production. Some of the doll head also have a thin coating of wax. Unlike the all-wooden doll whose head and torso are carved in one piece, the "alien" heads are attached to their wooden bodje with a wooden peg and the joining i covered with ge so and painted to match the head (Fig. 6).

Figs. 15-17-The detailed hair modeling, with visible comb marks and braiding, on this 5-inch all-original doll is a rarity factor. Private collection

A disproportionate number of the alien head dolls that have survived are in remarkably good condition de pite being delicate. One possible explanation i that these dolls were likely u ed in doilhou es, dioramas and displays rather than as children's playthings. This might also explain why, as with dollhouse dolls of other materials, a higher-than-usual percentage of the alien head doll are male.

There are a number of potential explanations for the genesis of alien head doll . It i certainly possible that doll makers of the time had a limited but ready supply of jointed wooden bodies, and simply used them until they ran out or were replaced by le costly alternative such as the "milliner type" bodies with kid torso and turned wooden limbs.

It is also conceivable that the various small artisan group and cottage industries making dolls during thi period were experimenting with different materials and construction method in an attempt to compete with larger companies beginning to use more standardized and mechanized means of production. In some cases, pictures and descriptions in catalogs of the period or compari on of unique painting tyle or other signature features support the attribution of doll to particular makers. However, the specific origin of most alien head doll remain a mystery.

In my ongoing quest for these intriguing dolls, I have come across approxjmately sixty example . I have managed to acquire qwte a few for my own collection, but have also located a number in the collections of friends and acquaintances who have generously allowed me to photograph their dolls for this article. By observation, I have identified three major subcategories of alien head dolls:

1. Dolls with molded hair

2. Dolls with molded bats

3. Dolls with applied wigs

Alien Head Dolls with Molded Hair

Figs. 19-21 - The rarity factors for this 7-inch alien head lady include her larger size, more finely characterized features, and highly detailed regional costume. Author's collection

Dolls with molded hair are the ones most traditionally associated with the term "alien head" and are the most frequently found type. The most common dolls in this category are tiny in size (3-5 inches) and have very simply molded and painted facial features and hair. Examples include the 3½-inch tall gentleman in his fanciful costume shown in Figs. 7 and 8 and the three 4-inch nuns shown in Fig . 9-12.

Less frequently found are lady dolls with more detailed and elaborate molded hairdos resembling those of the larger papier­macbe doll heads typically appearing on milliner model type bodies. The 3½-inch and 5-inch alien head ladies in Figs. 13-16 are of the usual very small size and have tbe common simple painting of facial features, but their molded bun and topknot make them somewhat rarer. Fig. 17 shows a grouping of three 3-5-inch alien head ladies, the smaller two of which are more simply molded and painted, and the largest of which has more visible modeling to her hairdo.

The most exclusive dolls in this category are even larger and more detailed, sometimes having beads that closely resemble the more commonly found papier-mache dolls without jointed wooden bodies. The 7-inch doll in Figs. 19-21 wears a highly detailed original folk costume from the Vierland region of northern Germany. She has molded hair;

the tiny real hair braids visible in Fig. 21 are affixed to her hat. For comparison, Fig. 22 pictures this doll alongside her similarly costumed 14-inch non-alien head "big sister." The larger doll bas been attributed to Lowenthal & Company, one of the few doll factories located in northern Germany. It is possible that her smaller, alien head relative was also produced there.

Top left. Fig. 22- The two "Vierlander sisters" side-by-side. Author's collection. Right. Figs. 23-24 - This 10-inch archangel has a female hairdo typically found on Kestner milliners model type dolls of the 1840s. Author's collection Bottom left. Figs. 25-26 -A rare 6-inch alien head with applied hemp hair extension, probably by Johann Friedrich Muller. Author's collection

The 10-inch doll in Figs. 23 and 24 is uncommonly large for an alien head doll. The female head has a typical 1840s hairstyle with a high bun and "spaniel ear" braided side curls, but the doll is unusually dressed as a warrior archangel with leather armor and metal wings and shield. Papier-mache heads with similar hairstyles can frequently be found on milliners model type bodies on dolls from this same period produced by Johann Daniel Kestner's factory.

Illustrations from Kestner catalogs show that the factory made dolls with papier-mache heads and jointed wooden bodies, so this doll is possibly one of theirs.

The final and rarest example in this group is a 6-inch doll with an uncommon hair extension of braided and lacquered hemp applied to her molded hairdo (Figs. 25-26). She has very finely painted facial features and unusual brown hair, closely resembling dolls from

the of Johann Friedrich Muller where she was likely produced.

Kestner doll catalog
Figs. 27-29 - Kestner catalog pages documenting production of dolls with jointed wooden bodies, and doll heads with molded hats. By kind permission of Thomas Reinecke, Schlossmuseum Tenneberg (Castle Museum) in Waltershausenffhur, and Christianne Grafnitz/Germany

Alien Head Dolls with Molded Hats

A much rarer group of alien head dolls are found with molded hats, and a disproportionate number of these dolls are male. Among these dolls are a few that are molded painted and costumed to represent men from foreign lands in exotic headwear such as turbans and fezzes.

Pages from the catalogs of the Kestner factory show hatted male doll with papier-mache head on jointed wooden bodies (Fig. 29), and doll heads with both German regional and foreign headwear (Figs. 27-28), so the hatted alien head doUs are often attributed to Kestner. However, sample catalogs from other papier­mache doll manufacturers also contain illustrations of hatted men on jointed wooden bodies (Fig. 30), so it seems likely that Kestner did not maintain a monopoly on these dolls.

The two dolls in Figs. 31-34 are both 7-inche tall and all-original. They have very imilar facial feature , although one is dressed in the European fa hion with a molded top hat and one is dressed in Arabian garb with a molded turban. The two dolls in Fig . 35-38 are somewhat maller at 5-inches but have the same finely detailed modeling and painting found on the two larger dolls. The rare tiny boy with molded cap in Fig . 39-40 is only 3½-inches tall and is the only example of an alien head child that I have seen.

Fig. 30 - Sample catalog page of an unnamed papier-mache manufacturer showing hatted male dolls on jointed wooden bodies. By kind permission of Thomas Reinecke, Schlossmuseum Tenneberg (Castle Museum) in Waltershausenffhur, and Christianne Grafnitz/Germany

The 6-inch doll in Fig . 41-43 is also very rare, a she is the only female example with a molded hat that I have found. In addition to her hat, she has highly detailed molded and painted braid and earrings.

Alien Head Dolls with Applied Wigs

Figs. 31-34 - This pair of 7-inch men with molded hats have very similar painted features, although they are costumed quite differently. Author's collection

Perhaps the most unusual and mysterious alien head dolls are those found with applied wigs. All of the dolls I have seen of thi type are female and have a wax coating of varying thickness applied over their papier-mache heads and shoulders. The wigs are of very fine human hair, styled with tiny braids and loops and often decorated with silk ribbons.

The Mathe article in which alien bead dolls were first cataloged refers to wigged alien head doll as "bald-beads" and states that the few such dolls they have seen have painted ribbon laces spiraling up their legs to a bow tied below the knee. The 6-inch lady in Figs. 44-47 is one such doll. While I have seen everal other examples of imilar dolls with the same painted footwear de cribed in the Mathes article and shown in Fig. 47, they are not the only wigged alien heads in existence. For example, the lovely doll in Fig. 48 is of a comparable size and appearance to the preceding doll, but wears painted red boots with tiny blue laces, without the crisscrossed ribbons and bows.

Another group of wigged dolls (Figs. 49-54) not only lacks the painted footwear details described by the Matheses, but differs very significantly from the prototypical alien bead in size, appearance and construction features.

Figs. 35-38 - Two 5-inch alien head gentlemen with molded hats representing the contemporary fashion of their period. Author's collection. On the left Figs. 39-40 - Rare alien head child with a molded cap. Private collection

Unlike the mostly dollhouse-size alien heads typically found, these dolls are ll-to-13-incbes in height. The wax coating on their head and shoulders is noticeably thicker than that of the smalJer wigged alien head dolls pictured in Figs. 44-48. Two of the four dolls have eyes that open and close with a wtre lever, clearly a feature of a play doll rather than a doll made primarily for display. All four dolls likely date from the later stages of the 1820-50 era of alien head production, and the many similarities between them would seem to support a common manufacturer.

Top. Figs. 41-43 - Rare alien head lady with a molded hat, braids and earrings. Author's collection. Bottom. Figs. 44-47 - The detail of this 6-inch doll's all-original plaid silk outfit and elaborate coiffure is remarkable on such a diminutive figure. Author's collection

The alien head doll disappears from the scene some time in the 1850s, as the industrial revolution is fully underway and porcelain dolls come to prominence. Wonderful examples of these rare survivors are still out there to be found and further research needs to be done on their origins.

Fig. 48 - Note the difference between the painted footwear on this 5¼-inch wigged alien head lady and the doll shown in Fig. 47. Private collection. Figs. 49-50 - These two 13-inch ladies with wire-lever eyes wear lovely period dresses, like the three other examples I have seen. Author's collection and private collection

There is an interesting book titled "Made to Play House" by Miriam Formanek-Brunell that discusses the commercialization of the toy industry from 1830-1930. It is a study of the sociological influences on the manufacture of dolls, rather than just the history of doll making. ln one chapter, titled Masculinity, Technology and the Doll Economy, the author discusses men's admiration of machines and how they brought that interest to the manufacturing of dolls.


Princess Elizabeth Doll history

Source: March 2016 • Antique Doll Collector, Pages 46-51


The chapter discusses the differences between dolls that were designed by men and those designed by women during the early part of the twentieth century. The author points out that when a woman was the designer, the doll was usually soft and cuddly, had the feel of a baby in one's arms and needed only childhood imagination to make it come alive during play. Indeed, there was no need for any type of automation in the babies designed by Martha Chase, Ella Smith, Julia Jones Beecher and Jessie McCutcheon Raleigh.

However we cannot leave John Barton Gruelle off this list of cuddly dolls. He gave his daughter, Marcella, a dusty, faceless rag doll which was found in an attic. He drew a face on the doll and named her Raggedy Ann. Marcella played with the doll so much, Gruelle wanted other children to have one too. Sadly Marcella died at age 13, but Johnny's Raggedy Ann became a major source of revenue for the Volland Company, who produced his doll.

Little boys grew up playing with toys like trucks, planes, balls, and rocking horses that all had motion involved in the play activity. As men, involved in the manufachtre of dolls, it seems, they preferred to make dolls that had some life-like animation to enhance the play value! I cannot find fault with that. 1n my opinion this has to do with the basic differences between men and women.

Ideal mechanical composition doll
Composition Ideal baby with sleep, flirty eyes. Courtesy Theriault's.

On one hand you have the gatherers and nurturers. Women have diverse awareness and can focus on multiple tasks at once, easily moving between cooking, cleaning, and tending to children. They are more connected to their emotions and easily dream and pretend. Men have the hunter-warrior instincts and are more single-focused. They are inclined to be producers and protectors. For them action and reality are favored over emotion. ot surprisingly the "doll like" playthings for the boys of today are called "action figures". So it is understandable that men were interested in adding mechanics to dolls to give them more life-like attributes for play! There is no right or wrong here, just the wonderful differences in the approach to manufacturing toys for children. There is, of course, a need for both of these aspects in our doll world.

The dolls I chose for this article will showcase the mechanical influence on the doll world. They all do something that adds to the realism of play: sleep, walk, cry, drink, wet, flirt, crawl, talk, dance, sing and whistle.

The eye mechanism is an early addition to doll mechanics. The eyes can make the subject sleep, flirt and even wink. This is most often accomplished by the use of a lead weight on a metal crossbar. The eyes move on a pivot as the doll is moved from an upright to a supine position. Flirty eyes have an additional side to side motion.

Another of the inost common mechanical additions to dolls is the ability to emit sound. This ranges from the simple diaphragm voice boxes in mama dolls, to pull string mama and papa vocals, to the rare Edison's phonograph doll and the Webber singing doll, which were marvels of their time.

Thomas Edison's Talking Doll of 1890 set an early milestone in the history and technology of recorded sound.

It was the world's first recorded-audio product designed, manufactured, and sold for home entertainment. It had a rough start, however. The talking doll venture was a costly failure for Edison and his investors, who ceased sales after only a few months on the market. Production began in February 1890 and ceased in early May 1890.

View Antique and Vintage Mechanical Dolls for Sale


While developing his original tinfoil phonograph, Thomas Edison wrote, "I propose to apply the phonograph principle to make dolls speak, sing, cry and make various sounds." Mounting complaints about breakage during shipment, performance defects, and returned dolls forced the decision to halt production after only three months. Needless to say this is an extremely rare doll.

Averill mama-type composition doll
Dolly Reckard by Averill was a mama-type doll with the records placed inside the cloth body. Courtesy The Strong, National Museum of Play

The Webber singing doll, patented circa 1882, had a bellows mechanism in torso which operated by pushing an exterior wooden button, causing the doll to "sing". The mechanism was fashioned after a reed organ. The doll's shoulder-head was made of composition attached to a stuffed cloth body which held the mechanism.

Goodwin's Mechanical Walking Doll
Goodwin's Walking Doll uses a clockwork motor under the doll carriage to drive the wheels and make it appear as if the doll is walking. This rare doll was sold by

In 1922, the Averill Manufacturing Co. issued a talking doll, using the same kind of mechanism already in use by the K & K Toy Company. Their doll was called Dolly Reckord and another similar doll called Mae Starr was issued by Effanbee. These mama-type dolls had celluloid covered cardboard cylindrical records placed inside the doll's cloth body. These records were timed to play only on machines licensed by the Universal Talking Toys Company of Newark N.J., who manufactured the records.

In the back of both Mae Starr and Dolly Reckord is a lever that engages the needle oi the player on to the celluloid cylinder. The speaker faced the front of the doll and on the side there was a "key" to wind the phonograph mechanism.

The Madame Hendren Dolly Reckord dolls were not sold in stores according to the authors of "Phonograph Dolls that Talk and Sing" but were awarded as premiums for various sales of products or for subscribing to newspapers or magazines.

Ives Crawling Baby doll
Ives Crawling Baby has an internal clockwork mechanism which allows a realistic crawling motion. Courtesy Bertoia Auctions.

Hearing these dolls speak is definitely a fun experience. Depending on the tightness of the wound spring she speaks fast and in a high squeaky voice that gets lower and slower as it continues to unwind. There were 20 different nursery rhymes/prayer recitations/songs on the cylinders available for these dolls and although they are slightly different in appearance they are interchangeable between the Mae and Dolly dolls.

Interestingly there is an. audio file on the Internet of an Edison doll's voice from a restored wax record, and, to me, it sounds exactly like the voice on the records played on the Mae and Dolly dolls!

Goodwin's Patent Walking Doll, Circa 1870, is an early American toy, manufactured by Stevens & Brown of Cromwell, Connecticut. She measures approximately 12" from the front of the front wheel to the back of the doll, 10 1/2" tall, and about 5 1/2" wide. The doll is connected to the carriage via two metal tu bes in her body that receive the carriage's handle. It works using a clockwork motor under the carriage to drive the cast iron wheels. This causes the doll to "walk" but she is actually being pulled along by the carriage. The doll has a composite pressed linen molded head manufactured by Weigand with molded composition arms. Her hands fit over the handles of the carriage so that she can hold on to it.

mechanical Carnivals doll
Carnivals dolls that wet themselves when the legs are lifted. Inset: Metal plumbing system releases water when the doll's leg is lifted.

Edward Ives, the founder of Ives Manufacturing Company, was a descendent of the Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford. They began by making paper dolls whose limbs moved in response to hot air. Their clockwork toys covered a wide range and included toy trains. The company was taken over by Lionel during the depression, but the name Ives remained until 1931. Ives made this crawling baby, c. 1880. She is 12 inches in length, with a composition head and a cloth body that encloses the mechanism. She has a realistic crawling motion.

Measuring 28 inches these carnival-type composition dolls have the an innovative metal plumbing system that allows for a wetting featme. The boy has one of the usual faces found on carnival dolls, the other has a rarer baby face.

The mechanism in the lower body consists of a metal reservoir and a spout that opens when the dolls leg is lifted. (I know you are laughing right about now.) The top of the water is unscrewed and filled with water. When the doll's legs are both down the system closes off the outlet. There is a patent number visible on one of the container's screw caps. I was amazed when I looked through the patent library and saw how many doll inventions have been patented. Doll manufacture was a lucrative business and companies and individuals wanted to protect their ideas and inventions.

Mechanical doll
What would they think of next! Her eyes light up via a battery.

Composition dolls and water do not mix well, so wetting dolls are uncommon in this medium. This innovative mechanism allows the water to be contained within a metal cylinder and a wooden box The doll would however wet whatever it was standing or sitting over when the valve was open. I expect that many moms added cloth diapers and rubber pants to their child's doll wardrobe.

mechanical wax doll
A rare mechanical wax over paper mache baby opens her mouth to receive a bottle. Courtesy Mary White.

One of my favorite carnival dolls is this 1920's sweet girl with her deeply molded hair and blue ribbon with side box. She is a coquette-type and great big 29 inches tall. She has light up eye balls that still work! She is in very good condition and possibly may have been too scary when lit up for a child to play with. She may even have been a store display rather than a prize won at a local fair. Coquette has a flange head on a cloth body stuffed with straw and has composition hands. She has a pleasing and pretty expression when

unlit. Her wires extend out from under her neck and through the cloth and operate by battery. She is marked Electra on her neck-which surely fits her!

This wonderful and rare mechanical wax over papier mache baby doll with bottle and original dress is appearing courtesy of Mary White.

She has blue glass eyes, hand painted baby-like hair and wears her original sateen and lace dress. She has a mechanism in the body to open and close her mouth when her body is pushed. A white blown glass bottle that fits in her mouth is held around her neck with a red ribbon. She is about 13-1 /2" tall with composition lower legs and arms and a gauze like body. When her mouth opens you can actually see the doll's tongue painted on the inside.

Ready to tee off. A button on the left side causes their arms to swing.

A pair of all original twins are each 14 inches tall with metal golf clubs attached at their hands by metal rods that travel through the arms and into the body. There is a metal push button on the left side that make the arms swing as if putting a golf ball. These guys are charming with their painted side glancing eyes and short legged pants and winsome smiles. The manufacturer is unknown, but they are very rare dolls.

A little 12-inch doll with a composition head and arms and her original wig and clothing has a wind-up mechanism that allows her to rock her baby doll side to side. She has metal shaped high heeled boots attached to solid wood legs, and a composition body with wire upper arms and metal hands .. This little Mommy has painted eyes and a rose bud closed mouth. The baby is all composition and measures under 1.5 inches.

Wind-up walking dolls are numerous including ramp walkers, skaters, and those that had leg mechanisms that allowed a waking-like action. Walking being a very human activity, it makes sense that this was one thing that dolls could do well.

mechanical antique doll
A 12-inch doll can rock her baby side to side.

This cute baby has the usual large metal shoes that give stability as the mechanism propels him forward on a flat surface. His legs and body are all metal, only his lower arms and shoulder head are composition. Composition wind up walkers are still plentiful for collectors searching to add one.

A simple movement that surprises and delights young children is the jack-in­the box. This is a very early toy, possibly be 1860s or 1870s. Most toys of this age do not have arms, but this guy has them along with expressive hand sculpts.

He measures almost 11" tall and is all original and very colorful; he even has his original hair! The lid is missing so he can stay out of his box for our enjoyment!

There are several versions of whistlers that were made in composition. This little soldier still whistles by bouncing him on the hand to compress the springs in his legs and force air through his tummy. The air is pushed out with a whistle sound.

composition mechanical walker doll
Composition walkers are plentiful on the market.

These whistlers come with both open and closed mouths and can be easily dressed and undressed. Examples of similar dolls came with a harmonica and appear to play the instrument when the springs are bounced.

One thing I have observed is that the whistlers are all boys - at least those that I have seen. Perhaps boys whistle more than girls, or maybe th.ey just whistle at girls. Just wondering, why they are all boys?

antique mechanical toy
An early toy, this jack-in-the box never fails to amuse children. Courtesy of Craig Rosborough.

mechanical composition doll
Dolls that whistle or play a harmonica seem to always be boys.

composition crawls doll
By manipulating the doll forward the doll crawls. Unfortunately she is limited to a crawling position.

Crawling is another childhood activity and there are dolls that wind up and crawl and those that need manual intervention to accomplish the feat! Shown here is crawling baby with a character face similar to Louis Amberg dolls. Her body is in a permanent crawl position, so that is pretty much all she can do. As you manipulate her forward the left leg and right arm move together and visa-versa. More than any other doll in this article she illustrates the fact

that occasionally the final product is not as play-worthy as it originally sounded to the designer.

Composition mechanical doll
Swing and swap doll, a precursor to the bobble­head doll.

This doll would have been very hard to dress and undress for a child, and clothing choices would easily interfere with the mechanics of crawling. However, she is a fun and

unusual doll for collectors to enjoy.

Composition mechanical toy
Circa 1920 pull toy.

An example of a pendulum toy is this 12" Bobbi­Mae swing & sway doll, manufactured by the Wondercraft Company of NY. She was inspired by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra whose tag line, was "Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye," one of the most famous orchestras of the Big Band Era. This type of doll is the precursor to today's bobble-head dolls.

Here is a sweet little girl (circa 1920) pull toy, attached to the vehicle at her hands and lower torso. She has cork stuffed legs and arms and moves back and forth as the cart moves forward. Her cloth hands were folded and attached

are replaced, but her original tattered clothing is wood plugs in her head are for tying on her hair ribbons. She was surely a loved play thing judging be her condition. Her hair ties and shoes are replaced, but her original tattered clothing is still under her replaced vintage dress. Her cloth body is in fragile condition.

Snookums, a comic character from The Newlyweds newspaper comic strip is made of composition and mounted on a wooden base. Wires extend from her hands and there is an

.lttached toy top that spins on a rope. The doll is stationary.

bottom of page