Updated: Aug 26, 2021
The most popular personality doll of all time is Shirley Temple. Shirley Temple was the darling diminutive movie star of the 1930s who kept a nation smiling during the Depression. Millions of people went to see her movies and millions more bought the doll made in her likeness by the Ideal Toy Company of New York.
BY JUDITH IZEN
Source: April 2001 • Antique Doll Collector, Pages 26-30
The first Shirley Temple doll was made in 1934 after Ideal obtained permission from the Temple family to make a composition Shirley Temple doll. This composition Shirley Temple doll was sold until 1939 and continues to delight collectors today. Since then there have been several other licensed versions of the Shirley doll by Ideal and several non-licensed imitation or "knock-off" Shirley Temple dolls by other manufacturers. The composition Shirley doll remains one of the most popular composition doll with collectors.
Composition Shirley Temple
Designed by prolific doll sculptor Bernard Lipfert, the composition Shirley Temple doll had signature dimples in her cheeks, special hazel color sleep eyes, golden blonde mohair wig in her famous ringlet style, and an open mouth with six teeth and a felt tongue. Most of the dolls are marked "Shirley Temple" on the head and body along with Ideal and their size. The dolls came in several sizes between 11" and 27 including 11", 13", 16", 17", 18", 20", 22", 25", and 27". The most common sizes are 13" and 18." Over one and a half million Shirley dolls were sold from 1934-1939 and many have survived in excellent condition. The Shirley Temple doll's enormous sales reflected the child star's popularity and made millions for the Ideal Toy Company and saved the company from financial ruin in the midst of the Depression.
The first announcement of the Shirley Temple doll came in the September 1934 Playthings
Magazine (the toy industry's trade journal). It read: "Shirley Doll. Shirley has same well-shaped body, legs and arms as 'Ginger'. New Ideal double action glace eyes and lashes, has wig in choice of brunette, blonde, or auburn. Variety of costumes in pink, blue, maize, green or white." The name Shirley Temple was not mentioned nor that she was a film star.
In October 1934 Ideal ran itss first ad for Shirley in Playthings which included the information that the Shirley Temple doll was so popular Ideal didn't have time to send out samples to the stores. Further information stated that Fox Films was helping to promote the doll with display material and admission tickets for stores to use for promotions including contests for the girl who best resembled Shirley. Four sizes of the new doll were available retailing at $3, $5, $6, and $7.
Ideal issued the Shirley doll in outfits that were exact replicas of dresses Shirley Temple wore in her movies "Stand Up and Cheer." "Littlest Rebel," "Curly Top," and "Our Little Girl." Each dress had a woven label featuring her signature sewn into the seam and came with a signed photo of Shirley in the box.
In 1934 Shirley was issued in a long dress from the film "The Little Colonel." This remains a favorite with coJlectors with its pantaloons and fancy bonnet. Lucky little girls could also obtain Shirley in a trunk filled with clothing from her movies. The wardrobe trunk was available in three sizes retailing for $5, $8, and $11, and had stickers of Shirley's name and pictures on all sides.
Ideal was selling thousands of Shirley dolls by this time and Ideal had licensed factories from all around the world to make the Shirley dolls. These companies included: Reliable from Canada; Hijos Francisco Merin Perez from Spain; Richards, Son & Allwin from England; Printemps Sapac from Paris; and S. Hoffnung; & Co from Australia.
In 1936 the Shirley face mold was changed. The Ideal ads in Playthings said that the Cape Cod Slicker (featured in Captain January) was being sold separately. Coming was a new Shirley doll at a new price to celebrate her birthday, April 23rd (she'll be 7). In reality, Shirley was one year older than the studio let on.
In March 1936 Playthings featured an interview with Morris Michtom, President of the Ideal Toy Company. Mr. Michtom had returned from an 18-day trip in Hollywood visiting Shirley Temple. The article quotes Mr. Michtom who was most impressed by "the natural sweetness and happiness of the child". "She is intelligent, too. Acting is not work for Shirley Temple, in fact she regards it as so much play.
An incident which showed her intelligence and judgment occurred one night when I was at dinner with the Temples. I turned to Shirley and asked her a question which has often been put to me, 'How is it, darling, when you are acting you are never pictured with a Shirley Temple doll like yourself?' Quick as a flash she answered, 'Oh, Mr. Michtom, you wouldn't want me to do that; it wouldn't be nice - it would be too much like advertising, and you can't do that in a picture.' I had to agree, she had me there."
Mr. Michtom had negotiated with the Temple family and her agents for the rights to produce the Shirley doll. The negotiations had taken several months and included the points that the doll was to have hazel eyes, just like Shirley, and that there be 52 sausage curls exactly like the hair that Shirley made famous.
In 1936, Shirley Temple came in a cowgirl costume, the Official Doll of the Texas Centennial, which was a special summer item. The Texas Centennial Shirley came in 3 sizes- 11", 13", 16,"and retailed for $2.98, $3.98, $5.98. The outfit included a plaid shirt, khaki shorts, brown stockings, high brown boots, sleeveless vest and leather chaps, red bandana, studs, real western metal ornaments and a Stetson hat. This remains a hard-to-find outfit that collectors are willing to pay more for especially if it includes the Stetson hat and the elusive little metal pistol. A 27" Centennial doll was available for $15 which was quite expensive at the time. Shirley Temple accessories and costumes including new doll handbags were available.
The outfits available in 1936 were: "Captain January", "Baby Take A Bow," "Curly Top," "Bright Eyes" and "Littlest Rebel" for the 16", 20", 27" sized dolls priced at $3.96, $5.92, and $12.18. The 11" doll came in "Curly Top" or "Baby Take a Bow" only for $2.19. Costumes could be bought separately for $0.94 for 11" up to $2.49 for 27" doll.
Promotional material was available from Ideal to help dealers sell Shirley dolls. This included publicity pictures of Shirley in many poses, mirrors with her picture on the back, flip books showing her changing expressions, a booklet by Shirley called The Story of My Life", balloons and cutouts. Also available for dealers were newspaper mats of ads and publicity releases, life-size cut out figures with easel, 18" counter stands, 16" head
hangers, enlarged photos and other aids for arranging Shirley Temple displays. These publicity items remain favorite collectibles for the devoted Shirley collector.
In addition to dolls dressed in costumes from her movies, separate outfits were available for Shirley as well and included party dresses, play dresses, pajamas, coats, hats, rain coats, Cape Cod slicker, and a sailor suit. An outfit from ''Poor Little Rich Girl" had a coat and beret. Sales of the Shirley doll were up 14% in 1936 over 1935 for Ideal.
In 1937 Ideal introduced the Shirley Temple Doll Hair Curler "to keep Shirley Curly." It was packed with curlers and instructions in each doll sold. Also new was the Scottish Highlander outfit from "Wee Willie Winkie," available for the 18 inch doll at $6; 22 inch size for $9, and $15 for the 27 inch doll . The outfit included a jaunty Glengarry bonnet, sporran, tan military jacket with brass buttons, a white army belt, a MacKenzie plaid kilt, patterned socks and black shoes. Outfits from "Heidi" including a Tyrolean costume were also sold.
Ideal always paid special attention to publicity and promotion. A special store display was designed with a mechanically animated Shirley playing a pipe organ. Shirley was synchronized to transcribed organ music. The music came from five speakers behind the organ pipes. The display was 4 feet wide by 5 1/2 feet high by 3 feet deep. It was quite a sight! This display when found remains a rarity in the Shirley collecting world.
In 1938 Ideal issued a new model of Shirley with curls close to the head and side part called "Shirley Temple At Nine" (she was in reality 10 years old). Shirley's popularity was beginning to wane as she matured into a pre-teen, and fewer dolls were being sold. Ideal issued Shirley's last costume from the film "The Blue Bird" in February 1940. This outfit remains a very difficult one for collectors to find since Ideal never went into full production for this outfit.
Throughout her production Shirley's shoes were made of oilcloth and were white with center snaps. Most had a cute silver buckle on the toe. Her eye color varied from pale brown to true brown, a few have been found in blue and even brown or blue metal eyes have been found. Her hair color ranged from pale blonde to golden blonde. No matter what color hair or eyes, the Shirley doll still captures collector's fancy after all these years.
Prices for Shirley
Prices for Shirley depend on condition of the doll, rarity of size, and rarity of outfit. Condition of the composition is very important. Because it is made of wood pulp and glue, it is subject to cracking and craze if exposed to extremes of temperature. Collectors should look for Shirley with her original ringlet hairdo, original clothing, minimal crazing, and clear eyes since the eyes tend to get cloudy. The doll is worth more if the original box and button are present. Shirley dolls range in price from $600 to $1,800, with the 11 inch and the larger 27 inch being the rarest sizes to find.
Collectors should be aware that with these dolls commanding high prices, reproductions will be made. Currently, there is a gentleman in Texas who is making reproduction composition Shirley Temples. However, he does sign them on their shoe. However, unscrupulous dealers may remove the shoe, so please be aware. I have included a photo of her so that collectors can see how faithful the reproduction is. (The article was published in 2001 and does not reflect the current prices.)
Composition Shirley Temple Baby
In addition to the all composition Shirley Temple girl doll, there was an adorable Shirley Temple baby made in 1935 only. These lovely babies had composition head and limbs with a cloth body. The adorable face with signature dimples had sleep eyes, an open mouth with teeth, and a blonde wig. Marked
"Shirley Temple" on their head, they are quite appealing and very desirable to collectors who pay in the $1,500 range for them. They are available in six sizes ranging from 20 to 27 inches. A darling carriage from F.A. Whitney Company of Leominster, Mass. was introduced at the same time to allow little girls to wheel their Baby Shirley Temple doll around.
The lovely Shirley Temple dolls still bring joy to collectors who remember the charming child actress Shirley Temple in movies from the 1930s and even to newer collectors seeing the movies on television for the first time. Both are enchanted with the Shirley Temple doll's adorable smile and dimples which remind of us a time when an talented child brought happiness to a nation in the depths of a Depression.
For more information about Shirley Temple or other ideal dolls see Judith Izen's book: Collectors Guide to [deal Dolls: Second Edition. She is also the author of the Collector's Encyclopedia of Vogue Dolls co-authored with Carol Stover.