Collectors have speculated for years about the series of seven 21-inch Portrait Dolls offered by the Alexander Doll Company from 1945-46. Doll Reader is pleased to present photographs of the collection and to provide exciting details about the series.
BY A. GLENN MANDEVILLE. PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEIRDRE OLSON
Source: March/April 2001 • Doll Reader , Pages 66-68
When we think of Madame Alexander, many seasoned collectors retain a mental image of Madame in her later years as the grand dame of the doll world, the woman who personified a successful doll company even though she no longer was involved in its day-to-day operation. The younger Madame Alexander was much more than the figurehead of a business. She was the business. She was not only the lead designer but also the key decision maker.
The period of Madame's life that collectors often deem her most creative was from approximately the midl 1930s to the mid-1960s. Of particular interest to collectors is the company's era of composition dolls made from 1934 to 1946. Despite shortages caused by the Depression and World War II, the Alexander Doll Company was able to offer dolls that the world had not seen since the French bebis of the 1880s. A series of Portrait Dolls made from 1945-46 had been advertised, but none of the dolls had come to light ... until now.
Madame Alexander's first large Portrait Doll was released in the Alexander 1939 line. She was a towering 21-inch, all-composition beauty named Princess Flavia. The doll had tiny, pursed lips, glass sleep eyes with eyelashes, and an elaborate, mohair wig styled with braids that encircled her head. The doll was loosely based on a combination of opera characters, with an allusion toward royalty. Flavia was priced at $60. While unsubstantiated, it is believed that very few of the Flavia dolls were ordered and sold in 1939. The Portrait Doll concept disappeared from the Alexander line. But as the end of World War II neared in 1945, Madame was ready with an impressive line-up of dolls, including an ambitious new venture.
Princess Flavia was included in the 1945 Alexander line, only this time her name had been changed to Victoria. More exciting still was that Victoria was accompanied by six other 21-inch all-composition beauties. Each doll cost $7 5. Called the Portrait Dolls, these were the first in a series of dolls that to this day are, in some form or another, part of the Alexander line-up at Toy Fair.
The Portrait Dolls are tagged with the name Madame Alexander only. In many cases, the tag has been found on the underwear instead of on the outside shoulder seam. This may have been done to avoid marring the beauty of the costumes. All the dolls wear basically the same style undergarments, hose and shoes, with trim and color variations depending upon the colors of the doll's costume. The face molds for the Portrait Dolls are all the same, as is the make-up. The eye colors range from a light brown to a very light blue.
Even the most severe critic would have to say that this group of dolls is arguably one of the finest lines ever produced by the Alexander Doll Company. The dolls were publicized in advertisements with artist sketches. The dolls must have sold at least as well as expected because the series was offered again in 1946. If none, or too few, had been sold in 1945, the line would have been discontinued. Madame had once again triumphed by being the first to initiate a new series of expensive, large dolls and by setting a standard of excellence for others to follow.
The private collection shown here comes from a single owner who purchased the dolls from a Chicago store when they initially were offered. Some still have their original $ 7 5 price tags! Having been packed away for more than 50 years, the dolls' clothing, when photographed, needed a good steaming; but most of the dolls are in excellent condition, with everything original to the dolls still intact. It is the first time the entire group has been on display and identified.
The dolls have no personalized nametags. It was, and still is, the practice of the company to stamp the name of each character on the end of each Alexander box. The boxes in which this collection of dolls was packed did not survive. The names of the Portrait Dolls have been identified using sketches from 1940s newspaper ads. The names are Orchard Princess, Godey, Victoria, Princess Flavia, Lady Windermere, Renoir, Antoinette and Melanie. An ad has surfaced identifying the Renoir doll as Carmen; it is not known if the doll's name was changed.
While it is exciting to find even
one perfect Alexander doll from a
series that is more than 50 years old, to
find a formerly unseen, entire series
in the possession of the original owner
is a wonderful experience. Madame
Alexander often quoted the poet John
Keats, who wrote, "A thing of beauty is
a joy forever," when she described the
value of her dolls. The statement is es
pecially appropriate for these extqor
dinary creations from an icon of 20th
century doll design.
The author would like to thank photog;rapher Deirdre Olson for hei· outstanding photog;raphy and for alerting me to the existence of this amazing collection of dolls. Without her hard work, this story could not have been told.
Portrait Dolls is a registered tradeinark of the Alexander Doll Company.
Orchard Princess, Godey, Victoria, Princess Flavia, Lady Windennere, Renoir, Antoinette, Melanie and Carmen were na,nes tradeinarked by the Alexander Doll Company.