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Madame Alexander's Portrait Dolls of 1945-46

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


Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
Shown together for the first time are the 21-inch 1945-46 Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls. From left to right are: Orchard Princess, Godey, Victoria (also sold in 1939 as Princess Flavia) and Lady Windermere.

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.


Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The remaining three dolls in the series are from left to right: Melanie, An­toinette and Renoir (also named in ads as Carmen).

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 Portrait Dolls
The dolls' clothing is tagged in an unusual place, at the top of the pan­taloons or attached to the waist seam of the dress, instead of on the outside shoulder seam. The Portrait Dolls share a basic type of petticoat, pantaloons, hose and tie shoes. Colors vary depending on the costume.

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.


Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The close-up of Victoria reveals the style of make-up and lip rendering com­ mon to all the dolls. Since this doll was purchased with the others, she is the 1945-46 Victoria. The same doll had been issued in 1939 as Princess Flavia.

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.


Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The Godey Portrait Doll would be issued again in the late 1960s with an almost-identical costume on the same size doll. The new doll, however, would be made of hard plastic and vinyl and have rooted hair.

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.


Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The name Renoir was assigned to this doll in some print advertising, but the possibility exists that another name, Carmen, could have been used for this doll as well. The elaborate wig on this doll is made of mohair and was not meant to be disturbed.

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.



Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
Exquisitely costumed Melanie exhibits the attention to detail that Madame Alexander lavished on her mag­nificent line of 21-inch Portrait Dolls. The dolls' eye colors range fr om light brown to light blue.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
Antoinette was most likely an allu­sion to Queen Marie Antoinette. The doll has white hair and a French-style cos­tume.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The Orchard Princess has a stun­ning shade of reddish-brown hair that picks up her brown eye color. Selling for $75 each in better department and toy stores, these dolls were considered high­ end dolls. They were advertised in news­ paper ads that featured artist sketches. The entire series of Portrait Dolls was offered for two consecutive years. No other complete collection of these seven dolls has been seen until now.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
Lady Windermere, with her slightly peeled lip paint, is showing her age more than the other dolls. A skilled doll restorationist could make her look like new. Her hat, when steamed, most likely will be round in shape.


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.

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