Now that Melody Ellison has been officially released, a member of the AGC board recently asked what doll she – a girl in 1964, directly affected by the Civil Rights struggles of the time, conscious and proud of her black heritage – would have played with.

When I tried to answer, I ashamedly realized that while my previous entries in this series did take some black dolls into account, such as Addy´s Ida Bean and the rag dolls that inspired her, most dolls that I listed are indeed white. While this reflects the market to some degree (more on that in a second), there were more black dolls around than many people are aware of.

The history of black dolls deserves a closer look, and entries of its own.

<Warning: Since this particular entry looks at black dolls up to the mid-20th century, it also includes some that reflect 19th and early 20th century stereotypes that can be offensive to a modern reader. I decided to include them (as did the linked sources I used) because that was what was available at the time, and for a long time, it was all there was.>


The Clark Experiments

In the 1940s, Kenneth and Mamie Clark started their doll experiments, in which they presented children with two identical dolls. Both of these dolls were completely identical except for the skin and hair color. One doll was white with yellow hair, while the other was brown with black hair. The child was then asked questions inquiring as to which one is the doll they would play with, which one is the nice doll, which one looks bad, which one has the nicer color, etc. The experiment showed a clear preference for the white doll among all children in the study. These findings exposed internalized racism and self-hatred in African-American children. Source  

These feelings are conveyed very lively and empathically in Toni Morrison´s 1970 novel, The Bluest Eye. Set shortly after the Great Depression, it tells the tragic story of Pecola, an AA girl growing up in a largely WASP community who is continually reminded by her  environment of what an “ugly” girl she is, fueling her desire to be white with blue eyes. A Shirley Temple doll features in the novel as a symbol of all that Pecola is told she isn´t, but longs to be.

While there were a handful of earlier attempts at a more realistic, non-stereotypical representation of African American characters in popular culture (dolls, paper dolls, comic strips, etc.) it was not until the mid- to late 1960s – a direct consequence of the struggle that culminated in Melody´s time – that this was achieved on a larger basis (see our Valentine´s Day entry which found that this time was the time when non-caricature black characters finally appeared on Hallmark greeting cards); and you´d see more black dolls in the stores.

But let´s start at the beginning!


Homemade Dolls and Topsy-Turvies

“In early America, everyone, including slaves, made their own dolls.

A controversial homemade doll that’s often found in the South is the “topsy-turvy doll,” which had, instead of legs, another head that could be hidden under the doll’s skirt. One head and set of arms would be white; the others would be black. Early doll manufacturers Albert Bruckner and E.I. Horsman later produced a topsy-turvy doll as a novelty toy…


The topsy-turvies existed,…, because the slave masters actually didn’t want the slave children to have dolls that looked like themselves, which would give them a sense of empowerment. When the slave master was gone, the kids would have the black side, but when the slave master was around, they would have the white side.

Slaves living and working in the main plantation house were more likely to have access to high-quality scraps for doll-making, but slaves working the field would have to be more creative when it came to materials. They would make dolls from whatever they had, whether it be the bones of a chicken, a nut, a cornhusk, an empty gourd, a mop, a broom, or a black nipple from a baby bottle, after the baby had grown.” Source


Home-made cloth rag dolls served as playthings for many children, including those of poorer families and, before the Civil War, slaves.  Addy´s Ida Bean doll is a lovely representation of these early black dolls.

During the Civil War, rag dolls – including black ones – were used as “vessels of peace” – medicines, drugs or bandages were smuggled to Confederate soldiers behind the enemy lines inside their body. Some of the oldest surviving black dolls were used this way. (Source)


European Dolls

Dollmakers in Germany mass-produced dolls even earlier than the 1800s. Such early mass-produced dolls were made of papiermache and cloth,stuffed with sawdust, straw or cloth. The arms were made of painted wood. Black papiermache dolls are extremely hard to find nowadays, the few that have survived are often confused with dolls made from composition.

Later, china and bisque dolls were introduced and France joined Germany as the main centre of doll production in Europe. The two “countries dominated the porcelain and bisque doll industry in the Western world for decades. Even early American dolls would have heads and hands produced in Germany. Unsurprisingly, the aristocratic white European ideal of beauty monopolized the doll world, while the occasional black dolls portrayed the “exotic beauty” of dancers or opera characters. Even after the slaves were freed in the United States the 1860s, most black families could not afford European porcelain dolls, which were luxury items only available to the very wealthy.” Source


Cecile´s family would probably have been able to afford her a porcelain doll like this, a black version of a doll type very popular in the 1850s and 1860s.


There were several 19th-century European doll companies who preceded American doll companies in manufacturing black dolls. These predecessors include Carl Bergner of Germany, who made a three-faced doll with one face a crying black child and the other two, happier white faces. In 1892, Jumeau of Paris advertised black and mulatto dolls with bisque heads. Gebruder Heubach of Germany made character faces in bisque. Other European doll makers include Bru Jne. & Cie of Paris, Steiner, Danel, Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets (S.F.B.J.), and Kestner of Germany. Source




Bru, 1880s




Simon & Halbig

These dolls typically used the same sculpts as their white counterparts. It was this type of dolls that was eventually imported by R.H. Boyd.


Celluloid Dolls

Celluloid was one of the earliest man-made plastics. It dates back to 1869. Celluloid dolls were made in several countries, including the US, from the 1860s to the 1950s. They were phased out after WWII because the material is highly flammable.

When celluloid was invented and first came to prominence in the 1870s, dolls were nearly all breakable and fragile-bisque and china dolls were easily shattered and papier mache and wax easily ruined. So, it wasn’t a surprise that doll companies started experimenting with celluloid to mold dolls rather early on. By the early 1900s, celluloid dolls were plentiful, since celluloid was easily molded and generally inexpensive. The vast majority of celluloid dolls were produced from 1900 through the 1940s. Source

Nearly every type of doll has been made in celluloid.


The most common black celluloid doll is a 5″ Topsy-type doll.


Celluloid babies

In the 1920s, kewpie-type celluloid dolls became popular. By the late 1930s and 1940s,  most of the celluloid-made dolls were cheaply made as either carnival prizes or National Costume Dolls.


ca.1960s hard plastic national costume doll – Hawaiian

While this example dates from the 1960s and is made of hard plastic, this style of doll was popular from the mid-1920s on well into the 1950s and made in various sizes and materials by different manufacturers. The earliest examples are probably the Mary Hoyer dolls (1925 -), Mme Alexander´s Wendy Ann and portrait dolls, incl. Sonja Henie, and Debuteen dolls by Uneeda. The better quality dolls were usually made from composition, smaller knock offs were made in celluloid and hard plastic. Such knock-offs were produced for a longer time than the high market dolls.


          <caution! offensive stereotypes ahead!>

Topsy, and other “Uncle Tom´s Cabin” and Minstrel Show Characters

American companies began including black dolls in their doll lines in the early 1900s, but most of them were stereotypes and caricatures.

These dolls (and other items) that we now know as “blackamore” or  “black Americana” – according to this article – “grew out of post-Civil War black-face minstrel shows where African Americans were depicted as watermelon-chomping simpletons with exaggerated features like googly eyes and big red-lipped grins.

These caricatures carried over to children’s books like the British “Golliwogg” series featuring black-face humanoids, which were also made into – well-beloved! – rag dolls. English children went to bed with their golliwog(g)s (Source).


“The golliwog was originally the ­creation of the American author Florence Kate Upton, who moved to Britain in the late 19th century and wrote a series of bestselling children’s books.Inspired by a minstrel doll she had as a child, Upton illustrated 13 golliwog stories published between 1895 and 1909, set to verse written by her mother, Bertha. In the first book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg, her creation is described as “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome” but quickly turns out to be a friendly character and is later attributed a “kind face”. (Source)

The matronly Mammies or Aunt Jemimas, the passive Uncle Tom, the aggressive Savage Brute, the sexually available Jezebel, the nagging Sapphire, and pickaninny children like Little Black Sambo, Rastus, and Topsy were all stereotypical characters that appeared as composition, celluloid, and rubber dolls in the early 20th century.


Topsy, Nancy Ann Storybook Doll, ca. 1948-50

Effanbee and Horsman, for example, made Mammies pushing baby carriages for decades. The Nancy Ann Storybook Doll Company made characters from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while Reliable Doll Company was one of many that produced a Topsy, characterized by three knots of hair..Source


Composition Topsy


Topsy – a character from Uncle Tom´s Cabin – was also the first black paper doll, available in 1863. Prior to its book form, Uncle Tom’s Cabin first appeared in the antislavery newspaper, The National Era, from June 1851 to April 1852. It soon became the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible. It was also hugely successful as a stage play, and there were tons of merchandise. Topsy  was one of the most popular characters, even though she wasthe quintessential pickaninny, with haphazardly braided hair and shabby clothes. …

“Topsy is a wild child. She can’t be tamed, and she can’t be trusted. That image spread into the culture of black children in general, and you didn’t have a contrary image. One of the problems in the world of stereotypes is that there weren’t any legitimate images of African-Americans that found their way into popular culture until the mid-20th century.”  For long decades, there was only Topsy, along with Mammy and Golliwog, belittling leftovers from the minstrel age: images that showed African-Americans as either servants or subhuman savages. Source

Minstrel caricatures were also prominent in advertising: Cream of Wheat adopted the male Rastus character in 1893, and that same year, the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix was trademarked. For some poor black families in 1895, the paper dolls printed inside the pancake-mix cardboard box, featuring Aunt Jemima and her whole family, were the only black dolls they could afford.


These characters were also available as fabric dolls. For four box tops and a small fee, you could order these pre-printed, ready to stuff (example from in 1910).


Until the mid 1950s, black paper dolls were rare and stereotypical in white-owned North-American media. Black adult females were shown as maids or ‘mammies’, caregivers to young white children. Black children as paper dolls always had at least one garment that was tattered and patched, and black adult males were almost never shown.

Yet one can understand that, at the time, many blacks may have been pleased to see any representations of themselves in prestigious magazines such as McCall’s and Woman’s Home Companion. It was also during this period – in 1939, to be exact – that Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for portraying a ‘mammy’ in the film “Gone With The Wind”;  McDaniel was also featured in a paper doll book of the film. Source


Notable Early Exceptions


Leo Moss was a black doll maker from Georgia. He made dolls from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, using friends and family as his models. These are rare artist dolls, rather than everyday playthings.

Martha Chase of Rhode Island made a variety of dolls between the 1890s and 1920s, including mammies and other black dolls.

Ella Gaunt Smith of Alabama is considered the first dollmaker in the South to manufacture black dolls. Her most famous dolls are known as Alabama Baby (ca. 1901), Roanoke Doll or Ella Smith Doll.



In 1911, Richard Henry Boyd, a former slave and Baptist minister, founded the National Negro Doll Company. He was the first to market mass-produced black dolls to African American consumers. He initiated the NNDC  after he tried to purchase dolls for his children but could find none that were not gross caricatures of African Americans.

Beginning in 1908, Boyd distributed black bisque dolls that he had purchased from a European manufacturer, until he launched his own company that manufactured and distributed such dolls. An advertisement for the dolls, which ran in the Nashville Globe, other newspapers, and Boyd’s Sunday-school publications, illustrates how Boyd marketed them to instill racial pride and self-respect. ‘These Toys,’ the advertisement proclaimed, ‘are not made of that disgraceful and humiliating type that we have been accustomed to seeing. . . . They represent the intelligent and refined Negro of today, rather than that type of toy that is usually given to the children, and as a rule used as a scarecrow.’ Source

I could not find a better close-up of a doll by NNDC, but from what I can make out of the pictures in the ads, they seem to use the same sculpts as white bisque dolls of the time.



By the 1900s, American doll companies had caught on to the demand for black dolls and started mass-producing them, though not in the same numbers as their white counterparts. Those early mass-produced black dolls were typically dark versions of their white counterparts.

Between 1910 and 1930, Horsman, Vogue, and Madame Alexander included black dolls in their doll lines. Gradually other American companies followed suit.


Baby Bumps, Horsman, ca. 1910


Bisque baby (ca.1929)


Popular Doll Types of the 1900s – 1950s

Reliable Topsy, ca. 1937 and ca. 1940s

Topsy dolls were popular well into the 1950s. Many doll companies chose the name, Topsy, for black dolls and incorporated a minimum of three braids or tufts of hair on the dolls’ heads in an effort to portray the book’s character. Source  They still used, however, the same sculpts as for their white dolls.


Patsy and Patsy type dolls were one of the most popular doll types of the first half of the 20th century; and again, the same sculpt was used for both black and white dolls. The sculpt was introduced by German doll maker, Hertel Schwab  & Co., ca. 1900 as their mold 127. In ca. 1925, Armand Marseille, the German doll maker with the French name, introduced their mold 310 – also known as “Just Me“. This little bisque baby doll was so popular in Europe that the Vogue doll company decided to import them to the American market (available 1920s – 1930s).  This in turn inspired Effanbee to import a composition version of Hertel Schwab & Co # 127 – nearly identical to AM 310 – and introduce her to the American market as Patsy. Patsy was the first realistically proportioned child doll and an enormous success. Soon, companion dolls, dolls in different sizes, a large wardrobe and Patsy´s own fan club – reportedly with 275.000 members – followed. Source.

Obviously, there were plenty of knock-offs using the same or very similar sculpts.


Patsy and Patsy type dolls all have molded hair and, apart from the very first dolls, a five peace composition jointed boy with one arm straight, one arm bent. They were popular until WW2.


Hertel Schwab & Co. 165 Black Googly

Googlie Eye, Googly Eye, Googly Eyed or Googly Eyes – Googly for short – are terms used to describe a certain type of doll with large,side glancing and sometimes side rolling eyes, found in both bisque or composition heads and later, even hard plastic and vinyl. Source

Googly-eyed dolls were first produced in 1912 with most bisque ones made in the years 1915-1925. More recent dolls are made of more common doll making materials such as celluloid and composition. Modern day Animé dolls are considered to be influenced by the Googly-eyed dolls and share many characteristics. Many companies have produced Googly-eyed dolls over the years. The original classic design dolls are generally credited to German toy manufacturers; included in these are Armand Marseille, Kammer and Reinhardt, Kestner and Heubach. French and American toy companies have also produced the dolls and the later edition Googlies such as the Campbell Kids were made by American Character and Horsman. One of the more famous Google-eyed dolls are the Kewpies. Source



Black kewpies, ca. 1920s

Kewpies were another highly popular type of doll in the early 20th century. They started out as characters in a comic strip by Rose O´Neill that was first published in 1909. They quickly took off  and the Kewpie brand became a household name that was used widely in product advertising. The Kewpies appeared on a multitude of household items and other memorabilia, such as dishware, rattles, soap, pepper shakers, coloring books, poetry collections, and stationery. 

The first kewpie dolls were made from bisque ca. 1912 – 1915, then from composition 1916 – 1930s. Kewpies are being produced until today. In the mid-1920s, small-sized celluloid versions of Kewpies appeared, and were often given out as prizes at carnivals. Many of these celluloid versions were mainly manufactured in Japan, unlicensed, and were of a lower quality


Carnival flapper doll, ca. 1920s – 1930s

Carnival dolls were cheap dolls advertised as prizes given at carnivals and fairs. Although made by various early American doll makers, many of these dolls are unmarked.  While there are all types of carnival dolls,  “Boopies” – flappers with big eyes and a molded marcel wave hairstyle – were a highly popular type of doll in the 1920s and 1930s.  The design was clearly influenced by kewpies, googlies and the cartoon character, Betty Boop (introduced in 1930), a caricature of the then popular actress, Helen Kane.


During the bleak years of the Great Depression, the lovable Shirley Temple became a symbol of happiness and hope for audiences around the world. In 1934, she was featured in seven films, and was the top-grossing box office star in the world. In October 1934, Ideal´s Shirley Temple doll was officially announced. They came in four sizes, with hazel eyes and curly, strawberry-blonde hair, wearing with a polka-dotted dress like the one she wore in “Stand Up and Cheer,”.At $3.00 each, even the smallest Shirley Temple dolls weren’t cheap but they were hugely successful and other outfits followed.  And, of course, lookalikes such as this unmarked black Shirley doll. (How Pecola would have loved this!)


Jackie Ormes

As already mentioned, until the mid 1950s, black paper dolls were rare and stereotypical. The outstanding exception were the creations of a black woman cartoonist named Jackie Ormes. Her Torchy Brown comic strips and accompanying paper dolls appeared in black newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender in the early 1950s. Torchy herself, created by Ormes in the 1930s, was a strong and glamorous woman-of-colour who certainly did not wear rags. With the advent of desegregation and the Black Power movement in the United States, more and more positive images of black paper dolls finally appeared. Source


The Torchy Brown comic strips started in 1937 and ran until 1956 (example from 1953).

While Torchy Brown became a paper doll in 1951, another one of Ormes´ creations was made into a three-dimensional doll earlier. In the 1940s, she created the strip Ginger´n´ Patti Jo, the single-panel cartoon about two sisters. Ginger was the older and wiser sister but the entire strip was narrated by the precocious Patty Jo who voiced all commentary for the strip which ran was very popular and ran for eleven years. Ormes made a deal with the Terri Lee Doll Company (1946-1962) in 1947 to produce a doll based on the Patty Jo cartoon character. The company was making a white Terri Lee doll, so Patty Jo had a brown body from the Terri Lee mold with a face that was the image of the cartoon character.

While Patti Jo was certainly not the first African-American doll, it was one of the early ones that wasn’t a Mammy or a “pickaninny.” Patty Jo was special because she was the first to have many of the characteristics that were wanted by white children in their dolls. She was made of plastic so she held up well, but best of all, she had comb-able hair and an extensive wardrobe (dresses, formals, shoes, hats, nightgowns, robes, skating and cowgirl costumes).


Patti Jo was manufactured 1947 – 1949.


Amosandra, 1949


“The late 1920s popular radio show, Amos ‘n’ Andy, featuring white actors playing the Black characters, Amos ‘n’ Andy, became a TV show in 1951 with a cast of African American characters. The televised show lasted some two years before the program was canceled in the midst of growing protest by the Black community in 1953. It was the first television series with an all-Black cast (the only one of its kind to appear on prime-time, network television for nearly another twenty years)…  As early as the 1930s, the two main characters had been made into advertising dolls.
[A] 1949 radio episode, … entitled, ‘Amosandra is Born,’ … led directly into a very successful marketing venture, with the release of the Amosandra baby doll by the Sun Rubber Company of Barberton, Ohio — the last and one of the most collectible items in a long line of ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’ licensed merchandise.” Source  


Saralee, 1951 – 1953

“Saralee was the first anthropologically correct black doll mass-marketed in the United States.  Neither a white doll painted brown nor a caricature “pickaninny” doll, Saralee was created to look like an attractive black child, with a true skin color, broad nose and full upper lip. The doll made her debut in 1951, at a tea hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt and attended by many of the country’s best-known black leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. The doll was sold for a little more than two years, by Sears as well as Macy’s, Gimbels and Abraham & Straus. Then Ideal stopped production. The country was debating school integration, and … major retailers lost their enthusiasm for the project as a result of the racially charged spirit of the time. Sales of the doll had slowed. There were complaints that Saralee’s skin shade – selected by a jury of black leaders – was too dark, that customers wanted a lighter-skinned doll, according to a report in Doll Reader magazine.” Source




1953 black Ginny

Among the most popular doll types of the late 1940s and early 1950s are the 7 1/2″ to 8″ toddler dolls such as Vogue´s Ginny, Nancy Ann´s Muffie and Lori Ann, Madame Alexander´s Wendy and the Alexanderkins, Cosmopolitan´s Ginger, Virga´s Pam and many more. Most of them are hard plastic, strung dolls; some with a walkingmechanism. These were also available in black, using the same sculpts as their white counterparts.


High Heeled Fashion Dolls aka Glamour Dolls

 In the 1950s, a new concept was born: That of the “teenager”. The term was rarely used before the 1950s. During the Eisenhower years, young people began to see themselves as a distinct group. … The change was connected to the nation’s affluence. Earlier in American history, young people often had to work full-time jobs to help support their families’ basic survival. By the 1950s, that was usually no longer the case. Teens instead worked part-time jobs or received allowances from their parents, giving them money to spend on fun non-essentials…. Source .

“[And Girls] went from playing with the 8″ dolls representing young girls (e.g. Ginny) to playing with dolls representing teenagers.  Something must have been in the air in the mid-1950s since many different doll manufacturers produced a slew of 10” teen fashion dolls. These dolls portrayed glamorous teenagers with extensive wardrobes.  Little girls could dress their dolls with “grown-up” ball gowns, party dresses and casual wear that were smaller versions of teen-age glamour of the late 1950s.

The teen fashion dolls all have the following characteristics in common:  they have teenage or (modestly) adult women bodies, jointed poseable bodies (some with swivel waists), high-heel feet, pierced ears and earrings, and painted nails.

 The first fashion dolls of the 1950s era were the large (18 inches plus) fashion doll introduced in 1955 by Madame Alexander (Cissy) and 1956 by Ideal Toy Company (Miss Revlon). The next year (1957) the smaller versions (the so-called 10″ fashion dolls) made their appearance. Three of the industry leaders:  Madame Alexander, Ideal Doll Company, and Vogue Doll Company produced the most popular high-heel fashion dolls.” Source

There were countless marked and unmarked competitors, including black ones. The era of this type of doll pretty much ended with the introduction of Barbie.


Barbie and her competitors

Although the teen glamour dolls of the 1950s already had adult curves, they were very modest, and their faces were childlike. In 1959, Barbie – a “teenage fashion doll” based on the German Bild Lilli novelty dolls – was introduced.


top: Bild Lilli, bottom: Barbie, Miss Revlon

The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Bild. Lilli was a blonde bombshell, a working girl who knew what she wanted and was not above using men to get it. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.

In Barbie, the bombshell sexiness of Lilli was toned down. She was presented as a wholesome all-American girl, but her visual likeness to sex symbols such as Brigitte Bardot, Jane Mansfield or Marilyn Monroe made her a controversial toy. Many mothers preferred to buy child dolls for their daughters, but nevertheless, Barbie was an enormous success that spawned many competitors, clones and knockoffs.


While the first black doll in the Barbie line, Black Francie, was not introduced until 1967, black Barbie clones were around well before that, such as this ponytail clone.


1965 Black Tammy

Ideal´s Tammy was a popular competitor of Barbie made between 1962 and 1967. Tammy was a sort of compromise – a teenage fashion doll (just like Barbie, who was advertised as a teenager at the time), but a bit more wholesome, childlike, less like a pin-up model. Tammy was loosely based on the movie character played by Debbie Reynolds, and the doll sculpt was licensed to the British company, Pedigree, who introduced it in 1963 as Sindy.  Sindy and Tammy had plenty of clones as well, including black ones.


Black Sindy/Tammy clone

In 1965, Ideal revamped Tammy as Grown Up Pos´n Tammy, and also issued a black version of Tammy. While Tammy was phased out in 1967, the Sindy line continued to thrive in England, was revamped as well and would, much later, in 1978, be (re-?)introduced to the American market by Louis Marx, along with her black friend Gayle who shared the 1970s Sindy sculpt.

2 marx dolls 96

1978 Sindy and Gayle




In 1959, Ideal launched the Playpal family of life sized 24″ – 38″ dolls. Patti Playpal was the same size as a three year old child, her sisters Penny and Judy that of a two and one year old respectively, twin siblings Bonnie and Johnny were the size of a three month baby. While a black version of Patti Playpal was not made until 1982, there were plenty of equally lifesized competitors on themarket, and black Playpal-type dolls from the early 1960s have been found.


Chatty Cathy

The Black Chatty Cathy doll was produced in 1961 but not sold until 1962 (Source).

Chatty Cathy was a pull-string “talking” doll manufactured by the Mattel toy company from 1959 to 1965. The doll was first released in stores and appeared in television commercials beginning in 1960. Chatty Cathy was on the market for six years and was the second most popular doll of the 1960s after Barbie (also made by Mattel).(Wikipedia). The black version was made in lower quantities than the white one, using the same sculpt.