I so often get questions about irregularities in the dolls from the 1950s. The questions include whether the arms or legs are the same color, are the legs the same length, and etc. I would like to offer a different view on the subject.
As a long-time collector and seller, I have seen a lot of interesting examples! I have seen a mint in box Toni that was obviously "from the factory" with Harriet Hubbard Ayer arms, Miss Revlon dolls with the eyes completely lopsided, mint in box Shirleys with very long hair, and Shirleys with quite short hair.
The point here is that these dolls were not manufactured as collectibles, they were sold as "toys." There was no thought to collectibles, ebay, re-sell or anything close. They were simply meeting the needs of children to own a doll to play with. These dolls were factory-made and there was much variation in the color of the limbs, length of the limbs, eye color, hair length, and etc... Imagine workers in the factory putting these dolls together grabbing arms, and legs, and heads. Of course there were different dye lots, and etc. If one leg was a somewhat different color or length than the other, workers most certainly did not set about finding an exact match and frankly, children didn't care.
It is marvelous to get a mint example of any doll, and condition is obviously a factor in the value. The closer a doll is to the factory-example, the more the value. If there are irregularities in the example, well....that is part of the fifties and this is the doll that the factory produced. Perhaps the irregularities should be celebrated, instead of avoided. Look at it this way; we all avoid buying dolls in which the parts have been switched. That is messing with the originality (in my opinion). If someone were to look at a doll in which the legs are a slightly different length, or color - it is likely original to that doll. In an age where we are looking for perfection, I doubt that anyone would switch parts that are not a perfect match!
In closing, these irregularities are part of the fifties in which these dolls were precious "toys" for children. They should perhaps not be run away from, but celebrated as part of the wonderful factory that gave us these amazing memories.
The 1950s was a time of high-fashion and the doll clothing of this era reflects this. Most collectors look for original 'factory' clothing. The fifties was a time where moms made doll clothing for their children's dolls and doll patterns were very plentiful. You could find a variety of doll patterns for virtually any doll from the 1950s. Here are some general guidelines for determine if a doll garment is factory:
1. Tags. Some companies tagged their outfits so this is the most obvious sign of a factory outfit. Madame Alexander always tagged her clothing. As a footnote, she also made separate clothing for some dolls. They will be tagged "Madame Alexander" along with the size of the doll. It will say "Madame Alexander 18" inch doll".......etc. Ideal tagged some clothing especially if it was attached to a patent such as the "Toni" doll which had to pay royalties to Gillette. Vogue tagged their clothing, Artisan tagged some which will be tagged "Michelle", but the majority of doll companies did not tag their clothing.
2. Seams. Look at the inside seams. If the seam is "serged" it is likely factory. The waist seam will have a finished look with a factory zigzag which is a "serged seam." Moms didn't have the machine that could serge seams as they were not on the standard sewing machine. After the tag, look at the inside seams for the way the inside is finished. If it is serged, it's likely factory.
3. Closures. Look at the way the garment closes. If it is a gripper snap, it's likely factory. A gripper snap is a machine-applied round snap that is not sewed on, but put on in a factory. There are small solid metal gripper snaps, often painted white - as well as donut snaps - which will be a round snap with the fabric showing in the middle. Snaps and buttons are a little trickery as they were accessible to moms. Square snaps are more often factory, Madame Alexander used square snaps, as did American Character, Arranbee, and Ideal used them on their Shirley Temple dolls. Common round snaps were not generally used in the factory. Buttons were used by doll companies such as Ideal on their Tonis, Saucys and other dolls. The button is a round white button with a slight swirl. Moms used buttons too so look at the button holes. The factory button holes will have a more "finished" look.
4. Fabric. Certain fabrics were used extensively in the 1950s. As a footnote, these materials can still be found on the vintage market, and modern seamstresses can make these dresses for the resale market. I have found these garments to be wonderful reproductions, they usually use a vintage pattern and often, old fabric. These reputable seamstresses usually tag their clothing or make it known that they are reproduction clothes. The fabric so often used in the fifties was semi-sheer nylon. Often the nylon was flocked with a pattern such as flowers. Organdy was popular also, though organdy can still be found in fabric stores. Look at the lace also, cluny lace was used extensively which is a cotton lace (not frilly at all). Ideal used attached muslin slips on their dolls and used this type of lace. Toni dresses as well as Saucy Walker dresses will have this attached slip in muslin with cluny lace trim.
It's not a daunting task to determine if a dress is factory, trust your eye, and use these simple guidelines.
Important to the aesthetic appeal and value of a doll is the wig. Hair was crucial to dolls as children loved to comb them and style them.
There were various materials used in the 1950s which are outlined as follows:
Nylon: Nylon was a licensed product used exclusively for the Ideal TONI doll. Developed by Dupont, it was a revolutionary product and Ideal paid royalties for the exclusive right to sell Toni with the "nylon" wig. The nylon Toni wig will have an over-stitched seam down the center. Some wigs were made with the "horizontal" overstitch, often with bangs. Nylon is a wonderful material, and is much smoother than the more commonly used "saran" on dolls from the fifties -- including Ideal's Sara Ann. The wigs were offered in various shades of brown, jet black, platinum, blonde, tosca, auburn, and red. The rarest colors are black, and carrot-red. Nylon is very durable, and could withstand lots and lots of washes, and brushing. It cannot handle quite as much heat as saran, but generally nylon is fabulous and was a huge advance in wig-making.
Saran: Saran is a common material used in wigs from the 1950s. It is more coarse than nylon, but can be brushed and curled. It has a tendency to "frizz" which is very common with this type of wig. Saran was used on Ideal Sara Ann, Arranbee dolls, American Character dolls and so on. It is the most common wig of the 1950s. It can withstand intense heat, is strong, but has a tendency to frizz.
Mohair: Mohair is an animal product, and was used on dolls of the 1950s, especially "transitional" dolls of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Mohair is a pretty, soft hair but tends to not withstand combing as it has a tendency to fall out. If you brush a mohair wig, you will find clumps of hair in your comb or brush. The very early Nanettes, Sweet Sue, hard plastics, and Pre-Toni all have mohair wigs. It was manufacturered in a variety of colors.
Floss- Floss wigs were used on some of the hard plastic dolls, especially Nanette. It will be in a set design, and is brutal to comb. If you find a fifties doll with a floss wig in perfect condition, you will find a doll that has probably not been played with. Floss wigs were generally "updos" and were used with dolls dressed in ballgowns, but can be seen in braids also. The Effanbee Honey "Majorette" has a floss wig also. Madame Alexander used floss for some of her fancy dolls also. The floss wigs are generally blonde.
Dynel: Dynel is an animal product and looks like mohair but is not as dense. It is awful to comb and will not hold a curl. It was generally used on "budget" dolls such as Royal Company, Marilu, Unmarked dolls, Imperial, Eegee, and some Made in USA dolls. Effanbee also used dynel wigs on some of their "Honey" dolls. Check out the Honey Tintair, it is pretty but when combed tends to look rather unkept. Artisan's Raving Beauty also utilized the dynel wig, but was also offered in saran. The wigs came in various shades of brown and blonde, and are soft to the touch. The budget dynel wigs typically will have a seam in the back of the head near the bottom. The dynel wigs tend to not be as "thick" as mohair and the other materials. It is common to find a played-with doll with "bald spots" in the back because there was never a lot of hair there to begin with. It is a difficult wig material because it does not comb nor does it curl. It has no shine, so tends to have a dull appearance.
If you have a doubt whether a wig is original to the doll, take a look first at the general appearance of the wig. Newer wigs tend to be thicker and "shiny." The only truly shiny 1950s wig would be the nylon wig. Saran is fairly easy to spot because of the coarseness of the product. Think of nylon but with more "frizz" and that is saran. Saran was used on most of the 1950s dolls such as Saucy Walker, Sweet Sue, Arranbee, Sara Ann, Nanette, and so on.
Another way to ascertain if the wig is original to the doll is the center seam. Does it have an overlap seam which is typical for the fifties? If you are still in doubt, try to look at the wig cap. The wig cap of the 1950s will look older and the cap will be look much more "meshy" than the newer wigs. If you are still in doubt, ask a reputable doll expert or dealer. Re-wigged dolls will devalue the doll, and if you are concerned about your investment - try these tips and when in doubt.......ask!
Ideal Toy Company saw a resurgence in the desire for Shirley Temple dolls when Shirley Temple hosted her own television show in the 1950s. Ideal owned the rights to the Shirley Temple doll, and re-issued the Shirley Temple in the 1950s. The dolls were made in the 1950s and through the early 1960s.
Shirley was made of vinyl with rooted hair. They were a durable doll, and mass produced... and wildly popular! The dolls came in five sizes: 12 inch, 15, 17, 19, and the "playpal" size 36 inch. The 12 inch dolls are the most prevalent and easiest to find, and the 36 inch doll is the hardest to find. The 17 and 19 inch Shirleys came in both sleep eyes and "flirty" eyes. Flirty eyes are eyes that can rock back and forth, and they are on a ball jointed head that can rotate in more directions than the standard doll.
The dolls are always marked so they are easy to identify. They will always be marked Ideal Dolls along with the size number: For example, a 12 inch doll will be marked Ideal Doll ST12, a 15 inch doll will be marked Ideal Doll ST15. They will be marked on the back of the head and the back.
Ideal also marketed extra outfits for the 12 inch doll. Mint in box outfits are hard to find, as well as mint in box dolls. One note: there is a huge difference between "mint in box" and "doll with box." A mint in box doll should be unplayed with. A played with doll can have her original box, but a mint in box doll should never have been played with.
I will be writing more on Shirleys, as well as other dolls from the 1950s - and feel free to send me your pictures or questions on Shirley Temple or any of your dolls! I'm also happy to identify your doll for you!