Moore’s Law and Dolls

There is a economic principle called ‘Moore’s Law.’ In very broad terms it says that technology gets better and better, and less and less expensive.

The classic example is the computer, which used to cost thousand of dollars and took up whole rooms, and now cost a hundred or less and fits in your hand.

Believe it or not… Moore’s Law works for Dolls too!
Edison Talking Dolls

Here’s the original technology: Thomas Edison’s talking Doll from the 1880’s.   It was 22″, recited nursery rhymes and was very expensive. In today’s dollars, that advertised price of $10 would be over $220!

Here are three little dolls that say the “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” prayer:

We sell them on our Dolls that Say Prayers page for $14.99

That’s Moore’s Law for you!

The difference between Barbie and Barbie®

If you ask a four year old African American girl to go get her Barbies, what do you think she’ll bring you?

A Christie doll – Barbie’s African American friend – or a Nikki, Christie’s sister?

Barbie® Entrepreneur African American

Barbie® Entrepreneur African American

Perhaps any one of the myriad of dolls with The Barbie name and ‘African American’ attached to it? Like ‘Barbie loves the Girl Scouts African-American’ or ‘Barbie Careers – Nurse – African American?’

Or perhaps one of the 1000’s of Barbie clones, not made by Mattel at all?

Actually, I think that that four year old might bring out all of her dolls… including Bratz, Monster High, Doc McStuffins and Disney Princesses or the new Prettie Girls by Stacey McBride.

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Why? Because I think that after over 50 years, Barbie has finally become the generic term for 11 inch dolls. Especially the all plastic – removable fashions dolls.

It’s like Kleenex® is what everybody calls facial tissues, Vaseline® for petroleum jelly and Velcro® for hook and latch fasteners. Especially in our children’s minds. Children don’t ‘get’ ®! And to be honest with you, I don’t think most adults differentiate much between what is really a Barbie® and what might be something else similar. I think we call them all Barbies too.

What do you think?

PS: To my readers who filter everything through a P.C. lens: This post is about the difference between Barbie®, and Barbie used as a generic term… not about race. Because Mattel has both African American Barbies® and Black dolls that are part of the Barbie line but are not named Barbie, it made my point easier to explain. Get over yourself.

Thank-you Tom Tierney

Tom Tierney © Dover Publications

Tom Tierney © Dover Publications

In our many years in the doll business, we have often heard stories – or memories – of ‘my first dolls.’

For many, their first dolls were paper dolls. And the most famous paper doll artist of our times is Tom Tierney.

Tom Tierney died in July of 2014 at the age of 85. He had been creating paper dolls for over forty years, mostly for Dover Publications.

If you had store bought paper dolls, the odds are you had some of Tom’s. A search on Amazon reveals 732 ‘results’ for Tom’s Doll books. There are over 1600 results on Ebay (mid August 2014).

I’m a huge fan of Tom as an artist. His research was meticulous, and his drawing as well.

Paper dolls started the same way fashion dolls did… as a way to get the word out on fashions of the day. Paper dolls ‘dressed’ in Paris could be easily carried to America to show what the best dressed were wearing.

Today’s paper dolls are ‘lessons;’ in period costume, in literature, in fashion, in history, in geography, in culture.

One of my favorite Tom Tierney books is Brides From Around The World.

Brides BookIt contains four ‘dolls’ and 28 wedding gowns from around the world. Each gown is not only accurately drawn, but described in detail.

Here’s a typical example of what children can learn from a Tom Tierney paper doll book: Plate #4 Indian Sari: “An Indian wedding is typically a riot of color. The bride’s apparel generally consists of three items: The choli (blouse) the ghagra (skirt) and the sari (shawl.)”

Tom didn’t invent Paper Dolls – they were around as early as the 18th century. And Tom didn’t re-invent paper dolls, there has been a continuous stream of paper doll artists ever since then. But what Tom did do, is when the popularity  of paper dolls had become the merest glow of the remaining coals, Tom blew the flame of popularity back into the field – in my eyes his greatest legacy. Thank you Tom Tierney.

5 Really Non-Traditional Uses for Children’s Dolls

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post  on five traditional uses for dolls that got a lot of interest. Today I’d like to talk about five uses for dolls that are ‘non-traditional.’

1: Good Touch – Bad Touch

antomically correct Asian Boy doll

It doesn’t surprise us, but it does make us feel sad every time The Pattycake Doll Company receives an order of anatomically correct dolls from a Social Services Agency. For children, it is easier and more comfortable to talk about it happening to a doll then it is to themselves.

2: Aromatherapy, Relaxation and Bed Warmer Dolls.

A Microwavable Aromatherapy and Bed Warmer Doll

A Microwavable Aromatherapy and Bed Warmer Doll

Filled with Flax seeds and herbs instead of fiberfill and foam, like these childrens heating pads, are just as soft and cuddly as a traditional teddy bear or other ‘take-to-bed’ doll. But you can put it in the freezer and then between the sheets as an ‘air-conditioner on a hot summer’s eve, or in the microwave to release the delightful aromatherapy and bed warming benefits.

3: Teaching and Representing Diversity

Using dolls to teach diversity

Using dolls to teach diversity

You know that more than half of America’s Children are children of color right? Gone are the days when the only dolls in America’s schools were pink.

4: Comfort Babies

a reborn doll

An example of reborn doll artistry by doll artist Donna Lee

For some people, a ‘Reborn,’ Realistic Doll can fill a void in their hearts. Empty Nesters, widows and widowers, people who have recently lost a child… are all examples of people who have used a doll as a surrogate to attach to while working out their feelings.

Most successful reborn doll artists have had the request to create a doll “exactly like…” a recently deceased child.

5: The Potty Training Dolls

Aquini Boy Doll on doll's potty

Drink and Wet dolls have been around for a long time, but Drink and Wet dolls sold in kits with the potty as Potty Training Dolls, especially the boy version, are a very recent variation.

Japanese Friendship Dolls

One of the 1927  Japanese Friendship Dolls

One of the 1927 Japanese Friendship Dolls courtesy NMNH – Anthropolgy Dept Smithsonian Institution Washington DC

Here’s another great ‘doll’ story: The ‘Blue-eyed Dolls’ and ‘The Japanese Ambassador Dolls,’ also known as the “Japanese Friendship dolls.”

It is basically a story about gift giving, and friendship with a little bit of odd history thrown in.

It starts with the odd. In 1924 Americans were paranoid about immigrants – go figure, right? – and had passed laws that basically kept Japanese and other Asian immigrants out.

But there were a lot of people who wanted to maintain our friendship with Japan, and one such fellow named Dr. Sidney Gulick arranged for thousands of ‘Blue Eyed Dolls†,” as they were called, to be sent by American children to Japanese children as gifts and symbols of our good wishes. He had been a missionary for many years in Japan, and was very familiar with the Japanese ‘Doll’s Day,’ March 3rd

The Japanese are also pretty particular about gift-giving, and it is part of their culture to reciprocate gifts in kind. They sent approx. 60 beautifully dressed dolls to various colleges and libraries and other public institutions in the U.S. in return.

This exchange, the thousands of American dolls sent to Japan in a gesture of friendship and goodwill, and the beautiful Ambassador Dolls in their kimonos that we received in return, is one of my favorite doll stories.

Many of the Ambassador Dolls are still on display across America, almost 90 years later. Although very few of ‘The Blue-eyed Dolls’ survived the War in Japan – estimated at about 300 – those that did are still very much cherished and on display in schools there as well.

Unfortunately, in a simple blog post there is not enough space to tell the entire story of these exchanges, but if this tidbit of doll history interests you enough, there is tons of information out there on the web.

† A blue-eyed doll,
Made of celluloid,
Was born in America.
When she arrived at a harbor in Japan,
She had many tears in her eyes.
I do not understand the language.
If I get lost, what should I do?
Warm-hearted Japanese girls,
Please be my friends and play with me.

This song was written by Ujo Noguch in 1921, well before the 12,000 ‘Blue -eyed’ dolls were sent. So it wasn’t that they were first seeing our dolls, but the song lent the name to the Blue (and Brown) eyed dolls that were sent by the American children.

5 Traditional Uses for Dolls

When I was a little kid, I didn’t declare to the world: “Some day I am going to grow up and sell dolls on the internet.” Consequently, when I founded The Pattycake Doll Company with my wife, although I knew about small business formation and retailing, I didn’t know a heck of a lot about dolls. So I started studying my new ‘field.’

I learned some interesting uses for dolls historically. Like:

Some of the oldest dolls were made as fertility dolls. Like the Venus of Willendorf – almost 30,000 years old.

The Willendorf Venus.

The Willendorf Venus

Dolls were also used to cast curses… it was pretty powerful stuff for those folks, make an effigy or a doll of your enemy, and then burn it up.

Most of the early dolls in 1700’s America came from Britain and France as Fashion Dolls. The dolls were dressed in the latest European Fashions, and then sent to America for the gentry to copy. The original knock-off trade!

Speaking of fashion dolls, another ‘traditional’ American use for a doll was to teach little girls sewing. Before they were trusted with hard to get and expensive patterned cloth, they practiced their skills on doll clothes.

Finally the most common use for dolls… as a lovey or security objects or for cuddling and comfort. Traditionally families had lots of children, and it was common for the older ones to help with the younger… there wasn’t much playing with dolls. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t have cloth dolls and rag dolls to love and cherish. But the porcelain and bisque headed baby dolls that we are all so familiar with now? They are fairly recent as a toy for children. Baby dolls for children didn’t really gain traction until the late 1800’s… first in Europe and then later in the US.

Recap: 5 Traditional uses for Dolls
Fertility Dolls
Voodoo and Hexes
Fashion Dolls
Snuggle and Sleep

The Clark Doll Test – When Black Dolls were the Ugly Dolls

A Black doll and a White doll

A Black doll and a White doll

I am continuously fascinated by the famous Clark Doll Test from the forties, and all of the successors since who use similar tests to determine the “state of Racial Relations” in the U.S.

And there is a phrase that I like, written by Mark Twain but referenced by him to Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies… lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Whenever I see another of these ‘Doll Tests,’ where children of different races are shown dolls of different races and led by the interviewers to pick ‘the good doll,’ and ‘the bad doll,’ and ‘the pretty doll’ and ‘the ugly doll,’ that phrase always comes to mind.

Children are easily led, and ‘eager to please’ their elders. And when I hear the questions these ‘researchers’ ask, I always feel that these children are being led. Like the classic “have you stopped beating your wife?” question, there are no right answers. Yes (I have stopped beating her) or no (I haven’t stopped beating her) – both make you a wife beater.

If you ask a child “which doll is ugly?” they will have to pick one won’t they? Even if none of the dolls are ugly to that child.

And why this bothers me is for obvious reasons: my store, The Pattycake Doll Company, is currently the largest online doll store dedicated to dolls for children of color in America. We don’t sell ‘ugly dolls,’ or bad dolls,’ but we do sell thousands and thousands of dolls of color.

I admit it: I take tremendous pride in The Pattycake Doll company’s success. We have been selling beautiful Black and Asian and Hispanic and Biracial and all the other Ethnic dolls for over a decade. We have never, ever received one of our Ethnic dolls back because it was ‘ugly.’

So in summary, I would request all those with an interest in race relations to stop showing little kids in America dolls of color and asking them to pick the ugly or bad doll. Enough already.

Book Review: Dream Doll

Dream Doll, The Ruth Handler Story is an Autobiography. Ruth Handler is the woman behind the Barbie Doll. What makes this book review a little different, and I hope a bit more interesting, is that I decided that instead of telling you what I thought about the book, that I would instead tell you what Ruth thought about Barbie:

“When we began sculpting Barbie’s face, I insisted it not be too pretty or contain too much personality. I was concerned that if she had too much personality, a little girl might have trouble projecting her own personality on the doll, that she would not be as free to role play or fantasize through Barbie.”

“Unlike play with a baby doll – in which a little girl is pretty much limited to assuming the role of Mommy – Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices.

“Beginning as early as September 1959, we received hundreds of letters from little girls begging us to make a boyfriend for Barbie. we were scared to death of boy dolls, and so was the rest of the toy trade. Boy dolls had been tried in our industry dozens of times and they’d always flopped.”


Original Skipper Dolls

“In 1964 we also introduced Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. While little girls tended to perceive Barbie as being six or seven years older than themselves, they saw Skipper as close to their own age.”

“In 1967…we brought out a Black version of Francie. …It was a dud….Was America not ready for a Black fashion doll? …research soon told us. Francie’s looks and personality were already well established in our young consumer’s minds – to them a Black Francie wasn’t Francie. The next year, having learned our lesson we brought out a completely new Black doll, Christie, and she was overwhelmingly accepted. In fact Christie stayed in the Barbie line for 17 years, till 1985.”

That’s all for this post… I only quoted some of the Barbie and other doll stuff… remember, the book is ruth Handler’s autobiography… it’s not just about Barbie or Mattel.

The Theatre de la Mode Fashion Dolls

There’s another story from doll history similar to the story of the BIld Lilli dolls that I’d like to share with you today. This time its the wonderful story of The Theatre de la Mode Fashion Dolls.

The Theatre de la Mode Fashion Dolls

A display of Theatre de la Mode Fashion Dolls at the Maryhill Museum of Art

France had been liberated, although WWII was not yet over, and Paris, at one time the capital of the Fashion Industry was struggling to pick up the pieces. Out of the ashes that was Paris arose a little flicker of the flame of fashion. From pieces of hoarded and hidden fabrics and leathers, painstakingly hand stitched using the simplest of wire dolls (for there were no other materials in wartime Paris with which dolls could be made!) came the rebirth of the French Fashion industry.

Photo by Glen Bledsoe A different collection of the Theatre de la Mode Fashion Dolls

Photo by Glen Bledsoe A different collection of the Theatre de la Mode Fashion Dolls

For several centuries French Fashion dolls had been dressed in the latest fashions and sent abroad so that orders could be placed, or designs could be copied – so too in 1946, The exhibition of The Theatre de la Mode Fashion Dolls would tour cities across the Atlantic, and ultimately prove to the world that French Fashion was back!

The dolls were approx 27 inches tall with plaster heads. There were approximately 230 dressed dolls.

The Doll Glossary – Doll Eyes

Today we started to rearrange our warehouse for the holidays. We like to move this year’s best selling dolls closer to our pack & ship area. That saves the warehouse staff lots of steps when the Holiday rush comes. I had just filled a shelving unit with dozens of dolls, and when I stepped back to look at it I realized that they were all ‘looking at me.” That led me to the thought: “Maybe I should do a post on doll’s eyes!” So here’s a brief glossary of terms associated with Doll’s Eyes:

Doll glossary - flirty eyes

A Doll with ‘flirty eyes’

Flirty Eyes describes eyes that are looking to one side or another. This is a very popular style that has been used on dolls from both Eastern and Western countries. It was more popular a hundred years ago, fewer dolls today have flirty eyes.

A doll with 'sleeping eyes'

A doll with Sleeping Eyes

A doll whose eyes ‘close’ when it is laid down and ‘open’ when it is picked up is described as having ‘sleeping eyes.’ The eyes are free moving and weighted so that they open and close. There are three weaknesses to this design:

  1. Children poke at the eyes… breaking the delicate mechanism that allows the eyes to open and close.
  2. Many manufacturers seem to have difficulty matching the paint color of the eyelids with the colored vinyl materials used to mold the face.
  3. And for those eyes that have eyelashes, children often pick at or pull off the eyelashes… it seems to hold a fascination for them. it is one of the items that we have to specifically list as ‘not covered’ in our store’s warranty!
A doll with safe-set eyes

A doll with safe-set eyes

Safe set eyes is a term that describes a method of attaching the eyes to the doll so that they are almost impossible for a small child to pull out and swallow. Credit is generally given to the GUND company (now a part of Enesco) for being the first to manufacture their dolls using this technique. Today all dolls and plush toys must meet the CPSIA safety standards for ‘pull strength.’ Usually the eyes are sewn into a little cloth sack, and then the sack is sewn into the head, making removing the eyes very difficult to do.

A doll with 'Fixed' eyes

A doll with ‘Fixed’ eyes

Fixed eyes are usually acrylic eyes that are glued or ‘fixed’ into place inside the hollow head of the doll during manufacturing. When the manufacturer does this right it can really enhance the beauty of the doll, when they use a poor quality eye, make the eye too small, or use a weird color it can make a pretty doll look strange – almost like an alien! One of the weaknesses of the process is that the eyes sometimes get glued in at a poor angle, making for a cross-eyed, googly-eyed or wall-eyed doll.

A doll with beautiful eyes

A beautiful doll with lifelike eyes