Dolls of the century: 1940-1949

Dolls of the century: 1940-1949

Izen, Judith

Part 5 of our series focuses on dolls that found favor with consumers during the 1940s. The 1940s heralded big changes for doll makers. Two new revolutionary materials, plastic and latex rubber, should have offered a wealth of opportunity for the doll industry. But the use of plastic and rubber for dolls was nipped in its infancy due to the pressing manufacturing needs of World War II. The nascent plastic and rubber industries had to concentrate on the war effort. During the years of World War II (1941-1946), cloth dolls were reintroduced, and composition dolls continued to be produced due to the lack of availability of plastic and latex rubber for domestic use. After the war ended, doll makers took advantage of the opportunity to use these new materials. The use of hard plastic really exploded in 1948, when it seems that every doll company in the United States came out with hard plastic dolls.


Abe Katz, of the Ideal Toy Company, discovered latex rubber, which looked and felt like human skin, on a visit to a Sandusky, Ohio, balloon factory. Mr. Katz received a patent for the Magic Skin Baby doll in 1940. Magic Skin Baby dolls had hard plastic heads and stuffed latex rubber bodies. Children loved these dolls because they were not cold and hard like composition and bisque dolls. Because they absorbed the body warmth of children who held them, they were particularly huggable. Young owners also could bath them. Unfortunately, the latex rubber material has hardened and cracked over the years and very few dolls with magic skin can be found in good condition. The good news is that replacement magic skin bodies soon will be available for these dolls. Due to the war shortage of rubber and plastic, Ideal was deprived of magic skin until 1946.

PLASSIE ( 1942)

One of the first dolls made using the revolutionary new material of injection molded hard plastic-the acetates and buterates-was Plassie in 1942. Plassie’s (named for plastic) hard plastic head fit on a composition shoulder plate that allowed her head to tilt as well as turn side to side. Plassie, a baby doll, had composition limbs with lovely curled fingers on her hands and a stuffed cloth body She had “Pat No 2252077” on the back of her head, which was the Ideal Toy Company’s patent marks for hard plastic. The 1942 Ideal Catalog advertised Plassie as the “Wonder Baby with the Plastic Head. The new Ideal smash hit.” She came with the standard postural Ma-Ma crier mechanism inside common to Ideal baby dolls. Plassie became a success with the public because she was more durable than the earlier composition-head dolls. Plassie is one of the dolls pictured on the U.S. Postal Service Stamp Series (although she is mis-named Baby Coos). Because of the outbreak of World War II, Ideal, a leader in plastics technology, had to curtail its production of hard-plastic dolls and turn to essential production work for the Army and Navy.


Deprived of the new plastic technology by the war, doll companies made composition dolls, including personality dolls. One of the personality dolls of the 1940s was Margaret O’Brien, created to resemble a talented child star who won a special Oscar(R) for her role in the beloved musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The doll came in three eye colors: hazel, brown and blue, and she can be found with a brown and dark-blonde wig. Available in 14-inch, 17-inch, 19-inch and 24-inch sizes in all composition, she was made by the Madame Alexander Doll Company of New York. Madame Alexander, like the other doll companies, began using hard plastic for dolls in 1948. A hard plastic version of the Margaret O’Brien doll was made in 1948.


The Ideal Toy Company made the Sparkle Plenty doll, a character from Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip. The birth of this beautiful daughter with waist-length hair and sparkling eyes to B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie tripled fan mail to the Dick Tracy comic strip. Ideal, seeing an opportunity to capitalize on the comic strip’s success, produced a doll only 40 days after the birth of the baby in the comics. The Sparkle Plenty doll grossed $6 million and became the fastest-selling doll up to that time.

The Sparkle Plenty doll has a Celanese cellulose hard-plastic head, a magic skin-latex rubber jointed body, long yellow woolen yarn hair, bright blue sleep eyes with long lashes, and pierced nostrils. When squeezed, she cried or cooed. She came dressed in either a cotton flannel sacque and diaper or an outfit with a white collar.

Sparkle Plenty’s huge success, partially attributed to her waist-length yellow wool hair that could be combed and shampooed, started the trend for comic-strip dolls in the toy industry. In 1948, Ideal gave Sparkle a jointed rubber body so she could drink and wet, and added a voice that cooed and cried. She also came in a print dress or slacks. She was produced through 1951.

TONI (1949)

The Toni doll is an advertising doll. Ideal had to obtain a license from the manufacturer of the Toni Home Permanent to tie in with its popular product. With the help of advertising, Ideal sold millions of Toni dolls.

Toni came in 14-inch, 16-inch, 19-inch and 21-inch sizes. There is also a rare 22 1/2-inch size. The Toni dolls were strung and jointed at the head, shoulders and hips. The later Tonis (1954-56) were walkers. The Toni dolls are marked P-90, P-91, P92, P-93 and P-94 on their bodies. The dolls were sold with a special Toni home permanent solution of sugar water to be used on the dolls’ nylon wigs. Toni was the first doll to have a nylon wig.

The Toni dolls came in a wide range of clothing that varied from bridal gowns to school dresses. The dolls have been seen in at least 100 different outfits. Many dresses were made of nylon, the new miracle fiber from the Dupont Company. Dress labels on most Toni clothing read “Genuine Toni Doll/With Nylon Wig/ Made by Ideal Toy Corporation.” Even the vinyl shoes were marked “Ideal Toy Corporation/ Made in U.S.A.”

A costly doll for her era, Toni was heavily promoted in order to market her at a higher price. She remains a sturdy, well-made and prized doll to collectors today.


This 8-inch hard plastic painted eye doll is now known as Ginny. The Vogue Doll Company, headed by Jennie Graves, had manufactured an 8-inch composition doll called Toddles from 1937-1948. Vogue created its new flinch doll from the revolutionary material cellulose acetate, which was injected into a doll mold under high pressure. After the mold was opened, the halves of the doll were glued together. The plastic used for these early dolls varied from very pale bisque-like shades to pink tones. The doll shown is from 1949, and she is called Jean #818C from the Playmates Series by Vogue. She is in her pink taffeta coat and lovely straw hat. Notice her silver Vogue wrist tag and plain blue box with Vogue ink spot label on the end.

Vogue did not bestow the name Ginny doll on its new acetate doll until 1953. However, collectors now call all flinch hard-plastic dolls by Vogue Ginny. Ginny was named for Jennie Graves’ daughter, Virginia Graves Carlson. Later, hard-plastic Ginnys had sleep eyes and were made in various versions. They continue to delight children today.


The diminutive Nancy Ann Storybook dolls were very popular with adults and children alike. Sold throughout the 1940s, the 6- to 8-inch dolls, first were made of bisque and then of hard-plastic beginning in 1948. Nancy Ann Abbott of San Francisco sold these dolls with mohair wigs and painted eyes in white boxes with colored polka dots. The dolls were made in series such as Mother Goose Series and Fairyland Se- ries, with names such as Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice and Little Miss Muf fet. Nancy Ann’s motto was “wee dolls for wee collectors.” The company usually produced about 100 dolls a year. Since the company manufactured so many Storybook dolls, they are available in the $50 range today.

Copyright Cowles Enthusiast Media Aug 2000

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