Horsman’s Blue Bird Dolls
Mertz, Ursula R
In an illustrated advertisement in the trade journal Playthings dated March 1920, the E.I. Hors-man firm of New York City advertised a “Blue Bird Doll, the latest sensation in the doll world.” In its December issue, Blue Bird dolls were still being promoted with a beautifully designed and illustrated full-page ad. Elsewhere, it was stated that these dolls had been created to commemorate the visit to America of the Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck, who wrote the play The Blue Bird, indicating once more that it was quite popular among doll makers to create tie-in promotions with popular events of the day.
Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), famous dramatist, essayist, poet, translator and short story writer, was considered the major dramatist of the Symbolist movement in Europe. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911. One of his greatest theatrical successes was the play The Blue Bird. Mr. Maeterlinck’s works must have been quite popular in this country for some time, as, seven years earlier in 1913, the Ladies Home Journal published in serial form a Blue Bird version adapted for children, entitled “The Children’s Blue Bird, the Wonderful Adventures of Tyltyl and Mytyl in Search of Happiness. A Story Version of Maurice Maeterlinck’s Famous Play, By Madame Maurice Maeterlinck.” The main characters, Tyltyl and Mytyl, were a young boy and girl. In the play, Mytyl, the girl, is wearing a similar cape as featured by Horsman on the dolls. It is, therefore, quite certain that the Blue Bird dolls were representative of Mytyl, even though Mr. Maeterlinck’s play or Mytyl were not mentioned in the Horsman ad at all. While doll makers sometimes had licensing arrangements with authors or actors, on other occasions they did not and would only infer a connection to the famous play or person.
Certainly, the Horsman firm was quite confident of the success of the Blue Bird dolls as 10 styles were offered in various sizes. Five of these had molded hair and five were wigged. All wore hooded Red Riding Hood-type capes decorated with flying birds in the lower, upturned front corners. A closer look at the ad reveals that Horsman used three various size dolly-faced dolls, its Peterkin and Peek-A-Boo, to create the Blue Bird line.
If survival rate is any indication, then the Blue Bird dolls were not successful. As is evidenced by the illustrations with this article, only one Peek-A-Boo in original costume was available for examination. Then again, it is also safe to assume that the cape might have become separated and lost when children played with their Blue Bird dolls. It certainly would be interesting to hear from readers who have in their collections one or the other doll that is shown in the group picture. If that doll is wearing a light blue, pleated dress, as seen in the full-page ad, quite likely they own a Blue Bird doll minus the cape. Please write me in care of Doll Reader if you have one of these dolls.
The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls, Volumes I and II, colman, Dorothy S., Elizabeth A. and Evelyn J. Playthings, March and December 1920 Ladies Home Journal June 1913 20th Century Literary Criticism, Sharon K. Hall, Editor, Copyright 1980, Gale Research Company
Copyright Cowles Enthusiast Media Jun/Jul 2001
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