Bradley Dolls (Big Eyed Dolls) - A Doll Mystery Solved!
Some months ago, I asked for my readers help in identifying these mystery vintage dolls from the 70's. The recollection of their big eyes, soft foam bodies, silky wigs and Victorian-era
clothing haunted me, and I was only able to turn up one tiny photo on eBay showing three of the dolls' heads. Today is my lucky day! Reader Liliane from
Sunnyside has written in and correctly identfied these as Bradley Dolls. As it turns out, there's so much in a name, and once I had that
all-important clue, I was able to start researching the web to learn more about these vintage dolls. I've discovered that I'm not the only
one who remembers these dolls so well!
Liliane not only remembers these dolls, but she owns several, and even had a fabulous rare
catalog to share with us. I can't thank her enough for the photos she's contributed to this article. The catalogue
shown left reads Bradley's Wonderful World of Dolls, 1981-1982 Edition, and at that time, it cost $2.00
to buy. The bottom of the cover reads Bradley Dolls - Division of Bradley Import Co. - Copyright 1981, Founded in 1954.
Filled with memory-sparking images, it's obvious from a glance at the cover that Bradley Dolls came not only in
many different costumes, but also in multiple sizes.
The costumes shown on the front of this catalogue include Bradley dolls dressed in the Victorian/Grand Ole Opry
style I remember, but also a nurse, little red riding hood, a bride, and a Santa's helper. The most interesting
detail for me to learn, however, was that only some of Bradley's dolls featured the huge eyes that most people
are searching the web for, asking for vintage big-eyed dolls. If you look closely at the Bradley's Wonderful
World of Dolls catalogue photos, you will see that many of the dolls have much more delicate faces with smaller
You will also note that one of the dolls has been mounted on a lamp, and another has a swing. In my research, I
encountered a Bradley Doll vase, and also, Bradley dolls posed on stands that doubled as music boxes. In my
girlhood in the 1970's, these dolls were everywhere, both as a toy and as a decoration. Their lavish costumes,
though generally made of non-quality fabrics and synthetics, delighted American women and girls. Little
House on the Prairie ideals of a romantic family life on the land, Gunnie Sax dresses taking their fancy
cues from the Victorian era and the popularity of Country Western music that made the whole country just a little
bit 'country' were some of the elements of those 1970's days, and Bradley Dolls seemed to fit right into
What I've Learned About Bradley Dolls
The first thing I've leared is that people call these dolls by many different names including Boudoir dolls,
Stockinette dolls, cloth dolls, Southern Belle dolls, Victorian dolls, Living Dolls and big-eyed dolls. The diversity of names
begins to make sense when you discover that Bradley manfactured these dolls from 1954 until 1984 when the company
was bought by Hasbro who, it would appear, discontinued the line. I have not been able to ascertain whether
Bradley was a division of Milton-Bradley, the famous toy and game maker, but it could be. The fact that these dolls
were manufactured for 30 years is noteworthy, and a reader, Anne, has just written in to say:
"Wow! These dolls (the ones shown) seem NEW to me! I remember the same type of doll sold in
novelty stores all over during the 1950's and 60's. As a small child, I thought they were dazzlingly
beautiful! They were boudoir dolls. My mother broke down and got me one, which I adored.
The clothing was not removeable. A tiny paper label designated it as being "Made in Japan".
I'd love to have one now!"
In addition to the frilly Victorian fashion dolls, Bradley put out a line of mod dolls in the
1960's, complete with cropped haircuts and period fabric costumes. You can see a photo of these
mod dolls here.
As the reader points out, her doll came from Japan. The 1970's Bradley dolls I've encountered bear
tags saying "Made in Korea" and I understand that they were later manufactured in China as well. One
reader reports that they were imported and then distributed from Los Angeles all over the U.S. and
Canada. They tended to be inexpensive dolls, available at five and dimes, drug stores and as prizes
at county fairs.
The image shown left comes from the catalog and depicts the Bradley Dolls with the more diminutive features.
As you can see, they are being sold by names like Tricia, Karen, Jody, Melanie, Kate and so on. The two doll
sizes I have been able to find are 10" and 13", but there must have been dolls larger than this, as well.
It seems that different materials may have been used over 30 years of production in the manufacture of
Bradley's dolls, but the materials I remember (and the ones I've found most described) are of a wire frame,
covered in foam, with a stockinette body. The legs were abnormally long and thin on the dolls, and the hands
had a fat padded palm and wired, needle-like fingers. The features were painted and the lavish wigs, often
featuring sausage curls, were a very silky synthetic. My reader who remembers her 50's doll describes
bodies that were very slender and often the torsos were just a cardboard tube. The majority of these dolls
from all decades stood on stands of wood or plastic.
In addition to the Victorian and Mod dolls, Bradley made storybook-type dolls, dolls of the month,
Colonial-type dolls, bride and groom sets and African-American dolls.
Value of Bradley Dolls and Where to Find Them
Once I was able to start searching for these vintage dolls by their right names, I found them selling
anywhere from $10-$75. It's hard to estimate how rare they've become. Just a couple of decades ago, these
dolls were literally everywhere, but they were easily dented by pressure because of their somewhat soft
composition and their 'skin' was easily soiled from play. Your best bet for finding these dolls for sale
will be either a Google search for doll sellers who deal Bradley dolls, or a visit to eBay's auctions.
Like my homepage says, I'm not a snob about dolls. Some doll collectors turn up their sensitive noses
at the drug store dolls that little girls of the past could save up their allowances to afford. Certainly,
Bradley Dolls don't have the stunning quality of Madame Alexander dolls or those dear Betsy McCalls, but they've got nostalgia in spades. The quality of our
love for the dolls of childhood is hard to describe - we only know we feel it in our hearts.
New Bradley Doll Photos
Isn't this a great photo? Sent in by reader Mary K., this photo really shows the close-up face
of a Bradley Doll. This image makes it pretty clear why so many people remember these as
"Big Eyed Dolls". Look at the unique way in which the eyes on this doll have been painted. All
of those unexpected colors!
Mary K. wrote to me with a tidbit of information I'd never heard before. At one time,
it was possible to order either Bradley Doll Heads or Bodies. These could be assembled, and then
crafters could sew their own costumes for the dolls. Mary K. asked her mother where it was she
remembered buying these doll parts, and her mother recalled the names of two mail-order catalogs:
Michael's and Harriet Carter. While I've never heard of the Harriet Carter catalog before, I've
definitely heard of Michael's Craft Stores. These are all over the West Coast now. I wonder if this
is the same store, or just a coincidental likeness of business name.
Many thanks to Mary for sharing these photos and memories of Bradley dolls with us. Below, a snapshot
of Mary's three favorite Bradeys:
Reader, Valerie, has just sent in these 2 new Bradley Doll Photos. I really appreciate how my readers
have shared their photos and memories about these dolls with me, and now we've got plenty for everyone
to see! Thanks, Valerie!
Also, you may enjoy visiting this Flickr photo set I found featuring some great Bradley dolls.