Madame Alexander Dolls - Setting the Standard for Best Doll Quality for Generations.
To understand how Madame Alexander came to hold first place in the hearts of generations
of doll collectors, one has to travel back to the world of dolls in which a little girl named
Beatrice Alexander grew up. Living in a small Brooklyn aparment above the doll shop and doll hospital
of her first-generation-American father, Beatrice's daily life was amongst the lovely dolls
of the Edwardian age. It is entertaining to reflect on the fabulous makes of old-world dolls that
might have come into Mr. Alexander's hospital for repairs.
Lavishly dressed dolls by Bru, Jumeau,
Simon & Halbig, and Armand Marseille could easily have been the little patients that Beatrice studied
in their silks and plumes, satins, laces and velvets.
The years were to prove what an observant
child she must have been - her eye for the minute details that give dolls and doll fashions superior
appeal stands second to none, down through the ages.
The story of Beatrice Alexander - the woman who would become one of the most
successful American business women of her generation - is not unlike that of some
of our other national heros in the Arts. Born in a crowded NY ghetto, she looked beyond her surroundings
and envisioned a world of beautiful things. She had the intelligence, the resourcefulness
and the bravery to pursue her goals, no matter what the odds might be.
Beatrice was a young wife and mother in
her early 20's when WWI broke out, throwing Europe into chaos and playing havoc with the
U.S. economy. For Mr. Alexander, who depended on a large portion of his dolls coming from
Germany, trade embargos threatened to close the doors of his doll shop. Beatrice and her
siblings refused to let this be the outcome, and using what materials they could get with
relative ease, they created a little cloth doll in the costume of a Red Cross Worker. This
timely invention was a sensation, and the doll shop was saved. Beatrice's career had begun.
Early Cloth Dolls by Madame Alexander - rare and wonderful!
The cloth dolls that Beatrice went on to create to stock her father's shop are extremely
rare collectors items. To the right, you will see an all cloth Alice in Wonderland. These
dolls originally sold for $13.50 a dozen wholesale - turning little profit for Beatrice
and her sisters. So many years later, we can appreciate the value of this primitive cloth
doll, but, Beatrice needed to make a real go of her business, and in 1923, she borrowed
$1600 and created the Alexander Doll Company. FAO Schwarz, one of the world's greatest
toy stores, was among Beatrice's first customers for cloth dolls.
Over the next decade, the company faced ups-and-downs, including the bursting of a water
tower that damaged all of the stock. They held a sale on the damaged goods to recoup some
of their losses and got right back to work. To understand how Beatrice felt about her work,
consider the following quote explaining her philosphy:
"Dolls should contribute to a child's understanding of people, other times
and other places. Dolls should develop an appreciation of art and literature
in a child."
It is little wonder, then, that storybook characters, early motion picture stars and
international characters became some of Alexander's best first dolls, and were her recurring
subjects for the rest of her career. She wanted to share her beautiful vision with children,
and her personal desire for presenting herself as an elegant person of substance led to
her adopting the title Madam Alexander, which first appeared in an article in a 1928 edition
of the magazine Playthings.
To the left, we have a wonderful example of a more advanced cloth doll from the early 1930's.
This is Oliver Twist. He stands at 16" and features an all muslin body, but the
felt mask face is a step toward greater realism, compared to the earlier Alice in Wonderland.
Oliver wears a pale green velveteen jacket and has a mohair wig. On the back of his jacket
the label reads "Oliver Twist, Madame Alexander, New York." Such dolls are rare and
highly collectible now in the 21st century.
1930's - A period of transition and invention for Madame Alexander Dolls
During the Great Depression, Madame Alexander first began producing dolls made of composition.
The company's first famous composition dolls were released in conjunction with Walt Disney's
The Three Little Pigs in 1933, and the two enterprises began a lasting partnership.
Following this success, Madame Alexander paid tribute to the headline-making birth of the Dionne
Quintuplets. The dolls created to represent the babies were one of the Madame Alexander Doll Company's
greatest successes of all time. Madame's next inspiration came from reading a new novel
written in 1936 by a southern writer - Margaret Mitchell. Gone with the Wind so captured
Beatrice Alexander's imagination that she created a Scarlett O'Hara doll. This was, of course, before
the book was made into a film, and this original Scarlett doll was only to be the first of the many
Gone with the Wind character dolls the company would continue to produce for decades.
It was during the 1930's that Madame Alexander dolls began to take on an appearance that may
begin to seem more familiar to those new to doll collecting. To the right we see an amazingly
mint condition Madame Alexander doll from 1935. This character was called McGuffey Anna
and she stands 9" high. She is made entirely of composition and her face is painted. I was
quite amazed to see the perfect skin tone of this doll at auction. There is no evidence of
crazing or discoloration. She looks as if she was released yesterday! Madame Alexander fans
will, I know, take tremendous pleasure in looking at this doll's detailed costume, complete
with black hat, sprigged green dress and starched pinafore. Her mohair wig is in incredible
condition and even her yellow hair ribbons look fresh.
Throughout the 1930's, Madame Alexander was continuously experimenting with different
doll-making materials and with different doll sizes. Unhappy with the flat look of her first
cloth dolls, she invented techniques of sculpting cloth. She then progressed to composition
dolls with carefully painted faces. The next move was to create dolls with sleepy, open-close
eyes to bring greater expression and a new life-like quality to the dolls' faces. And her
flair with fabrics only grew the longer she worked at creating dolls. Madame Alexander's
ability to dream up costumes was seemingly endless!
Toward the end of the 1930's, Alexander found a new fascination - the British Royal
Family. She created a face mold based on eleven year old Princess Elizabeth, and this
mold was used for numerous dolls thereafter. The example shown here on the left is quite good of the
face from this molding, though the doll is somewhat worn. Note the rounded features and sleepy
eyes of this well-made doll. This image does a fine
job of illustrating just how far the skill of the Madame Alexander Doll Company had come by the
end of the 1930's and it is little wonder that a Fortune magazine article dubbed Beatrice
Alexander The Queen of Dolls.
1940s - Patriotic Madame Alexander Dolls and a Whole New Doll Medium
The U.S. Government considered dolls to be morale-boosters for the American
public and Madame Alexander graciously did her duty by creating a series of
war-time armed-forces-themed dolls. The company kept its doors open throughout
WWII, and continued their exploration of creating dolls around motion pictures
and motion picture stars. The most famous of these from the 1940's is the Margaret
O'Brien doll, shown to right. She was introduced in 1946 and was offered in a number
of sizes from 14" to 21". Margaret O'Brien was billed as everyone's ideal of a
dear little girl, and likely you will remember her as Tootie in Meet Me in
St. Louis (the little girl who knocks down the snow people, you remember!).
Apart from this doll's signficance as a memento of a bygone age, she also bridges
a major change in the history of dollmaking.
At the end of the war, in her quest to create an unbreakable doll, Madame Alexander
partnered with the Dupont Corporation to create the first plastic doll. Margaret
O'Brien dolls appear first in composition, but the later dolls are made of this miracle
new substance - hard plastic! During this decade, Madame Alexander pioneered the first
ever walking doll - Jeannie Walker. Numerous new face sculpts were created during
the 1940's, including the doll created in honor of Olympic iceskater Sonja Henie.
The Portrait Series of sumptously costumed dolls also dates to this period.
1950s - The Golden Age of Madame Alexander Dolls
During the decade of the 1950s, Madame Alexander received 4 awards from the
New York Fashion Academy for taste, style and unwavering quality of her dolls,
and this is a period that is often referred to by doll collectors as the Golden
Age of Madame Alexander. I believe this feeling can be attributed to the 1953
introduction of the Alexanderkins - the 8" dolls that were to become synonymous
with the name of Madame Alexander.
Alexanderkins were developed in many categories, but the two most celebrated
of these were the Storybook Dolls and the International Dolls. The Storybooks
included such beloved figures as Little Bo Peep, Little Red Riding Hood,
and Mary, Mary Quite Contrary. To the left, I have an image of a Little
Red Riding Hood. She is a somewhat later model of this doll, but gives
a pleasant impression of the skill of the company. The International Dolls began to take us on
a trip around the world to see the folk costumes of far off lands. The ensembles
created for the Alexanderkins are truly magnificent in both their overall design
and in their absolutely charming attention to detail. Beautiful trims, hats,
shawls, bonnets and little shoes delighted the hearts of children and ladies
and the popularity of Madame Alexander's creations skyrocketed.
The face most connected with this era of dolls is the Wendy face - that chubby-cheeked
little girl whose relative age seems to hover around 5-7 years old. These Wendy/Alexanderkins
dolls' bodies progressed in the following way:
- 1953 - Straight-leg non-walker dolls.
- 1954 - Both straight-leg non-walkers and some straight-leg walkers
- 1955 - Straight-leg walkers
- 1956 - Both bend-knee walkers and straight-leg walkers
- 1957 - Bend-knee walkers
In addition to that well-known Wendy face, Madame Alexander had created the Binnie
Walker face, but it wasn't terribly well-publicized until this face mold was used on
the Cissie doll in 1955. My example to the left shows this face mold, though the doll is
in poor repair. Unlike the toddler-like Wendy-faced dolls, Cissy was released as a
grown-up doll with a enormous wardrobe of grown-up costumes. Cissy dolls were 20"-21"
inches in height, and their features reflect the cosmetics companies' ads from the 1950s. See our
beautiful unique article on the Cissy Doll.
In the years following the release of Cissie, the Madame Alexander Doll Company released
similar dolls of varying heights under the names of Cissette, Elise and Lissy.
Perhaps the most interesting anecdote relating the this period of doll history involves
the 36 custom made dolls that Madame Alexander created to represent the coronation of
Queen Elizabeth II. The dolls depicted the queen, her attendants, arch bishops, choir
boys, guards and relations. The dolls and costumes were so accurate, right down to the
last detail, that CBS used them to re-enact the coronation on television, and the set was
then valued at $25,000.
Dolls of the 1960's - 1980's
Madame Alexander continued to produce several grown-up fashion dolls and introduced
Jacqueline and Caroline in the early 1960's, based on the Kennedy women. The company's
fascination with important figures in history was further accented by the release
of a line of First Lady dolls in the 1970's. Madame Alexander, herself, had become
a famous figure and her public appearences were always sold-out affairs.
My own feelings about this era are especially poignant as this is when I was a little
girl and received my very first Madame Alexander doll. The toy stores then were
like magic shops with their gleaming cases of dolls of every possible description.
There were the elegant, Victorian-style Lucinda dolls with their silken gowns and
parasols, there were the pudgy baby dolls and then there were all of the wonderful
8" Alexanderkins dolls in their fabulous costumes. Don't miss our special article on the
unique Little Boy Dolls
of Madame Alexander. The International Dolls collection
and Storybook Dolls collection both increased at the beginning of the 1980s and the dolls
simply made a little girl's heart yearn to own every single one.
I remember Spain, in her red tiered dress and lace mantilla. Brazil with that delicious-looking
fruit on her hat. Mexico with her bright glass beads. Betsy Ross with stars on
her dress. The Little Red Boy in his velvet suit. Scarlett O'Hara with her
green, bejeweled sash! The variety, the opulance, and the tiny detailing of
these dolls will remain a source of joy to me forever.
But, perhaps best of all were the Little Women dolls. Madame Alexander made her first
set of cloth Little Women dolls in 1933 after the release of the popular motion picture.
The Madame Alexander Doll company has never stopped producing new versions of these
dolls since then. My family owned a complete set of these dolls, purchased in the early
1970s and, to me, these dolls typified the quality and style of Madame Alexander. Read my
in-depth, extensively researched and beautifully illustrated article on the Little Women Dolls.
Madame Alexander retired in 1988 and sold her famous doll company to private investors.
She retired to Florida, and under new ownership, the Madame Alexander Doll Company continued
to produce her dolls, and also added some porcelain lines. In 1990, at the age of 95, Beatrice
Alexander passed away. Her glorious legacy remains with us.
Madame Alexander Baby Dolls
In addition to all of the wonderful little girl dolls and grown up dolls this company has given us,
the Madame Alexander Doll Company made a tremendous number of beautiful baby dolls. The best-known
lines of these are the Huggums dolls with their soft hands and feet and the large Pussy Cat
Dolls. Madame Alexander did much to set the standard of wonderful baby dolls between the 1950's - 1980's
and many companies created imitations of her dolls. The image below depicts three Huggums
dolls from the late 1960's - early 1970's:
Collectors Value of Madame Alexander Dolls
Rarity, condition and desirability are the three factors that determine the value of this dollmaker's
dolls. Early cloth dolls have become quite rare and can earn many thousands of dollars at auction.
Also, dolls which had a limited release bring in top dollar. Mint condition dolls are more valuable
than ones with crazing, discoloration, mussed hair or missing articles of clothing, but in the older
dolls, these flaws are often overlooked. Desirability is less hard to predict. The faces and costumes
of certain dolls simply have a tremendous appeal to buyers and bidding can go quite high when
this is the case.
Extensive documentation has been done in book format on the many styles of this company's dolls,
making identification of dolls fairly simple in most cases. However, dollmakers marks and boxes
do play an important role in both their identifcation and in their value. One of the most common
flaws in Madame Alexander dolls at auction is that they have lost their shoes and socks. Unfortunately,
most played-with dolls, especially of the 8" kind, lost these accessories along the way, but replacements
can be found.
A Final Note on Madame Alexander Dolls
My mother's love of these dolls no doubt informed my childhood opinion that
Madame Alexander dolls were THE standard in wonderous, elegant dolls. I had my baby dolls,
my little girl dolls from the local drug store, but my Storybook and International dolls
were special. When I played with them, I handled them more gently. I spoke to them softly
and played decorous games with them.
I believe that Madame Alexander's wish to teach little
girls about the richness of fabrics, of culture, of literature, of art must have struck a true
chord in me. Opening a gift from my parents, or from some loving and lavish relation, and seeing
that blue and pink box is an experience I can still recall the breathless joy of. Those signature
boxes contained not just any doll, but a Madame Alexander! Who would she be? What would she be wearing?
Due to the hours I spent pouring over the tiny catalogues that came with these dolls, I was intimately
acquainted with all of their names and costumes. And, then, to carefully lift this lid, to peer
into the box...ah, bliss! A truly special doll.
Permission to display several of the photos on this page was graciously
granted by the owner of the following eBay store, which often has lovely
dolls in stock:
Honey and Shars