Nancy Ann Dolls - Decades of Darling Dolls
Come back to the years of the Great American Depression - to the years of bold
jazz and breadline blues. A brave but struggling people take comfort in the swing
beat that fills the radio waves, in the fantasy world of the motion picture show,
and in dreams of better days when prosperity will surely return. In a small apartment
in San Francisco, CA., Nancy Ann Abbott has a dream of her own, and wants to bring
hope and fun to the lives of American girls by creating dear little dolls for them.
In 1936, with only $125.00 to invest in her business, Nancy Ann Abbott created her very
first line of dolls - 3-3/4" Hush-a-bye baby dolls.
Within a decade, Nancy Ann Dressed Dolls Inc., would become the most
popular doll producer in the USA, turning out over 12,000 dolls a day. Over
time, the company would change the composition and look of their dolls,
and in 1945 they even changed the company name to Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls
Inc. And yet, the endless imagination behind the many, many lines of Nancy Ann
dolls never changed. Here were dolls in every description of dressup. Dolls
of the week, dolls of the months, storybook characters, sporty dolls, party
dolls and dolls from around the world.
These were the pretty dolls my mother's
generation played with and it is small wonder that women continue to adore
and collect Nancy Ann dolls today.
With several hundred kinds of Nancy Ann dolls in existence, the collector has a truly
wide array to choose from. Unfortunately, identifying Nancy Anns can be a bit of
a challenge, as their sole identifier consisted of the foil tag around the doll's wrists or
stickers on their clothing.
If the tag or sticker is gone, identification can be complex, but this article's aim is to assist
you in knowing all of the important characteristics of this brand of doll
The present collectors value of Nancy Ann Dolls
To the right you will see a closeup of one the wrist identification tags. The company began
using these in 1941. Prior to that, gold stickers were used on the clothing or hats of the dolls.
Obviously, dolls with their proper ID are going to be most valuable to the collector, as will
be dolls that still have their boxes. The early Nancy Ann Doll boxes were red, pink or blue
with white dots, and the later ones were white with red, silver, pink or blue dots. I have
also seen reports of several boxes which predate all of the above and may be covered with
stars or even a marbled-looking print. Some of the later dolls also came in special theme
boxes with plastic windows.
Depending upon the condition of the doll, I have seen Nancy Anns from the earliest models
to the latest making as little as $10 and as much as $3000 at auction. If a collector is especially
keen on a specific doll in near mint condition, they may be willing to pay more. The following
list explains various detractors from the value of Nancy Ann Dolls:
If you have a Nancy Ann doll with none of the above flaws, she might be of good value to the right
buyer (that is, if you could bear to part with her, yourself!).
- Mussed hair
- Torn or damaged clothing
- Missing clothing
- Stains on doll body or clothing
- Missing ID tags
- Missing boxes
Main Characteristics of Nancy Ann Dolls
Nancy Ann Dolls come in two main compostions - bisque (1937-1948) and plastic (1948-1960's).
You may laugh if you are new to doll collecting, and discover that the bisque Nancy Ann
Dolls are broken down into three categories with funny sounding names : frozen leg,
pudgy, and slim-strung. As you might guess, frozen leg Nancy Anns are not jointed at the hips,
but the pudgies and the slim-strung dolls have moveable legs, and all bisque Nancy Anns
have jointed arms. *Please note that several of the bisque dolls had plasic arms. This may
cause the collector some confusion. Most bisque dolls will be marked on the back of the neck with dollmakers'
marks such as STORY/BOOK/DOLL/USA/11 or JUDY/ANN/USA, but some genuine Nancy
Ann dolls may appear to be unmarked. The reason for this is often that the doll mold had worn
smooth with use and thereby left no impression on the doll's back.
Nancy Ann dolls range in size from 4 1/2" to 18" in height. Most of the Nancy Anns you will find
at auction or in second hand shops will be the 5 1/2" dolls.
The later plastic Nancy Ann dolls had painted features to begin with, and then had
more sculpted features with open/close eyes. The early bisque dolls all have painted features,
and these are by far my favorite Nancy Anns. Did you realize that these dolls' faces were painted
by hand? No wonder each little face is so different and seems to have its own personality. Take
a look at these 3 photos of Nancy Ann dolls to see the slight differences between each of their
handpainted facial features.
Clothing and Hair
A few mere paragraphs could never suffice to describe the vast wardrobe created for the Nancy
Ann dolls during their nearly 30 years of production. Tiny costumes were painstakingly sewn of cottons,
silks, satins, velvets and wool. The trims are a source of special appeal to doll collectors - ribbons,
laces, tiny flowers and bows were used lavishly to give Nancy Ann dolls's clothing an elegant,
polished finished. A defining characteristic of these dolls is that all of the female dolls sported some type of head adornment - a hat, ribbons or a
tiny bunch of flowers. It is the minute details like these that I so enjoy when looking at Nancy
Anns. *It is also of especial importance for doll collectors to take note that Nancy Ann Abbott designed
multiple costumes for many of her character dolls, and this can make the identification challenge
even greater. Most Nancy Ann dolls have glued on mohair wigs. However, some of the earliest dolls
have painted-on hair. A few have painted on hair underneath their wigs.
The 13 Main Categories of original bisque Nancy Ann Dolls
Within each of these main categories, you will find numerous dolls, but I hope you will
find it helpful to see this broken down into basic types:
- In Powder and Crinoline
- Dolls of the Month
- Nursery Rhyme
- Dolls of the Day
- American Girl
- Around the World
- Flower Girl
It is these last dolls - the Storybook Series - that have come to be eternally linked with the
name of Nancy Ann. Despite the fact that the company created so many different lines of dolls,
the Storybook name stuck with us.
All but a few Nancy Ann dolls had numbers assigned to them. If you are lucky to have a mint
condition doll like the one shown here, with her tag and box intact, you have a complete picture.
However, do bear in mind the unfortunate fact that many Nancy Anns show up in the wrong boxes
and this frequently leads to mixups for collectors.
The 10 Main Categories of Plastic Nancy Ann dolls
In the late 1940s, Nancy Ann moved to manufacturing plastic composition dolls.
These dolls can be broken down into the following main types:
The last item on this list represents an effort that was made in 1973 by Albert
Bourla, who bought Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls Inc. after the original company
had gone bankrupt in 1965 due to Nancy Ann Abbott's declining health.
- Plastic Storybook dolls with painted eyes (1948-1950)
- Plastic Storybook dolls with open/close eyes (1950 onwards)
- 8" Muffie
- 18" Nancy Ann Style Show
- 10 1/2" Miss Nancy Ann
- 9" Little Miss Nancy Ann
- 10" Debbie (toddler doll)
- 9" Sue sue (baby doll made of vinyl)
- Aline & Missie
For me, the biggest difference between the early dolls and the ones from 1950
onwards is not so much that the composition changed from bisque to plastic, but
that Nancy Ann's eyes could suddenly open and shut. Such eyes certainly add
a more lifelike character to a doll's face! And Nancy Ann's clothing continued
to be just lovely. Wonderful full skirted- gowns, fabulous hats and imaginative
trimmings. To the left, you can see a very special plastic Nancy Ann Storybook
doll, boxed expressly to be given as a birthday gift to some fortunate little girl.
She holds a present in her hand and her box is one of those interesting departures
from the classic polka dots.
This next photograph shows not only how complete this doll is (with her tag and box)
but also that she is accompanied by a valuable color pamphlet showing all of the Nancy Ann dolls
that were available at that time. What a treasure!
Collector Warning regarding unauthentic Nancy Ann Dolls
Due to the enormous popularity of Nancy Ann during the 30's, 40's and 50's,
a number of manufacturers began creating imitation 'Storybook' dolls. My
mother recalls playing with dolls that looked like Nancy Anns but felt as though
they were made of a soft, almost papery substance. The main manufacturers of
Nancy Ann knockoffs were: K & H, Princess Dolls and Mayfair Dolls. Of these
three, the dolls created by K & H most closely resemble original Nancy Anns,
but doll collectors know that the feet of K & H Storybook Dolls are much larger
than those of the authentic dolls.
If you are concerned about the authenticity of a Nancy Ann doll, remember
that the stamp on the back and the wrist tag or sticker are your safest indicators
of a real Nancy Ann. However, you should also pay attention to the garments. If
you see raw edges rather than hems or soft hair that is made of anything besides
mohair, chances are, you are not looking at an authentic Nancy Ann.
Nancy Ann Today
Albert Bourla made several different dolls during the 1970's and 1980's, but the
big news for Nancy Ann collectors came in 2003 when the company was sold to
Claudette Buehler and Darlene Budd. In 2005, these two doll-loving sisters
brought a whole new line of Nancy Ann Dolls to the public. The new dolls
do have that fluffy hair doll collectors associate with Nancy Anns, and they
feature very charming costumes.
The faces are somewhat suggestive of the original
dolls, and yet one can tell that modern dollmaking techniques are being used
in terms of how the facial features are composed. You might enjoy a visit
to the website about these new Nancy Ann Dolls.
A few personal notes on this enduring series of little dolls
I have a very early childhood memory of going with my mother into an
antique store in some small town we were visiting. In this crowded and interesting
little shop, I had my first encounter with Nancy Ann dolls. There was a whole
big glass case full of them. I remember stopping in my tracks and carefully examining
each doll in that case to see what dresses they had on and to look into their
painted bisque faces. They had such simple features and looked like they knew
some tiny secret I wished I could learn by playing with them.
My mother was also enchanted to see these dolls and she bought one for one
of her sisters as a reminder of their own childhoods. My mother grew up in
San Francisco, home of Nancy Ann, and she told me about an orphange that her
parents' friends were involved in there. Some kind patron (could it have been
Nancy Ann Abbottt) made a donation of hundreds of the Storybook Dolls to the orphanage -
more than the home knew what to do with after they had given them to all the
little girls who lived there. Luckily for my mother, her parents' friend was
told to take a few of the extra dolls and share them with any little girl who might
like one. All of the girls in my mother's family got to have the pleasure of
receiving a wonderful new Nancy Ann in this way.
I like to think about this story...to think of my mother being a youngster
in the late 1940s and 1950's and to know that these were the dolls of her own
special dreams. I feel quite certain that many of the Nancy Ann doll collectors
of today are of my mother's generation and share her special feeling about
*Permission to use the photographs in this article was graciously given by the
Art of Dolls eBay store. The owner of
this shop says she has a special feeling for Nancy Ann dolls and she often has them
Just for fun
Here are a few new Nancy Ann Doll photos to bring a smile to your day.
Just look at the fine detailing on some of these costumes. Don't you
wish you could own every single one? It is this exact feeling that
ensures the continued collectors' devotion to these dolls. They are
These photos were donated to me from a recent auction. I see boxes
for the dolls, but no tags. We'll need a true Nancy Ann expert to comment
on these. The dolls were sold in a lot, and the good collector can often
find great deals on lot buys. I hope these dolls found very loving and
appreciative homes. Don't you?