The world has changed in myriad ways — huge and subtle — since I grew up. When I was a kid, none of us, regardless of how much money our parents had or didn’t have, got everything. You wanted everything, sure, because kids always want everything … but you got something. In my house, since we didn’t celebrate Christmas, birthdays were the big gift-giving day.
Each year on my birthday from when I was three until I was eight, I got one really nice doll. When I was five, I got “Annabelle,” the 1952 special doll from Madame Alexander. She would be my favorite for the rest of my life. Over her long life (she was born in 1952) she has been rewigged, restrung, repainted, and redressed half a dozen times.
I really played with my dolls. They were my friends. I talked to them. I told them everything and I took them everywhere. Everything I did, felt, hoped for, and feared, my dolls knew.
My dolls understood. Always.
When I was six, I got Toni. She was Revlon’s “flagship” girl doll with hair that could be “permanent waved” using a doll version of the Toni Permanent Wave kit. The set was just tiny plastic rollers and sugar-water and they didn’t really curl hair. They just made it sticky … which attracted ants. So then you had to wash it and you were lucky if the wig didn’t come right off her head.
There was Betsy Wetsy — also from Revlon, I believe (Tiny Tears was made by American Character). Those were the memorable dolls. Lots of little 8″ Ginnie dolls too and too many outfits to recall. Ginnie was in my day what Barbie was to the next generations of girls. It is perhaps a reflection of how the concept of girlhood changed during those years. By the time I turned 9, it was all about books.
From then on, I got books for my birthdays, though usually one other “special” thing too. One year, my beloved bicycle arrived. It was much too big for me to ride. I was a tiny wisp of a thing, but also, the only 9-year-old with a titanium frame Dutch racing bike. I had blocks on the pedals and I had to ride standing up because no way could I reach the seat or use the coaster brakes sitting down. But I grew a few inches. So, by the time I was an adolescent, I could reach the pedals without help. And, I knew I had the greatest bike ever. Tiger Racer and me … we flew!
When I was 11 I got a little transistor radio. It was a big deal, the ultra high-tech of the late 1950s. I was the only kid who had my very own portable radio. After that memory fades …
I slept with my dolls.
As I headed into my 50s, I began searching for the dolls with which I had grown up. Collecting is insidious and doll collecting even more so. I developed a bizarre lust for dolls. I didn’t know I had become a collector until I began to buy reference books so I could identify dolls by model, year, manufacturer, etc. Reference book are the significator of any kind of collector. When your reference collection is far more complete than the local library, you are a collector. Accept it. Deal with it.
These pictures are a sampling of the dolls. I tried to capture something of that ephemeral sweetness the dolls of my generation had. Perhaps show a hint of why they still give me a warm glow when I look at them. They never argue, always forgive. And they never complain and don’t mind if you drag them around by one leg with their foreheads scraping the sidewalk.