Sunday, September 14, 2014

Carlson Dolls

Vintage dolls are defined as those made before 1960, and include antique dolls. Antique dolls are those that are between 75 and 100 years ago. Since dolls made in 1960 are now over fifty years old, the term Vintage is liberally and practically applied by most dealers to dolls made roughly thirty years ago or earlier. My childhood dolls fall into the vintage category. To some, they are Antiques. The first time I bought a 1960s 8 inch vinyl Girl Scout doll in a thrift store, the young clerk wanted to know if I collected “antique” dolls. I was flabbergasted! I hardly think of myself as an antique, and this was a doll from my early childhood.
The interest in Vintage dolls is increasing. Now that the Baby Boomers are becoming seniors, many have discovered an interest in the dolls and toys of their childhood. Books like “I had that Doll!” have become best sellers in the collectible world, and many books have popped up that are devoted to these dolls. Johanna Gast Anderson, Pat Smith, A. Glenn Mandeville, Judith Izen and Patricia Schoonmaker are just a few of the authors who have written books featuring Vintage dolls. One company whose dolls may be considered vintage is Carlson Dolls. Carlson Dolls were founded in Minnesota in 1946 by Ray and Ann Carlson. Apparently, they were the manufacturers of the “Skookums” dolls designed by Mary McAboy. They began to create the costumed dolls for which they are famous in the 1950s. I saw Carlson dolls in museum shops as late as the early 2000s, but have not seen any new dolls since. One source says the company went out of business in 1997 despite the efforts of sons Lowell and David. Once again, foreign imports, this time from China, affected production, this time forcing the company to close. Besides Skookums, Carlson produced Minnetonka Moccasins for the Arrowhead Company and novelty salt and pepper shakers. They made plush toys and ski boots at one time, too. By the 1960s, allegedly due to competition from Japanese manufacturers, Carlson devoted itself to dolls. In its heyday, Carlson made 500 different dolls, created by 100 employees in three factories. The dolls were sold in tourist parks and National Landmark sites. I bought Carlson dolls in Fort Cody, NE, Disneyland, The Buffalo Bill Museum, LeClaire, IA, Springfield, IL, and other tourist shops. Wisconsin Dells shops were good sources, and the largest selection was at the Wyoming report, Little America. There were three kinds of dolls sold; these were generic dolls made by other companies, but dressed by Carlson dolls. The dolls usually had a paper tag around their foot or a hangtag. 7.5 inch dolls were like the Duchess Dolls, or Dress-Me dolls popular during the fifties. My first Carlson doll was this size, and was the Apache Princess. Actually, there was a 4th type of doll, the 2 inch babies that the Native American female dolls often carried. The 7.5 inch dolls had moving heads and arms and sleeping eyes. Their wigs are soft mohair. They did not move their legs. Sometimes, the clothes are stapled on. The Native American dolls wear buckskin and authentic fabrics. The Navajo dolls where jewelry. Civil War Soldiers have appropriate facial hair, and Victorian and Colonial women wear the proper hats, mob caps and shawls. 7 inch child dolls were cubby with painted eyes. Some also had moveable legs. There was a hard plastic Ginny type doll that was dressed in red velvet as Santa. The example like this in my collection came from Lake Geneva. 6 inch “Pudgy” dolls moved their heads and arms and often represented Native American dolls. Earlier dolls wore buckskin, but I have a later example with a felt outfit. I often bought these at our local Sac/Fox Pow Wow. 4 inch toddler dolls resembled the Uneeda PeeWees. 11 inch dolls looked identical to the 7.5 inch dolls, but often had jointed legs. They usually wore similar costumes. Native American dolls were made with larger 10.5 inch vinyl dolls, too. These had sleep eyes and carried the same 2 inch babies as the 7.5 inch dolls. The 18 inch plus size dolls are my favorites. They cost as much as $60.00 when I was little, and made a wonderful display. These dolls had child-like faces, rooted hair and sleep eyes. Supposedly, Carlson made very large porcelain dolls, some attached to cradle boards, but I’ve not seen these. They made doll purses of leather with built in dolls, and used the 6 inch dolls for the most art. I’ve seen many variations in these dolls over the years, representing many Native American tribes and historical characters. Some of the historical characters included Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Priscilla Alden, Betsy Ross, American Revolutionary War soldiers, Benjamin Franklin, British General, and more. Carlson dolls are well made and are popular at Native American art and artifact shows. They display well and are easy to store. Their clothes are accurate down to the last detail. They were affordable for the most part when new, but some are increasing in value. It is harder to find them with the paper label these days. Many other companies copied Carlson Dolls, but none seemed to compare with their quality.

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