7.5 Inch and Seeing 70; Hard Plastic Dress-Me Dolls and More

Intriguing little dolls with quite a pedigree

Typical Carlson Doll Representing A Cowgirl. Dino Milani

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 1960are 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.

For example, many early reproductions, like those by Emma Clear, are hitting age 75, or close to it. By some definitions, these are now antique dolls, much as the Caryatid maiden Lord Elgin supplied the Parthenon with over 200 years ago is now an antique, even if it is fake. He took the original home to England with the other so-called Elgin Marbles. 

To others, though, these 75+-year-old reproductions are merely vintage dolls.

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.

I would have loved to have more of my mother's and aunt's dolls, but alas, they took a trip to Europe in 1938 that cost them 8 years of their lives. My mother only had a few dolls, and two were the dolls like Duchess and Carlson dolls used, 7.5-inch hard plastic dolls. She dressed them in Greek national costumes.

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 Schoonmakerare 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.

Read more about these dolls in Part II of this article.